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Tightening Race in South Carolina; Obama in Full Campaign Mode; Being Mormon in America; Inside Syria's Deadly Uprising; "We Want Freedom." "The Government Is Killing Us"; "Suffering Began -- When Romney Came To Town"; First Lady: Not An "Angry Black Woman"; Candidates' Trail Of Giggles

Aired January 14, 2012 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The Republican battle for the South heats up and it could be a tough fight for Mitt Romney. This hour, we'll set the stage for our CNN Presidential Debate and the South Carolina primary one week from today.

Plus, the First Lady reacts to a controversial new book about the Obama White House saying she's not the stereotype of quote, "some angry black woman."

And CNN is inside Syria, documenting the bloodshed and the fear of the Bashar al-Assad regime. It's a rare window inside a brutal crackdown.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A tightening race heading in to South Carolina's Republican primary one week from today. A new American Research Group poll of likely primary voters in that state puts Mitt Romney on top, but - but in a statistical tie with Newt Gingrich who is just ahead of Ron Paul. The Texas congressman has surged in South Carolina from nine percent just a week ago while Rick Santorum has taken the biggest hit down from 24 percent last week to just seven percent.

CNN's Joe Johns is joining us in Aiken, South Carolina right now following that increasingly bitter battle in the state. Joe, what's going on right now? Look ahead a little bit. This is going to be a tough week.


The 30,000-foot view here is all about independent expenditures being made by so-called Super PACs breathing fresh new life into some campaigns that might otherwise be on life support right now.

The other story line playing into that is attacks on the front-runner, Mitt Romney and his business practices when he was at Bain Capital. The question being whether he was a layoff specialist, both Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry going after him on that, much to the dismay, I might say, of the Republican establishment. People who feel they have to defend free market capitalism.

Now, though, Mitt Romney is going much more aggressive, defending himself and his business record. Listen.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Every time that we invested in a business it was to try and encourage that business to have ongoing life. The idea of making a short term profit actually doesn't really exist in business because no one wants to buy something or buy stock in a company that's just going to be a short term success.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that the next 10 days are as important as any 10 days we have seen in modern American politics. I believe that South Carolinians are either going to center in and pick one conservative or by default are going to send a moderate on to the nomination.


JOHNS: Newt Gingrich clearly making a play here for those values voters, those conservative voters here in the State of South Carolina who are so important. The latest poll suggesting, Wolf, that those voters may be listening to Newt Gingrich.

Back to you.

BLITZER: But the focus is going to be all in South Carolina. Are any of the major candidates really going to detour at least this coming week and go off to Florida already because that's the contest that follows South Carolina?

JOHNS: That's right. We've seen a lot of these candidates going off to Florida, realizing that they have to sort of do a balancing act right now because both of these states play so importantly into the whole delicate structure as we look forward and down the road to the convention. So, yes, those candidates are dipping in and out of Florida and we expect them to continue to do so, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's going to be lively down in Florida as well. Joe, thank you.

Let's dig deeper right now. Joining us, our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger and our Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein.

Gloria, let's start with you. We're digging deeper into these numbers, this American Research Group, a poll, this first poll since the Iowa - since the New Hampshire primary. And we see, the most dramatic thing I guess Romney is sort of consistent, 31 to 29; Gingrich consistent, 24 to 25; but Ron Paul -


BLITZER: -- a nice jump, nine percent to 20 percent. Perry has a little jump two percent to nine percent. But look at Santorum, 24 percent to only seven percent. Now this is a snapshot, we're going to be getting more polls. But it does show that South Carolina very much in play.

BORGER: Well, very interesting. First of all, I think that Romney's numbers really show that people want somebody who is electable. He tends to do better on the electability front. I think South Carolina voters are no different.

Ron Paul, the economic message is clearly getting through - smaller government, less debt. That resonates with South Carolina voters.

