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Romney Leading in Florida; Interview With Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum

Aired January 30, 2012 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. I'm John King live tonight from the CNN Election Center.

Tonight, Mitt Romney holds a commanding lead on the final night of campaigning in Florida. But Newt Gingrich vows to battle on through the Republican Convention.

Rick Santorum is already campaigning in Missouri and tells us where he sees a chance to get back in the delegate chase.

And technology is changing how candidates are raising money straight from your smartphone.

We begin with the countdown to Florida. Most polling stations open in the state in just under 13 hours. But there's one important wildcard. Florida also allows early voting. As of this morning, some 600,000 ballots already have been cast. Tonight, the polls say it's a two-man race, with Mitt Romney in the lead, Newt Gingrich trying to close a significant gap.

Through a last day of campaigning, neither candidate let up on his opponent.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know the speaker's not real happy, Speaker Gingrich. He's not feeling very excited these days.

I know. It's sad. He's been flailing around a bit trying to go after me for one thing or the other. And you just watch it and you shake your head. It's been kind of painfully revealing to watch. But I think the reason he isn't doing so well is because of those last two debates. Don't you think?



KING: For his part, Speaker Gingrich equated Governor Romney with President Obama calling, them "the two twins of the establishment. And the former speaker also accused Romney of running a big lie campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can't beat the money power of Romney himself. We can't beat the dishonesty of his campaign by ourselves. We need witnesses who are prepared to go out and prepared to stand for conservatism and prepared to tell the truth. And we need to run a big truth campaign that beats the big lie campaign.


KING: CNN's Jim Acosta, who is following the Romney campaign, is with us live tonight.

Jim, let's take a peek and share with our viewers this video of Mitt Romney -- we have never seen him like this before -- joking with reporters on the campaign flight this morning, throwing bags of chips around, carrying a birthday cake, the images of a confident man. What are his people saying he needs to do as we show the pictures now? Can't hear his voice. I don't know if he can carry a tune or not.

They're clearly confident. What do they need to accomplish tomorrow, how big of a victory?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, John, I think if they got a double digit victory, they would be able to say back to Newt Gingrich, you got a double digit win in South Carolina. Now we have one here in Florida.

But I you're right. I think there is an air of confidence inside the Romney campaign right now here in Dunedin, Florida. Mitt Romney said at an event that he's starting to feel like he may win this state. It was a pretty optimistic tone from the former Massachusetts governor. But no question about it, this has become a very ugly campaign today.

When Mitt Romney was asked really reporters earlier today what do you think about Newt Gingrich's vow to fight all the way to the convention, he said that's what losing candidates say. Of course, you heard what Newt Gingrich had to say earlier today talking about the big lies of the Romney campaign. When we're getting to the two L's in politics, losers and liars, you know it's gotten to an ugly tone.

KING: It is an ugly tone in part because of all the negative advertising. Governor Romney has used some pretty tough ads against Speaker Gingrich in Florida to protect that lead about his career in Congress and about the ethics violation. If he gets a big win in Florida tomorrow, will they change to more positive ads or do they think stick with what's working as you go forward?

ACOSTA: I think stick with what's working.

Eric Fehrnstrom was talking to reporters to reporters earlier today, senior adviser with the Romney campaign. He said no way we're going into cruise control right now. They feel like the strategy they have adopted here in Florida has really worked for them. It has been a scorched earth campaign. The advertising has been heavily negative towards Newt Gingrich. These were the kinds of the ads that the Romney super PAC used to run, not the Romney campaign. Now the campaign is running those ads. And they have been very effective. Plus, just listen to the rhetoric from the candidates out on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney again going after Newt Gingrich's ties to Freddie Mac. They feel like because of Gingrich's ties to the mortgage giant in a state where the foreclosure crisis was very, very difficult for the people here, that all of those things together has been a recipe for success, John.

KING: Jim Acosta live for us tonight on the final night of campaigning in Florida, Jim, thank you.

The latest polls in Florida show a wide gap between Governor Romney and Speaker Gingrich. A Quinnipiac survey out just today has Romney ahead 43 percent to 29 percent. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum trailing both at 11 percent.

But as we have learned, what you expect in Florida and what you actually get on election night can be very different things.

Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is with us.

Let's look closely at this and let's closely at the Quinnipiac poll, because we assume the numbers are right. There's a number of polls out. Some have Romney up eight, some have him up by as much as 16 or so.


KING: So he's up, he's up. If you look closely here among women, among women, Romney 44 percent, Gingrich 28 percent. So one of the reasons Governor Romney is winning is a gender gap.

BORGER: Right, and, you know, if you talk to people in the Romney campaign, they will say to you it took awhile for sort of the Marianne Gingrich charges to come into view for women and that by the time he got to Florida, they're actually starting to think about it.

Also, generally, Newt Gingrich has gender gap issues, always has as a politician. He's kind of bellicose. Sometimes women don't like that, and Romney, by the way, has always been popular with women. But he's also doing well with men in this poll. So that's very good news for him.

