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THE SITUATION ROOM
Battle for Florida; President Obama's Donor Problem; Rick Santorum Interview; Santorum: Campaign In "Good Shape"; Cuban-American Generation Gap; U.N. Resolution Calls For Assad To Step Down
Aired January 27, 2012 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: The seesaw Republican race may -- repeat -- may be tilting Mitt Romney's way again. This hour, brand-new numbers, poll numbers we're talking about, and the fireworks heading into the critical primary right here in Florida. Our CNN debate last night could be a deciding factor.
Is Rick Santorum giving up on Florida? I will ask him about his strategy and whether he's shooting for a vice presidential nod.
And President Obama isn't getting a cent from some wealthy Democratic Party donors who showered the Clintons with cash. We're looking at the money, the politics in-depth.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Florida. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The dust is settling here in Jacksonville, Florida, after our very exciting CNN Republican presidential debate last night. And there's new evidence that Mitt Romney is gaining support four days before Florida puts its stamp on the Republican race for the White House.
The new Quinnipiac University poll shows Romney nine points ahead of Gingrich among likely GOP primary voters here in Florida. The survey was taken Tuesday through Thursday entirely before our debate last night. Gingrich was leading Romney in Florida earlier this week, right after he won the South Carolina primary.
But in the last couple of days, he clearly lost some of that momentum here in Florida. And he's now trailing Romney.
Newt Gingrich came out swinging in debate here in Jacksonville, but some campaign watchers think he was off his game last night.
Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, listened to every word of the debate. She was here in Jacksonville, and she's now back in Washington.
Gloria, Romney seemed to be doing rather well last night, Gingrich seemed a little bit off. Was that your sense?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It was my sense, Wolf.
It was almost oddly as if he didn't come into the debate with any kind of a strategic game plan. I mean, when you asked him the question that was predictable from his point of view about Mitt Romney's tax returns, something he'd been talking about every single day in South Carolina, he tried not to answer the question, but rather to turn the question right back on you. So take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Just want to reiterate and ask you, are you satisfied right now with the level of transparency as far as his personal finances?
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: GINGRICH: Wolf, you and I have a great relationship, it goes back a long way. I'm with him. This is a nonsense question.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
GINGRICH: Look, how about if the four of us agree for the rest of the evening, we'll actually talk about issues that relate to governing America?
BLITZER: But, Mr. Speaker, you made an issue of this, this week, when you said that, "He lives in a world of Swiss bank and Cayman Island bank accounts." I didn't say that. You did.
GINGRICH: I did. And I'm perfectly happy to say that on an interview on some TV show. But this is a national debate, where you have a chance to get the four of us to talk about a whole range of issues.
BLITZER: But if you make a serious accusation against Governor Romney like that, you need to explain that.
GINGRICH: I simply suggested --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BORGER: And, Wolf, at that point after you said that, Mitt Romney chimed right in, didn't he? Because he was willing to turn it right back on Newt Gingrich, right?
BLITZER: Well, even before Mitt Romney chimed in, Newt Gingrich looked over at Rick Santorum as if appealing to Rick Santorum, back me up. Say this question is inappropriate. Get me out of this.
And Rick Santorum remained silent, didn't say a word. I'm not coming in to help you on this one. At which point there was a pause for a brief second. And then, and then Mitt Romney really went after Newt Gingrich. How dare -- I'm paraphrasing -- how dare you say these things about me, these public accusations? And then he really went after him.
It was one of those moments, obviously, I will always remember. I suspect Mitt Romney will remember it, Newt Gingrich will as well. It was one of those clear moments. Look, I was fully prepared that he was going to try to come after the news media during this debate, which is something he's done in several of the debates over these past many months.
But I did my homework and I was prepared. I didn't want him to obviously get away with -- you know, get away with that kind of behavior.
This was a serious issue. He makes serious allegation against Mitt Romney. He says it publicly repeatedly. He needed to explain it. He couldn't just walk away from it. But let me talk about another flash point in the debate right now that was over immigration and a Romney radio ad and whether Romney used some words that Gingrich had said out of context. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I just want to make sure I understand. Is he still the most anti-immigrant candidate?
