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U.S Allies Step Up Attacks On Iran; Santorum Reaps Benefactor's Millions; Who Is Saul Alinsky?; Unrest In Homs

Aired January 23, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: To our viewers here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, an unprecedented effort to stop Iran in its nuclear tracks and the United States and its allies potentially close to choking off the country's financial system. Why it could mean more pain for all of us at the pump. Stand by.

Also, CNN's Arwa Damon at the epicenter of mass kidnappings, killings and gunfire in Syria where fear has now become the new reality.

And the man Newt Gingrich loves to use against President Obama, who exactly is Saul Alinsky? Is he a real threat to the White House?

We want to welcome our viewers in the united states and around the world. Breaking news, political headlines, and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

Bur first, this just coming in to the SITUATION ROOM. You're looking at new video of a neighborhood destroyed, destroyed in Jefferson County, Alabama. Part of shock and horror after a series of monstrous storms ripped through the area across the southeast. I should say, as well, at least two people are dead, another 100 injured.

More than 200 homes were simply ripped apart. That number expected to go up as the day goes on. Those who narrowly escaped the disaster are simply happy to be alive.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We made it just in the nick of time. The good Lord just blessed us, and we're just glad we're here. We've lost our house, but at least we have -- I'm sorry -- we got our family -- and that's all that matters right now.


BLITZER: CNN meteorologist, Reynolds Wolf, is joining us in Clay, Alabama. He's right in the middle of the devastation. Reynolds, set the scene for us. This is horrific.

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is hard to believe, Wolf. I mean, this is the second time in less than a year that we've had a deadly tornado incident in the state of Alabama. First, of course, last year, we had parts of the area in Tuscaloosa, some places just west of Birmingham that were devastated.

Now, it's on the other side of the city, northeast of Birmingham here in clay where we have the issue. Right behind me, we got the George Brook Community. This neighborhood was a place where its residents had no other concerns 24 hours ago other than watching the NFC and AFC championship games. They had some light rain, but there was never a problem at all.

Everything went down at about 3:45 to 4:00 a.m. last night and early-morning hours we had the devastation that began. You can see plain as day some would write there in the foreground. Wolf, moment ago, we had chance to go down and surveyed the damage up close. This is what we found.


WOLF: You know, the view down here is just mind boggling. I mean, you look all around and there's wreckage, there's debris all over the place. It's hard to believe that anyone could possibly live through this tornado but, in fact, someone did. In family, a family right over here certainly lived through it. This is Roy Orr. Roy, thanks so much for spending some time with us.

ROY ORR, HOMEOWNER: Thank you. No problem.

WOLF: How long have you lived in this neighborhood?

ORR: Roughly, eight and half, maybe nine years.

WOLF: And you have a son and your wife?

ORR: Yes.

WOLF: What time did the tornado strike your house last night?

ORR: It started about 4:15 or 4:30, roughly around that time, and all I could hear was like the thunderstorms starting and churning and power flickering on and off and what kind of triggered me to wake up was the power kept going on and off but the baby monitor kept making the staticky noise. So, I got up a little bit but didn't pay too much attention to it.

But when the siren started, all the power went out, and got totally black, and my son started crying for his mom. So, I ran down the hallway to get him. By that time, while I was picking him up, I could hear the rumbling started. My wife thought it was just a heavy wind. She was telling me and my son to come back to bed.

So, I was telling her, no. We're going into the bathroom to get in the tub, you know? So, by that time when she's coming down the hallway, I grab her hand and drag her into the bathroom and as soon as I closed the door, I couldn't even get in the tub fast enough. It hit. And by that time, I was just squeezing both of them felt like I was going to smother them, but I couldn't squeeze hard enough, because I could feel the wind just pulling me like it was trying to suck me off of them. So, I just continued to squeeze, and after that, I think it was about over when the roof came of and that's when all of the water came in and everything just started to cave in.


WOLF: One silver lining to the story, Wolf, is that there was ample warning in this neighborhood. Most people had to up an hour of advanced warning. Also, there were some tornado sirens in the region, so people knew what was coming if there was going to be the potential of tornadoes. One thing that's amazing, also, if you look right behind me, you can see the sheer difference in one side of the small valley.

You see the homes are devastated, but if you veer over to the right, Mike Callaway (ph) is our photojournalist, Mike can show you some homes that are basically untouched, in perfect shape. Now, if we drop down a little bit, you're also going to notice a line of cars that's coming right up the street, and Mike, if you swing around and follow me and we can show our viewers that are tuning in across America that the reason why we're having the holdup is right here in front of us.