KING: We will see if this holds up tomorrow. We will see if he keeps his lead and, B., we will see in our exit polls how people vote. But among self-described conservatives, a group where Romney was thumped in South Carolina -- this was his biggest weakness in South Carolina -- in this Q-poll, Romney 40, Gingrich 31. If he can win among self-defined conservatives...

BORGER: Right. Another question we will be looking for, because conservatives say they like him, but is it because they believe he's electable or is it because they believe he shares their ideology?

There's this real tug of war going on in the Republican Party right now. Do you want to vote your pure politics or do you want to be a little bit more pragmatic? What we might be seeing in these numbers is a little bit of pragmatism, because Newt Gingrich is going around the state calling Romney, not a moderate anymore, but a liberal.

KING: That's a dirty word in Republican politics. We will see if it holds up tomorrow.

Money matters in politics. And we know that. This is the biggest state so far, 10 media markets, so TV money, radio money to a lesser degree. If you look at the spending, Romney's campaign and pro-Romney super PAC spending $5.3 million. That's plus. That's as of this morning. So there's more spending tonight obviously. Pro- Gingrich, the Gingrich campaign and the PAC that supports him, $1.8 million. So more than two to one there.

BORGER: Right, absolutely more than two to one. Some people say it will go as high as four to one.

There's another number that sort of struck me. One is that Mitt Romney has so far run about 13,000 television ads compared to 200 for Newt Gingrich.


KING: Why did Gingrich not compete? Is just realizing -- he came out of South Carolina with momentum. You would think you would make an investment. Are they just saving this for down the road?

BORGER: Well, the super PAC said that they are actually spending all their money, but, A., it takes time to produce the ads and it takes time to get on the air. They're spending an awful lot of money on radio also, which is a cheaper way of getting out your message. But when you look at those numbers ad to ad, it's a big problem for Newt Gingrich.

KING: And not spending quickly out of South Carolina could cost him in the state of Florida.


BORGER: Well, planning. That takes organization and planning. That's another problem.


KING: Planning is an important word. Gloria, thanks so much.

Be sure to tune in for CNN tomorrow night. Our coverage of primary night in Florida will actually begin right here this hour, 6:00 Eastern with a special edition of JOHN KING, USA.

Moving overseas now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today strongly condemned the latest increase in violence against anti- government demonstrators in Syria. One opposition group reporting at least 100 deaths today. The demonstrations have now spread to the outskirts of Syria's capital, Damascus.

Some protesters recently allowed CNN's Arwa Damon to accompany them. She discovered their flash demonstrations are highly organized and very risky.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There are posters and other materials hidden in a safe house, along with tiny printed leaflets ready to be scattered. Demonstrators move in groups of two or three to avoid attracting attention.

At the signal, the street erupts into activity. Everyone has a duty.

The leaflets rain down like confetti. Every night the protesters do this. Their numbers are small; their determination is not.


KING: About 10 minutes after that demonstration started, Syrian forces moved in and the protesters had to run for their lives.

Arwa made it out safely and joins us now from Beirut, Lebanon.

Arwa, take me back to that demonstration you're just in the middle of. What was that experience like?

DAMON: It's very intense, John, because you realize all that is at stake and the fact that these demonstrators -- and a lot of them are fairly young, 15 to 30 years old -- risk their lives every single time they go out.

And there is so much planning that goes into those 10 minutes they have where they chant their lungs out and then they have to flee. But they say that these small acts of defiance are incredibly critical because at the end of the day, it has been that these types of street demonstrations, this type of relentless pressure by these activists that really has been the driving force of the Syrian uprising. And they realize just how critical of a role they're playing.

KING: And, Arwa, the fighting is now in the Damascus suburbs. What does that say for President Assad's grip on power?

DAMON: Well, you know, John, we were in the Damascus suburbs, in Sukbah (ph), to be precise, on Friday, and it was quite startling, because we drove in there not knowing what to expect.

And the first checkpoint we came across, about a minute off of the main highway, was a Free Syrian Army checkpoint. And back then, on Friday, there were a number of neighborhoods in the suburbs that were not under the full control of the Syrian authorities.

We then saw that shift with this massive offensive that took place over the weekend. But some of these clashes, John, were taking place just a 15-minute drive from the heart of the capital itself. So, it most certainly seemed as if the Free Syrian Army is gaining more ground.

The Syrian government slowly, ever so slowly beginning to lose control, but now we're hearing from activists that the Syrian military has moved in and reestablished its own authority. But most certainly this could perhaps begin to signal a slight shift in dynamics on the ground.

KING: Fascinating reporting, CNN's Arwa Damon from Beirut. Arwa, thank you.

Rick Santorum says his 3-year-old daughter is recovering now after a rough couple of days. Senator Santorum joins us next. He will talk about her health scare and about his plans for Florida and beyond.