And the Santorum thing is very interesting to me because, of course, he's trying to appeal to those values voters, 60 percent of the voters in South Carolina, evangelicals, you think his - his cultural message would have an appeal but, again, the electability argument might really be hurting Rick Santorum and evangelical voters are not single issue voters. They care about the economy as well.

BLITZER: They certainly do. And Gingrich is from neighboring Georgia. It shows I guess he's got strength there.


BLITZER: I mean he could be a factor. I'm surprised by Santorum. I would have thought he would have been more of a factor. But remember this is just a snapshot.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And the small caveat that ARG, the pollsters stronger than other states, so we'll have to wait for other numbers.

But basically this shows how much each event changes the one that follows. I mean Rick Santorum went to New Hampshire, got in an argument in the first day with a college student and equated gay marriage with polygamy or said it was kind of a slippery slope. Not the economic message that he wanted to get to, ending up winning in the exit poll. Six percent of New Hampshire voters do not consider themselves evangelicals, and ultimately slipped.

If you look inside these numbers, you see the same pattern we've seen in so many other places. Mitt Romney is consolidating the more moderate part of the party more than anyone is consolidating the more conservative part of the party.

So for example, in this poll, the ARG poll, Newt Gingrich is winning 40 percent of the evangelicals, not enough because Mitt Romney is winning 48 percent of the non-evangelicals. That fractionation on the right continues to be a central dynamic in this race and they don't seem to be able to consolidate even as the clock is running out.

BORGER: And, you know, Perry has essentially staked his entire campaign on South Carolina. And you see he's gotten a bump up but not enough. I mean from two to nine and certainly -

BROWNSTEIN: And you see Perry, you add up Perry, Santorum and Gingrich, you have the challenge to Romney but they're not getting that one on one race. Romney seems to be in position in South Carolina potentially to do exactly what John McCain did. John McCain only won 31 percent of Republicans.

BLITZER: I'm impressed that Ron Paul seems to be doing relatively well.

BORGER: Again, it's the economic message, 9.9 percent unemployment.

BLITZER: There's a Newt Gingrich ad that's making fun of Mitt Romney. Now, he's not backing off at all on Newt Gingrich. He's going after Mitt Romney. I want to play this because it's - it's very cute.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Romney opposed the contract with America, raised taxes and authored government mandated health care with taxpayer funded abortions. But now he tells us, "Trust me. I'm a conservative." Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney, he'll say anything to win - anything. And just like John Kerry -


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He speaks French, too.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But he's still a Massachusetts moderate, and a Massachusetts moderate cannot beat Barack Obama.


BLITZER: I found it on the web right back (ph).

BORGER: It's a web ad. It's a web ad.

BLITZER: It's very cute. It makes fun.

BORGER: Well - and it makes a point which is that he's a moderate just like John Kerry was a Massachusetts moderate. That's, you know, that's a theme that Gingrich is clearly talking about, which is he's a moderate and Rick Santorum is saying you can't trust him. He's a moderate. He's a flip-flopper trying to remind you where he was.

BLITZER: Do you think South Carolina Republicans are impressed he can speak French?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I know. The interesting thing is, you know, there's another Gingrich ad up about him leaving the dog, Romney leaving the dog on the car -

BORGER: And that's a fun one, too.

BROWNSTEIN: But the underlying message is this is someone you can't quite trust. You don't know who it is. I mean it doesn't directly raise the issue of his religion, but it seems to me it gets at the otherness of him.

The other point about that ad, that is the argument that the opponents need to be stressing in South Carolina. So conservative Republican electorate, much more conservative than New Hampshire. The idea that he's a moderate, you can't trust him probably a much more effective line of argument -

BORGER: Than the Bain.

BROWNSTEIN: -- than the Bain. And which in to some extent has forced conservatives to rally around him.

BORGER: That's right.

BROWNSTEIN: Very unlikely development.

BORGER: Who thought conservatives would ever rally around Mitt Romney? Well, guess what? Newt Gingrich has managed to promote that.

