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New Month for GOP Race; Egyptian Soccer Riot; Interview With David Axelrod

Aired February 1, 2012 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. I'm John King in Washington.

Tonight: a morning-after mistake from Mitt Romney. Fresh from a huge Florida win, he tells CNN he's not concerned about the very poor. Nevada is the next big campaign test and the place where, get this, Ron Paul might just spring a surprise.

Plus, dozens killed and hundreds injured as chaos erupts at a soccer match in Egypt.

There's breaking news tonight as well about the U.S. military equipment in Afghanistan. To that important story in a moment.

But we begin with the new month and the new map of the Republican presidential race. Five states, Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri and Maine, all hold contests in the next week-and-a-half. The candidates, as you can see, have a lot of ground to cover and not much time.

For Mitt Romney this day after his big victory in Florida turned out to be pretty rocky. During an interview this morning with CNN's Soledad O'Brien, Romney gave his opponents a new gift, yet another inelegant remark that's easy, very easy to take out of context.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm in this race because I care about Americans. I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I will fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich. They're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of America, the 90 percent, 99 percent of Americans who right now are struggling. And I will continue to that mistake across the nation.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: All right. So I know I said last question, but I have got to ask you. You just said I'm not concerned about the very poor because they have a safety net. And I think there are lots of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say that sounds odd. Can you explain that?

ROMNEY: Well, you had to finish the sentence, Soledad. I said I'm not concerned about the very poor that have the safety net, but if it has holes in it, I will repair them. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Well, you might guess it. In no time at all, the "I'm not concerned about the very poor" part of that interview caught fire on the Internet. Romney himself doing damage control aboard his campaign plane.


ROMNEY: You've got to take the whole sentence, all right, as opposed to saying, and then change it just a little bit, because then it sounds very different. I've said throughout the campaign my focus, my concern, my energy is going to be devoted to helping middle income people, all right? We have a safety net for the poor in, and if there are holes in it, I will work to repair that. And if there are people that are falling through the cracks I want to fix that.


KING: CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger is here with us.

On a day when he should be saying I just won Florida, I'm onto Nevada, here's how I view the campaign for the Republican nomination, here's how I view President Obama, when you're explaining yourself, you're in trouble.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Have you heard the term unforced error? This is one of those.

You can have all the discipline in a campaign that you want. You can have great strategists, you can have great pollsters, goes on and on. But when the candidate gets off message or makes a mistake or goes rogue or whatever, it's a problem.

And I think the morning after this great victory. And you explained the context. The candidate explained the context there. But you know these things are so easy to take out of context. And he's had a series of them, John, from the $10,000 bet during the debate to saying corporations are people, I know what it's like to be afraid of getting a pink slip, and I like to fire people, which was also taken out of context. That was about your insurance company.

But again, it starts to become a narrative particularly if you're the Obama campaign sitting out there and saying, gee, these things might be good in some campaign ads.

KING: This one came after he showed a week, 10 days of pretty great discipline, disciplined debater, disciplined on the stump.

BORGER: Absolutely.

KING: People might say negative, people might not agree with it, but he was a much better candidate. How do they view the next several days and what do they need to do to turn the Florida victory into something that will last? BORGER: Here's the interesting thing. This is a candidate now who has to be nuanced, who has to be on his game because he's got to have a two-pronged strategy.

One thing he's got to do is he's got to continue to press Newt Gingrich, because Gingrich is going to continue pressing him. Nobody in that campaign wants to it seem like their candidate is coasting, they believe they're inevitable. That's not a strategy for them. They have got to press Gingrich.

But then they have to pivot and they have to take on Barack Obama. And so they have to do those two things at once and convince what I call the base of their base, the most conservative, that he's also conservative. So a lot of jobs he's got to do. This kind of a gaffe just doesn't help.

KING: Chalk this one up to a largely wasted day because of that. Gloria Borger, thanks for your insights.