GINGRICH: I think, of the four of us, yes.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Governor.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's simply unexcusable. That's inexcusable. And, actually, Senator Marco Rubio came to my defense and said that ad was inexcusable and inflammatory and inappropriate.
Mr. Speaker, I'm not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico. My wife's father was born in Wales. They came to this country. The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BORGER: Those were pretty strong words.
BLITZER: It's interesting. On this issue, on this issue, Gloria, Mitt Romney is running to the right of Newt Gingrich on the issue of immigration reform.
BORGER: Yes. Well, it's very interesting, because, of course, in Iowa and South Carolina, which really do not have the Hispanic populations of the state of Florida, he was running to the right.
Newt Gingrich had said you're not going to deport people who have deep roots in this country. And then Romney said last night at the debate. He said, look, this isn't about 11 million grandmothers who have been here for 25 years or so, but he is softening his position. That is true in the state of Florida. He's softening his position on the DREAM Act, for example. He's softening his position and saying that he would agree to -- quote -- "self-deportation" of some illegal immigrants.
So it's clear that he's moving a little bit closer to Newt Gingrich because 12 percent of registered Republicans in the state of Florida are Hispanic.
BLITZER: Gloria's going to be back with us later. We have a lot more to assess and dissect from last night's debate. Stand by, Gloria.
Romney, Gingrich and Rick Santorum all campaigning here in Florida today. Ron Paul, though, is in Maine. Maine holding its caucuses early next month.
CNN's Jim Acosta is covering all of the battle for Florida -- Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mitt Romney is riding high after last night's CNN debate, but Newt Gingrich is pulling out the big guns to stop Romney's big mo'.
(voice-over): Mitt Romney just can't stop talking about the CNN debate.
ROMNEY: I thought it was a delightful debate. I loved it.
Have you checked your own investments? You also have investments from mutual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
ACOSTA: After a strong showing that included several take-downs of his archrival Newt Gingrich, Romney got more good news when he found out he's back on top in the latest Quinnipiac poll in Florida.
NARRATOR: What kind of man would mislead, distort, and deceive just to win an election? This man would.
ACOSTA: But Gingrich has a new ad out turning Romney's debate performance against him, highlighting the moment when the former governor tried to explain why he once voted for a Democrat in the 1992 Massachusetts presidential primary.
ROMNEY: I have never voted for a Democrat when there was a Republican on the ballot.
ACOSTA: Actually, Republicans George H.W. Bush and Pat Buchanan were also on that ballot, something a Romney strategist conceded in the post-debate spin room.
ERIC FEHRNSTROM, ROMNEY STRATEGIST: It was an incumbent president running against Pat Buchanan, and by the time Super Tuesday rolled around, there really wasn't much of a contest at all. So, as an independent, he exercised his right to go into the Democratic primary, where he voted against Bill Clinton.
ACOSTA: Meanwhile, a pro-Gingrich super PAC is again hammering Romney's former private investment firm Bain Capital, which once owned a medical testing company that pleaded guilty to Medicare fraud back in the '90s. Romney was on the company's board at the time. And at a Hispanic leadership conference, Gingrich slammed Romney's goal to have the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants self-deport. Gingrich said that should not apply to undocumented grandmothers.
GINGRICH: The idea that she's going to self-deport, this is a fantasy. It's not a solution.
ACOSTA: Romney is also under fire from Latino civil rights group over his threat to veto the DREAM Act, a bill that would provide legal status to undocumented children who enter the military or go to college. Earlier this month, a supporter of the bill hounded Romney coming out of a fund-raiser.
ROMNEY: I have already said across the country...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm wondering, why aren't you supporting my dream?
ROMNEY: Because if someone comes here illegally...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I didn't come here illegally.
ACOSTA: But at that Hispanic leadership conference, Romney said he may now support parts of the bill.
ROMNEY: We are not anti-immigrant, we are not anti-immigration. We are the pro-immigration, pro-legality, pro-citizenship nation and party.
BLITZER: A report from Jim Acosta. He's on the scene for us from Florida.
Some big-money donors, meanwhile, who loved the Clintons are being tight-fisted right now when it comes to President Obama and his reelection campaign. We're taking a closer look at what they're doing, what they're saying. Stand by.