KING: Rick Santorum returned to the campaign trail today, but not in Florida. The one time Republican senator from Pennsylvania spent the weekend at the bedside of his 3-year-old daughter, Bella, who was hospitalized with pneumonia.

She's doing better now and Santorum headed today to Missouri, which holds a primary a week from now, on February 7.

We spoke a little bit ago.


KING: Senator Santorum, thanks for being with us today.

Let me start by asking you how your daughter is doing. You had a bit of a scare this weekend. Your 3-year-old was in intensive care.

She's doing better?

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She's doing much better, thank you so much. In fact, she had a -- a very tough Friday and Saturday, but I feel very, very blessed. You know, I -- I haven't been home, John, since Christmas -- Christmas Day.

And the one day I was home, actually, to get my taxes so we could turn those in, turned out to be a day I needed to be home. And she -- she went through a very, very tough time. But yesterday afternoon, she really -- she really rallied. And she's doing -- she's doing much better and we feel -- we feel things are good and that I can get back out on the road and that Karen and the kids can now take it from here.

But it was, it was hairy. I just want to thank you and everybody else for their prayers during this time. And it meant the world to us. And I know it helped Bella a lot.

KING: Well, we'll continue to pray for Bella. Now that you are back on the trail, you mentioned you went home to get your taxes. And that question has come up.

So when will we see them?

SANTORUM: I have got four years that we're putting together. And I just want to make sure that I have got all the right papers in place and I'm not missing something from my return. So I won't have someone take a look at them before I release them.

I haven't had a chance to do that yet. As you know, I just got -- get out of the hospital with my daughter.

So if you can just give me a little bit of time to make sure that we're -- we're not going to say, oh, you didn't release this form and this should be in here, we'll be OK.

KING: Let me ask you a question about pressing news of the day, violence escalating in Syria. The bloodshed and the killing escalating in Syria.

Would a President Santorum, on this day, do anything different than President Obama is doing?

SANTORUM: This is a -- a regime that is -- that is a puppet state of Iran and -- and is one that has to go, in my opinion, if we're going to see peace and stability for Israel and in the Middle East.

And so we would be -- I would have been much more proactive in supporting the -- the insurgency and would be doing all I can, again, not militarily, but behind the scenes in supporting in any way possible the -- the pro-democracy movement that is taking place in Syria today.

KING: It is the final day of campaigning in Florida, and yet you are in Missouri. I understand why. Governor Romney has a big lead. Speaker Gingrich is behind him and you're trying to save your resources.

But when Rick Santorum looks at the calendar, do you say I have to have a victory in the early weeks of February or some time in the month of February to go on?

How do you assess viability?

SANTORUM: Well, I mean, I look at it this way. I think this is a -- a long process -- this is going to be a long process. This race isn't going to be over any time soon. We're here in Missouri. We've -- we've got some good poll numbers here in Missouri that shows basically a three way race between Governor Romney, Speaker Gingrich and myself.

And so we -- we are planting our flag here. We're going to go to Minnesota. Again, polls show us in a competitive position there. And then off to Colorado and Nevada. These are the next four states that are going to be -- be up, one on Saturday and -- and the other three on -- on Tuesday, a week from tomorrow. And we've just -- we're just showing, this is a national campaign. We have resources deployed here. We're going to be spending money in all of these states.

And we're going to be working beyond that. We're hiring staff and have, in fact, hired staff in some of the other states that are coming up on Super Tuesday.

This is a -- a race that we believe will come to us at some point. And we'll be able to take advantage of it when it does.

KING: I want you to listen to something you said on a conference call, tele-town hall, with supporters last night. Speaker Gingrich in Florida is making the case, don't elect a Massachusetts moderate.

You sound pretty similar in this remark.

Let's listen.


SANTORUM: That's one of the mistakes that can -- that Republicans make when they look at Independent voters, oh, well, we have to have someone who's more moderate, because that's what Independents are.

Well, Independents may be moderate, but moderates, by definition, aren't driven by issues. They are driven by other things and have feet in both camps.


KING: So you're making the case the Republicans should turn to a conservative.

Do you believe Mitt Romney could win a general election?

SANTORUM: I'm -- I'm hopeful that any of the Republicans left can win a general election and I will support whoever that nominee is and will work tirelessly because we have to defeat President Obama.

But what I'm -- my point is that the idea that we need to elect a moderate in order to get moderate votes is simply a fallacy, that John McCain would be president and Bob Dole would have been president.

We need to elect someone who's a principled conservative that can motivate conservatives and Republicans and, in fact, as -- as I was mentioning, I -- I went on to say that -- that in many cases, moderate voters tend to vote for the person, the person who they believe has the qualities and characters of the leader that can govern this country and bring America together.

And I think on that score, we score very, very highly. And I think even -- even the polls are now suggesting that -- that on that front, we present the -- present the best opportunity for us to get those voters. KING: Senator Santorum, thanks for your time tonight.

SANTORUM: Thank you very much, John.

Appreciate the opportunity.

And thanks again for the prayers.