BLITZER: And Ron's got a terrific column in the new issue of the National Journal. The headline -

BROWNSTEIN: Obama versus Romney, imagining what this race would be like. I argue three central dynamics. The ideological fight between him over the role of government, which probably wouldn't be decisive because the last liberal swing voters don't decide that way. The state of the economy which shows some sign of improvement. And that critical issue in the general election, how do voters ultimately interpret Mitt Romney's Bain experience.

Winning in the primary by wrapping yourself in the Wall Street Journal is one thing. It's going to be a stronger argument in the fall.

BLITZER: Ron and Gloria, guys, thanks very much.

And please be sure to stay with us Thursday night for our Southern Republican Presidential Debate, the candidates will square off just days before the South Carolina primary. Our debate, Thursday night 8:00 P.M. Eastern, only here on CNN. The primary the following Saturday.

President Obama moves into full campaign mode. He's rallying Democrats in a series of speeches while party loyalists load up his war chest with cash.

And as Mitt Romney moves into the Bible Belt, is the U.S. ready to elect Mormon president? New poll results may surprise you.

And our Nic Robertson gets a rare, inside look at the desperation, the violence of the crackdown in Syria.


BLITZER: President Obama pulled out all the stops in a series of speeches this week rallying the Democratic faithful and raising lots of money. The White House said he's busy being president, but the president was in full campaign mode in Chicago. Watch this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We've got a clear choice this year. The question is not whether people are still hurting, the economy is still recovering. Of course folks are still hurting. We got a long way to go.

The question is what are we going to do about it? What direction is this country move towards?

The Republicans in Congress, the presidential candidates who are running, they've got a very specific idea about where they want to take this country. I mean, they said it. They said they want to reduce the deficit by gutting our investments in education, and gutting our investments in research and technology, letting our infrastructure further deteriorate.

The Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail, they want to make Medicare a form of private insurance, where seniors have to shop with a voucher and it may not cover all their costs. I think we can lower the cost of Medicare but still guarantee the dignified retirement that our seniors have earned. They've earned it. They've earned it.

Right here some I'm talking about, oh, this is just an entitlement. These folks earned it. They worked hard. They paid into it. This crowd they think the best way for America to compete for new jobs and businesses is to follow other countries in a race to the bottom.

They figure, well, since China pays really low wages, let's roll back the minimum wage here and bust unions. Since some of these other countries allow corporations to pollute as much as they want, let's get rid of protections that help make sure our air is clean and water is safe.

I've said before, I'm not a perfect man. I'm not a perfect president. But - but I promise you this, and I kept this promise. I will always tell you what I believe, I will always tell you where I stand, I will wake up every single day thinking about how I can make this country better and I will spend every ounce of energy that I have fighting for you.

So if you still got that energy, if you're still fired up, if you are not weary, if you're ready to put on your - your walking shoes and get to work, and knock on some doors, and make some phone calls, and talk to your friends and talk to your neighbors and push through all the obstacles and keep reaching for that vision that you hold in your hearts, I promise you change will come.

If you're willing to work even harder in this election than you did in the last election I promise you change will come. If you stick with me, we're going to finish what we started in 2008. We will remind this country and we will remind the world just why we are the greatest nation on earth.

God bless you, Chicago. I love you. God bless the United States of America. Thank you.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin. He's good when he's out on the campaign stump like that. If I'm a Republican watching him, I get a little nervous right now knowing about what's to happen.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We know he's an enormously effective campaigner. And keep in mind that is a friendly crowd at a fundraiser in his home town of Chicago. So -

BLITZER: And he's raising a lot of money. How much money has he raised so far without even a Democratic challenge to his getting the party's nomination?

YELLIN: They just released those numbers. And in the last three months of 2011 alone, Wolf, the Obama campaign and their so-called Victory Fund raised $68 million for a whopping total for the year of $224 million.

And some notes within that, they raised they say $200,000 from people who are first time donors never gave to him in 2008 or earlier in this year and 98 percent of their donors gave $250 or less. Why is any of that relevant? They argue that they still have enthusiasm and that a lot of their donors aren't so-called fat cats.