You can see the power company restoring the power on this stretch of roadway. Wolf, this is a scene that's played all over parts of Central Alabama, seven different counties, extreme damage, lot of back roads, lot of side streets still completely covered with a lot of trees, a lot of power lines, a lot of telephone poles.

It's going to take a while for the cleanup, but they managed to have a much better handle on it by the time they get to tomorrow and certainly later this week, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. I'm going to show our viewers, once again, some of those aerial pictures. It's so devastating to see it. How wide of an area did these tornadoes devastate and the point you make about only a few blocks away, the houses seem to be just find, but look at these amazing, amazing aerial shots. This whole area simply leveled destroyed.

WOLF: It really is. When you think about that, too. You know, sometimes, Wolf, these tornadoes can be -- they vary. They can take place anywhere on the planet, more likely they recur here in the United States than any other spot, and they've been very frequent here in the state of Alabama, obviously, in this past year. You're talking about the whip.

Sometimes, you can have them well in excess of a mile or so, but this one was fairly narrow. In fact, if you look over, Mike, I don't know if you can get this, right over here to this ravine, you can see that a lot of trees have been scrubbed by the winds.

We can get counterclockwise fashion and a lot of insulation, a lot of looks like, some piping, even some clothing that's up in the trees, and then you veer over to the other side. Only a few streets over, you see much of the damage begins to subside. So, yes, very narrow, in fact, I'd say in some places, maybe just 100 yards, if that much, Wolf.

BLITZER: When you say they had warning, Reynolds, what does that mean exactly? That folks were warned these tornadoes were on the way?

WOLF: Well, for one thing, I can tell you that people in Birmingham, Alabama and the surrounding communities are very weather savvy. They tune in quite a bit. They've had a lot of advance warning. They've been knowing for days there's going to be this possibility. I can tell you that on CNN, we've been broadcasting.

Our entire weather team has been telling what basically showing the forecast and storm prediction center. They knew days in advance that this atmospheric setup was going to take place. That tornadoes were all but a certainty. The idea was we didn't precisely know where exactly. It was impossible to pinpoint exactly where they're going to occur, but sure enough they happened here.

People in this area were aware of that. Second thing, they do have sirens in this community. They were able to hear the sirens go off. I can also tell you there are people in this community that have the NOAA weather radios that emit that sound. As soon as they hear that emergency signal, people know to take cover. Thankfully, that one family we interviewed earlier, the Orr family, did just that.

BLITZER: Yes, thank God for that. Give our best to all the folks our heart goes out to them. Reynolds Wolf on the scene for us in Clay, Alabama. Thank you very much.

Other important news, we're following. Escalating global concern over Iran's nuclear capabilities. The United States and its allies now on heightened alert in the Strait of Hormuz as that country steps up threats to close the critical international waterway. This is bold new action has just been announced designed to hit Iran where it hurts, its staggering oil supply.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is standing by with the latest. Chris, very dramatic developments happening today, very significant.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the most significant toughening of sanctions to date. It could literally bring Iran's economy to its knees.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Two sides, either backing down. On Monday, a defiant Iran again threatening to shut down a vital shipping line for oil. Just one day after the U.S. sent another aircraft carrier through the Strait of Hormuz. And European nations have moved to cripple Iran's entire economy.

CATHERINE ASHTON, EU FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHIEF: We've adopted tough new sanctions against Iran because of the concern we have over their nuclear program.

LAWRENCE: The European Union has adopted an unprecedented oil embargo against Iran. It's 20 percent of Iran's exports, gone. All that remains is to account for Iran's biggest customers, China, Japan, and India.

ASHTON: We're in conversation, of course, with countries across the world, about trying to ensure that if you like the gap isn't simply filled.

LAWRENCE: American, British, and French warships are patrolling the waters in and around the Strait of Hormuz. European officials are also freezing the assets of Iran's central bank in the EU. And Monday, the U.S. treasury department sanctioned Iran's third largest bank, one of its last access points to international finance.

That's 23 banks on the black list. And some argue, Iran is more isolated than it's ever been since the Islamic revolution.

KARIM SADJADPOUR, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT: Its currency is in a downward tailspin. It's population is incredibly disgruntled.