And Mitt Romney says he didn't know about some of his investments because they were in a blind trust, but he refused to let a previous opponent get away with that same excuse.
BLITZER: A very busy travel day for President Obama once again. He started in Ann Arbor, Michigan, this morning unveiling a new college affordability plan at the University of Michigan.
Later in the afternoon, he was with Democratic lawmakers at their retreat in Maryland's -- on Maryland's Eastern Shore. He spoke about campaigning against his Republican Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Where they obstruct, where they're unwilling to act, where they're more interested in party than they are in country, more interested in the next election than the next generation, then we have got to call them out on it. We have got to call them out on it. We have got to push them.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: I believe in you guys. You guys have had my back through some very tough times. I'm going to have your back as well, and together we're going to move this country forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, goes in-depth on some who don't have the president's back, some major donors.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for this campaign, President Obama will need every dollar he can raise. That means he will have to overcome some Democratic holdouts who are still nostalgic for Bill Clinton and his golden touch with big donors.
(voice-over): Back in the day, Ira Leesfield was a friend of the Clintons.
IRA LEESFIELD, CLINTON DONOR: The opportunity for my wife and I to spend the night in the Lincoln Bedroom.
YELLIN: And the Clintons were friends right back.
LEESFIELD: If you were there for them and you were not overly asking, they were there for you.
YELLIN: He was a devoted Hillary supporter and has given more than $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation. At the very last minute, he wrote a check to the 2008 Obama campaign, but he hasn't given a penny this time. He says no one's asked.
(on camera): What would you need?
LEESFIELD: Well, I think somebody close to President Obama who expressed what he wanted, what he needed. I don't have any feedback, and that was the antithesis of my relationship with President Clinton.
YELLIN: Can Obama win here in the general?
MONTE FRIEDKIN, FORMER DNC FINANCE CHAIR: I think so.
YELLIN (voice-over): Monte Friedkin has given over $175,000 to Democrats since 2007, but not a dime directly to President Obama.
FRIEDKIN: I was the finance chair of the Democratic National Committee. If he comes to meet with me, you think he would know that. He had no clue. He has no clue.
YELLIN: He was also a major friend of Bill and his friends who are big Obama donors complain this president isn't so good with "thank you" notes, phone calls, little things that make heavy hitters happy.
FRIEDKIN: He's not Bill Clinton, what can I tell you?
YELLIN: Steven Bittel has raised more than $100,000 for President Obama and he's heard about the unhappy Clintonistas before.
STEVEN BITTEL, OBAMA FUNDRAISER: There's no question that the Clinton era raised donor appreciation to a new level, never seen before, never likely that we're going to se it again. I don't do this because I expect a pat on the back or a thank you. I don't expect the president to be my friend. I expect the president to work hard and do a great job and make our country better.
YELLIN: Given the money need to run for office, donor maintenance is a big part of the job and the Obama team can't afford to leave any money on the sidelines.
John Morgan hosted the president at his house and says the president has the personal touch, he's seen it.
JOHN MORGAN, OBAMA FUNDRAISER: If I can give one word to describe the president is cool. He is a very cool guy. He's a guy you want to sit on the backyard and shoot the breeze with. And even though he's the president, he makes you that comfortable.
YELLIN: As for Ira Leesfield -
(on camera): I have a feeling you might be getting a phone call after this airs, from someone.
LEESFIELD: You know, who knows? The call may be from President Clinton saying, Ira, thank you for those nice words, you know? The chances are great I'll get a call from former President Clinton than from President Obama.
YELLIN: But with 1.3 million donors and $224 million already in the bank, the president's hardly hurting for money. And the president's fundraisers believe once he squares up against a Republican opponent, even Clinton lovers will start to pony up the money -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jessica Yellin. Good report.
Meanwhile, new details on that cruise ship that rolled on to its side. The cruise line is now paying the survivors. We're going to tell you how much.
And a possible mistake on Mitt Romney in Thursday's debate. We're breaking it down in our strategy session. That and a lot more coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMEN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mr. Speaker, I'm not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico. My wife's father was born in Wales.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: There's going to be compensation for survivors of the cruise ship disaster off the coast of Italy.
Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Lisa, what's going on?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Well, Italian officials say each of the survivors will get a lump sum of $14,400. The agreement comes exactly two weeks after the Costa Concordia struck a rock and rolled on its sides off the coast of Tuscany. Sixteen people are confirmed dead and the search continues for 16 still missing. The captain remains under house arrest.
Exiled former President Pervez Musharraf is delaying his return to Pakistan. He has said the he would be there for parliamentary elections this month, but Pakistani leaders warn he would be arrested in connection with the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. A senior official of Musharraf's party says he'll wait to return until tensions subside between Pakistan's government and supreme court.
A drive is underway in New Orleans to have the sites of two levee breaches placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Leaders of the grassroots group Levees.org say it was engineering failure that flooded the city in the wake of hurricane Katrina, not the storm itself, and that historic designation would underscore that.
And the Tampa Bay Lightning has reportedly fired its mascot. The "Tampa Bay Times" reports that Kelly Frank, she's the woman who performs as Thunder Bug, that she was let go in the wake of this incident which went viral on YouTube. You see it there. It shows her in costume spraying a hockey fan with silly string, and has you can see there, he was not too pleased.
CNN has reached out for comment from Frank, but so far we have not heard back -- Wolf.
WOLF: Let us know if you do. Thanks very much, Lisa.
Rick Santorum's taking a break from campaigning in Florida. Is he giving up on the Sunshine State? I'll ask him. That's coming up next.
Plus, we're taking a closer look at Ron Paul's comedy strategy in Thursday night's debate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Congressman Paul, Texas space program is very important there as well. Where do you stand on this?
REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I don't think we should go to the moon, I think we maybe should send some politicians up there. But --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer, here in Jacksonville, Florida.
Here are some of the stories we're working on for our next hour:
A new campaign controversy over blind trusts. Does Mitt Romney really have no control or knowledge of his own investments? We're digging deeper.
Also, political rivals in a closely watched Senate race call a super PAC ceasefire with some unusual conditions.
Plus, disturbing new details about the kidnapping of an American aid worker. CNN has learned she was betrayed by someone hired to protect her.
Standby. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: All that coming up in the next hour. But back to our top story.
The aftermath of our major Republican presidential debate here in Florida last night. Today, a new Florida poll taken before the face-off shows Rick Santorum far behind the two top leaders Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Santorum and Ron Paul are in a close fight for third place here in Florida.
BLITZER: And joining us now from Miami, Senator Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania.
Senator, thanks so much for coming in on this day after our debate. You know, you -- you're getting strong reviews from the debate. You're probably getting a surge here in Florida, which raises the question, are you still going to take a day off, go back home to Pittsburgh to deal with your taxes?
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you know, I have actually set up two fundraisers, so the answer is: yes, we're going to do that. We set up a fundraiser for later tonight and one for tomorrow late afternoon. And then we're going to come back here tomorrow night. So, we're really only going to be gone for less than 24 hours and we've got two pretty good fundraisers we're doing and that's a positive thing.
And plus, you know, I am getting a little heat for not having released my taxes. I'm happy to do it, but I don't have an accountant, I do my own taxes on my own computer. And I just felt like I need to do that, get them, turn them around and get them out, so that issues behind it. So, I don't keep getting that question and getting that distraction.
We're going to be here. We got a full day Sunday. We got a good day Monday, and we're going to run it to the very end. We feel very, very good about how things are going here in Florida. A great reaction here in south Florida.
BLITZER: Because, you know, a lot of the pundits here in Florida think you basically have given up on the state because they don't see you advertising, either your campaign or your super PAC. Are you doing any paid advertising in Florida?
SANTORUM: We're not doing -- I don't know if we're not doing any. We maybe -- I know we're doing some things that, you know, I don't know if you call it paid advertising, you know, calls and some mailing and things like that to targeted groups.
Look, I've said before, we just, in many respects from a financial point of view, are just really have gotten our sea legs in the last few weeks. And we're doing very, very well. But we're not at the point -- we're raising a lot of money right now, multiples more than we've raised before. We've actually raised over two times as much money in the last 3 1/2 weeks than we did in the first nine months of the campaign.
So, we're doing great, and we -- but we're in this for the long haul. We weren't going to go out and spend every dime in a huge state like Florida when we've got other states that, you know, we feel we can do well in. And we've got a great grassroots organization here in Florida, we got a lot of excited people working hard.