BLITZER: How does this compare with the Republican presidential candidates who are all fiercely fighting, of course, amongst themselves?

YELLIN: OK. Well, keep in mind that not all of the Republicans have announced how much they've raised. But of those who have, again, President Obama raised $224 million. Mitt Romney, he's raised $56 million. Ron Paul 26 million and Newt Gingrich 12 million.

Now it's not unusual for an incumbent president to raise more money than the challenger, but that is a healthy difference.

BLITZER: Yes. It seems like he's raised more than all of them combined if we add up those numbers. That doesn't include what the Republican Party, the RNC or the Democratic Party have raised, that's a separate fund, but he's doing really well.

They haven't told us how much cash on hand the president has, how much he spent so far, how much he's saving up for the big general election campaign.

YELLIN: Not yet. But what they are doing is emphasizing certain themes, Wolf. One of the things they keep hitting, you know, they released these videos, is that this is not a, quote, "billion dollar campaign." We've heard that reported that they've told their donors that. And the message they're trying to drive home is that they're a grassroots operation, that they are sort of, if you will, the David in the face of a Goliath that's coming their way. In a video they released at the end of the week they said quickly that they are going to have to compete against a, quote, "onslaught of special interest cash on the other side." You can see the message.

BLITZER: They're always saying that. And it just doesn't, by the way, Super PAC money on either side.

YELLIN: Which announces January 31st.

BLITZER: Yes. We'll be in touch with you on that, Jessica. Thank you.

A possible breakthrough moment for Mormons in America. Is the country ready to elect its first Mormon president?

Plus, the First Lady firing back at a new book trying to set the record straight and dispel a stereotype about her.


BLITZER: With Mitt Romney a Mormon emerging as the Republican front- runner in the battle for the White House, there's a new spotlight on Mormonism in the United States. And a new poll is now highlighting feelings of discrimination and anticipation within the religion.

Here's CNN's Mary Snow.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, two Republican presidential hopefuls who are Mormon, there's increased attention on a religion seen by many on the outside as mysterious. Outside of politics, the faith has also been thrust into the spotlight with the Broadway musical satire "The Book of Mormon" and TV shows such as "Big Love" about a polygamous family.

Polygamy was officially banned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1890, but if the findings of a new poll are correct, Mormons see themselves on the cusp of a significant moment in the United States, but it comes with a mixed picture.

GREGORY SMITH, PEW RESEARCH CENTER: They feel discriminated against, but they feel like they're not necessarily accepted as part of mainstream society. At the same time, Mormons also tell us that they think acceptance of Mormonism may be on the rise and they tell us they do think that the public may be ready to elect a Mormon president.

SNOW: Gregory Smith is a senior researcher with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life which surveyed 1,000 Mormons. Almost all of those questioned identify their religion as Christians, but it is a source of tension. Fifty percent say evangelicals are unfriendly toward them. Separately, Pew found nearly half of white evangelicals don't view Mormonism as a Christian religion. And in Iowa, Mitt Romney didn't have evangelical support. Fifty-seven percent of caucus goers were evangelical or Born Again Christians, but only 14 percent of them supported Romney.

It's a stark contrast to the 86 percent support he has among Mormons. Only half have a favorable view of Jon Huntsman.

David Buckner, a Mormon Church leader in New York doesn't mind the questions.

DAVID BUCKNER, MORMON CHURCH LEADER: Presidential candidates generally draw a lot more scrutiny, a lot more questioning. I know when John Kennedy ran when - even when Richard Nixon as a Quaker, those are big questions. Those are questions that I do believe are elevating an inquiring audience. What does this mean? Who are these folks?

SNOW (on camera): Why the mystery?

BUCKNER: I don't think that we're very good as an open people inviting in.

SNOW: All told, Mormons make up less than two percent of the U.S. population. Researchers found they're very similar to evangelicals in two ways - religious commitment and political leanings. The survey found that two-thirds of Mormons describe themselves as politically conservative.