KING: Rick Santorum has his eyes on next Tuesday's caucuses in Colorado. Today the former senator from Pennsylvania picked up endorsements from a host of Colorado conservatives, including the former congressman, the anti-immigration Congressman Tom Tancredo. Santorum pitching himself as the better alternative to Mitt Romney.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you look at the voters who voted for me and where they would go if I wasn't in the race, it would be divided between Romney and Gingrich, actually more toward Romney than Gingrich.

Interestingly enough, if Newt's out of the race, almost all of his votes come to me.


KING: That's Santorum in Colorado. The next state of course though on the Republicans' calendar is Nevada. Its Republican caucuses are just this Saturday, and the state's voters getting a lot more attention from the candidates.

Our senior correspondent Joe Johns in Las Vegas for us tonight.

Joe, Nevada not expected to be a state all that favorable to Speaker Gingrich. What are his folks saying about the possibility of starting what they need as a campaign trail there?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Number one, they're all saying they have got to focus on the states with proportional delegates as opposed to winner take all.

And a lot of people, though, are going a little bit beyond that Newt Gingrich notion of just uniting the conservatives. They're looking back doing a little bit of Monday morning quarterbacking and saying, what he needs to do is talk more about what Newt Gingrich is for.

One thing I have heard from the Gingrich circles is they want him to not get stuck down in the mud. I think that was the exact quote I heard with Mitt Romney, rather, talk about what he is for, talk about what Mitt Romney is for, or get Mitt Romney to talk about that.

So there's a lot of concern that down in Florida, he did too much of the negative stuff, and Romney's very good at it and has a lot of money to do it in the television ads. I think that's probably the lesson they're taking away as they come to the caucus states, John.

KING: And, Joe, you had a chance to talk to Ron Paul. He likes the caucus states. Listen to a bit of what he said in your interview.


REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because we're rewarded for organization and determination and enthusiasm, people who believe in something. And I think it offers us a chance to compete with Mitt Romney.

I mean, it was difficult to compete with his money in Florida. I mean, money talks. And we have a lot compared to some others. Our financial report isn't puny, but it's still not enough to advertise across a big state.


KING: Well, Joe, is Ron Paul thinking pick up a few delegates or is he thinking maybe he can win Nevada?

JOHNS: Well, he's sounding pretty optimistic there. But you have to say, Mitt Romney won the Nevada caucuses four years ago.

He is trying to do what he can in picking up some proportional delegates, but at the same time, I think, talking to him, you get the sense that he's pretty happy about the fact that, for example, a Texas congressman who could get into the race with less money than say the Texas governor and see the Texas governor come and go.

So he's saying, anything can still happen. There are a bunch of other states to go. And he wants to ride this thing out to the convention with as many delegates as he can, John.

KING: Joe Johns, live for us tonight in Las Vegas, Joe, thanks.

Turning overseas now, rioting at an Egyptian soccer game today left 73 people dead, hundreds injured. Fighting erupted between supporters of two teams at a stadium in Port Said.

CNN's Ben Wedeman joins us from Cairo tonight.

Ben, is this hooliganism gone awry or something else behind this violence? BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's a variety of things, John.

Definitely it's a case of football fans really going over the top. But all indications are that the security was inadequate at the stadium. We're hearing from both sides, actually, that it wasn't the usual level of security.

You go to normal Egyptian football games, there are a lot of riot police. And it's largely indicative of the gradual decline in law and order in Egypt over the last year. What we have seen is since the revolution, John, the police simply don't have the sort of authority they used to, as Egyptians increasingly express disrespect for the police, for the government, for the army.

And they clearly simply didn't have control in this situation in Port Said, John.

KING: Ben, were they there in sufficient numbers and they just didn't have the respect or control or were they just undermanned when chaos broke out?

WEDEMAN: I think it's all the above, really. They simply don't have the authority. And you have to realize that some of these football fans have a long history of clashing with the police that goes back well before the revolution.

And, certainly, if you recall those clashes that took place around Tahrir Square in Cairo in November and December, many of the people in the front lines throwing rocks, fighting with the police were football fans who have lots of experience of doing that.