And you know what's been moving the numbers more than the TV advertisements are, you know, candidates' ideas and the debates. We think the debate will move a lot of folks. I'll tell you, I've heard a ton of positive feedback of folks coming our way, and our phones ringing off the hook, our Web site is buzzing like crazy all from Florida. So we feel very good, we're going to surprise some people come Tuesday.
BLITZER: But, you know, and you know this, obviously, Florida's a winner take all state, 50 delegates at stake. So if you don't win the state, you're not going to get any delegates. Ron Paul for all practical purposes is gone from Florida, as well and I want to be precise. Do you think you can still win here in Florida?
SANTORUM: Well, this was a winner take all state unless it's not. And you know the rules state if there is a -- if it's contested at convention, Florida won't be a winner take all state and it'll go by congressional district.
So we've been going around and campaigning very hard in certain areas of the state that we think we can particularly well in congressional districts. We've got our operation focused in on those areas of the state.
And we're working very hard in those areas that we think we might be able to pull some delegates if this thing goes to the convention. And the more and more I look at this, the more and more I think it's likely that this race is going to go on a long time.
And those few delegates that we might be able to pull out of here in Florida, even if we don't win, might be very, very important for us.
BLITZER: OK. You're staying in this race. You have no plans to drop out, right?
SANTORUM: If I can just, you know, say it -- I'm not someone who does a lot of absolute statements, but I will make an absolute statement. There hasn't even been a discussion, and not even approaching a discussion to discuss a discussion as to whether we'll get out of this race.
We're in this race. We're hiring people for states -- for March and April. I really believe that we're going to -- our campaign's going to be alive and well for a long, long time. I believe we're going to win this. I have no doubt in my mind that when the Republicans take a look at who is the viable, the best conservative to run against Barack Obama, that it's going to end up being me.
And we're going to have to fight through that for the next few weeks, but I think what you saw last night, what you're going to see here in Florida, what you're going to see in the weeks ahead, you're going to see this race change again.
And it's going to be an opportunity for us to be able to rise and be the -- be the conservative that folks have been looking for in this race.
BLITZER: Pretty definitive statement. Senator Santorum, when I was on the stage with you last night, at the beginning, I sensed you were trying to stay above the fray, but -- and I said to myself, well, maybe he's looking for -- to be a vice presidential running mate or something like that.
But you quickly dispelled that when you went directly after both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich on health care. And you had this exchange. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANTORUM: Governor Romney was the author of Romneycare, which is a top-down government-run health care system, which read an article today has 15 different items directly in common with Obamacare.
Congressman Gingrich for 20 years advocated that the federal government can force each and every person to enter into a private contract. We cannot give the issue of health care away in this election. It is too foundational for us to win this election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Am I wrong, Senator Santorum, in saying you're all in right now. You're not thinking about a cabinet position, a vice presidential running mate position. You're in this to win, and even if it means getting really tough with Gingrich and Romney?
SANTORUM: I think the best thing I can do for the cause that I believe in and for our country is to go out there and talk about the issues. I don't think anyone can walk away from last night saying Rick Santorum was dirty, Rick Santorum was, you know, was someone who was hitting below the belt.
I was talking about the important issues of our country. I was talking about principles that we need to stand behind as conservatives to contrast ourselves with Barack Obama. That's been my purpose of being in this race from the very, very beginning.
It's to be that person who is the best person to go up against Barack Obama. And yes, I will take on Speaker Gingrich and Ron Paul and Mitt Romney, I have no desire to be anything and anybody's cabinet or anything else.
I'm not doing this to -- making the sacrifice and my wife and kids aren't making the sacrifice to do anything, but to be the president of the United States.
BLITZER: Senator Santorum, thanks very much for coming in.
SANTORUM: Thank you very much, Wolf, and I appreciate it. And just for the record so people can hear. My daughter who was with me last night went up to you and said you are her favorite moderator for the debates. I want to put that on record so everyone knows -- at least some members of the Santorum family think you did a pretty good job.
BLITZER: Thank you very much. And by the way, I loved meeting your 93-year-old mother, as well.