LAWRENCE: Analyst, Karim Sadjadpour, says, if American politicians are serious about reducing the federal debt and improving the U.S. economy, threats to bomb Iran's nuclear sites are misguided.

SADJADPOUR: And because it would sky rocket oil prices and it would require greater U.S. presence in the Middle East just at the time when most Americans want us to get out of the Middle East.


LAWRENCE (on-camera): So, all this is basically designed to get Iran back to the negotiating table on its nuclear program. Officials say they have received messages that Iran is ready to talk, but that doesn't mean it will actually take substantive steps to stop its development, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know Iran exports a lot of oil. If they choke that export line off, what impact will it have on gas prices?

LAWRENCE: Well, some say it could take the cost of a barrel from $100 to $120. That's because, you know, the global marketplace, you know, sort of sets the price. And it's a great question, Wolf, because if you see a spike in oil prices, that just makes Iran's exports to other nations that much more valuable.

But what we're seeing to mitigate that is these -- this embargo is going to be phased in over several months. The world demand for oil seems to be going down and some alternative suppliers like the Saudis have indicated they may be able to make up the difference.

BLITZER: Good point. Chris Lawrence, a very important story you're following. Thank you.

Let's get to the intense battle for the White House right now, and a shocking turn around at the front of the pack only days before the pivotal Florida primary. Take a look at this latest Gallup national poll showing Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich now in a statistical dead heat. It's a huge boost for Newt Gingrich who only a week ago was trailing Romney by more than 20 percentage points.

Today, Mitt Romney is pulling out all the stops in Florida hoping a fierce attack on Newt Gingrich will help him reclaim his long-held frontrunner status in this presidential race.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's gone from pillar to post, almost like a pin ball machine, from item to item in a way which is highly erratic and does not suggest a stable, thoughtful course which is normally associated with leadership.


BLITZER: These charges against the former house Speaker also resonating with some Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill whereas dramatic surge in the polls is causing concern for some of them. Let's bring in our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's got the details -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I just rode up in the elevator on the way here with longtime House Republican lawmaker who served for a long time with Newt Gingrich but has endorsed Mitt Romney. And I asked, why did you endorse Romney, and he said because I served for a long time with Newt Gingrich.

That gives you a sense of how the feeling is here in this building about Newt Gingrich. One GOP strategist who has not endorsed anybody said that the feeling is not at deaf confided yet but panic is around the corner.


BASH (voice-over): Newt Gingrich may have lead Republicans to their first House majority in 40 years, but the prospect of Gingrich becoming their presidential nominee is producing significant GOP angst.

RON BONJEAN, FORMER HOUSE REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP AIDE: Most people on Capitol Hill and in Washington are very nervous about a Gingrich presidency.

BASH: Veteran Republican leadership aide, Ron Bonjean, says, publicly, what many lawmakers and strategists only tell CNN privately.

BONJEAN: It sends a shiver down a lot of Republican spines. You can actually feel the nervousness in Washington from Republicans around town that Gingrich could actually bring the craziness back of the speakership from the 1990s.

BASH: Several GOP congressionals tell CNN it's not only about the White House. Republican leaders worry Gingrich at the top of the ticket could be a drag on their candidates for Congress, even her chances for taking over the Senate. They point to races in Virginia, Ohio, Florida and Nevada, as example of Senate races that could be in jeopardy. Why? Gingrich's reputation as an undisciplined messenger. Like when he said this about the Medicare plan most Republicans supported.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think right wing social engineering is any more desirable than left wing social engineering. I don't think imposing radical change from right to the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.

BASH: Some, like Senator Jim DeMint dismissed concerns.

SEN. JIM DEMINT, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't think so. I think what we've seen from Newt that people like is the willingness to take on the media and to really stand up and fight.

BASH: Still, just 12 sitting Republican lawmakers have endorsed the former House speaker, 64 support Mitt Romney. The Gingrich campaign e-mailed a list of 11 former members of Congress who served with Gingrich backing him now, including J.C. Watts.

J.C. WATTS, (R) FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: We had a balanced budget with Newt. Only time in my lifetime we didn't spend out more money than we took in.

BASH: But many former colleagues have endorsed Mitt Romney. Susan Molinari even made this web ad as Gingrich's support begin to climb.

SUSAN MOLINARI, FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN: I served with Newt Gingrich in Congress. Newt Gingrich had a leadership style that can only be described as leadership by chaos.

BASH: Gingrich tries to turn the criticism into a plus.

GINGRICH: It's very clear the establishment wants Romney.