And there are some of these fans who are suggesting that this evening was the revenge of the police. They essentially stood back and let the fans from Port Said go after the fans from Cairo. These Cairo fans, of course, no friends of the men in uniform -- John.

KING: Interesting perspective. Great reporting, Ben Wedeman tonight live in Cairo. Ben, thank you.

There's also breaking news at the Pentagon tonight. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the United States and NATO will end their combat mission in Afghanistan next year in 2013.

CNN's Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence has been working his sources on this big development.

Chris, is this about saving money or do they truly think mission accomplished?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, I just spoke with a senior defense official who said no decision made by the Pentagon in this economic climate can be made without considering the financial implications and the money that's involved.

Look, it costs about $1 million a year for every soldier we have got in Afghanistan. The Pentagon had expected to spend about $80 billion next year there. That doesn't even account for State Department spending. Look, even some of President Obama's Democratic allies, like Senator Claire McCaskill, have been pushing to move some money for Afghanistan infrastructure programs back here to build roads here in the United States.

You combine that with the fact that France announced that it was pulling out and the way European nations have slashed their defense budgets, there's just less money to go around. And that is reflected partly, partly, John, in this decision.

KING: So, Chris, does the Taliban have reason to celebrate tonight? The other side of that question is are Afghan force -- will they be ready by then to take over?

LAWRENCE: Well, right now there's about 300,000. They expect to get that up to about 350,000 Afghan troops by next year.

It's a mixed bag. I was over there in Afghanistan. And you see some of the troops high on drugs, others using their uniforms for different purposes other than what they're intended, just sloppy performance.

On the other hand you do see some units that perform very capably in some ways. So again you have got a real mixed bag over there. But I think this is really illustrating something when the United Nations just did a survey of the Afghan people themselves, and 80 percent felt that the Afghan police wouldn't be able to handle security once the combat troops leave.

KING: An important development.

Chris Lawrence live for us at the Pentagon. Chris, thank you.

And tomorrow, we will get some important reaction from the former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Remember, he served under President Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush. We will have an exclusive conversation with Secretary Gates right here tomorrow night.

Up next here, the Obama campaign's take on why Mitt Romney won Florida.


DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR OBAMA CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: I think he ran a very strong negative campaign down there.



KING: During his victory speech in Florida last night, Mitt Romney offered his own version of an Obama campaign theme from 2008, hope.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: Together, we will build an America where hope is a new job with a paycheck, not a faded word on an old bumper sticker.



KING: David Axelrod is the president's senior campaign strategist from 2008 and now in 2012. He joins us from Chicago.

David, Governor Romney last night, you have called him a weak front-runner. Would you concede this point, that the Mitt Romney in Florida was a much better, much sharper, much more focused and disciplined candidate than the Mitt Romney in South Carolina?

AXELROD: Well, I think he ran a very strong negative campaign down there. He outspent Speaker Gingrich by 5-1.

And every single dollar he spent was on negative ads. I think he had one positive radio ad in the Hispanic community, and 99 percent of his ads were negative. Almost all of his rhetoric was negative. And he executed very well.

His aides all boasted about that in the newspaper, about what a great negative campaign they ran against Gingrich down there in Florida. And he ground out a victory for himself. So it was a tactical victory. I'm not sure it added to his luster as a potential leader of the country.

KING: You mentioned potential leader of the country. If you look at the national tracking polls right now, the latest Gallup poll out just today, Obama 48, Romney 48, so a dead heat nationally. We know this goes state by state, but that tells you a little something.

Your friends are spending a lot of money, $2.5 million spent by Democratic groups, mostly the labor unions, attacking Governor Romney. They were on the air in Florida, on the air now in Nevada. I want you to listen to a little sample.


NARRATOR: While Romney was a director of the Damon corporation, the company was defrauding Medicare of millions. The company was fined $100 million. But Romney himself made a fortune. Corporate greed, Medicare fraud, sound familiar?


KING: In that ad there he morphs into a picture of the Florida governor, Rick Scott. If Democrats think he's weak and unions aren't worried about Mitt Romney, why are they spending so much money against him, David?

