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JOHN KING, USA

Interview With Presidential Candidate Rick Perry; Gingrich Surges; Internet Blackout

Aired January 18, 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, everyone. I'm John King reporting live tonight from Charleston, South Carolina.

Tonight, there's a late Newt Gingrich surge here and because of it, a sudden dramatic shift in Mitt Romney's South Carolina strategy.

Plus, in the maritime world, a captain abandoning ship is the ultimate sin. How did the Costa Concordia captain leave his passengers and avoid his number-one responsibility?

And it's blackout day on the Internet -- why Washington's debate about piracy policies is making it harder for you to surf the Web and dividing some giant economic powers.

We begin here in South Carolina this evening with a fast-changing Republican presidential race, fast as in overnight. Our new CNN/"TIME"/ORC poll tonight shows Mitt Romney leading here by 10 points, 33 percent for the former Massachusetts governor to 23 percent for the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

But, and this is important, the final 24 hours of our polling suggest a Gingrich surge. My sources in several Republican campaigns tell me tonight their numbers, too, are detecting a significant shift, a shift that benefits Gingrich heading into the final hours here.

Want proof? A senior Romney campaign aide described this to me as a troublesome development, and the response from team Romney was immediate. A touch new TV ad labeling Gingrich an unreliable leader.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... that would blindside us and undermine our conservative agenda. Chaotic decisions. Erratic behavior.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Want more proof? Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum also sees a Gingrich surge, and he broadened his attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When the winds are blowing, what we have seen is Romney and Gingrich is that they put their sails up and go. I tack against the wind. I stand up for the values that I know are true. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here with me in Charleston tonight with more on the suddenly crackling South Carolina campaign.

By all accounts, the campaigns tell us a single-digit race, they view it. Gingrich with momentum. The final debate tomorrow night right here in this hall behind us, the final few days as we go in. If you look closely as our numbers knowing the key constituencies here, a couple of important things.

Again, our poll shows Romney ahead by 10 points, but it shows a Gingrich surge at the end. It says this. Among born-again Christians, evangelical voters here in South Carolina, a critical constituency, Romney 26 percent, Gingrich 23 percent, Santorum 20 percent, Ron Paul at 12, Rick Perry at 9.

Gloria, if there's Gingrich momentum into the final days, if he can pass Romney among evangelicals, that could be a game changer.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's interesting, because Romney has done relatively well with evangelicals in Iowa. He was second to Rick Santorum. You would think Rick Santorum would be doing the best with evangelicals, given the fact that evangelical pastors coalesced around him over the weekend.

I think this is gut check time, though, John, where the question is, first of all, evangelical voters not single issue voters, vote on the economy and everything else that everybody votes on. But, secondly, they want to beat Barack Obama. So here is where the question is. Who is best able to take it to Barack Obama?

They saw Newt Gingrich do very well in that last debate. Mitt Romney has had a very rough week. Questions about his taxes, questions about Bain Capital. And they're saying, you know what? Maybe, maybe Newt Gingrich is the person we want debating Barack Obama.

KING: Or maybe part of the calculation could be, is it Newt Gingrich or could there calculation just be not so fast, let's stretch this out a little bit and see if Governor Romney can prove it down the road.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Isn't that what Sarah Palin advised?

KING: That is what she advised. She's a Tea Party favorite. And the Tea Party made a big mark in this state last year. If you look at our poll among Tea Party voters, very significant, Speaker Gingrich 31 percent, Governor Romney 26 percent, Senator Santorum 20 percent, Paul 13 percent, Perry 5. A split among Tea Party voters, but Gingrich in the lead there.

Will this be the first time we see the Tea Party flex its muscle in this primary process?

BORGER: It could be and that's what we're seeing in this poll.

What's interesting to me about Mitt Romney and the Tea Party is that the Tea Party doesn't really love Mitt Romney. Not their favorite candidate. But they have kind of left him alone. You spoke with Jim DeMint the other day, senator from here, very important to the Tea Party. He's decided not to endorse.

In not endorsing, he's actually helped Mitt Romney to a degree. But in not endorsing, perhaps what we're seeing in this poll is that it doesn't hurt.

KING: Being careful, doesn't want his fingerprints...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: So I think it can go both ways. I think again that you're seeing a bunch of voters with gut check time. OK. What do I want South Carolina to mean as the race continues?

KING: Critical final 48, 72 hours here in South Carolina. Gloria Borger will be with us the entire way. It is a fascinating race.