SANTORUM: Isn't she great? She's become a little bit of a -- a little bit of a sensation on the internet now. We're actually -- we're looking to get her a Twitter account so she can start communicating with some of her fans.
BLITZER: If you do that, she'll be trending on Twitter sooner rather than later. All right, Senator Santorum, once again, thank you.
SANTORUM: All right.
BLITZER: Ron Paul certainly got lots of laughs at last night's debate here in Jacksonville. We're going to show you some of his one-liners. Plus, a look at whether the comedy strategy might pay off.
Plus, a CNN exclusive, Nancy Pelosi recruiting new faces to run for Congress. You'll meet them. That's coming up in our next hour.
BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now, the day after the Republican presidential debate. Joining us now, our CNN contributors, the Democratic strategist, James Carville and the Republican strategist, Alex Castellanos. Guys, thanks very much.
Very quickly, Alex, let me start off with you. Who was the big winner last night and the big loser?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think Romney won the strength contest. He demonstrated he was the stronger leader last night and Gingrich almost came into the debate with no strategy at all. So I think Romney, but Santorum surprisingly I think gets the gold star for the debate and the best performance.
BLITZER: What did you think, James?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Alex on the night of South Carolina said that the way it works is the aggressor is the one who gets rewarded. And I think it's true.
And I don't know what Gingrich seemed like he was not on his game. He wasn't aggressive. And he paid a price for it, and Romney was more aggressive. Santorum, he did great, but as I said after South Carolina, he's like a chicken with his head chopped off.
Everybody knows he's dead, but he's still running around. That's all he can barely do.
BLITZER: All right. I want to play -- I think everybody agrees that Romney had a good night. Newt Gingrich did not necessarily have such a great night. But Romney himself slipped up when we went through this exchange. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You've had an ad running saying that Speaker Gingrich calls Spanish, quote, "the language of the ghetto." What do you mean by that?
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I haven't seen the ad. So I'm sorry I don't get to see all the TV ads. I doubt that's my ad, but we'll take a look and find out. There are a bunch of ads out there being organized by other people. BLITZER: We just double checked, it was one of your ads, it's running here in Florida, and on the radio, and on the end you say I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this ad.
ROMNEY: Let me ask you a question -- let me ask the speaker a question, did you say what the ad says, or not?
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was taken totally out of context. I did not say it about Spanish. I said in general about all languages, we are better for children to learn English in general period.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So acknowledges it's a Spanish radio ad, he says at the end, I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this message, but he says he doesn't remember that. Is that a serious blunder or something that's not so serious?
CASTELLANOS: You know, here's the way it really works in politics. First, he said he hadn't seen the radio ad. Well, I guess we don't either. That's kind of why it's called radio.
The way it works is consultants, folks like yours truly and James put together disclaimers. We go to the candidate and record TV disclaimers, the audio. We record them for radio, then we put together the ads and reach on the shelf, put the disclaimer on there.
BLITZER: In other words --
CASTELLANOS: I'm Mitt Romney, and I -- right. The tag and the candidate often doesn't see all the TV spots and radio hardly ever do you run it by the candidate. The candidate's job is being the candidate not the TV consultant.
So it's not surprising that that happened. But I think the lesson here is candidates are going to have to start being a little more careful about anything they put their name on and say I approve this.
BLITZER: If you're going to say I approve this message, you better know what that message is, James, don't you think?
CARVILLE: I disagree with my friend a little bit. Yes, a generic ad, probably not. When you talk about the language of the ghetto, that's volatile stuff and if I was a candidate in a situation like that, I would certainly tell somebody I want to know about negative ads and what we call people because I have to live with the consequences of it.
And again, Romney didn't also claim that he didn't know about the mutual fund. I would have said, you know, Governor, you have a coordination problem. You can't talk and tell the truth at the same time. I mean, I would have come back at him a little bit.
But I agree with Alex in general, but on a negative ad this volatile in the Hispanic community, if Romney didn't have instructions, said I want to know about something like that, that's a pretty big gap. This is not just Mitt Romney is experienced and has the knowledge to be president kind of thing.