BASH (on-camera): And Republican lawmakers here on Capitol Hill say they know that they are a good foil for Newt Gingrich saying just that, that the establishment is out to get him. That is why, Wolf, we had some trouble getting people who are very opened and private to actually come on camera and talk about their concerns about Newt Gingrich.

But one of the Republican strategists who was really involved in getting Republicans elected but not endorsed said that the narrative feed into his narrative, but they are still very concerned about it.

BLITZER: You got to give him credit, though. He manages to turn negative stuff into positive stuff for him, and he does that brilliantly --

BASH: He sure does.

BLITZER: -- on very many occasions. Thanks very much, Dana, up on Capitol Hill. Some are calling and I'm quoting now - "the billionaire who bought Iowa for Rick Santorum."



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's like -- I got to keep that from my wife. She could kill me if she really found out.


BLITZER: Just ahead, CNN goes in-depth on the moneymaker behind the candidate.

Plus, CNNs Arwa Damon, she's now at the epicenter of the brutal Syria crackdown where life is now a never-ending cycle of fear and uncertainty.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack Cafferty for the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It used to matter, Wolf, this state of the union thing that the president does. It used to be sort of a snapshot of where the country stood, how the economy is doing, what's working, what isn't. Now, it's morph into just another political speech, a nicely bundled batch of BS designed to make the American people feel good about whichever party is pedaling it.

And then, in election year, it will be even worse than usual. Nevertheless, it's an exercise the president has to go through once a year and tomorrow night is the night. With a captive audience and the joint session of Congress and a national television audience of millions, President Obama will tell us what a wonderful job he's doing and how everything is going great in the country.

He probably won't mention that the nation is broke. He probably won't talk much about the long national nightmare that's the war in Afghanistan. He's not likely to address the fact that gas prices have doubled since he took office. He probably won't draw much attention to the fact that the housing crisis still isn't anywhere near over.

He likely won't mention that the overall standard of living for Americans is in decline. And I'll bet he doesn't dwell on the fact that millions and millions of Americans still can't find a job. Instead, he'll likely try to portray whatever problems he addresses as all being Congress' fault, while at the same time, promising that he's going to do much better in the coming year.

The fact of the matter is the state of our union isn't all that good and the gridlock in Congress and the intense partisanship all across the country doesn't bold well for our future.

Here's the question, how confident are you in the state of the union? Go to file and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good question, Jack. And this note to our viewers, be sure to watch CNN for special coverage of the president's "State of the Union" address tomorrow night. It all begins tomorrow -- our live coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. eastern only here on CNN.

Turning now to Syria where the mass bloodshed is reportedly claimed another 29 lives. It's all prompting a widening European sanctions against Syrian officials and fueling fierce backlash against Arab league observers for not putting a stop to the brutality. CNNs Arwa Damon was in Homs today, ground zero of the current crisis.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): People in Homs no longer flinch when they hear gunfire. What was once terrifying is now just routine. Trash lines the street, most shops are shut. Those opened don't have power. Homs was once a thriving metropolis. Now, its the epicenter of clashes between government and opposition forces.

There are fortified military positions on just about every street corner. It's tragic, awful. These two women who don't want to be named tell us -- kidnappings, killings, gunfire. They won't say who is to blame, but their lives are now a never-ending cycle of fear and uncertainty. Emotions that we find everywhere we go in hopes on all sides, and among those caught in the middle.

We're in a predominantly Christian neighborhood on a tour organized by the government. Our escorts say it's one of the few that remains relatively safe.

(on-camera) This couple own this shop, and they're saying that this type of ongoing gunfire that we're hearing around us has become perfectly normal, but they're really very confined as to where they can go in less than a two-minute walk up the road they're saying that's where the clashes are taking place.

(voice-over) But many in Homs don't even want to be identified. Some government supporters say they fear what they call "armed gangs" and don't want to appear on camera. Nor does that young woman who says she's with the opposition. No one dares to talk, she claims. You're not seeing the truth here. There are plain clothes government security listening.

Down another road, we see bullet holes in a building. Anti- government graffiti painted over. We're told not to advance any further. That part of town is controlled by what the government and its supporters call "terrorists." What the opposition calls "the free Syrian army." Made up mainly of military deserters, it's having a growing impact.