Mary Snow, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Syria's death and destruction up close. Our own Nic Robertson is there with an exclusive and rare look.

Plus, GOP front-runner Mitt Romney under fierce attack in South Carolina. How true are those blistering allegations being made against him? We'll have a fact check.

And the First Lady of the United States, Michele Obama says she's not the stereotype of quote, "some angry black woman." Her reaction to a controversial new book about the White House.


BLITZER: The deadly month-long uprising in Syria has claimed the life of the first western journalist. This is graphic video of reportedly showing a horrific scene only moments after a famous French reporter was killed during a mortar strike in Homes. He was part of a group of international journalists on a rare government authorized trip into the country.

Our Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson is also on that trip and managed to capture an exclusive glimpse of bitter desperation and heartbreak we hardly ever get to see.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A body carried high. A sister uncontrollable with grief. This is an anti-government rally barely 15 minutes from Syria's capital. They come to bury a 32-year-old man they say was killed by pro-government gunmen.

(on camera): The level of anger and passion here is absolutely powerful. We're a few miles from the central of Damascus. The crowd here -- this is a crowd here of perhaps several thousand people.

They took over this whole area. It is a rare opportunity to meet the people who want to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The situation is very bad. We want to be like you, like the western people. We want freedom. We want to be free. Look at him, 32 years only.

ROBERTSON: Who killed him? Who is responsible?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The government is responsible. Bashar Al- Assad is responsible. Bashar Al-Assad is killing us because we have dreams like you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm afraid when I'm talking right now. Why. I got this scarf and going to my home I'm not 100 percent sure that I'm is going to be safe because if not today, if not tomorrow, they will arrest me.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): The defiance possible because two orange jacketed Arab League monitors are here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're here without them you don't, you will never going to see any protester.

ROBERTSON: Even so protesters told us they didn't trust the Arab League mission.

(on camera): The monitors tell us this is one of the most difficult and dangerous situations for them. People are angry. The crowd is volatile. Everybody wants to talk.

The monitors say the most important thing they can do at this time is be neutral, is to take down all the information, and ensure they are completely impartial.

(voice-over): Everyone here has something to say. Many push forward to show injuries they say reflected by government forces.

(on camera): They're absolutely desperate to show us the level of suffering. They say they can't go the hospitals because if they do they are afraid of being arrested. Some are not being treated as well as they could be.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Nic is joining us now from Damascus. Nic, look ahead a little bit. You've been there for a few days right now. Does it seem to be getting more violent every day? Is it easing up? What's going on?

ROBERTSON (via telephone): I think the divisions between the two sides the pro and anti-government sides at a level in the population take away the sort of, the president and politics of it all at the people level.

The people are becoming more divided between the pro and anti- government factions. We're seeing the death toll climbing up. I was speaking to a general in charge of a military hospital in the city of Homs where the French journalist was killed.

I was talking to him a couple of days ago. He said he's seeing more army casualties coming in there, over the past few weeks so it does seem that the situation is ratcheting up. We're now seeing a tying up between the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Council, tying up between opposition army and opposition sort of civilian council, if you will.

And this tells you as well that everyone is preparing for the long haul here. It's settling into a stalemate as a siege between the two sides and you get a sense now that people are digging in and making alliances and trying to sort of (inaudible) their organizations in the opposition so that they can sustain themselves against this government -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I can't tell you, Nic, how many senior U.S. officials have said to me privately that they think Bashar Al-Assad will wind up like Gadhafi in Libya or Mubarak in Egypt.

It's only a matter of time and they suspect the time is running out for him. But he's giving no indication that he's ready either to leave the country or give up. Is he?

ROBERTSON: He's not giving any indication at all, Wolf. The opposite is said by his two-hour live public speech on national television, by his appearance publicly at a rally in the city. He's giving the impression that he's here for a long time.