AXELROD: Well, I said he was a weak front-runner. And obviously he's spending a fortune, so that enhances his chances of winning. I can't speak for those who ran that ad. That was an independent expenditure. But, look, I have been very candid about it. I have said that he was a weak front-runner and that he likely would be the nominee because of the nature of the field in which he was running.

Nothing has changed my view of that. It's been a little surprising about how much difficulty he's had in closing the deal. And relative to the polling that you mentioned, the polling that interests me is watching what's happened to Governor Romney's standing over the course of this primary campaign.

It's hardly elevated him in the eyes of the American people. The "Washington Post " poll had him at 31 positive, 49 negative. And what was really stunning about it was that among independent voters, just 23 percent favorable rating among independent voters, because they have watched this debacle of a Republican primary campaign, and they have watched him tack to the right, change his positions, do all the things that irritate voters about our politics today.

And he's run into problems there. So I think there's some residual issues he's going to have to deal with if and when he ever ends this process.

KING: You obviously have to defend the president's record in this campaign. I want you to listen here to a promise he made very early on. He'd been in office about a month when he promised the American people this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, I'm promising to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term in office. Now, this will not be easy. It will require us to make difficult decisions and face challenges we have long neglected.


KING: David, the Congressional Budget Office this week projected the deficit would be $1.1 trillion -- with a T. -- this year, the fourth consecutive year of trillion-dollar deficits. How's the president going to explain that one to the American people?

AXELROD: Look, I think you have to just be honest about it.

We have been through a terribly difficult time as a country. And much of what has happened with our debt has to do with the recession that we went through, the depression of receipts for the government.

I would point out to people that the president has signed off on and promoted $2 trillion in cuts and savings, and is eager to do more. The big debate we have is how we do this in a balanced way. He believes we have to do it -- it can't just be a cuts-only approach, because if you do that you're going to cut into the very things we need to grow our economy, education, research and development, some fundamental things. So we need to get some revenues. And his proposal has been that we get it from the top, that we can't afford these tax cuts from the last decade, these Bush tax cuts at the top. This is a big difference between us and Governor Romney, who says we can achieve all of this and we can get our budget back on course without asking anymore from anyone, particularly people like him, like the president, who are in upper-income brackets.

And that's a fundamental issue we have to work through.

KING: David, we will be in touch. Thanks very much.

AXELROD: Good to be with you, John.

KING: Up next: ominous new developments in what's turning into one of the bloodiest weeks of the anti-government uprisings in Syria.

Also, government officials say a teenager who lost her family in the chain reaction car crash won't face deportation.


KING: Welcome back.


KING: Still ahead here: what the four presidential candidates still left need to do now that the campaign moves from Florida out West.

Also, we will ask our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, who would qualify for President Obama's new program to refinance your home. And if you do qualify, you would save up to $3,000 a year.


KING: This half hour, life after Florida. Candy Crowley is here to take a close look at what the Republican candidates need to do to keep their campaigns alive.

Also, one of the big money players in Republican politics takes aim at President Obama.

And it's a tragic day in the music industry. The creator of "Soul Train" is dead.

President Obama today proposed a new program to help homeowners refinance their mortgages and take advantage of current historically low interest rates. The president says his plan could save you about $3,000 a year. The announcement included a jab at Mitt Romney.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And government certainly can't fix the entire problem on its own. But it is wrong for anybody to suggest that the only option for struggling, responsible homeowners is to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom. I refuse to accept that, and so do the American people.


KING: Let's set presidential politics aside for a moment or two. Business correspondent Ali Velshi is here now. Ali, let's tell people just how this would work, if it would ever get off the ground.

ALI VELSHI, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Right. And the "if" is very big, as you know. The president can't admit these things out of whole cloth. It has to go through Congress, a Congress that is not all that determined to get things done that the president wants done.

Here's how it works. In the past the programs to refinance your mortgage have depended on you having a mortgage through Fannie or Freddie, one that is backed by Fannie or Freddie. A lot of Americans have mortgages that are just with a private bank. This now allows them, if they are underwater, meaning if your mortgage is bigger than -- if your mortgage is bigger than the value of your home, to refinance from rates that might be well in excess of 6 percent to prevailing rates which are around 4.25 percent.