At the military hospital nearby, a funeral for three members of the security forces. Hospital officials tell us that on average, five soldiers are dying a day, another 30 are wounded. Inside this 22- year-old soldier is in intensive care with a gunshot wound to the head. We're told he was brought in half an hour before we arrived. This is the hardest period that we have gone through, Dr. Halil Ibrahim (ph) who has been stationed here for 31 years, tells us.

The number of casualties, the scale of their injuries, it's been very challenging. Dr. Ibrahim says he would understand a national Syrian opposition but insists the armed resistance has been hijacked by what he calls "external destructive forces." This, without a doubt, is creating fragments within society, he admits. It's a fear felt by many Syrians we meet. Whatever their opinions, that the country's divisions are beyond healing.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Homs, Syria.


BLITZER: And Arwa is joining us now on the phone. Arwa, we're getting new numbers in and another 36 people killed today, a third of them in Homs where you were. More than 6,000 now confirmed dead in Syria since the uprising began several months ago.

A lot of people are asking me to make sure that you're OK. Tell our viewers in the United States and around the world, Arwa, how you're doing.

DAMON: We're absolutely fine and what people need to realize is that no matter what it is that we go through at journalists, it's real a fraction of what the Syrian people are going through no matter which side of the spectrum they fall on. You just saw that report from Homs, and there are a number of people that we met in that city there, quite frankly, caught in the middle of everything.

The situation here is so polarized at this point in time. The two sides are so hardened against one another, and there are a number of people that are in the middle of it all. People that (INAUDIBLE) the silent majority. And they are simply trying to wait, hoping for some sort of political resolution because at the end of the day, nobody across any side of the spectrum wants to see this country descend into some sort of warfare along whatever lines it may be at the end of the day.

But what many people keep pointing out to us is that the longer this drags on, the harder it is going to be to find any sort of a political resolution, and at this point in time, even peace. And people don't know how to save their own country at this stage, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just be careful over there, Arwa. Arwa Damon, one of our most courageous journalists on the scene in Syria for us. We'll check back with you tomorrow. Thank you.

Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, dips into history to take shots at President Obama.


GINGRICH: The values that he believes in, the Saul Alinsky radicalism that is at the heart of Obama are a disaster. I believe his American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky.



BLITZER: Who was Saul Alinsky? Stand by. You'll find out.

And this, yes, that's a banged-up Senator John Kerry. How did he get those two shiners? We'll tell you.


BLITZER: The Republican presidential hopeful, Rick Santorum, is on the ground in Florida after a third-place finish in South Carolina. He struck an optimistic note about the dollars and cents of campaigning.


RICK SANTORUM (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The other two candidates are out there saying, we can win. What gives you the impression that they have a better ability to win this election than I do? Now, Governor Romney says, I can win because I have the most money. Does anyone doubt whoever the Republican nominee will have all of the money they ever need to run against Barack Obama? They will.


SANTORUM: There's absolutely no doubt that whoever the republican nominee is will be backed fully, completely, and by the way, en -- in our case, enthusiastically, by the base of the Republican Party, entire base.


BLITZER: All right. Now, the Rick Santorum's campaign depends on contributions from his own supporters. One backer in particular is openly spending millions to keep Santorum's White House aspirations alive. Drew Griffin with CNN special investigation's unit has an in- depth look.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE UNIT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): when Foster Free saw his friend Rick Santorum stuck way on the outside of the debate podium last summer in Iowa --

BRET BAIER, MODERATOR: And you have the next question.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I haven't had a chance to say a whole lot.

BAIER: You have the next question, Senator, I promise.

GRIFFIN: -- he knew he had to do something. Santorum wasn't getting his message across, and trying to wave his hand in front of the media wasn't working.

So this born-again Christian and major philanthropist opened his checkbook and began to write down numbers, big numbers that he would send not to Santorum, but to Santorum's super PAC.

(on camera): Did you save Santorum?


GRIFFIN: Did you save him?

FRIESS: Good heavens, no.

GRIFFIN: You're keeping him alive right now, it seems.

FRIESS: Well, I think The Daily Kos did an article, "Meet Mr. Friess, the Billionaire Who Bought Iowa for Santorum." So people discount it. He went to 341 stops, town hall meetings.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): He is still giving -- gave in South Carolina, sending more to Florida.

(on camera): How much?

FRIESS: Well, it's like, I've got to keep that from my wife. She could kill me if she really found out. I think I want to keep that kind of under the radar.

It will be reported eventually, but I just want to -- I just believe in Santorum. I believe in what he can do for the country.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Right now it's what this former investment manager can do for Santorum that counts.