I think it bolsters the morale of his supporters. The clock is tick. The opposition is getting better organized. What the opposition doesn't have is the momentum to sort of take control of areas of the country as the opposition did in Libya, for example, where they took the east of the country.

Here the opposition only has a few small footprints in cities and what we see is they are heavily under siege of an army still loyal to Bashar Al-Assad. So while the clock is ticking, there's more time to run on it at the moment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson on the scene for us in Damascus. We'll stay in close touch. Be careful over there. Thank you. Newt Gingrich supporters are unleashing a blistering attack on Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Rromney. But how much of it is really true. We'll have a fact check.

Plus you can tell a lot by listening to the candidates laugh. Jeanne Moos is breaking them down. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Turning now the intense Republican race for South Carolina where a scathing new documentary slamming the frontrunner, Mitt Romney could potentially threaten his battle to win the nomination.

But just how accurate are all the blistering allegations. Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. He's been doing a fact check for us. You've watched this about 27-1/2 minutes.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have. Wolf, this is the most detailed and really merciless attack yet on Romney's record at that private equity firm, Bain Capital. We took a look at some of the video's key claims and how they stand up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For tens of thousands of Americans the suffering began when Mitt Romney came to town.

TODD (voice-over): It's 28 minutes of daunting music, dark narration and stories of hardship that are hard to watch.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's time, you know, you skip a meal so your kids can have something to eat.

TODD: A new web video just released in its entirety depicting Mitt Romney and his former company, Bain Capital as predatory corporate raiders buying up respected companies, stripping them of asset, killing off jobs, making monstrous profits. It's distributed by a group called "Winning Our Future", a so-called "Super PAC" supporting Newt Gingrich.

The Gingrich campaign technically had nothing to do with it. One of the key claims is about a Florida laundry equipment manufacturer Bain purchased called "Unimac," which eventually shutdown. Workers give testimonials about losing their jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They met with everybody. Called everybody together and told us we were being sold to Raytheon, which turned out to be Bain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back at his Massachusetts headquarters Romney had found his target. Bain took control of Unimac.

TODD (on camera): But according to "Fortune" magazine, it was only Raytheon that bought the Unimac at the time and Raytheon didn't sell Unimac to Bain until four years later.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Romney and Bain upended the company.

TODD (voice-over): Not true, says Dan Primack, a "Fortune" editor who's covered Bain for more than a decade. He says Bain held on to Unimac until 2004 then sold to it a Canadian pension fund.

DAN PRIMACK, SENIOR EDITOR, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: The real gutting of the workforce in Florida is when the Florida factory got shut down and that's done by the pension fund up in Canada, which is that people of Bain's sold it to.

TODD (on camera): Contacted by CNN, an official of the group, "Winning Our Future," said the documentary is thoroughly researched and they stand by the material.

But there are other claims in the video that's in dispute including one about a Bain deal that did go very badly.

(voice-over): That was Bain's purchase of the toymaker, KB Toys, which led to the company shutting down. Thousands of jobs lost.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Romney and Bain bought the 80-year-old company in 2000. Loaded KB Toys with millions in debt.

PRIMACK: This is a poor deal, but Romney wasn't at Bain any more. He left at the end of 1999 to go run the Salt Lake City Olympic Games.


TODD: An official at "Winning Our Future" points out that even after leaving Bain, Romney benefitted from those bad deals, that he still has holdings in Bain that generate him a share of Bain's profits from those deals.

And to be fair, Dan Primack believes the part of the documentary, which deals with another Bain deal its purchase and gutting of the paper company, MPad, is mostly accurate. Romney's campaign has pointed out he's been a part of a lot successful job generating turnarounds as well at places like Dominos Pizza and Staples among other companies.

Wolf, we have just heard that Newt Gingrich is now calling on "Winning Our Future" to either edit the inaccuracies out of this video or pull it off the internet entirely. There is a political motivation here though.

He's calling on Mitt Romney to make a similar call for the "Super PAC" which, you know, edits videos supporting Romney and have been attacking Gingrich.