And the stakes here cannot be understated. In modern times, every winner of the Republican presidential primary in South Carolina has gone on to be the Republican nominee. If Governor Romney is to be stopped, it must begin here. He knows this, and he also knows his polling shows Gingrich closing.

So on the stump today, Governor Romney mocked Speaker Gingrich for suggesting he deserves credit for jobs created in the Reagan and the Clinton administrations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's the private sector that creates jobs.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MITT ROMNEY: Congressmen taking responsibility or taking credit for helping create jobs is like Al Gore taking credit for the Internet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Jim Acosta is with the Romney campaign tonight.

Jim, it sure sounds like Governor Romney beginning to feel the heat, maybe hearing some footsteps, right?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Comparing your rival to Al Gore, those are fighting words down in South Carolina, John. You know, when Mitt Romney is changing the script on his stump speech, something significant is happening. Normally he goes after President Obama in each and every speech that he gives. But today, in two speeches, he saved time to go after Newt Gingrich.

In that event that you just talked about a few moments ago in Spartanburg, he talked about Newt Gingrich taking credit for jobs he created when he was in the Congress. And then just at this event a few hours ago at Winthrop University, he went after Newt Gingrich's attacks on Bain Capital, Mitt Romney saying he's proud of the jobs he created in the private sector.

And then look at what his top surrogates are doing away from the campaign trail. Susan Molinari and Jim Talent held a conference call earlier today. Those are two of Romney's top surrogates. Susan Molinari on that conference call warning Republicans and reporters who were on that call that when Newt Gingrich is the face of the party, the Republican Party loses.

It was a reference back to the mid-1990s when Newt Gingrich was the speaker of the House and how many Republicans feel because of those government shutdowns, Bill Clinton was able to coast to a reelection victory in 1996.

And then not to be outdone, the pro-Gingrich forces are doing their own -- everything that they can to stop Mitt Romney. The pro- Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future came out with an ad that shows an animated Mitt Romney going against an animated Barack Obama in a debate.

It's a debate, an animated debate if you will that Mitt Romney does not win, John.

KING: And, Jim, if you're anybody but Romney and you're looking for any fresh evidence perhaps to attack the front-runner, they just got a pretty significant 200-page gift, did they not?

ACOSTA: That's right, John. It dropped in their laps last night. The blog BuzzFeed tweeted out a 200-page opposition research book that the McCain campaign actually compiled back in 2008.

We at CNN have been able to confirm the authenticity of this opposition research book. And, John, I have just the table of contents right here. Basically -- we read through the book. But the table of contents tells you everything that you want to know.

It goes after Mitt Romney's positions on abortion, the way he raised revenues when he was governor of Massachusetts. And then one part that the Romney campaign must not like very much, eight pages devoted to Governor Romney's flip-flops over the course of his political career. That is not something that they want out just a few days before the South Carolina primary, John.

KING: We will see if any of the other candidates use -- borrow from that play book shall we say in the big debate tomorrow night. Jim Acosta, with the Romney campaign tonight, Jim, thank you. A reminder there. Be sure to watch tomorrow night's Southern Republican presidential debate. It will be the last debate before Saturday's South Carolina presidential primary. You will see that debate right here only on CNN 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Now overseas to this week's other dramatic story to Italy, where searchers today gave up any hope of finding anyone alive in the wreckage of that capsized cruise ship. Rescue crews suspended operations today when the ship began to move in the frigid waters, shifting location by about a yard. Divers still hope to check submerged parts of the wreckage.

Our senior international correspondent, Dan Rivers, joins us by phone from Italy tonight.

And, Dan, relatives of the missing gathering on the beach. Some rumors of a survivor being found, but no such luck. What is the mood of those you have spoken now as the shift -- it goes from a rescue effort to a recovery effort?

DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I think sadly the relatives who are left onshore here waiting for answers are really having to face up to the possibility that things are looking pretty grim.

We met one guy, Kevin Rebello, whose brother Russel was a waiter on board the ship. He hasn't been seen since he was seen at the stern of the ship helping passengers into life rafts. Kevin was here. He talked to us, saying that he was praying every day. He was still hoping. He hadn't given up.

He described his brother as a hero, as a strong man, but sadly he's not been seen or heard of since. And as you say, five days on, it's freezing cold here, it's difficult to see how anyone could survive that long inside the ship.