Friess has money, and lots of it. Out of his Jackson Hole, Wyoming, based foundation, he likes to give it away -- millions to Haiti relief efforts, millions to victims of the Indonesian tsunami. And like it or not, during the 2012 election cycle, millions to the super PAC supporting his pick for president.

(on camera): Do you think there's something inherently wrong with all that money, whether it's left or right?

FRIESS: Well, the reality is that it would be a lot better if people give directly to a campaign. If, Drew, you're running for something, everybody ought to send money directly to you. Then you're in control of it, you don't have to play all these games, and it's honest, it's out front, it's forward, it's fully disclosed. That's really the way it should be.

GRIFFIN: Friess has pushed the rules on super PACs by appearing at campaign stops. By law, he's not supposed to talk to Santorum about campaign strategy or what the Red, White and Blue Fund is doing to help the campaign. Friess admits it's made his long-term friendships with Santorum, well, a little more formal.

(on camera): Are you able to communicate with Rick Santorum?

FRIESS: It's very, very touchy. I have to be very, very careful what I say. And if I have a question I want to ask, I call up the lawyer and I say, "Can I discuss this?" And they say, "Yes, it's OK." But it's just annoying to have to be on such eggshells knowing that you could unwittingly violate a law.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): And while he won't say exactly how much he's given, he is openly saying he will give at least $500,000 more if sportsmen around the country will match his donation.


GRIFFIN: And with that kind of money on the line, and given Santorum's struggle to stay in this campaign, Wolf, I did ask Foster Friess if he was wasting his money. Of course he said no, but he also said something interesting. Santorum is a hard worker, according to Friess, and Friess thinks he, Santorum, can really out-hustle the other candidates if he can just stay in the race. It's this super PAC that is really keeping Santorum in the race -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. Excellent report. I know you're going to have a lot more on "AC 360" later tonight as well.

Thanks very much.

Drew Griffin, reporting.

The surge of dramatic presidential debates proving to be another major factor in this campaign season.

Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

There are always debates.


BLITZER: I moderated five debates the last cycle around four years ago. I'm going to be doing another one Thursday night in Jacksonville.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Is it my impression or do you agree that the debates this time, in this Republican contest, seem to have been so much more important?

BORGER: They are more important this time, Wolf. There's no doubt about it. Go back to 2008.

You had a bunch of candidates that were pretty well known. You had Romney. You had Giuliani. You had John McCain.

Republicans knew who they were, so they watched the debates. But this time, this time you had Mitt Romney and everybody else. And that includes Newt Gingrich, by the way, because his large popularity was sort of in the mid-90s. Lots of people didn't know who he was, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and the list goes on.

You also have a bunch of voters who were shopping around. Very undecided, very mercurial, very fluid race. And so they tuned into these debates because they wanted to introduce themselves to the candidates.

When you look at the numbers compared to 2008, it's kind of interesting. At this point now, by the end of this week, we will have had 19 debates. In 2008, we had 15 debates. So there were a lot of debates in 2008, but they didn't pack the punch because you had so many virtually unknown candidates this time who decided they needed to say yes to every request because they wanted to get up on the stage and introduce themselves.

BLITZER: Nineteen debates just for the Republicans or 19 Democrat and Republican?

BORGER: Just for the Republicans.

BLITZER: Just for the Republicans. Interesting.

BORGER: Last time it was 15.

BLITZER: I didn't realize that. Interesting.

BORGER: So we did have a lot.

BLITZER: All right. In South Carolina -- because you've been looking at the exit poll numbers -- what was more important, the debates or the money?

BORGER: Now, I would say the debates. Let me show you the money numbers here and you can decide for yourself.

Mitt Romney and his super PAC, for example, spent $4.45 million. Gingrich and his super PAC, $2.8 million.

Now, Gingrich won, as you know, by a dozen points, but there were two debates in the last days leading up to South Carolina. And we asked voters in the exit polls -- I want you to take a look at this -- from South Carolina, "Were the debates important to your vote?" And the answers were, as you see, overwhelmingly, 65 percent said yes, 34 percent, no.

And here's another factor that made the debates so decisive. More than half of the voters told us that they decided in the last few days, and Gingrich got close to half of those voters. And so we have to really believe that the debates were what closed the deal for Newt Gingrich.

BLITZER: But looking ahead to Florida, a week from tomorrow, it's a big state, a lot of media markets. Money is going to be critical.

