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Intel Officials Warn Iran May Attack in U.S.; First Florida Polls Close in Under Two Hours; Gingrich Robocalls; President Obama: 'Send Me Your Husband's Resume'; First Exit Polls Out of Florida; Rescued Aid Worker Back in U.S.

Aired January 31, 2012 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, the first Florida poll is about to close just two hours from now in a contest so pivotal, it could ultimately help determine the Republican presidential nominee.

Also, alarming signs Iran may be ready to attack right here in the United States. Just ahead, a bold warning from the U.S. intelligence chief.

And President Obama asks one woman for her husband's resume. You're going to find out why in our interview.

Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center.


The first exit polls out of Florida are starting to come in. Our chief national correspondent, John King, is here. He's combing through the numbers as we speak. We'll bring you the results live as soon as they're available, probably within the next few minutes. Stand by for that.

Also tonight, a contest unlike any other in the country's fourth largest state. It's open to more than four million Republican voters, with a massive 50 convention delegates up for grabs. And because it's winner take all, whoever comes out on top in Florida may get a major boost he needs to leave his rivals in the dust. We'll see.

But first, to a disturbing new national security threat we're learning about, with the potential to dominate the presidential race in the days and weeks, indeed, months to come.

Key U.S. intelligence officials now warning Iran may be preparing to launch a terrorist attack right inside the United States.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence is standing by with the latest.

So what are these intelligence experts, U.S. government leaders, saying?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're saying that not only is Iran stepping up its spying against the U.S., but also its support for international terrorism. And it's something that either President Obama or perhaps one of these potential Republican contenders have to face head-on in the next year.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): U.S. intelligence now believes Iran is willing to engage the U.S. anyway. Even attacks on American soil are no longer off limits.

In the latest report to Congress, the director of National Intelligence says some Iranian officials, "Some Iranian officials, probably including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime."

It's the first time U.S. officials have linked Khamenei to an audacious October plot in which this Iranian-American tried and failed to hire Mexican drug lords to assassinate a Saudi ambassador while the ambassador dined in Washington, DC.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: A plot so unusual and amateurish that many initially doubted that Iran was responsible. Well, let me state for the record, I have no such doubts.

LAWRENCE: Officials from President Obama on down have declared a red line on Iran going nuclear. But during Tuesday's Congressional hearing, intelligence officials spoke directly to when that line gets crossed.

JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Enrichment of uranium to a 90 percent level would be a pretty good indicator of -- of their seriousness.

LAWRENCE: Iran is believed to be enriching uranium to 20 percent right now. U.S. officials admitted the Iranians have virtually everything they need to go forward, except agreement that weaponizing is the best move.

CLAPPER: There is dissension and debate in the political hierarchy of Iran. So there is not unanimity about this.

LAWRENCE: The director admitted Director James Clapper admits that sanctions have not changed Iran's policy, meaning the nuclear issue could come to a head before America votes in November.

FEINSTEIN: I think 2012 is going to be a critical year for convincing or preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.


LAWRENCE: Intelligence officials say Iran's willingness to sponsor attacks here inside the United States mostly depends on how much punishment they face for that failed attack in October on the Saudi ambassador and how much of a threat they perceive the U.S. to be to them going forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very strong words from these intelligence officials, strong words, indeed, and in public, I must say.


BLITZER: All right, Chris, thanks very much.

Moving on right now, some much needed momentum for Mitt Romney going into tonight's battle. The final American Research Group Poll of Florida voters showing him with a 12 point lead over Newt Gingrich, with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul trailing far behind.

Romney is keeping a lower profile today, scheduling just one event before final results start coming in. Newt Gingrich isn't going down, though, without a fight.

This was just one of many appearances he's flooding the campaign trail with on this day.

Rick Santorum, meanwhile, is looking beyond Florida to the next critical contest out West. He's stopping in Colorado, then heading on to Nevada.

Ron Paul, by the way, isn't far behind. He's also making stops in Colorado before traveling to Nevada.

Let's bring in our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's covering Romney's campaign in Florida; also our senior correspondent, Joe Johns. He's out in Las Vegas awaiting Ron Paul -- Candy, first to you.

What are the Romney people looking for tonight, other than, of course, a win?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's -- it's the measure of the win, I mean, 5 and 6 percent is what they're talking about. But we've seen these polls come out with a double digit gap between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. And, obviously, the bigger that gap, the better it is for Mitt Romney, because he can come out of here with some major momentum.