The only hope, I think, is that in the confusion of all those 4,000 people disembarking, some people may have gone on their way without notifying the authorities. But, sadly, at the moment, they're still looking for 23 missing people.

KING: A sad turning point in this horrible, horrible trauma, as Dan notes, 23 people still unaccounted for.

Dan Rivers, thanks for your reporting tonight.

In just a moment here, we will hear from the Texas governor, Rick Perry. He promises to push Mitt Romney at tomorrow night's big debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can bet I'm going to press him. The people of South Carolina need to know. And April's way too late for the people of South Carolina.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Also, a new twist in the O.J. Simpson saga. We will tell you why he might not have a home when he gets out of jail.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Our new polling and our reporting here tonight suggests this is a down-to-the-wire finish in South Carolina.

But at the back of the Republican pack is a candidate who not too long ago was the big South Carolina favorite. Tonight, as South Carolina prepares to vote, Rick Perry, the Texas governor, fifth in a five-man race.

Back in September, just after he launched his campaign, Governor Perry led the GOP race here.

I spoke with the governor this afternoon as he campaigned in Greenville, South Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: You have been in politics a long time, though, sir. When you're at 6 percent, Governor Romney is up at the top at 33 percent -- we have about 48 hours until the people of South Carolina vote. Are you convinced you can win this state or get close enough to the winner to have the viability to carry on?

PERRY: Well, we're convinced that that's our goal.

So the idea that we're going to do anything else other than try to impact this election -- and that's why we got in it. We didn't get in it because it was our purpose in life to be the president of the United States. We did it because it was our purpose to serve this country. And that's what we have been called for. And that's what we're going to continue doing.

KING: As you know, some fellow conservatives look at those numbers, and they say that they believe the best course for you would be to step aside.

I want you to listen to Governor Sarah Palin, the vice presidential nominee for your party last time. She was on FOX last night. And here's her take on the race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: If I had to vote in South Carolina, in order to keep this going, I would vote for Newt. And I would want this to continue, more debates, more vetting of candidates, because we know the mistake made in our country four years ago was having a candidate that was not vetted to the degree that he should have been.

I want to see that taking place this time because America is on that precipice. It's that important. We need this process to continue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Sarah Palin says she'd vote for Newt. Speaker Gingrich himself said yesterday that he can't ask you to do this, but he thinks it would be better for conservatives if Governor Perry and Senator Santorum stepped aside.

How do you respond to that, sir?

PERRY: Well, certainly, I agree with Sarah in the sense of that we need to vet these candidates. That's one of the reasons that I asked Mitt to release his income tax.

And now we have found out that he's paying a lesser rate than the guy that's out there working hourly wages. And that's the kind of issues that we have to vet. It's the reason that we talked about Bain Capital. And I'm -- there's not a stronger capitalist on that stage than myself.

But these issues of everyone's record truly needs to be vetted, and vetted well. We can't fire our nominee in September or October. We need to have this vetting process now. So Sarah's absolutely correct that more debates and more opportunities to discuss the issues for the American people to get their arms around. So, from that perspective, she's spot on.

KING: You just mentioned Governor Romney and taxes. He says he will release those tax returns, but probably not until April. He says he paid about 15 percent, as you just noted.

Is that good enough? Or will you press him for more transparency now?

PERRY: Well, you can bet I'm going to press him. The people of South Carolina need to know. And April is way too late for the people of South Carolina.

I have laid my taxes out since back in the '80s. Everyone knows how I made my money. And it's an open record. And we need -- if Mitt Romney intends to be our nominee, he needs to open up his tax records today, no later than tomorrow by debate time, and show people how -- and I think he needs to go back all the way to that period of time, certainly when he was the governor of Massachusetts and even farther back.

I mean, if people -- if you're asking people to trust you to be the president of the United States, the most powerful country in the world, don't you think we're smart enough and trustworthy enough for us to know how you made your money and where you have spent your money, where you have made your charitable contributions, for instance?

KING: And, Governor, as you hear Newt Gingrich make the case in this state that he is the strongest conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, the strongest conservative heir to Ronald Reagan, how would you counter that, sir?

PERRY: Well, certainly, there are a lot of conservatives in this state, and I think they're smart enough to figure out who the real conservative is and if one's more so than the other.

But I trust the people of South Carolina to make the right decision.

KING: Governor Perry, we will see you on the debate stage tomorrow night. Appreciate your time today.

PERRY: Thanks you, John. It's always good to talk to you. So long.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Coming up, the "Truth" about why the next 48 hours are make or break for the Mitt Romney campaign.