That is going to save the average household, the administration says, about $3,000 a year.

And here's the point of this, John. If you save them 3,000 a year, it's kind of like a stimulus. If you give people 3,000 extra dollars a year, they spend that money. Now, it's going to cost 5 or $10 billion. The big question is where that money is going to come from. In the State of the Union, you recall the president says it should come from a bit of a levy on the banks because they were responsible for this whole thing. We're going to figure out where the money comes from.

But if it does happen, the other thing that the legislation, the president would like would do is it would compel the banks to take a bit of a haircut. If somebody is underwater so much in their house, the house is worth so much more -- the house is worth so much less than the mortgage, the bank should write off a certain amount of that debt and let that mortgage be a more -- you know, a more controllable amount. So that's the issue.

You will recall, John, that there have been a couple of programs in the past. One of them is this one, HAMP, the Home Affordable Modification Program, 2009 February. It was designed to help 4 million people. Helped less than a million people.

A month later, then we got this other program that was supposed to help 5 million people refinance. Also helped fewer than 1 million people.

The administration's response to this is that they force the banks to do things, to set up systems that would help people, and that the banks did a lot of these remodifications on their own. So the numbers Don't indicate the success of the programs. But in fact, they were more successful, says the administration, than the numbers will prove, John. KING: Says the administration, Ali. A lot of Democrats, not just Republicans, a lot of Republicans complain. They say these programs were miserable and they didn't work. Are the rules of what the president proposes now different enough that there's reason for optimism or do we not know?

VELSHI: They think it applies to a broader group of people, so they should be able to get more people into the program. Again, they always think that's going to happen. Whether it actually happens or not is a problem.

We have to remember, John, that this wasn't a problem that the administration or any government got us into. These were banking problems largely. The banks have been kicking their -- they've been dragging their heels in this whole thing.

So the government is hoping this is palatable enough to homeowners who are underwater and banks who think that, by doing this, they'll get more of their money bank, but the banks will be more cooperative.

KING: We'll watch to see if Congress goes along this time. Ali Velshi, thanks for explaining that important program. That's going to be a big issue in the campaign.

And for the four Republican presidential candidates left, is there life beyond Florida? Despite Mitt Romney's convincing win last -- convincing win last night, nobody has dropped out today. Our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, has a closer look at what they have to do to stay in the race.

Let's start with Mitt Romney. I want to read Crowley's rules here. Because Mitt Romney broke one of them today. You said do not get in your own way. Keep courting the Tea Party types. Don't let up on Newt. Try to nudge him towards the exit. Well, he got in his own way today. What does he do now?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he has to stop doing that. You know, because look, it's a sound bite world. The Democrats are going to take so many Mitt Romney-isms and put those into a commercial, should he become the nominee. He needs to -- he needs to think before executing. Because he just -- you know, he's a corporate guy. He's used to sitting around the table sort of hashing things out. Just doesn't work in politics.

You know, I think he also has -- he does have to keep on Newt. And yet, he has to sort of still get back that inevitability, that presidential look. And so it has to be a pretty careful balance. I thought it was interesting that last night was all about the president. But trust me: he, you know, went after Newt today. He'll go after him again. Time and place. Time and place.

KING: Coming soon to a Nevada TV station near you. And for Speaker Gingrich, who went to Nevada today, even though most people say, boy, not a great state for him. You say it's critical. Get on TV and emphasis Don't overheat. CROWLEY: Yes. First of all the one way to get on TV is to overheat so they kind of go together. I mean, this is a long, dry spell between now and the next debate, February 22, which -- and the debates have fueled Newt Gingrich. Free media. He has to use it, because he can't outspend Mitt Romney because Mitt Romney has a lot more money.

So he needs to use that free TV, but in a way that doesn't -- you know, he doesn't just sort of drop that -- become nuclear as we say and sort of drop a bomb. Because that plays into how both Santorum and Paul and Mitt Romney have tried to portray him, which is, you know, he's a little unpredictable.