KING: Take care.


KING: Still ahead: A new report says $2 billion are missing from the Iraq war, but whose money just might surprise you.


KING: Welcome back.


KING: Still ahead: the "truth" about Newt Gingrich's promise now to stay in the race until the Republican Convention.

And later: Gingrich supporter and former presidential candidate Fred Thompson, who is worried, he says, about some of Mitt Romney's campaign tactics.


FRED THOMPSON, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: We have got members of Congress going around to Gingrich rallies and causing disruption and stuff, just high school stuff. And, so, you have got to be concerned about the turnout and whether conservatives can come back together again.



KING: The "truth" about Newt Gingrich's promise to stay in the race until this summer's convention and what it might cost the Republican Party.

Gingrich supporter and former presidential candidate Fred Thompson is worried about Republican unity and blames Mitt Romney's campaign tactics. He joins us live to explain.

Plus, an update on the hunt for one of the Mississippi's pardoned killers. He has finally turned up a very long way from home.

This week, members of Congress might do something to improve their image. The Senate just voted overwhelmingly to consider a bill that would prevent members of Congress or their aides from buying and selling stocks and other securities based on their special access to inside information. Give credit to a recent report on the CBS program "60 Minutes" for breathing new life into a once-languishing piece of legislation.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is with us now.

And, Dana, how is this not illegal already?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It does seem kind of amazing, doesn't it?

Look, this is an issue that some lawmakers say is a gray area in the law. It is already the law that insider trading is illegal. But some are looking at it and saying, well, it is really hard the way the law is written now for members of Congress and their aides to actually be prosecuted for it.

So what this explicitly says is that lawmakers and their aides cannot use information that they get just doing their job representing the people to stuff their personal bank accounts. Effectively, they can't use their public position for private gain.

And given Congress' dismal approval ratings, this is a no-brainer for members to vote for. In fact, there was just a procedural vote a few minutes ago, and it was 93-2, that passed the Senate.

KING: Well, let's take a specific look so voters know exactly, viewers know exactly what's in it.

Any member of Congress or their staff must report stock transactions within 30 days, make clear insider trading laws apply to members of Congress. I think that's a big duh to most people, but OK.


KING: And bars the use of non-public information for personal gain.

As I mentioned at the top, this has been languishing for some time. Look and hear President Obama during the State of the Union getting a bit of an earful from Republican Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts.


SEN. SCOTT BROWN (R), MASSACHUSETTS: My insider trading bill is on Harry's desk right now.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to tell him to get it done.

How is your daughter?

BROWN: She's doing great. How are your daughters?

OBAMA: Good. They're doing great.


KING: The Harry Scott Brown is talking about is Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader.

Did it take a nudge from the president or was this one about to move anyway?

BASH: This was about to move anyway, but that is political gold for somebody like Scott Brown to have that out there looking like he's pushing the president, because he is somebody in a very tight race with, you guessed it, somebody who is a bit known for her consumer advocacy, Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts.

So, that is just one example of the politics of this. The fact of the matter is, as you said, this has been around for years and years and years. It had a handful of co-sponsors. Now it's not just a race to support this. There's a stampede here in Congress because of the fact that people -- sort of the politics of the moment is to clean up Washington. So it's very hard for members of Congress to avoid this, especially after that "60 Minutes" report you just talked about.

But there are a couple of senators who said, "Unh-uh, I don't buy this." In fact, one is Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. He said this is simply just politics. And that little provision that you talked about, the fact that members and their aides have to report their financial transactions every 30 days, he said that's just not workable. And I think privately a lot of people agree with that.

KING: Dana Bash, live for us down on Capitol Hill. Dana, thank you. We'll watch this one play out.

And tomorrow's presidential primary in Florida not only in the year's first Republican caucus in a big state, but it will be our first look at results from voting blocs that will play a vitally important role come November.

Here now to help us break things down is Ralph Reed. He's the chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, former executive director of the Christian Coalition. Back at the map. You're going to take my job away by the time I'm done.

Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. Let's move on to the state of Florida. No. 1, I want to bring up some demographics. No. 1, let's look at Tea Party strength. That's what you see here. The darker the county area, the stronger the Tea Party. Big impact, medium impact, not so much?

RALPH REED, CHAIRMAN, FAITH AND FREEDOM COALITION: It's going to have a big impact. The challenge that Newt Gingrich is going to have tomorrow is that this vote is not breaking as heavily his way as it did in South Carolina. If you look at the Tea Party vote in South Carolina, it broke two to one his way.

It's also not as conservative an electorate, John. In Iowa, which is a caucus state, 83 percent of all caucus attenders said they were conservative. In South Carolina, that number was 70 percent. Tomorrow in Florida, it's going to be about 60 percent.

KING: You think about 60 percent?

REED: Yes, maybe mid-60s, low 60s, but not nearly as conservative. In terms of the evangelical vote...

KING: Let me show that as you talk about it. We'll bring up evangelicals and where you find them in the state.