BLITZER: It's going to get ugly. Already is, but it's going to get uglier. Brian, thanks very much.

The latest polling suggests Rick Santorum has lost ground in the South Carolina state where he hopes his focus on conservative values would pay off.

I spoke with former Senator Santorum this week about the next battleground and what comes next.


BLITZER: Newt Gingrich says if Romney wins in South Carolina in his words, he's probably going to be the nominee. You agree with the former speaker?

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I don't agree with him. You know, I feel like we need to get this race down to two people. And, I should say three because Ron Paul I don't think is going to dropout.

But we need to get it down to two people who can be the nominee. I'm hopeful that after South Carolina we can finish strongly here and show the conservatives in this country that they can rally behind somebody who can take on Mitt Romney.

And successfully more importantly take on Barack Obama and win this election with a principled conservative who can make the changes that are necessary in this country after we beat Barack Obama.

So to me, you know, a win without the kind of change that we need in this country is not the win we need. We need to have someone who has the record of being someone who can make big changes in Washington and I've done that.

BLITZER: You don't think Mitt Romney is that man?

SANTORUM: Well, you look at his record as governor of Massachusetts it's not someone who was able to lead and make the changes. He governed over doing more of what the left wanted to do. We've been doing that for a long time in Washington. We don't need anybody else to come in and do that. We can put anybody in there.

We need someone who has a record of repealing entitlements not adding entitlements. We need someone who has a record of standing up and fighting for the family not someone who has not been successful in doing that.

There are lot of differences between the two of us as this race gets down two people that we'll be able to highlight and hopefully they will see we're the stronger candidate.

We can make this race about Barack Obama and his failure as opposed to the problems that Mitt Romney had as he was governor that look a lot like Barack Obama's policies.

BLITZER: Ron Paul has a new ad that he's put out in South Carolina, I don't know if you've seen it, but it directly goes after you. He has a lot of money as you well know, Ron Paul's campaign. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Santorum promised to stand with workers then sided with big money union bosses and opposed the Right To Act. Santorum promised to fight the special interests then took the most lobbyist cash in Washington and was named one of the most corrupt members in Congress.


BLITZER: Wow, one of the most corrupt members in Congress. Go ahead and respond to Congressman Paul.

SANTORUM: I said this at the debate the other night. The organization that named me the most corrupt members of Congress is one of these George Soros left-wing organizations that names every Republican up for election as one of the most corrupt members in Congress.

He starts citing these radical left wing organizations as his source for this is pretty bizarre. As far as the Right To Work issue, I've admitted it. When I represented the state of Pennsylvania, it was not a right to work state.

I wasn't going to change the law for Pennsylvania. As president, I don't represent Pennsylvania. I represent the country. I believe and I said I would sign a Right To Work law.

One thing as a member of Congress when you represent a state and you don't want to change that story, another one when you're leading the country and you're doing what you think is best for the country.

BLITZER: You know, I don't know if you've read how ugly it will get over the next 10 days between now and the primary in South Carolina. But even Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, he's going after Mitt Romney, his record as a venture capitalist. He's saying he was a vulture capitalist and he said this. Listen to Rick Perry.


RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They are just vultures. They are 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 leave the skeleton.


BLITZER: Are you comfortable with that kind of language?

SANTORUM: No. You know, this is, you know, you have capitalism where you have companies that are takeover opportunities because the management hasn't done a good job in managing the company and someone who can come in and tries to save that company and turn it around and sometimes you're successful and sometimes you're not.


BLITZER: Rick Santorum speaking with me this week.

Just ahead, Michelle Obama pushes back against a controversial new book about the White House.

You can tell a lot by listening to the candidates laugh. Our Jeanne Moos has been doing a lot of listening.