KING: And for Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, you essentially have the same bottom line. Win somewhere.

CROWLEY: Win somewhere, exactly. For Rick Santorum, win somewhere where we know you won the night you did it. I mean, needs to be big.

And Ron Paul said to me, "Look, I think Maine looks good for me." We'll see. But he needs to win somewhere to be taken -- people already know he can collect delegates, he can get to the convention, and he'll have a say so in something. The question is if he's going to have a serious chance of winning the nomination, which I'm not even sure in his heart of hearts he believes, he's going to have to win someplace.

And for Rick Santorum, even if it's as meaningless as Missouri is, it's a headline. If you have "Rick Santorum wins Missouri," well, then that keeps money coming in and he can sustain himself essentially waiting for Newt to fall.

KING: Candy you Crowley, good tips. Let's see if they listen.

CROWLEY: Right. They always listen.

KING: We'll see if Mitt Romney listens, starting tomorrow. Of course they always listen.

Tonight one of the big money heavyweights in Republican politics is spending some of its millions on a new ad targeting President Obama. Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, says some of these Republican groups are vastly outraising the Democrats at the moment, anyway. Why this attack now?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, first it's because the GOP primary is ongoing. You see these Republicans clobbering each other. And these Republican outside spending groups are sitting here with all this money on their hands. They figure they may as well use it to imprint voters with the message early that President Obama in 2012 isn't the same man who promised to change Washington when he ran in 2008.

Take a look at some of these ads and Mitt Romney's response.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A big government fiasco infused with politics at every level. Five hundred million to Solyndra, now bankrupt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Solyndra investors raised campaign money for Obama. The government gives Solyndra half a billion in taxpayer money.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Obama's view of a free economy is to send your money to his friends.


YELLIN: So Romney's picking up on the attack and repeating it frequently now, John.

KING: Romney is repeating it. How does the Obama campaign respond?

YELLIN: Well, the ads prompted the Obama campaign to do something a little surprising. Their first ad of the election season was a reaction to one of the Solyndra spots. Here's a clip.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ads fact checkers say are not tethered to the facts, while independent watch dogs called this president's record on ethics unprecedented.


YELLIN: And you know, John, that the president's team considers his record on ethics one of his greatest strengths, so they want to stand by that.

KING: And Jess, we'll see how the numbers turn out when we get deeper into the year. But if you look right now, if you look at the matchup, we match up the numbers right here, the left is right now $19 million for Democratic groups, about $100 million for the biggest GOP groups.

Is the left having trouble matching this? Or are they just saving their powder until we get deeper into the election year because the president is unchallenged?

YELLIN: They are not saving their powder. They are having trouble matching it. But when I talk to Democratic fundraisers, they say a few things. One, they need an opponent and that people will start ponying up money once there's a Republican nominee selected.

The other is that, of course, it's a natural -- they'll say naturally that Republicans have more deep-pocket donors on their side.

John, my favorite defense of all of this is that Democrats as a type want to get credit for what they do. And they're not, as a type, more inclined to give anonymously. But again, Democrats are confident they'll start raising more money down the line. And remember, President Obama has raised more than any of these groups.

KING: Chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin. The money, money, money. We're going to be tracking this one down for a long time. Thanks, Jess.

Still ahead here tonight's "Truth." Mitt Romney's back in front. We'll take a look at his campaign road map and show you where he might face some challenges.

Plus two senators make a friendly wager on the Super Bowl. But the loser -- get this -- has to buy the entire Senate beer.


KING: Tonight's "Truth" is a page turner. Mitt Romney ends January back where he began the campaign. The definitive frontrunner and a man with a friendly map in the month ahead. But February is not without minefields. And "Truth" is, the smartest among the Romney high command see a surprise or two as inevitable.

Let's map out the road ahead. We get a little closer here. Florida was last night. So now where do we go? We go out to the state of Nevada. It's a caucus state. And remember that. In these caucus states Governor Romney is favored. But watch Ron Paul. Watch for other surprises. Caucuses are unpredictable; they're hard to organize. So Team Romney says, "We should win," but they have a little case of the jitters.