Plus, the largest cut emerald anyone's ever seen. If you have got the money, it could be yours.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: Winter in Seattle usually means rain, but not this year. In a minute, the city hunkers down for nearly a year's worth of snow. Problem is, it came in one day.

Plus, the reason why today is blackout day on the Internet.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In a busy half-hour ahead, Seattle braces for nearly as much snow in a day as the city typically gets in a year.

Plus, we will dig into the controversy that shut down some of the Internet's most popular Web sites today. They claim a new law would censor the Web.

Plus, the "Truth" about the next 48 hours and Mitt Romney's hopes to move into the White House.

We begin with the shipwreck that claimed at least 11 lives off the coast of Italy. Tonight, the ship's captain is out of jail, but under house arrest. The judge today released his preliminary findings, saying the captain admits he changed the ship's course, steering way too close to the shore, and that he was navigating by sight when the ship hit some submerged rocks.

Many people are denouncing the captain as cowardly and incompetent, which made us wonder, what kind of people get to be cruise ship captains and exactly what type of training do they have to go through?

Here's CNN's Brian Todd.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, this accident has left many people asking, can they count on the captain of a given cruise ship to ensure their safe passage? How tough a job is it? We came here to one of the busiest cruise ports in the world to find out.

(voice-over): Bill Wright remembers the first time he took the helm of a major cruise ship. He calls it a humbling experience.

BILL WRIGHT, ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL CAPTAIN: As soon as we had left the dock -- it was a departure from Miami. The ship was the Sovereign of the Seas. And immediately after having left the dock, we had to go back to the dock to take on a -- or to evacuate a medical emergency.

TODD: Wright is a captain with Royal Caribbean International. He's piloted at least half-a-dozen cruise ships in their line over 20 years. Wright says the average captain has four to five years of college-level training, then has to build up to 10 years of hands on sea time as a junior officer before being given command of a cruise ship.

He says most captains make between 125 and $225,000 a year in salary. They're pilots, he says, but also diplomats, policemen on what he calls a floating resort.

Your average shift as a captain?

WRIGHT: Sometimes we'll be up at 4 a.m. in the morning for the pilot to arrive at a single port. But there are other activities that take place during the days. Our training drills, and also in the evening time, you obviously have departure from that port.

We work what we call a one-one system, meaning that the time that you spend on board is equal to the time that you have off. In our case, ten weeks on board and ten weeks off.

TODD: Wright says it's not stressful, because you can build in rest time, especially on a so-called sea day when the ship's not coming into port or departing.

Others disagree about the stress.

(on camera) One maritime attorney says many cruise-ship captains are overworked, underpaid, not given the support they need by the cruise lines who are into cutting corners, he says, for the bottom line.

(voice-over) Jack Hickey represented major cruise lines for 17 years. He now represents passengers. He says this about captains.

JACK HICKEY, ATTORNEY: They work basically 24/7. They're on duty seven days a week, and they go out to sea for months at a time, which is something that captains all around the world are faced with. But these are stresses. And these are people who are in charge of 4,000, 5,000, 6,000 people.

TODD: I ran that by Greg Purdy, who monitors captains and crew members for Royal Caribbean.

CAPTAIN GREG PURDY, ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL: I think, again, you just have to consider the source. And where I work day to day with the captains, this isn't the message that I hear.

TODD (on camera): One captain says most of his colleagues can manage whatever stress they face because of the tradeoff. One of the best things about the job, he says, is that every day is different -- John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Brian Todd reporting there.

All across the Internet today you can't find the information you're looking for. Wikipedia, Boing Boing, other popular Web sites gone down for the day. Others, like Google, are working but splashed with protests over censorship of the Internet.

It's part of a big fight over anti-piracy bills now working their way through Congress.

CNN's Silicon Valley correspondent, Dan Simon, joins us now from San Francisco.

Dan, nobody -- I think anybody -- at least publicly, is in favor of piracy. So what's this fight really about?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you talk to folks in Hollywood, it's about jobs and money. If you talk to people in Silicon Valley, it's about whether or not you would grant the government broad authority to say which Web sites are good and which Web sites are bad. They want to be the deciders when it comes to this battle. They don't want the government to come in and say, "We want you to block these Web sites," John.

KING: And so help us through this, Dan. A little Piracy 101. How easy is it these days to download a movie if you're on the Internet, especially a movie that's in the theater right now.