REED: Yes. Very strong up here. This is the Bible Belt of Florida, so to speak. It bleeds down from south Georgia and south Alabama. Down here, of course, you have Miami-Dade and Broward. This is going to be a real stronghold for Romney. Southwest will be a real stronghold. This is Naples, Collier County, Fort Myers, Lee County. Newt's going to do well in Tampa, St. Pete. He's going to do very well with evangelicals.

But again, John, if you look at the evangelical vote in South Carolina, it broke 45-22 Newt's way. Right now in both the Quinnipiac and the Marist poll, it's basically a three-way tie.

KING: Has Newt done something wrong there or is it just a more moderate election?

REED: It's a demographically more diverse and different electorate. South Carolina is overwhelmingly southern Baptist. This is going to have more mainline evangelicals, more Latino evangelicals.

KING: This is the first time we'll see the Hispanic vote, the Latino vote.

REED: Right.

KING: The darker the orange, the higher the population. More Democratic here down here except for Cuban-Americans down here. Where would the Latino vote in a Republican primary play out?

REED: Well, you're going to have a very strong Puerto Rican contingent her in central Florida, in Orange County, in Orlando, Osceola County and those environs. That's a big strong element.

But here again, half of all Florida Hispanics are non-Cuban. That's very different than the Miami that I grew up in in the 1970s. What's interesting is, even though Newt has tried to play that card and tried to say that Romney was anti-immigrant and Newt has taken a more, you know, we might say centrist position on immigration, it hasn't really caused this vote to break heavily his way.

KING: I want to clear the map. I want to ask you one more question. I talked about this with Gloria Borger a bit earlier. You bring this up here. Candidate visits. We see here they've been all around the place. But why, why, why, why, why -- this is not even the latest information.

REED: Yes.

KING: We have later information. But this is just from the other day. Why are we not seeing more Gingrich ad spending? They came out of South Carolina with all this momentum. Five million to one million, I bet it's even more than that by the time we're done.

KING: Well, you only had, you know, ten days. And Romney was ready, and he threw everything in the kitchen sink. The total amount, John, and we're still calculating the totals. It looks to be about $17 million for Romney to about $4 million for Newt all in on TV and radio.

And this is a state, it doesn't matter how many airplanes you charter. It doesn't matter how many bus tours you go to. This is a big state. It's 67 counties. It's nine medium markets. There's only one way to win Florida, and that's on TV and radio.

And in addition to that, and this is a story that really hasn't been extensively reported, the Romney campaign has the best effort where they've I.E. every one of their voters and they're contacting them by mail and phone and getting them to vote early. And that's really going to matter, because through yesterday, you already had a half a million early votes.

KING: About 600,000 as of this morning. So the old-fashioned way, God forbid. Ralph, thanks, appreciate it.

REED: Yes. You bet, John.

KING: All right. Newt Gingrich says no matter what happens in Florida, he's staying in the race until this summer's convention. Former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson knows first-hand how the early primaries can whittle down a field of candidates. Back in 2008, his campaign didn't make it to the end of January.

This time around, Senator Thompson is trying to help Newt Gingrich keep his campaign alive. He's endorsed the former speaker. We spoke a bit earlier. Senator Thompson was in Washington.


KING: Senator Thompson, thanks for your time today. What happened to your friend, Speaker Gingrich? He came out of South Carolina with a bunch of momentum and a head of steam. He comes down to Florida. Depending on which poll you believe, he's down anywhere from 8 to maybe 16 points on the final day of campaigning. What happened?

FRED THOMPSON, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you in this business. After -- after Florida's over with, there will have been 5 percent of the delegates won. I said 10 yesterday, but it's actually five. So that gives you some idea where we are in the process. I think Newt will do better than what people think. I think that, when you look at the national picture that shows him still leading Romney in a couple of polls, including a Gallup poll, and you look at the fact that in South Carolina he was down double digits just a few days before the election, you know this is a very, very fluid situation.

Anything less than a double-digit win for Romney after outspending Gingrich 6 or 7 to 1, when everything is counted, would be a big, big disappointment for them, I think.

KING: That's good for you to set the expectations there. I'll remember that one tomorrow night.

Look, you're an accomplished politician. You're also an accomplished actor. When you look at Speaker Gingrich on the stump this week, what's he doing wrong?

THOMPSON: Well, I haven't seen him on the stump this week. I've been reading what he said. I've been watching clips. And I'm not sure he's doing anything wrong. In fact, he's drawing -- he's drawing the biggest political crowds that I have ever seen. I mean, outside of presidential race, general election. So I'm not sure he's doing anything wrong.

In fact, you know, it's kind of a weird feeling. Some people down there, you know, say -- you know, these crowds just don't match- up with what some of the people say is going to happen. So you know, we won't have long to wait to see.

KING: Part of those crowds could be part of an interesting dynamic in the race. I'm interested in your thoughts on it, because you've been through this rodeo. There are some people who say the longer the battle, whether Speaker Gingrich wins in the end or Governor Romney wins at the end, the better candidate you get, being through the battle.