BLITZER: All right. Hold on for a second, both of you. I'm sure you noticed that Ron Paul had quite a few amusing moments during our two- hour debate last night. He broke a lot of the tension up on the stage with the other candidates. Listen to Ron Paul providing some comic relief.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You're 76 years old, you would be the oldest president of the United States if you were elected. Are you prepared to release your medical records so voters out there know what your health is?
RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Obviously, because it's about one page if even that long. And I'm willing to -- I'm willing to challenge any of the gentlemen up here to a 25-mile bike ride any time of the day in the heat of Texas.
And, you know, you know, that subject has come up, sometimes in fun, but sometimes not in fun. But you know, there are laws against age discrimination, so if you push this too much, you better be careful.
BLITZER: Congressman Paul, Texas, the space program very important there, as well. Where do you stand on this?
PAUL: Well, I don't think we should go to the moon, I think maybe we should send some politicians up there at times.
BLITZER: Congressman Paul, you said the U.S. should talk to everyone. Imagine you're in the oval office, you speak to Raul Castro, what would you say to him?
PAUL: Well, I'd ask him what he called about, you know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You've got to admit, James, you know, he livens up a debate. He's got a good sense of humor there.
CARVILLE: He does. And I watched that debate and I was watching it, I had this sort of visual thing, Newt Gingrich on a bicycle in Texas in July. That was a visual that went through my head.
I don't know what other people were thinking when he said that, but it struck me as pretty funny. Look, he can be loosey goosey if he wants to be, he's not going to be the nominee.
He's 76 years old, he's doing better than he's ever done. He's got dedicated followers, knows what he's about and then doesn't have to be tight in these debates and showed it last night.
BLITZER: Alex, is it going to help him in Florida, you think and beyond? Sort of comic relief if you will.
CASTELLANOS: It's not going to help him much, but it's a smart thing to do, it is who he is. He's most personable candidate on the stage last night. Oscar Wild said once, if you tell people the truth, makes them laugh or they'll kill you.
And Ron Paul is trying to tell some big truths that he thinks are true to the Republican Party that the party doesn't want to hear. He's got to cut to the bone, legalize drugs, so a little humor can help the medicine go down.
BLITZER: You know Florida, you know Republicans with the caveat in the final two days, what's going to happen Tuesday?
CASTELLANOS: I think this is a game-changer, this debate that you conducted last night. And I think Romney looks like he's pulling ahead a little bit here.
Gingrich looked like he's fading. Santorum is now beginning to contend for second. He may not make second place, but I think Santorum is going to come out of here with a ticket to super Tuesday. This thing goes on.
BLITZER: Wow. All right, thanks, guys. Thanks very much, Alex and James. And as both of them certainly know, the Cuban vote here in Florida, Cuban/American vote here is usually a no-brainer here for Republicans in the state. Are that community's political loyalties changing? Are increasing numbers of younger Cuban-Americans becoming Democrats?
And a surprising tactic between two political rivals in one of the most heated U.S. Senate races of the year.
BLITZER: U.S. policy toward Cuba is very important to so many voters here in Florida, especially the southern part of the state.
And we're starting to see a generation gap among Cuban- Americans who fled their homeland and those who grew up here in the United States. CNN's John Zarrella reports.
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Miami's little Havana. Here you'll always find someone sipping an espresso, and when there's an election, you'll always find Republican candidates.
ROMNEY: Thank you so much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Newt Gingrich!
ZARRELLA: This is a fertile field of votes, and there has been for half a century one singular issue trumping all others as the sign on the building reads for Cuba freedom. No serious candidate comes here without preaching a hard line stand against the Castro regime. GINGRICH: Worried about an Arab spring in Syria. I don't think it's ever occurred to a single person in the White House to look south and propose a Cuban spring.
ROMNEY: It is time for us to strike for freedom in Cuba, and I will do so as president.
ZARRELLA: For Republican candidates, the Cuban-American vote is critical. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 60 percent of Hispanic Republican registered voters are in Miami-Dade County alone. More than 250,000 and most of those are Cuban-Americans.
For decades, Perez has been an influential voice both on radio and in Cuban-American politics. Although a nearly 50-year embargo against Cuba has not brought the Castro government to its knees, Perez says any talk of lifting sanctions is the kiss of death.
NINOSKA PEREZ, CUBAN-AMERICAN RADIO HOST: If a candidate so much as mentions any type of lifting of sanctions or any type of appeasement or closeness to the Cuban regime, I'm telling you, that election is lost.