SIMON: Well, first of all, I add that these two bills in front of Congress are basically on life support right now. You had several key members of Congress today back away from these bills. So I think you're pretty much going to have to go back to the drawing board.

But let's look at the legislation as it is written right now and the way you deal with piracy. You asked whether or not piracy is a difficult problem. Yes. I mean, if you were to look at every video store right now in the United States, it would be filled with all these people taking videos right off the shelves. That's essentially what you're dealing with right now on the Internet.

There are these Web sites that are overseas that basically it's, you know, free rein. If you want to go on right now, you can basically get any movie you want that's right in the movie theater, and that's the difficult problem that we're facing today.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Dan Simon outlining the obvious problem there. We'll see how Congress works on the solution. Dan, thanks for your time tonight.

This important full disclosure footnote, the parent company of CNN, Time Warner, supports this legislation. As you'll see if you're logging on the Internet today, there is a fierce debate. We'll follow it, from where we are now to the finish line.

Moving on now, this afternoon, President Obama rejected Republican demands for speedy approval of a controversial oil pipeline. The 1,700-mile expansion of what's the Keystone XL Pipeline would stretch from Canada's oil sands all the way down to Texas.

Congressional Republicans argue this project will create thousands of jobs, as well as ease American dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

But in a written statement this afternoon, the president says, quote, "The rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline's impact, especially the health and safety of the American people as well as our environment."

The House speaker, John Boehner, accused the president of breaking his promise to create jobs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: President Obama is destroying tens of thousands of American jobs and hipping American energy security to the Chinese. There's really -- there's no other way to put it. The president is selling out American jobs for politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, is with us to help us break down fact and fiction. Ali, let's start right here. Are Republicans exaggerating the jobs associated with this?

ALI VELSHI, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: John Boehner certainly is exaggerating it. I'm just taking this out so I can hear myself. John Boehner has said tens of thousands of jobs.

The most optimistic outlook comes from TransCanada, which is the company that would build the pipeline, that says over the two years of construction would be about 10,000 jobs a year. A total of 20 jobs and that -- 20,000 jobs. And that's on the high end.

The State Department, which is the group that actually said no to approving this thing, has said as high as 6,000. And Cornell University, a study there says between 25 and 4,600.

So the bottom line is, there would be jobs created. It's less about the jobs than it is about the oil. The oil sands in Alberta are the richest piece of oil on the continent in the Western Hemisphere.

And John, I'll show you. I've been up there a couple times, as you know. And this is what it is. This is oil sand. It's basically sand that has oil in it. It crumbles. And to get the oil out of it, you basically have to inject steam into the ground, melt the oil. It takes natural gas to do that. It's very intensive.

And I've got here -- again, a little tough to see, John, but this is oil sands. This is the oil that comes out of it when you put the steam. And then this is the oil that gets shipped in a pipeline.

The complaint isn't just that the pipeline might be dangerous. It's that getting the oil from the sand into shippable, usable crude oil is a very energy intensive and somewhat dirty process. So that's what the environmental complaint is. And then there's the jobs complaint.

So basically both sides on this thing have exaggerated their claims. But it was -- the rub here, John, is that, if this oil pipeline doesn't get put into the United States, that oil could well be going to China. Canada gets to sell every drop of oil it makes, because it's a net oil producer.

KING: Ali Velshi, breaking down the pros and cons, giving us a little fascinating look at the process there. Ali, a chemist in addition to our chief business correspondent. I like to see that.

VELSHI: Thanks, John.

KING: Up in Washington state, Seattle's forecast calls for nearly as much snow today as the city gets in any given year. Seven inches. The annual total normally about 11. It's part of a northwest storm that could bring record snow to Olympia and Tacoma.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez is in Seattle.

And Thelma, it's not as bad as it could have been. But that doesn't mean it's not serious and a dangerous situation, right?

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, John. In fact, this is a city where people are used to rain. Lots of rain. Much of the city is built on steep hillsides. And so that makes for a very treacherous drive if you have to try to navigate in this kind of weather.

John, I want you to take a look at this. We did this for you. Our producer, Sarah Whitefield (ph), went out and she got this ruler just to give you an idea of how much snow has fallen in the Capitol Hill area. So you can see it's about 3 1/2 inches, 4 inches has fallen here in the downtown area. But now John, this is very scientific.

But you can also take a look at these folks who are building snowmen out here. They literally are not used to the snow. They've been sledding. And I think one of you guys was using one of these dish buckets, right, to go sledding out here. So again, you know, an area that's just not used to snow -- John.