There are others, though, who say if it's Governor Romney, he may have to worry just because of those crowds, because of a disconnect with the Tea Party evangelical grass-roots of the party. How do you see it?

THOMPSON: Yes, well, I think both of those things if I remember correctly, I think both of those things are accurate. I think that whoever comes out of it will be sharper. They're not going to say anything about each other that the Democrats haven't already thought about. They're all getting better, you know, as the debates go on. And so I subscribe to that.

If I was Romney's campaign, I'd be a little bit concerned. I mean, they have engaged in one of the roughest campaigns I've ever seen in Florida. Everybody knows that when Mitt gets in trouble, you know, he calls in the money bomb. And they outspent Gingrich 2 to 1 in South Carolina. It didn't work. So now it's 5 to 1 on television and 6 or 7 to 1 overall. The same thing, like, that bothers me frankly, and I've seen a lot. But when he continues to say that Gingrich was run out of Congress in disgrace, when he knows that's not true. It's been pointed out, you know, as recently as Saturday in "The Wall Street Journal" that that's not true. It bothers me. And I think he ought to be concerned about a lot of Tea Partiers out there and a lot of conservatives out there just don't like the way that he and the establishment are piling on.

KING: You ran back in 2008. I spent some time tracking your campaign. Every candidate, when they get in, gets in to win, and every candidate thinks it's just around the corner when they turn it around. When Newt says he'll go all the way to the convention, is that feasible, or does he have to at least, by the end of February, be able to say, "Here's a few more wins" or else maybe pack it in?

THOMPSON: No, I think he can go all the way. I think that, of course, after -- after Florida, there's a patch there when it's probably advantageous to Romney, but then there's a patch when it's very advantageous to Gingrich. And most of these -- most of these contests will be proportional. So Gingrich will be winning delegates all along the way.

And as I say, only -- only 5 percent after a night -- after tonight will have been won. So, you know, you'll never be able to battle Gingrich, I mean battle Romney's money, but as you get into something like Super Tuesday, even Romney can't spend all that much money like what he's done in Florida and Iowa and South Carolina in those states simultaneously. So it will level the playing field somewhat.

KING: Senator Fred Thompson, appreciate your time tonight, sir.

THOMPSON: Thank you.


KING: Newt Gingrich says he's in the race for the long haul. Next, the truth about whether he's getting in the way of the Republican Party's plans.

And the latest attempt to locate a convicted murderer who was part of the controversial pardons made by outgoing Mississippi governor, Haley Barbour.


KING: No one has ever accused Newt Gingrich of lacking confidence in himself.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When we win on Tuesday, I will become the Republican nominee. And then we will defeat Obama. Thank you very, very much.


KING: But he isn't expected to win Florida. That's Tuesday. And so, there's a Plan B.


GINGRICH: Well, I will go all the way to the convention. I expect to win the nomination. You just had two national polls that show me ahead.


KING: The current issue of "The New Yorker" suggests President Obama would like nothing more than a protracted Republican nomination battle, believing he would be the ultimate winner. Well, here's tonight's "Truth." There's no guarantee of that. In fact, being tested sometimes makes for a stronger candidate as then-Senator Obama himself learned in the marathon Democratic race back in 2008. In fact, many Republicans look now and see a scrappier, more effective Romney in recent days. A lesson learned from the thumping Speaker Gingrich gave Romney in South Carolina.

But truth is, there are deeper fissures in the Republican Party now than there were among Democrats four years ago. And so it's an open and very real question about whether a protracted battle harms the eventual Republican nominee or steels him for the fall showdown.

The establishment is for Romney and hoping Florida is the launch to a February win streak that takes the air out of the Gingrich promise of a long delegate war.

But the rabble rousers are for Gingrich. Count many Tea Party leaders in this group. Sarah Palin, too. They are for whatever the establishment is against. And they see southern primaries in March as reason enough for Gingrich to strap in for the long haul.

If there's one lesson we should all follow this year, it is this. Don't make predictions. Romney was inevitable. Then he wasn't. The Gingrich candidacy was dead; then it wasn't. The voters will decide this. Maybe relatively soon, maybe not. The question is, then what? Former senator Fred Thompson is a Newt guy. He sees the Tea Party- like energy at Gingrich rallies and predicts very hard feelings if Romney is the ultimate nominee.


THOMPSON: You've got to be concerned about the turnout and whether conservatives can come back together again.


KING: Would they? That's a question for another day. If and only if governor Romney puts a win streak together. but truth is, the tone of the GOP campaign is getting rather personal, and that does matter now. The more bad blood now, the more wounds to heal later. Here to discuss Florida and the road beyond, Ralph Reed is back with us, plus Jenny Beth Martin. She's co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots. And Erick Erickson, our CNN contributor and the editor of the conservative blog

Erick, let me start with you. It is personal lately. Ralph was just noting during the break. It's now Massachusetts liberal. Newt has dropped the "moderate" part of it. You have Governor Romney almost taunting Speaker Gingrich for the debates last week. You're in touch with the base. Is it bad blood or is this just standard fare?