Where does the calendar go from there? We get up -- let me clear out. Don't have to circle out there. More caucus states, Minnesota and Colorado. Again an unpredictable environment. Maybe Ron Paul comes in here.

Missouri is non-binding. It's a primary. Why is Newt Gingrich there? He didn't even make the ballot. So as Speaker Gingrich looks at the month ahead, looks for a place to plant the comeback flag, that might have been an opportunity, a conservative state there. Watch for Rick Santorum in the state of Missouri. Again, it's a beauty contest, no delegates in the first round but perhaps a chance for someone other than Governor Romney to make a statement.

Then we move up again to the Maine caucuses. This is a place where Ron Paul says, "I can win." I can turn that on if I try harder. See that right here? Ron Paul says, "I can win in Maine."

Now New England, where Governor Romney again is favored. He has most of the Republican establishment. But in a quirky caucus environment sometimes passion can defeat organization.

Then from there the calendar moves on. These are the big prizes in the month. Michigan, Mitt Romney was born here. His dad ran an auto company here. Should be a Romney state, a Michigan primary. Arizona primary, as well. There's a debate scheduled juts before that primary at the end of the month. We'll see if that plays out. Debates have been a Gingrich strength but we're going to watch and see. These should be at the end of the month a chance for Governor Romney to have a big exclamation point.

Then you move to March, third caucuses and other states, so watch for then this gets interesting. Could be a Ron Paul win up there. A big deal for Governor Romney? Probably not, but a bit of a hiccup as we march on.

And then this gets interesting. March 6 is Super Tuesday. This is why Speaker Gingrich says he's going to stay in the race, even if he has a bad February. He thinks in Oklahoma, in Tennessee, in his home state of Georgia he can do some business. But again you see Speaker Gingrich on here. Why? He didn't make the ballot in Virginia. That could be a huge problem for any Gingrich comeback strategy. But he is on the ballot in Tennessee, but he didn't file complete delegate slates. So even if he were to win the state, he might not come out with as many delegates as he might have because of poor organization early on.

You see some of these other states and caucus environments, again a chance for Governor Romney. A big state of Ohio here. If Rick Santorum is going to make a point anywhere in the comeback trail it would have to be here, but this is Super Tuesday.

One other point we want to make is this. This is at the beginning of the year. Now Ken, this is as of the first of the year. Look at this advantage. Nearly $20 million. Nobody's even close, $2 million.

Now since then, yes, campaigns say they've raised a little money. He says he raised money after winning South Carolina. Ron Paul constantly raises some money. Santorum has raised some money. But they're also spending some money. And with the big Florida win, Governor Romney is going to raise more money, too. This is something you just cannot underestimate now as we get into a more crowded map.

Let's dig deeper on the road ahead. Former Bush White House speech writer and CNN contributor David Frum is here. Senior Romney adviser Kevin Madden is with us and Republican strategist Ana Navarro, as well.

Kevin, I want to start with you on Team Romney. Are they spinning us or do they have genuine concerns that Nevada, sure, should be a Romney state but it's a quirky caucus? Maine as well. Caucus states are -- make you a little nervous, right?

KEVIN MADDEN, SENIOR ROMNEY ADVISOR: Well, I think what we have seen, and this has happened all the way throughout this early primary process, is that the electorate is very volatile. So we have seen 20- point swings. We've seen 20-point swings on some issues. We've seen 20-point swings on some candidates.

So I think we're very cognizant of that. And it's also a campaign that is very focused on making sure that we're determined and focused on the task at hand and not resting on our laurels. So I think when you send a message up and down the organization, that you can't take anything for granted, but you still have to focus on doing the hard work of organizing, that's always of benefit to the campaign.

KING: David, you see some conversations among conservatives saying, you know, let's forget Newt Gingrich and let's turn to Rick Santorum as our conservative alternative. When you look at the map and you think of his very limited resources is that a viable alternative?