BLITZER: The first lady is responding to allegations about a new book about the Obama White House and trying to clarify her own image. Lisa Sylvester has been reading the book going through it. What is going on here?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a fascinating read. Michelle Obama spoke to her long time friend CBS' Gail King setting the record on a new book. The book portrays her as a loving mom, a private confidant to the president.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Michelle Obama knows there is a stereo type that has shadowed her, but she says it is not true.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: I guess it is more interesting to imagine this conflicted situation here and a strong woman and a -- but that's been an image that people have tried to paint of me since the day Barack announced I'm an angry black woman.

SYLVESTER: The first lady sat down with Gail King on the "CBS Morning Show" to discuss a new book by "New York Times" reporter Jodi Kantor. It describes tensions within the administration and the first family.

Kantor writes that then Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel saw the president's dejection and repeated the criticism to others in the White House with an air of indignation. Asked about it, the first lady said there wasn't tension between her and Emmanuel.

OBAMA: Rahm and I have never had a cross word. He's a funny guy. I mean, I don't have conversations with my husband's staff. I don't know go to the meetings. Our staffs work together really well. So if there is communication that needs to happen it happens between staffs.

SYLVESTER: Another rift? This one between Mrs. Obama and former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, it was reported that she told the French first lady that living in the White House was hell. Mrs. Obama denied that conversation ever happened.

She was upset with Gibbs for not pushing harder to correct the record, quote, "She felt neglected by him. He felt criticized by her." It reached a boiling point in a high level staff meeting that included White House senior adviser, Valerie Jarett.

Gibbs exploded in anger. F this that's not right, I've been killing myself on this where is this coming from? You shouldn't talk that way, Jarrett said sounding unruffled.

Gibbs, you don't know what the f you're talking about he hurled back. Jarrett, the first lady would not believe you're speaking this way. Then F her too, Gibbs reportedly said and stormed out. Mrs. Obama brushed it off.

OBAMA: Robert Gibbs is a trusted adviser


OBAMA: And remains so. And I'm sure we could go day-to-day and find things that people wish they didn't say to each other. People stumble and make mistakes.

SYLVESTER: In the book, Michelle Obama is described as a warm welcoming first lady who voids the president's spirits rather than deflating him. The first lady acknowledges there was a learning curve growing into the job, but one that she fully embraced.

OBAMA: I love this job. It is -- it has been a privilege from day one. Now there are challenges.


OBAMA: With being a mother and trying to keep your kids sane and I worry a lot about that. I mean, if there is anxiety that I feel it's because I want to make sure that my girls come out on the other end of this whole.


SYLVESTER: After the book was released, Robert Gibbs issued an apology saying he regrets speaking in anger and regrets that the disagreement became so public -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fascinating read, thanks very much for that. Appreciate it, Lisa.

The Republican presidential candidates and their laughs. Jeanne Moos is coming up.


BLITZER: We've all done it. We've laughed at something that maybe wasn't really all that funny. Candidates certainly are 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. The other is forced.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Brett, I don't know how many hundreds of times I have said this too. This is an unusual interview. All right, let's do it again.

MOOS: They do it when they are under attack.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have been running since at least in the 1990s.

MOOS: Pasting on a smile. Laughter can be a wonderful weapon. Take this 1968 ad mocking Richard Nixon's running mate Spiro Aknew, but it is defensive laughter that tends not to ring too.

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

MOOS: Someone looped Newt's laugh on YouTube -- leading to comparisons with Elmo.

(on camera): Forget full -- one false laugh and you become the laughing stock.

RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The height of hypocrisy.

MOOS (voice-over): For Mitt Romney, defensive laughter is almost like a nervous tick.

ROMNEY: Why did you bail out? The bottom line is --

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The rule is you stop grilling Romney after he gives you the laugh. That's his safe word.

MOOS: But even the president resorts to pre-emptive laughter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They say that you have been moving -- does it disturb you that so many people hate you?

MOOS: And remember when Hillary Clinton's laugh was labeled a cackle? Take heart, Mitt. Hillary got the last cackle. Jeanne Moos, CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do I really laugh like that?


MOOS: New York.


BLITZER: Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Please be sure to join us every weekday from 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN and at this time, every day on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.