But beyond kind of the -- the depth of the gap, they want some broad numbers to come in.

And by that I mean what has been the one thing about Mitt Romney?

It's been can he really attract the conservatives?

They'd like a strong number in some of those exit polls, by self- identifying either Tea Party or conservatives. They'd like to see Mitt Romney, obviously, do well. Also, they're looking at women. As you recall, when Newt Gingrich was in South Carolina, that's when it all that came up about his second wife and the question about whether there was an open marriage. And the thought there was, well, women will not go for Newt Gingrich. And yet they did. So, obviously, the Romney campaign would also like to improve their showing among women.

So those are sort of two key demographics where they'll be looking at the exit polling and trying to figure out like where his strengths were, because there's some bragging rights if he can look at that conservative vote and say, see, I did attract those, because, obviously, Gingrich has been pounding Mitt Romney as a moderate, sometimes a liberal. So a good conservative vote, they think, would serve him well.

BLITZER: And we're going to be getting some of those early exit poll results coming in this hour -- Candy, has all the negative back and forth helped or hurt Romney?


CROWLEY: Well, you know, nothing -- you know, the proof is in the pudding, right?

If he's leading here -- now, look, Florida is a very different state. There are things here that would tell you, perhaps, this is a state that would favor Mitt Romney. Nonetheless, the -- the candidate himself said, listen, we don't feel like we were tough enough in South Carolina. You know, when I am hit, I will hit back.

So, obviously, they think that there has been something to show for what has been a blazed of negative ads, both from the Romney campaign and those who support him.

So, obviously, they think that that has done them well. They want to do two things. One is they want the sort of positive ads to boost up Mitt Romney. But those negative ads are to drive down Newt Gingrich's showing tonight.

BLITZER: Candy will be over at Romney headquarters throughout the evening tonight.

We'll check back with you, obviously, Candy, often.

Let's go to Joe Johns right now.

He's out in Nevada covering Ron Paul's campaign.

Ron Paul basically saw that Florida was winner take all, he knew he wasn't going to win, so he largely ignored Florida, but not necessarily Nevada, where you are.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's true, Wolf. He is expected to end up here. He spent most of the day, as you said, campaigning in Colorado, which would seem odd to the average person watching all of this, really deemphasized Florida, because his campaign really just saw Florida as prohibitively expensive to try to advertise in; also a state where it's winner take all, as opposed to Nevada, for example, which is proportional delegation -- proportional delegates to the convention for the Republican Party.

So he has been emphasizing his strength, really talking to those young people around these states in this area, trying to sort of push them to the polls, because that's where he knows his strength is, talking a little bit about his anti-war message earlier today in Colorado.

Listen to the sound bite.


REP. RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: Of course, the -- the wars and the entitlement system, the welfare system, could not be financed if we had to pay taxes every month and pay for these bills. But seductively, they borrow and -- and pay it later on, then they print the money and they delay the cost.

I used to talk about the next generation will bear the cost. I don't do any -- I don't talk that way. We're paying the costs right now.


JOHNS: As I said, though, he's going to end up here in Nevada tonight. He's going to be in Nevada around -- in Las Vegas just about all day tomorrow. So he's pushing pretty hard in this state. And that is a risk in itself, Wolf, because, as you know, four years ago, Mitt Romney won the state of Nevada. It's got a lot of people who vote, as Mormons do, for a guy like Mitt Romney.

So he looks like a guy who's going to be very strong in this state. And Ron Paul is just trying to pick off some of those delegates as we move closer and closer to the convention.

BLITZER: Because Nevada, like Utah, has a large Mormon population.

Is -- is Ron Paul going to be delivering a major speech tonight?

We've sort of gotten used, on these primary nights, for all the Republican candidates to be delivering a speech at their campaign headquarters in the state where the primary is taking place, in this particular case, Florida. He's out in Nevada.

What do we expect to hear from him tonight?

JOHNS: Well, that's anybody's guess. I can tell you, they're putting up the podium. And I expect, as a lot of people do, to hear from Ron Paul here in this state, even though he's not in Florida, even though he really didn't compete there to any extent at all.

He, we understand, is going to at least try to take advantage of the national media exposure as it happens this evening, as always happens when a primary election ends -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right...

JOHNS: That's our expectation.

BLITZER: We'll expect to hear from all four of these Republican candidates at some one -- at some point throughout the night. Well, of course, have live coverage.

Joe, thanks very much.