BORGER: Money is going to be critical. Debate is critical, too. We're going to have debates leading up to the primary, very close to the primary. But it is a larger state with 10 major media markets. And money buys organization, and that's what Mitt Romney has.

We've already had, for example, about 200,000 ballots cast. Mitt Romney has been organizing to get those votes out early. That will help him.

But, again, Wolf, you know that you're going to have a debate. There's a debate tonight. There's another debate Thursday. And that will be, what, five days before the primary? So it will be very important.

BLITZER: Thursday night, Jacksonville. We'll be there for the debate, 8:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.

BORGER: I'll be there, too.

BLITZER: Thank you, Gloria.


BLITZER: In the political arena, you can take some occasional hard knocks, but not quite like this. So what happened to Senator John Kerry? Look at that.

And he's Newt Gingrich's favorite new reference to use out on the campaign trail when criticizing President Obama.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know who Saul Alinsky was?


TODD: No idea?




BLITZER: You may have noticed Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich's go-to guy when criticizing President Obama is often someone by the name of Saul Alinsky. So who is -- or was, I should say -- Saul Alinsky?

We asked Brian Todd to take a closer look.

Brian, who was Saul Alinsky?

TODD: He was a community organizer, Wolf, like the president, who, like the president, tried to empower some Chicago neighborhoods. Alinsky once did have an FBI file, but he was prominent, analysts say, well before Mr. Obama's time. And the people who know his story say he was not quite the extremist Newt Gingrich says he was.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): It seems like Newt Gingrich's favorite name on the campaign trail. He invokes it constantly, comparing President Obama to one man.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president believes in a kind of Saul Alinsky radicalism.

The values that he believes in, the Saul Alinsky radicalism that is at the heart of Obama, are a disaster.

I think he is a genuine, sincere Saul Alinsky radical.

TODD: OK, folks. Help us out.

(on camera): Do you know who Saul Alinsky was?


TODD: No idea?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I remember correctly, wasn't he a member of the Weather Underground?

TODD (voice-over): Not quite.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was a community organizer, I think, Chicago- based.

TODD: We have a winner. Saul Alinsky, a community organizer in Chicago who took on powerful bosses like Mayor Richard Daley to give poor, under-represented neighborhoods a voice in decision-making.

Sanford Horwitt wrote a biography of Alinsky.

SANFORD HORWITT, AUTHOR, "LET THEM CALL ME REBEL": If the alderman in a neighborhood in Chicago didn't respond to neighbors who wanted their garbage picked up the way middle class neighborhoods got their garbage picked up, the group might load a truckload of garbage and dump it on the alderman's doorstep.

TODD: So, is Saul Alinsky this campaign's version of Reverend Jeremiah Wright and activist William Ayers, the polarizing figures conservatives bracketed President Obama with in 2008? Horwitt says even though he wrote two books with the word "radical" in their titles, Alinsky never adhered to extremes of any ideology, left or right, and says he always had a broader purpose.

(on camera): Horwitt says Alinsky didn't organize protests just to agitate, he says he did it out of a true sense of patriotism to effect what he saw as positive change for a country he genuinely loved.

(voice-over): As for an Obama connection, Saul Alinsky died when the president was 10 years old. Mr. Obama did once have the same job in Chicago, and Horwitt says he was trained by people who had worked with Alinsky. But an Obama campaign official says the president disagreed with Alinsky's confrontational tactics.

Why is Newt Gingrich pounding on this? We couldn't get an answer out of his campaign. Rich Galen, an aide to Gingrich in the '90s, believes he's playing to traditional conservatives for whom "radical" means extreme left.

(on camera): Could it work against him though in any way?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, sure it could. If it just becomes what his campaign is known for, then I think people will tire of it and say, OK, enough already.


TODD: Now, at least one conservative leader has praised Saul Alinsky. That's former Republican House majority leader Dick Armey, who was a colleague of Newt Gingrich's in Congress and now heads a Tea Party ally group. Armey says his group uses some of Alinsky's methods in trying to stir up debate at town hall meetings. He is quoted as saying Alinsky was very good at what he did, but what he did was not good, Wolf.

And check this out. Mr. Obama is not the only top Democrat who has been painted with Saul Alinsky. This is an undergraduate thesis written by Hillary Clinton at Wesley College called "There is Only the Fight." She was painted by some people as being radical because of this paper when she ran for president in 2008.