ZARRELLA: But times may be changing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hope and power, the youth in Cuba --
ZARRELLA: Tony Jimenez is co-founder of Roots of Hope, a movement trying to connect young Cuban-Americans with their counterparts on the island. "Freedom for Cuba" is important to Jimenez, but he doesn't see himself or other young Cubans as single-issue voters.
TONY JIMENEZ, CO-FOUNDER, ROOTS OF HOPE: More and more each day, people are more concerned with the economy or more concerned with domestic policy. And the Cuba issue is as important as it is to Cubans. I don't think it's dictating who they're going to vote for.
ZARRELLA: But for Republican candidates, at least for now, it's the one issue that guarantees them both. John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.
BLITZER: Mitt Romney claims he has no control over his blind trust, but is that exactly true? We've got some new video that we just dug up. Standby.
Plus, a side you've never seen, our own Arwa Damon takes you outside Syria's capital where she found a surprise.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're hardly a 15-minute drive from the heart of Damascus. You can see the scene here. No one stops us on our way. This area seems to be in control of the Free Syrian Army at least for now.
(END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: The United Nations Security Council began considering a resolution today that would ask the Syrian Leader Bashar Al-Assad to step down and hand power over to his vice president.
But they're just starting the discussion. It's unlikely at this point for this to go very far given opposition from some members like Russia, for example.
Meanwhile, a Syrian opposition group says soldiers and security forces killed 135 people yesterday and today. Thousands have died in the government's crackdown on the anti-regime protests.
CNN's Arwa Damon is in Syria for us, and after a dangerous journey just outside the capital of Damascus, she made a stunning discovery.
DAMON (voice-over): Follow us the armed and masked men say. They are members of the Free Syrian Army. We drive past the opposition's fury Syrian flag, flying boldly from a water tower. Parts of the capital are no longer in full control of the government.
A group of us journalists had banded together to see how far we could get. We heard of a funeral in a neighborhood, few expected the Free Syrian Army to control this much territory around it. We deserted and took our weapons with us, this fighter who defected from the army says.
We have rocket-propelled grenades and rockets. They say their mission is to protect the people from government forces. More civilians are joining their ranks. Death rather than humiliation they chant.
(on camera): We're hardly a 15-minute drive from the heart of Damascus, and you can see the scene here. No one stopped us on our way in this area and it seems to be the Free Syrian Army, at least for now.
(voice-over): In the back of a van that drives up, a man wounded in another neighborhood the day before. They say they've had to move him from one secret underground clinic to another.
(on camera): We just saw where the security is coming, are we going to go in?
(voice-over): The activist in our car points out the Free Syrian Army fighting position.
At the main square amid calls for the fall of the regime and his execution, the Free Syrian Army fighters are hailed as heroes. The military crackdown and ensues clashes have taken their toll on the population.
(on camera): We're constantly getting mobbed by people who want to show us the various -- this man is saying up there a rocket hit. And then they've managed to fix that, repair that for now, but everybody coming really wanting to get the story out, wanting their perspective to be seen and heard. And wanting people to understand what it is they're going through because they say all they're asking for is freedom.
(voice-over): The crowd in the streets swells, carrying the corpse of a man killed the day before in another part of the city. They say he was shot by a sniper.
(on camera): The man who was killed. He was a father of two we are told and now the crowd has gathered here. All the people risk their lives every single time they take to the streets.
(voice-over): The people are calling holy war is the cry from the streets below. All of a sudden, chaos, rumored that the security forces are coming causes mass panic. Everyone here knows firsthand what that means.
It's a false alarm, but we heard the government had the area encircled. Is there anything up ahead we ask a these men at a check point. They say there are clashes and point us in another direction. That way is also blocked, a sniper up ahead.
We could hear gun shots in the distance and scramble away. A small group of activists takes us down back routes. The government may control the heart of Damascus, but it's losing more ground by the day in the rested outskirts. Arwa Damon, CNN, Damascus.
BLITZER: On Monday, the Arab League secretary general is scheduled to meet with the United Nations officials in New York. The Arab League has called for Bashar al-Assad's regime to stop the violence immediately.