This note to our viewers, our team right now is sifting through the first Florida exit polls. Our John King is standing by with the first results. We expect John to walk into the CNN Election Center momentarily with those results. Stand by.

Also, Mitt Romney taking on President Obama in a different way. Jeanne Moos will join us later this hour -- how he did, what he did when he went from campaigner to crooner.




MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hello, Dorothy. It's Mitt Romney. How are you today? Today is voting day. Did you know that? Can independents vote in Florida? Next time, I'll need you to vote as a republican. This November, if I'm , I'll be the nominee, and then, I want you to get out and vote and vote for me in the general election. Will you do that? Thank you, Dorothy. And say hello to your husband. I appreciate it. Thank you.


BLITZER: That was one of the several calls the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, personally made from the stenches over the campaign headquarters in Tampa, Florida. He's favored to win Florida tonight, but he's taking no chance. He's clearly trying to squeeze out every single vote, including that independent voter.

Can't vote in the Republican primary right now, but will be able to vote in November 6th in a general election, and Romney is hoping he will be the Republican presidential nominee.

Let's go to Jack. He's got the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Things are not looking pretty for Newt Gingrich in Florida this evening, but that doesn't seem to matter much to him. Despite trailing Mitt Romney in the polls by double digits and being outspent by an estimated $12 million in the Sunshine State, Gingrich says he's going to stay in the race and go all the way to the convention.

And that has a lot of Republicans concerned. They're worried that if Romney and Gingrich keep going at each other for months on end, it could weaken the eventual nominee who then has to face off against President Obama in the fall. Others suggest that prolonged fight makes both Gingrich and Romney better candidates.

A piece today on "Politico" today call "Why Newt Won't Quit?" suggests that for Gingrich, the next great challenge of the campaign comes from within. Quote here, "Gingrich may have the will to keep fighting, but whether he's capable of keeping his cool, delivering a donzant consistent message and executing a long-shot plan to overtake Romney is an altogether different matter" unquote.

Also working against Gingrich, no more debates until February 22nd. Meanwhile, although Gingrich is vowing to staying up in the long haul, his campaign is already lowering expectations for some of February's primaries. The campaign says Michigan and Nevada will be difficult for the former House speaker. Romney won both those states in 2008. Michigan is Romney's state. His father was governor there, and Nevada has a lot of Mormons.

Gingrich is setting his sights on March when more of the southern states begin to vote. The question is whether the money and the media attention will dry up before then.

The question is this, if Newt Gingrich gets blown out in Florida, is it time for him to drop out? Go to and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But he says he's not dropping out. No plans to do so. He's in this, he says, to paraphrase what Hillary Clinton used to say, he's in it to win it. We shall see what's going on. Jack, thank you.

We're going to have the first exit poll results coming in shortly. John King is going through them. They're coming in this hour. Stand by.

Also, some Floridians are getting flooded with robo-calls including one with Newt Gingrich on the attack, linking Mitt Romney and kosher food or should I say lack of kosher food. You're going to hear about that. That's coming up.

Plus this --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband has an engineering degree with over ten years of experience. And, he was laid off three years ago and has yet to find a permanent job in his field.


BLITZER: That woman's plea turned into a promise from President Obama to help her husband find a job. So, what do you think about that? The couple speaks to CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: It's primary day in Florida. The robo-calls keep on coming, like this one from Newt Gingrich's campaign, slamming rival, Mitt Romney, over past legislation in Massachusetts.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney vetoed a bill paying for kosher food for our seniors in nursing homes. Holocaust survivors, who for the first time were forced to eat non- kosher, because Romney thought $5 was too much to pay our grandparents to eat kosher.

Where is Mitt Romney's compassion for our seniors? Tuesday, you can end Mitt Romney's hypocrisy on religious freedom with a vote for Newt Gingrich. Paid for by Newt 2012.


BLITZER: The call references then Governor Romney's veto of a 2003 bill that would have funded onsite kosher food preparation in some nursing homes. Romney's campaign described the call as a, quote, "desperate attempt by Gingrich to get a leg up in the polls."

Let's talk about this and a lot more with two CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist, Paul Begala and former Bush White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer. Guys, thanks very much. Ari, I've got to ask you, is that legitimate, that robo-call, not so legitimate? What's going on? I was going to say, is it kosher?