BLITZER: Good report. Thanks very much. Now we know who Saul Alinsky is.

TODD: Right. He's relevant.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is coming up next.


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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour ahead of the big speech tomorrow night: How confident are you in the state of the union?

Ken in California, "We can't be confident in the state of our union with the existing division between us all affecting every domestic and foreign policy. The nation is split between blue states and red states. We don't like each other's race, religion, culture, gender, language, wealth and so on. And that ain't so great for the state of our union."

Kari writes, "I have great confidence in our president. The GOP, not so much. I wonder who's been assigned to holler out 'You lie!' this year? Maybe Boehner will do it himself."

Lou in Fayetteville, North Carolina, "It's a speech. I've been around since Eisenhower. I've listened on radio, watched on television, and it's a speech someone somewhere wrote. And it's full of 'happy days are here again,' and it never changes."

Bryan writes, "Let me give you my prediction. Blah, blah, do-nothing Congress. Blah, blah, blah, I'm the best. Blah, blah, I'm going to create jobs by creating a very unpredictable business environment with new complicated taxes and regulations while wasting your money on investing in sectors of the economy that may or may not survive, all while telling you I feel your pain and I'm sympathetic to your plight in life as I play my 500th round of golf and take my entire family on a $3 million vacation to Bali so I can have some peace and quiet."

Chris writes, "The State of the Union has lost its meaning. The idea is to have the president tell the American people about the state of affairs. It has become nothing more than a political speech. Candy Crowley does a far better job telling people about developments than Barack Obama ever could."

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

Crowley's pretty good, isn't she?

BLITZER: She's excellent.

CAFFERTY: Yes, she is.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. She is.

All right, Jack. See you tomorrow. Thank you.

Canada -- yes, Canada -- is running for president of the United States. Jeanne Moos in two minutes.


BLITZER: Canada for president? Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You're looking at the latest candidate for president of the United States.

BRIAN CALVERT, ACTOR/COMEDIAN: Hello, America. It's us, Canada.

MOOS: Canada has announced its Canadacy.

CALVERT: We've seen your candidates. And frankly, they scare the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of us. So we're volunteering our country to lead your country.

MOOS: Americans may think of Canada's mountains, Mounties, maple syrup, and chipmunks, but nuts is how some Canadians think of the U.S. presidential race.

CALVERT: Why do we want to be your president? Two words: these guys -- HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Who's the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-a-stan?

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And the -- what's the third one there?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Rick, I'm speaking. I'm speaking.

PERRY: Your newspaper -- the newspaper --

MARIANNE GINGRICH, NEWT GINGRICH'S WIFE: He was asking to have an open marriage.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's as close to despicable --


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

MOOS: But who needs the Republican or Democratic parties when there's now --

CALVERT: The Canada Party: America, but better.

MOOS: It better be a parody --

CALVERT: So this is not an invasion. It's an intervention.

MOOS: -- by two Canadian residents, an actor and a writer.

(on camera): Us Americans, you seem to be mocking us.

CALVERT: If your neighbor's house is on fire, and it's peeling your paint, you can either grab some marshmallows or grab a hose. And, well, we're here to hose America.

We're here to hose America, I guess.

MOOS: Chris Cannon, the writer doing the hosing, is a former U.S. Marine and still an American citizen who plays championship level Frisbee. The two have created a campaign poster --


MOOS: -- and two videos with more to come tweaking the U.S.

CALVERT: And we have the same problem you do with illiterate foreigners invading our southern borders to steal our jobs.

MOOS: The creators face the wrath of an American servicewoman.

CALVERT: Suggesting that I put the video up my backside?

MOOS (on camera): Among the Canada Party's campaign promises, "We will build the Keystone oil pipeline, but it will carry maple syrup."


(on camera): It's the Republican race that inspired the parodies.

ROMNEY: Are you just going to keep talking?

GINGRICH: No, but I will.

CAIN: Got all this stuff twirling around in my head.

MOOS: They poke the president, as well.

CALVERT: Mr. Obama, we're Canada. And even we think you're too polite.

MOOS: At least if Canada is ever inaugurated --

CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, U.S. SUPREME COURT: "I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear" --


MOOS: Maybe it will get the oath right.

(on camera): I, Canada, do solemnly swear --

(voice-over): Jeanne Moos --

(on camera): -- to faithfully execute the office --

(voice-over): CNN --

(on camera): -- of president of the United States.


BLITZER: And that's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The news continues next on CNN.