KING: Thelma Gutierrez. You can join the snowman-building campaign, I think. I have to say, I'm a little jealous. We were in Iowa for the campaign, no snow. New Hampshire for the campaign, no snow. We don't get snow down here when you get to South Carolina. So mark me as envious. I'd like to be out there making the snowmen. We'll approve the ruler on the expense account.

Thelma Gutierrez is live for us in the middle of the snow in Seattle.

Up next, we told you about this at the top of the show. New polling and other new evidence indicate Mitt Romney's frontrunner status is at risk right here in South Carolina. Next the "Truth" about why the next 48 hours are absolutely critical for Governor Romney and his team.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: It is decision time in South Carolina, and that means testing time for Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor is leading here. And a win would make him virtually unstoppable in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

But here's tonight's "Truth." That lead is at risk. And Governor Romney and his team now face the most critical 48 hours of the campaign.

Governor Romney's challenges are three-fold. The attacks on his record, running Bain Capital, are taking a toll here. So are the demands that he release his income tax returns. Add in these attacks and others are not coming from Democrats but from fellow Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obama supported the Wall Street bailouts. So did Romney. Obama gave us radical Obama care that was based on Romney care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A trademark of the Romney campaign so far has been its ability to make quick adjustments and quick counter attacks. Our CNN debate Thursday night will test the governor on the taxes and the Bain questions and test his strategy now to try to stop this late Newt Gingrich surge here. Another trademark of this campaign is the help Romney is getting from his friends at the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future. Their shifts are like clockwork. Evidence of a Gingrich surge, bang.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Newt attacks because he has more baggage than the airlines. Newt was fined $300,000 for ethics violations, took 1.6 million from Freddie Mac, and cosponsored a bill with Nancy Pelosi.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: At just about every stop on the stump, Speaker Gingrich trying to persuade voters: block those ads out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I fully expect the Romney campaign to be unendingly dirty and dishonest for the next four days, because they are desperate. They thought they could buy this. They're discovering they can't buy this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Truth is, the speaker's friends have their own super PAC. And they're playing just as tough with Governor Romney now. It is testing time, and the stakes couldn't be higher.

Plus unlike New Hampshire we enter the final hours and the final debate here with absolutely no certainty about who will win, which is why the attacks are getting more pointed and more personal.

Let's continue the discussion now. Joining me here in Charleston, Jim Dyke, a Republican political consultant and the president of JDA Frontline. And Amy Kramer. She's the chair of the Tea Party Express.

Jim, you know this state very well. Since the debate Monday night, our polling shows if you talk to the campaigns they see it. Our poll says Governor Romney, if you take the full poll, has a 10- point lead. But if you look at the last day, if you talk to the campaigns, they think right now we have a single-digit race. Why?

JIM DYKE, REPUBLICAN POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Well, I think that nobody's ever questioned whether Newt Gingrich was an effective campaigner. It's when he's not an effective campaigner is the problem.

And he's been very effective in the last several days. He was very effective at the debate. He's been out on the stump.

Mitt Romney is also -- needs to step up his game a little bit. He needs to show confidence in who he is. I don't know that the attacks about his record are as damaging as him seeming uncomfortable about the issues and particularly his personal issues. If he feels uncomfortable with it, it makes others feel uncomfortable with it.

KING: You mentioned personal issues. For him it's releasing your taxes. People say you're wealthy, you don't get it. Are you getting less than the average Joe in South Carolina?

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, a pretty popular Republican across the country, a Romney guy. A Romney guy. Listen to him on the question of the tax returns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: What I would say to Governor Romney is, if you have tax return to put out, you know, you should put them out. You put them out sooner rather than later. Because it's always better, in my view, to have complete disclosure and especially when you're the frontrunner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: One of your most influential and important surrogates, essentially that's a kick in the you know what. Release those tax returns, Governor Romney. Does that have an impact? Do average voters care? Is it about the specifics of the tax returns or is it about, well, if he's not willing to do it, is he hiding something?

AMY KRAMER, TEA PARTY EXPRESS: I think there's so many dynamics in play here. I think people truly don't know who going to vote for. There's a large percentage of people that are still undecided.

But you know what? I mean, I think they all should release their tax returns. I mean, go ahead, put it out there, because it's one less thing for somebody to attack you over. And you get it out there. It's front and center. And you disclose it. And I think that's better for everybody.