FLEISCHER: There's a reason, Wolf, calls like this were made at the very last hour, and it's because it's really a tack that goes beyond bounds. It's not accurate. In this case, what happen in Massachusetts was resident of Jewish seniors and homes (ph) did get kosher food. This was to pay for an increase and even more spending on kosher food, and Romney vetoed that, trying to close a budget gap.

What I really don't like about the ad, though, and this is classic Newt, is he brings in this issue of religious freedom. This had nothing to do with religious freedom. I think this ad crosses the line.

BLITZER: Some have said that raises the issue of a Mormon running and suggesting that a Mormon maybe would want elderly Jewish people to get kosher food, which is a ridiculous charge.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It is ridiculous charge. I don't think, in defense to Newt Gingrich, he would make that attack if Mitt Romney were a Martian or a Catholic as I am. I don't think he's trying to get the Mormon thing. Fundamentally, it's over the top. In the sense, it's perfectly accurate, but it's fundamentally accurate.

Ari is right, the governor then vetoed a law that would have extended an increase funding for kosher foods. He vetoed it, but God bless the Democrats and the Massachusetts legislature, they overrode the veto so that grandma was able to eat kosher. So, you know, it's more of a budget issue than a religious freedom.

Ari is right about that. It's not fair to say there was discrimination behind it. I think the legislature is right. The governor is wrong, but I can't imagine it was motivated by religious prejudice. BLITZER: There are a lot of Jewish voters in Florida, in Miami- Dade, in Broward, in Palm Beach County, but in a general election, they would be significant if it's close in a Republican contest. A lot of these Jewish voters are Democrats. They can't vote today.

FLEISCHER: Well. That's right. The Jewish vote in the general election is going to be one of those key swing groups. It's a Democratic bastion. Republicans have been making inroads into that group, particularly, with President Obama in office. But in a primary, it's a small number of Jewish voters who are Republican who vote a Republican primary in Florida.

BLITZER: By the way, here's how the Romney campaign responded to this today. I'll put it up on the screen. "It's sad to see Speaker Gingrich lashing out in a desperate attempt to try and save his floundering campaign. Special Gingrich will say anything to distract voters from the fact that he suffered an unprecedented ethics reprimand, was forced to pay a $300,000 penalty, and resigned in disgrace at the hands of his own party." Andrea Saul, Romney campaign spokeswoman saying that.

All right. Let's move on. Enough about that. Let's talk a little bit about David Axelrod --



BLITZER: David Axelrod, the president's senior political adviser on the campaign, we should point out right now both of you probably know very well. He's making an issue of the road trip years ago that Mitt Romney made and put the dog, as you know, up in the little cage on top of the car. Listen to Romney on Fox News in December 2007.


ROMNEY: This is a completely airtight kennel and mounted on the top of our car. He climbed up there regularly, enjoyed himself. He was in a kennel at home a great deal of time as well. We love the dog. It was where he was comfortable. We had five kids inside the car. My guess is, he liked it a lot better in his kennel than he would have liked it inside.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Now, David Axelrod having some fun with that. He tweeted and I'll put it up, "How loving owners transport their dogs." You see the picture of the president with his dog, Bo, inside, not on top of, the car, insider the car -- Paul?

BEGALA: Yes. The dog was an Irish setter named Seamus. And Seamus, by all accounts, was a faithful dog to the Romneys, probably even fetched the newspaper or maybe even lick Mitt Romney's feet. And here's what Mitt did, he tight him to the roof of the car. First off, the kennel couldn't have been airtight or the poor dog would have suffocated.

He did, in fact, do something else to express his displeasure and messed up the roof and the back window of the car. That's how distress the poor dog was. These were actually really is -- it does show a heartlessness and even bordering on cruelty to the poor animal. It's really odd. I mean, we're all dog lovers, animal lover, pet lovers, and I don't know anybody who straps their dog to the roof of the car.

It really -- I just think -- this is going to nag him. This will -- pardon the pun -- dog him for the rest of the campaign, because it shows a callous disregard, even for an animal that loves him.

FLEISCHER: I can't believe we're talking about this. I mean, in presidential year, when we have debts, we have deficits, with all the issues we have, I don't think this is the stuff that really, really counts and it's a big issue.

BLITZER: Axelrod disagrees with you.

FLEISCHER: And that's why I love the fact that Al Gore invented the internet so somebody else could invent Tweeter, and he's having fun on Twitter and that's what you do. And if I was Mitt Romney, if he's president next year, I'd go back to the presidential limo with the picture was taken, I take a picture with his dog, then I re- tweeted to David Axelrod.