ERICK ERIKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There is bad blood. This is something -- even 2008, there was bad blood in 2008, but it healed quickly. People began to quickly move towards John McCain after South Carolina.

This isn't -- it's not happening for Mitt Romney. And one of the reasons it's not happening is a lot of debates, you talk to activists or whether it was an evangelical meeting a few weeks ago or some of the Tea Party meetings more recently. None of them expect Mitt Romney to make -- build bridges back to them in the way John McCain did. I think they'll be surprised if he does, but none of them expect it.

KING: You expect it?

JENNY BETH MARTIN, CO-FOUNDER, TEA PARTY PATRIOTS: I think that --- well, right now, Mitt Romney is -- is talking about our issues. We had a Florida town hall last night with Florida Tea Party people. And he said he wants to cut the current spending level in his first fiscal year. All the candidates did. And he said he'd repeal the government-controlled health care. So as long as he sticks to that, the country is in good shape.

KING: Well, they're trying. He's trying, at least, right now.

MARTIN: He seems to be. He's been in both of our town halls for the candidates.

KING: Ralph, you've been through a few rodeos. I want to show the cover of "The New Yorker" again, of President Obama. Looks like he's having a beer, watching the football game, as you see the battle between Gingrich and Romney here. This is the "New Yorker" cover. But at the White House, should they be so happy at a protracted battle or should Obama maybe think of his own experience?

REED: I wouldn't be happy if I were them. I mean, you alluded to the '08 marathon battle between Obama and Hillary Clinton, two really just incredible stars in the Democratic firmament, like two prizefighters in the middle of the ring just going at it for 12 rounds. No question about it. Obama was a tougher, a better and a more disciplined candidate in the general because of her.

The other thing, John, is, you know, we've all seen this movie before. This is a recurrent drama within the Republican Party that goes all the way back to the Eisenhower-Taft battle at the convention in '52. It reaches its crescendo with Goldwater, Rockefeller. Then it's replayed again with Reagan and Ford in '76. They go all the way to the convention.

The fact is, there's nothing but good out of a muscular, competitive, hard-fought primary, as long as you can reconcile at the convention.

KING: Well, that's a fascinating point. I want to follow up on it. But first, I want you to listen to Speaker Gingrich here. This is him complaining about why is he not winning in Florida? Why is not doing better after the big South Carolina win?


GINGRICH: Nothing like $17.5 million of false ads to make a big difference. We did fine. You know, you guys have counted me out three times so far this year. We'll do fine.

Romney managed to run more falsehoods. The debate's a good example. The reason I -- the reason I seemed flat in the second debate in Florida is I have never seen a candidate for president that methodically dishonest.


KING: So he's complaining about ad spending, and there has been more against him than for him. He's complaining about the debate. He says Governor Romney was dishonest.

To Ralph's point, Erick, about this is what primaries are about, especially for a party out of power. You try to boost the heart and soul of the party. Who's on top? Is it the conservative movement? Is it more in the middle? But is this actually about something or is it about two guys that don't like each other?

ERICKSON: I think it's about two guys who don't like each other, but it's also about a Republican base who's sitting back saying we're talking about Mitt and Newt not ironically as the potential nominee, and people aren't excited about those. So you've got these underlying people who aren't really excited about either one, both of them trying to get them excited about them. And they don't particularly like each other either.

There is one troubling point here, though, for Romney. He's outspending Newt Gingrich significantly in Florida. South Carolina was the first time any of the non-Romneys combined to match Romney dollar for dollar in advertising, were moving into smaller media markets after Florida, so Newt could have a comeback based on that money.

KING: We're moving into smaller media markets, but I'm going to read you a note. Our political reporter, Peter Hamby, just sent a note. The Gingrich campaign already strongly suggesting they'll cede Nevada and Michigan to Mitt Romney. Those are, I think, their strong states, and so they'll contest Colorado, Missouri. What else comes up? Minnesota comes up in that. Is there a place for Newt in the next few weeks or is this more try not to get slaughtered and get to Super Tuesday? REED: Well, he's now doing what Hillary Clinton had to do in February of '08. She had to wait for Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. What she found out was that it was too little too late.

In the case of Reagan in '76, he made his stand in North Carolina, beat the incumbent president. That gave him enough momentum to keep going.

But here's the bottom line, John. This is not just about personalities. This is a very hard-fought debate over principle, on issues like Obama care and whether or not Romney care resembled it. Whether or not Obama -- or whether or not Romney has a conservative governing vision for the country. And this will be -- if he ends up being the nominee, this will be good for Romney. He'll not only be a better candidate; he'll be more wedded to the base.

And I am cautiously optimistic, regardless of who ends up being the nominee. You've got to remember what's behind door No. 2. Barack Obama. That is going to cover a multitude of sins within the Republican Party.