But at the end of the day, I think the voters are going to decide not on tax returns, you know, so much but on who has the best ideas and solutions and the ability to turn the economy around and create jobs. It's all about jobs, jobs, jobs.

And when President Obama today, you know, denied the Keystone Pipeline, I mean, that is unbelievable. And that's what Americans are focused on right now is turning the economy around and getting people back to work.

KING: The question South Carolina has essentially is, bless Romney, coming out of New Hampshire the big win, say yes, we agree, which would make him the prohibitive favorite. Or some would say not so fast. Not so fast. Let's send this campaign on to Florida, to Arizona, to Nevada and to Michigan.

I've asked you several times, will the Tea Party step up and assert itself here? If you look at our new poll, support for Republican nominee among likely Tea Party voters in this state of South Carolina, Speaker Gingrich now getting 31 percent. That's up 8 points from January. Governor Romney at 26 percent. That's down 6 points from January. What is it that's causing the Tea Party vote to move some toward the speaker?

KRAMER: Well, I think that they're just focused on the issues at hand and who has the ability to beat Barack Obama. I mean, that's what it's going to come down to. And individuals have to make that decision. I know, you know, the social conservatives have a role here.

But at the end of the day -- and this is why the Tea Party's been so influential, is because we focus only on the fiscal issues. And we don't focus on the social issues or the foreign policy. So the voters are going to decide who is going to -- you know, who's best suited to turn the economy around.

And I don't know. I mean, you know, I've said before, and I think I probably said it on your show, Newt Gingrich was involved with the Tea Party movement from the very beginning. He's put together a good ground game here in South Carolina. And I hear from a good source that there is a large number of Tea Party leaders from across the country coming out tomorrow to support somebody.

And so you know, I -- I mean, the Tea Party movement -- I've always said no matter who wins this, they can't win it without the support of the Tea Party movement.

KING: And so if you're Governor Romney and you're in this hall tomorrow night, you're on stage, you and your four other rivals, Governor Romney's tragedy has been if it's a slight hit to let it go, pivot, let's focus on President Obama. Not to get involved in the getting (ph). Can he do that now or does he have to, one, answer the questions about his record or his taxes more aggressively and, two, turn and counterpunch.

DYKE: Certainly. He needs to provide certainty. He needs to provide certainty to voter that is he's comfortable with who he is, with his record. He got a little wobbly on Monday night. He needs to reassert himself the confidence that he had in the debates prior.

He does need to stay focused on Barack Obama. That's the issue. The passion that you saw on Monday night's debate was over beating Barack Obama. That's what Republicans are rallied around in the state of South Carolina.

KING: So we have what I call the two parallel universes right now. We could wake up on Sunday morning, and have Romney wins Iowa, Romney wins New Hampshire, Romney wins South Carolina.

Or we could wake up and say, Iowa went back and checked the results. Senator Santorum won Iowa. You might hear that as early as tomorrow. If he did, it will be only by a few votes, just like now we say Romney won by eight. Maybe Santorum won by a few.

But if we wake up Sunday morning and we have Santorum in Iowa, Romney in New Hampshire, Gingrich in South Carolina, we've got a very different race, a very different conversation in the Republican Party than we were having yesterday and at least through part of today, do we not? DYKE: No question. You would have three candidates who could claim that they are viable and could go the long haul. I suspect you'd see money begin to go to all three, and we'd have a completely different race.

KRAMER: But you know what? It's representative of what's going on across this country right now. And people just simply don't know.

KING: People don't know. So let's run the calculation. Is it better for the Republican Party when you have a well-funded, well- organized incumbent president, for the Republican Party to have this over? Or is it better to do a replay of the Democrats in 2008? You had that long Clinton-Obama race. A lot of people worried, would it weaken them? In the end, I think most people would agree Senator Obama and many Republicans -- I think most Republicans would agree -- Senator Obama was a better candidate having survived that.

DYKE: A better candidate, one, and two, it allows the party to organize those states. If you have a contest, you bring more voters out, more Republican voters. You're able to organize. You leave the state with a passion going into the general election, an organization, a passion with a better candidate.

KRAMER: I agree with him. They're better suited for the attacks. I mean, they've built that defense around them. But on the other hand, Barack Obama, you know, they've claimed that they're going to raise a billion dollars to run this campaign.

KING: They say -- they say somebody else came up with that number, and it's not theirs.