BEGALA: Hopefully -- if he's going to be president, but hopefully, he's learned a lesson. He didn't say that in that clip, though. He didn't say, look, it was (INAUDIBLE). I did a terrible thing. I hurt my dog, stressed him out, even caused him to, you know, lose control on the roof of the car there. He doesn't say any of that. He's like, oh, I'm proud of myself for torturing some poor helpless animal.

FLEISCHER: I'm an animal lover just as much as you are. I think this is a sideshow. It has nothing to do with presidential politics and person's qualifications to be the president.

BEGALA: I have four boys and a huge German shepherd, 125 pounds. I might --



BLITZER: All right, guys, enough.


BLITZER: President Obama made an unannounced stop at a car show in Washington today, hopping in and out of a line of new models and concept cars. When he was told that the power was on in one of them, he joked that the secret service wouldn't like seeing him behind the wheel. Then, there was the blue mustang (ph).


OBAMA: A classic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a 5.8-liter, and -- it's a stick?

OBAMA: It's a stick?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a stick. That's right.

It goes up to 200 miles an hour.

OBAMA: Of course nobody ever drives that --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, never. It has supercharged --

OBAMA: This is what I needed in high school.


BLITZER: the president couldn't resist a few minutes inside a corvette. Also, he hailed what he called the comeback of the U.S. auto industry to a place where it can compete with any car company in the world.

It's not every day you get to chat online with the president of the United States, much less get some help finding a job, but that's what happened for a Texas couple. CNN's Mary Snow is joining us from New York. Mary, how did they get the president's attention?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, 29-year-old Jennifer Wedel was chosen by Google to participate in that online chat with the president yesterday. And she says when she finally got her chance to ask the question, she felt the president was given a generic answer, and she decided to press him further.


SNOW (voice-over): It was a virtual town hall, President Obama talking online with Americans. And Jennifer Wedel of Fort Worth, Texas, didn't expect what was to come. She asked about her husband Darin, who has a engineering degree, 10-plus years of experience, but has been searching for a full-time job for three years.

At one point came this exchange --

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jennifer, could I ask you what kind of engineer your husband is?

JENNIFER WEDEL, HUSBAND LOOKING FOR WORK: He's a semiconductor engineer.

OBAMA: See, it is interesting to me -- and I meant what I said, if you send me your husband's resume, I would be interested in finding out exactly what's happening right there, because the word we're getting is, is that somebody in that kind of high-tech field, that kind of engineer, should be able to find something right away.

SNOW (on camera): What was your reaction when the president asked you for Darin's resume?

WEDEL: I think I lost my hearing. I was completely shocked. I really did lose senses.

DARIN WEDEL, LOOKING FOR WORK: And I was just, like, jumping up and down. I couldn't believe that the president actually wanted to look at my resume.

SNOW (voice-over): While the Wedels are grateful, Jennifer originally asked about a certain kind of visa called the H1B which allows workers from other countries into the U.S., concerned that American workers are losing out on jobs.

Here's what the president said.

OBAMA: The H1B should be reserved only for those companies who say they can not find somebody in that particular field. So that wouldn't necessarily apply if, in fact, there are a lot of highly-skilled American engineers in that position.

J. WEDEL: I think once he realized, oh, he is a semiconductor engineer, I think it took the president back a little bit.

SNOW: Last year, the U.S. issued 117,000 H1B visas. Critics say that number should be capped.

Professor Ron Hira of the Rochester Institute of Technology is one of them. He says they are misused to bring in cheaper guest workers in high-tech industry.

RON HIRA, ROCHESTER INST. OF TECHNOLOGY: The H1B plays an important role there, but the way it's designed right now is very problematic, and the Wedels and American engineers and American workers should be demanding change.

SNOW: He, along with Darin Wedel, says there's a disconnect between perception and reality.

D. WEDEL: Engineers are just not automatically given jobs. They are having a tough time in this economy as well.


SNOW: Meantime, Wolf, the White House says it has received Darin Wedel's resume.

Now, as for the specific job of semiconductor engineers -- that's the job Wedel held -- we checked with the Department of Labor, and it tells us that in the last two years, only five H1B visas were issued for that particular job.

BLITZER: Mary, what are tech companies saying about all of this?

SNOW: You know, we checked in with the Semiconductor Industry Association. They represent a number of tech companies. And they say there's definitely a need for qualified engineers, and point to a number of companies that are hiring.