ERICKSON: But at the same time, 2 million less Republicans turned out for John McCain in 2008 than turned out for Bush in 2004. A lot of the McCain strategists think to some degree it was the bitter primary season.

KING: So how does a Tea Party activist -- if you have some people -- you know, Romney's reaching out now, building bridges. If he's the nominee -- that's a huge "if." If, if, if, if, if. This has been a crazy year. I'm not going anywhere.

MARTIN: Not making any predictions.

KING: But if he is, do you sense you'll have to be on the phone and people like you around the country will be on the phone saying, to Ralphs point, remember the alternative?

MARTIN: No, I think that what we'll be doing is reminding America of what we have had over the last four years and what is the direction for our country? It's not about a single person. It's about what direction our country is going in. And the longer the primary goes out, the longer these candidates say they're going to do what we've been saying. And what we want is in line with the majority of America. So that's a win for our country.

KING: First, we find out in Florida, if the polls actually matter. Florida sometimes surprises us, as we all know.

Ralph Reed, Jenny Beth Martin, Erick Erickson, thank you. Good night. Tomorrow we'll stay in touch.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour. Erin, tomorrow in the Florida primary, the attacks continue, all sides. What are you working on tonight?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, we're looking at the super PACs. As you know, tomorrow we're going to be finding out who gave how much money to whom. And that means we're going to find out we are the million-dollar donors to Mitt Romney. We have not seen these numbers since last summer, John, as you know. So we're going to find out a lot of new names. Some people who may be coming into the Romney camp.

One thing we will not see is Sheldon Adelson's name. He didn't start giving money to Newt Gingrich until January, so we won't see that. But we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what's in these numbers. We found some pretty interesting donors on this.

Plus, the man proposing the Buffett rule as a law in the Senate coming "OUTFRONT" tonight.

All that top of the hour. Back to you, John.

KING: Erin, we'll see you in just a few minutes. Thanks.

Still ahead here, Newt Gingrich wants to build a permanent colony on the moon and his dream is fully realized, the price tag is huge. We'll tell you just how much, next.

Plus, back here on Earth, we'll tell you which former president's house is for sale. Here's a hint. It's on the 13th fairway of the famous Thunderbird Country Club. Details when we come back.


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


Good evening again, everyone.

Joseph Osman, a convicted murder who was pardoned this month in a controversial move by outgoing Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, has been found in Wyoming. That announcement came today from Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood. Osman has served with -- was served papers at a hotel in Laramie, Wyoming, where he had been staying under another name. The question is, what happens next? That's left up to the courts.

The late president Gerald Ford's Rancho Mirage, California, home is up for sale. It's 6,300 square feet. It has five bedrooms, five full bathrooms, and a lap pill -- lap pool. I feel like a real-estate agent. And you can't beat the view. It's on the 13th fairway of the famous Thunderbird Country Club. The price tag: almost $1.7 million. The Fords built the home in 1979.

And Newt Gingrich has repeatedly defended his goal to establish a permanent lunar colony on the moon by the end of his second term of president if he is elected. So, how much would it cost? Well, our colleagues at CNN Money, they found out. According to a professor at George Washington University's Space Policy Institute, the cost to set up and man a colony on the moon would amount to between 250 and $550 billion, John.

He took a little heat on that very topic at our latest debate. I don't know how that price tag's going to go over.

KING: That's a lot of cash. He loves the space program. Like Speaker Gingrich or not, he's always been big fan of the space program. However, the Tea Party base, which he needs, didn't like that proposal too much. We'll see how that one plays out. That is a lot of money.

All right. Don't go anywhere, Kate. Finally, tonight's moment you most likely missed, unless you happened to be online for President Obama's hangout -- that's what they call it, hang out, on Google Plus this evening. Something asked what's the toughest thing about being president. He said -- listen to this -- going stir crazy in the White House.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I decide I just want to go to the corner store, I've got to alert Secret Service, and the ambulance has to get in place and you know, if we're crossing a bridge, suddenly, there's got to be some boats in the water. So at a certain point, you just say, you know, forget it.


KING: You know, Michelle Obama snuck out once or twice. Hillary Clinton used to sneak out. Why can't a president just, you know, put a baseball cap on and go to the mall or something?

BOLDUAN: I don't know. It seems pretty tough. I've heard him say that before. Haven't you? I mean, he's talked about that before, being stir crazy in the White House, not being able to get out.

I mean, but isn't that a missed opportunity? One of the things would come to mind, like hardest thing about being in the White House? Oh, I don't know, finding Osama bin Laden. All the other things that he's been doing.

KING: Yes. They all, the bubble they call it. Their life just gets confined right there. All right, Kate. We'll see you tomorrow.

We'll see you tomorrow, too. Our special coverage of the Florida primary begins right here, 6 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. We'll see you right there. We'll see you then. A preview of the big night in Florida. That's all for us, though. Until tomorrow, you enjoy yourself.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.