KRAMER: These candidates right now are raising money to fight each other, so you know, that's the downside of it. But at the end of the day, I think the -- all of these Republican candidates would be better than, you know, President Barack Obama. I can't see any of them turning down the Keystone Pipeline for jobs, and that's what's important to Americans.

KING: A couple of the other -- let's mention and talk about a couple of the other candidates. No. 1, Ron Paul was an impact player in Iowa, an impact player in New Hampshire. Most see him in this for the long haul because he does have an organization, a movement. They see him as the nominee. Is he going to register here in South Carolina?

DYKE: Yes, Ron Paul has a following everywhere. It's not enough to win the election, but he's got a following everywhere.

KING: Is Rick Perry done?

KRAMER: Rick Perry's still in it right now.

KING: But if he comes in fifth here, will Governor Perry go on?

KRAMER: I mean, you know, I don't know. We all know that money plays a significant part of these campaigns, so you know, Governor Perry has to decide that.

KING: Do you suspect if he's fifth here by the time we get to a debate in Florida?

DYKE: It's tough to see a path forward for Governor Perry.

KING: Jim Dyke, Amy Kramer, appreciate your insights tonight. Fascinating couple of final days here in South Carolina. Going to be fun to be in that hall tomorrow night.

Many of you if you're sports fans, you know him as Kareem Abdul- Jabbar or maybe as the NBA's all-time leading scorer. Maybe you remember "Airplane," the movie. Well, he's adding a new title to his resume: ambassador. Details after the break.

Plus, officials in Indonesia are cracking down on how train riders get to work by teaching them a potentially painful lesson.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Hello again.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, John. Having too much fun in South Carolina. Got to come back home. Less fun. Anyway, here's the news we want to catch you up on.

This probably your fear as well as everyone's worst fear. You're on a plane, and you hear a message informing you the plane is going to have to make an emergency landing, on the water. It happened last week on a British Airways flight from Miami to London. According to the "London Telegraph," an automated female voice warned startled passengers, of course, while the plane was cruising at 35,000 feet. According to British Airways, the pilot hit the wrong button, claiming the buttons were too close together.

Surprised that hasn't happened more often, if that's the case.

Attention "Star Wars" fans: the legendary director George Lucas says he doesn't want to deal with you anymore. Lucas says in an upcoming issue of "New York Times" magazine that he' s retiring from making the blockbuster films he is so famous for. Instead, he plans to make more experimental films.

If you think your commute is rough, take a look at this video. Notice the chains and those concrete balls hanging above the train? That's what Indonesian railway -- railway officials have installed above train tracks to stop commuters from doing that, from riding on the roofs of trains and on the sides during rush hour. Critics argue the move discriminates against the poor.

That is a story that I had to read three times, John. It's like one of those, what?

KING: That brings all new meaning to commuting giving you a bit of a headache, I guess.

All right, all right. Let's try again. Let's try again. Today's moments you most likely missed. Slight height difference here. Look at the picture. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just named Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a cultural ambassador of the United States. The new ambassador wasted no time spreading some good will. You see him right there, giving the secretary an autographed jersey and his new book. Next week, the ambassador heads to Brazil.

OK, Kate. Basketball fan?

BOLDUAN: I am a basketball fan. Not quite like you, but I am a basketball fan. I'm so nervous what's coming next.

KING: At UCLA -- at UCLA, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was who?

BOLDUAN: A starting player.

KING: Lew Alcindor was his name back then before he switched to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

And "Airplane," the movie.

BOLDUAN: This is really mean. What did you say?

KING: Who was he in "Airplane," the movie?

BOLDUAN: He was the co-pilot. Roger Roger.

KING: He was the co-pilot. Roger Murdoch and Leslie Nielsen. Roger Roger, you have to remember that scene. The little kid comes into the cockpit and says, "My dad says you don't rebound." Come on now, it's a classic.

BOLDUAN: I am sweating. That was, like, the most nerve wracking bit of live television.

KING: As a Celtics fan -- as a Celtics fan, I can't like a Lakers guy, but I like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

BOLDUAN: Oh, come on. You always have to take it back to that.

KING: All right, Kate. We'll see you tomorrow. You be sure to watch tomorrow night. Not only watch us here at 6 p.m. Eastern but also tomorrow night's southern Republican debate, the last debate before South Carolina's critical presidential primary. You'll see that debate only right here, CNN, 8 p.m. Eastern.

And we'll see you at 6 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. Then we'll see you at the debate. That's all for us tonight, though. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.