But, you know, Professor Hira keeps saying that there is a disconnect, that what he's hearing from engineers on the ground is that there is no shortage, that there are people who are out of work and really need a job.

BLITZER: Let's hope he gets a job. I suspect with the help of the president, he probably will.

Thanks very much, Mary. Thanks for that.

Our team is continuing right now to sift through the first Florida exit poll results. Our own John King is standing by. He has some early results. We'll go to him shortly.

Also ahead, the American aid worker Jessica Buchanan is back in the United States, but now there are growing concerns about her health.


BLITZER: All right. The first exit poll results are just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. CNN's John King is here to break down these numbers.

What are we getting, John?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, let's take a look at who voted. Obviously, we can't talk about how people voted until all the polls are closed and what they said in our exit polls, but we can tell you a little about the composition of the electorate in Florida today.

You can see here, 52 percent of those voting in the Republican primary in Florida were men, 48 percent are women. It's important to watch. Will there be a gender gap? That's one of the questions we will ask.

If you go back to South Carolina, the answer was no. Newt Gingrich won among men, he won among women. Slightly narrower a gap among women, but that's one of the things you want to look at.

The Romney campaign is counting on a gender gap. We'll see if that materializes tonight. About an even split, slightly more men.

This is very important. Florida is the biggest state we've had voted so far. It has a less -- somewhat less conservative electorate. And yet, 37 percent say they define themselves as somewhat conservative, the Republican voters; 34 percent, very conservative; 30 percent, moderate, a little. So you see the split, the diversity by ideology in the Florida Republican Party.

BLITZER: Very different than South Carolina.

KING: Very different than South Carolina. You had a more conservative electorate.

This was Newt Gingrich's greatest strength in South Carolina. He ran very well among very conservative voters, but he also ran well among somewhat conservative voters. So, again, these are the key tests. This is obviously the biggest slice of the electorate, so we'll want to see who does the best there. But you see here again, this is the first big state, a more diverse state, a different Republican Party than you had in South Carolina.

The Tea Party movement was big in Florida in 2010. Marco Rubio, remember, the freshman Senator, Rick Scott, the governor, both came out of the Tea Party movement. Sixty-six percent of those voting today in the Florida Republican Party say they support the Tea Party, 22 percent are neutral, 8 percent oppose the Tea Party. So, a pretty good Tea Party constituency -- a pro-Tea Party constituency, anyway, in the state of Florida.

This was critical to Gingrich in South Carolina. We'll see. It's a bigger state, obviously, more diverse voters here. We'll see if Governor Romney is able to make up any ground here.

Another big constituency, and this is a smaller percentage that you saw in Iowa or in South Carolina, four in 10 voters today say, yes, they're born-again Evangelicals, white Evangelicals, born-again Christians. Sixty-one percent, so six in 10 of our Florida Republican voters, are not Evangelical.

BLITZER: Sort of like New Hampshire? Is that similar?

KING: Similar to New Hampshire, yes. Obviously, it's a bigger state, more diversity.

One other footnote I'll add, 15 percent of the electorate today is Latino. And we haven't seen any number anything like that in any of these other states.

BLITZER: That's usually higher. Usually, it's about 10 percent in a Republican primary.

KING: In a Republican primary. It is up a little bit here, but it shows you participation -- that's another question we'll have tonight -- turnout. As you've been noting throughout the week, 600,000 votes already cast because of the early and absentee voting. So we will have the largest electorate to date, the most diverse electorate to date, more ideologically diverse, by gender and ethnicity diverse. So fascinating questions to be answered tonight.

BLITZER: And you're going through more numbers, and you'll share it with us not only on our show, but on your show coming up at the top of the hour.

KING: Throughout this hour, throughout the 6:00, 7:00 and beyond, and then after the polls close at 8;00, we can dig down deeper into who they are voting for, but we can tell you about who's voting, how and why up until then.

BLITZER: Most of the polls in the state close 7:00 p.m. Eastern, but all of them will be closed by 8:00 p.m., and at that point we'll be able to give our viewers the results --

KING: A better breakdown.


BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Our complete coverage of the Florida primary only minutes away. New information on the amount of negative TV ads flooding the Florida airwaves. Erin Burnett is all over that.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm John Zarrella in Lithia, Florida. This, just south of Tampa. And this is the largest Republican precinct in the county, 3,800 registered Republicans. Good turnout here all day today.

You can see here all the candidates' signs -- Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney. Now, the Romney signs, interestingly enough, were just added late this afternoon. There were none here early this morning when we showed up.

And over here is the Newt Gingrich booth. And you can actually see there's a Rick Santorum sign, some folks there as well.

I was going to ask you, concerned about what the polls have been showing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely not. We're hanging strong. We believe in the grassroots -- hey, it's big money again grassroots. And we are keeping the faith.

Look what happened in South Carolina. We believe Newt can win.

ZARRELLA: Well, there you have it. They're convinced. And now we're just going to have to see whether the folks here are right or whether the polls are right.

John Zarrella, CNN, Lithia, Florida.


BLITZER: CNN is covering the Florida presidential primary from all angles. You do not want to miss a minute as we follow the balloting and bring you the results. Stay with us starting at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on a special "JOHN KING USA."

But there's another big story right now we're watching. Where is Jessica Buchanan? She's the U.S. aid worker rescued last week in Somalia. Buchanan boarded a flight yesterday in Italy.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us now from Buchanan's college campus in Pennsylvania.

What do we know, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we know Jessica Buchanan is finally back on U.S. soil, but for now she and her family are not offering many clues on her whereabouts.


TODD (voice-over): A law enforcement officials tells CNN Jessica Buchanan is back in the United States. The official would not say where she is, and says Buchanan and her family want to "lay low."

Neighbors say her sister and brother-in-law have left their home in Pennsylvania. Adding to the mystery, vague clues about Buchanan's health and whether it took a drastic turn while she was in the hands of kidnappers in Somalia.

In a telephone interview with ABC News, her father said she's on the mend physically.

JOHN BUCHANAN, JESSICA BUCHANAN'S FATHER: She has some issues, but nothing life-threatening at this point. I do know that they moved very frequently. She's also into natural food and a vegetarian, and I understand her primary diet was camel milk and goat meat.

TODD: Buchanan's uncle has indicated to a CNN affiliate she had a thyroid condition, but said he didn't know if that played a role in the timing of her rescue by Navy SEALs.

DAVID BUCHANAN, JESSICA BUCHANAN'S UNCLE: I guess it had just gone on long enough. I'm not sure. I'm just glad they did.

TODD: The head of security for Buchanan's aid group said this about her condition in this video, which he viewed about 20 days after her kidnapping --

FREDRIK PALSSON, DANISH REFUGEE COUNCIL: It looked there had not been any violence used against them, at least.

TODD: CNN is told the FBI has been in contact with Buchanan and her family since her rescue, that since this was an abduction, this is an ongoing criminal investigation. Her father says psychologically, she's in a good frame of mind. That, despite having gone through two emotional traumas in two years, her kidnapping and, earlier, her mother's death.

After her rescue, I spoke about that with David Scolforo, a professor at Buchanan's alma mater, Valley Forge Christian College, whose daughter is a close friend of Buchanan's.

PROF. DAVID SCOLFORO, VALLEY FORGE CHRISTIAN COLLEGE: Jessica still is grieving the loss of her mother, then this capture took place, so there was a lot on her plate. But she is a person of strong character and she seems to have done well.


TODD: A law enforcement official says intelligence obtained by the FBI, as well as the military, led to finding Buchanan's location in Somalia so the military could go in, and says while the investigation is continuing, U.S. officials believe that the military killed everyone involved in her abduction. So, for that reason, the official says, it is unlikely anyone will be arrested and prosecuted -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, Jessica Buchanan may be off the grid, but we have heard something from the other person kidnapped with her. What was that?

TODD: That's right. That aid group, the Danish Refugee Council, released a statement by her fellow former hostage, Poul Thisted, saying that he had also left Sicily to be with his family. And the state said, "I am grateful for the prayers and support that I have received from everyone" throughout what he called "this event" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very, very much. Good luck to Jessica.

Jack Cafferty is back in a moment.

Also, President Obama impersonated the crooner -- I should say the singer Al Green. Now Mitt Romney is giving singing a try as well. Who has the presidential "X Factor"?


OBAMA (singing): -- so in love with you.




JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Speaker, do you still see a path to the nomination after Florida?


ACOSTA: How do you see that happening?

GINGRICH: You unify the conservatives. Romney's not going to get anywhere near a majority here. You unify the conservatives, you win the delegates, and you have the nomination.

ACOSTA: And how do you account for what happened here? Did you let your guard down to Mitt Romney, would you say?

GINGRICH: No. I would say that when you're outspent five to one with ads that are dishonest, that it's a challenge.

ACOSTA: And are you saying he's run a dishonest campaign, sir?

GINGRICH: Well, that's what "The Wall Street Journal" and "The National Review" said.


BLITZER: That quick exchange between Newt Gingrich and our own Jim Acosta earlier in the day in Florida. The former House Speaker pointed to Romney's negative ads to explain his expected loss in today's winner-take-all primary in Florida.

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

CAFFERTY: Leading right into the question this hour, which is: If Newt Gingrich gets blown out in Florida tonight, is it time for him to dropout?

Pam in Texas writes, "No. If Santorum and Ron Paul were to drop out, I believe the majority of their votes would go to Gingrich. And if you add up all the votes not for Romney, then he's not winning, and that's what the Gingrich campaign is hoping for. Thus, you're looking at a very interesting primary, and I cannot wait to see the convention."

Thomas writes, "With the economy in the toilet and millions of Americans out of work, we need a candidate brave enough to talk about what really matters -- colonizing the moon."

"For the good of the country," writes Harry, "Gingrich should drop out. But for the good of Obama's re-election bid, he needs to stay in until the convention."

Fred in Mississippi, "No, Jack, because there's still a lot of southern states that haven't voted yet. In some of those southern states, my state of Mississippi in particular, Gingrich has a higher favorability than Romney. I believe if Gingrich stay sin the race, he'll win those southern states, become the nominee, regardless of the results in Florida."

Donald in California writes, "Newt will carry on, hoping that Rick Santorum drops out to pick up more conservatives. However, the shock and awe of the Romney ad money barrage could bring him pause. Newt needs to remain relevant in February and somehow hang on until he can get back to Georgia. Hopefully like another northerner, Romney hasn't begun his march to the sea by then."

And S. writes from Pensacola, Florida, "Don't think so. I think Mitt and Newt should run as president/vice president on the same ticket. The combination would be perfect: Mitt plus Newt equals Mewt, and that's about right in my case."

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

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

We've shown you Mitt Romney's "American Idol" moment. Jeanne Moos has a unique take on that. That's next.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (singing): -- for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain --



BLITZER: Who would win the presidential race if it were decided by a sing-off?

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When a candidate sings --

ROMNEY (singing): -- America, America --

MOOS: -- and the resulting headline is "Mitt Sings America and it Ain't Beautiful," prepare to be compared with the president, who just wowed the crowd singing the Al Green oldie --

OBAMA (singing): I --

ROMNEY (singing): O beautiful for spacious skies --

OBAMA (singing): -- am so in love with you

ROMNEY (singing): -- above the fruited plain --

MOOS: One snarky headline even put the word "Sings" in quotes. It's a tricky thing for politicians to sing.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: -- bomb Iran.

(singing): Bomb, bomb, bomb --

MOOS: From John McCain to Herman Cain --

HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (singing): Imagine there's no pizza --

MOOS: -- let's reheat a slice of former attorney General John Ashcroft.

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL (singing): Let the eagle soar.

MOOS: The late Senator Edward Kennedy was known for letting loose in Spanish.


MOOS: It took a blackout during a town hall meeting to get Rick Santorum to sing Sinatra.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (singing): Strangers in the night --

MOOS: And strange as it sounds, Hillary Clinton --

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK (singing) -- land of the free --

MOOS: -- used her own off-key singing caught on camera in a humorous campaign Web video.

President Obama's Al Green routine has likewise turned into a Web ad. The president's eight-second performance has been remixed into a virtual duet with Al Green.

(on camera): The Obama campaign has even turned his performance into a ring tone you can download to your phone.

OBAMA (singing): I --

MOOS (voice-over): As for Mitt Romney, first comedians poked fun at him for constantly speaking the same lines.

ROMNEY: O beautiful for spacious skies --


ROMNEY: O beautiful for spacious skies --

No, that's from Monday. I want last night.

COLBERT: No, that's from Monday. I want last night.

ROMNEY: O beautiful for spacious skies --

MOOS: Now he's getting skewered for singing them.

ROMNEY (singing): O beautiful for spacious skies --

MOOS: A harsh critic might say this Mitt sings even worse than this Mitt in an Arby's restaurant promotion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Amazing roast beef --

MOOS: If you can't take the heat, don't sing in the kitchen.

Jeanne Moos, CNN --

ROMNEY (singing): -- above the fruited plain.

MOOS: -- New York.

ROMNEY (singing): -- America, America --