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Especially because in Nevada you are ground zero of the economic apocalypse. You have to have an economic message in order to be competitive there. If you get a message that rests too heavily on social values, Nevada, not the world's most socially conservative place.

KING: And what does your state tell us, Florida, a state you know very, very well. Diverse electorate. Governor Romney came out with a very convincing win. And some people say, well, it's proof that the middle of the party, the center of the Republican Party, is coalescing around him. Is that an overstatement, or is that fair?

ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think it's good that the two things you touched on in the intro, money and organization, really matter in Florida and matter in the rest of the country.

And he also has some terrific debate performances. The expectations had been lowered for Romney and had been increased for Gingrich, and he did not do what he needed to do, whereas Romney did. That made all the difference.

KING: And then the guy who had a fabulously disciplined ten days coming out of getting thumped in South Carolina. He did have good debate performances. Much more aggressive and assertive. He was tough on Speaker Gingrich in his stump speeches. Then he went on television this morning with my colleague, Soledad O'Brien, and said this.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm in this race because I care about Americans. I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it.


KING: Now, if you listen to everything he said, it went on and he explained himself later. There's nothing wrong with what he said. It's a safety net we'll fix it. And I want to fight for the middle class. The rich have what they need; the poor have a safety net. I want to fight for the middle.

OK. But in terms of you coach candidates. You tell them you make a point, there are 100 ways to make a point. That's not the way to make that point. Because on the Internet now, "I'm not concerned about the very poor" has been edited and is spinning everywhere.

MADDEN: Oh, yes. And the bulk of what Governor Romney has done, he's been very focused on talking about how his economic plan and his focus on the economy will help grow the -- will help grow prosperity and create jobs for everybody up and down the income scale. And that's where his focus has to be.

I think in putting an emphasis on a very pro-middle class message, I think he had a little bit of a slip up. And I think it -- what we have to remember is that going forward when we're talking about his economic plan, that we just have to be a little bit more careful and a bit -- little bit more precise.

Yes, we're very much pro-middle class. But that it's not at the benefit of any other income level.

FRUM: I have very little patience with the criticism of Mitt Romney at this point. When all through the day, my Twitter feed has been alive with people on the right saying, "Wow, he made an incredible gaffe. Thank you for the gaffe report."

Meanwhile, the candidates that are being backed by more conservative bloggers and radio talkers, want to do much worse things to the very poor.

I mean, while we refrain from making the gaffe, I'll just take away your Food Stamps and your Medicaid.

Mitt Romney, the good that may come out of this, is if this jolts Mitt Romney into saying, "I am the candidate who is not as aggressively doctrinaire as some of the others, and I do think that, by the way, having Food Stamps in the worst crisis since the 1930s is not an atrocity. And that if people need Food Stamps, there's nothing wrong with delivering them." That is a message that could reconnect him to where most of the country is.

KING: It's part of an empathy argument. President Obama sometimes has the same problem. He can seem detached. He can seem distant. Governor Romney sometimes, whether it's real or perceived, but the use of language. I want to talk about your state in particular, Florida.

Listen to President Obama today when he was talking about his new -- and this is his fourth or his fifth time fixing the housing mess. So the president's, most of his past programs have not succeeded, and they've acknowledged that at the White House. Listen to how he takes a direct shot at Governor Romney, defending his approach.


OBAMA: It is wrong for anybody to suggest that the only option for struggling, responsible homeowners is to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom.


KING: Now, Governor Romney in the past has said the market's going to have to run its course and it's going to be painful for people, but that's the way back. In a state like Nevada, where they're fighting this now, in a state like Florida, where foreclosures have been such a problem. When you talk about if we're in a very competitive election and you're fighting for that independent vote in the middle of the electorate, who's going to win the foreclosure argument?

NAVARRO: I think we're sick of the Obama talk. And the problem is today when we woke up in Florida, our headlines were saying that our home prices are falling even more.

So while he's giving all of these speeches, the problem's gets worse, not better in Florida. And as far as Romney, I think he needs to get the same debate coach to helped him grow from debate dud to debate stud to help him give everyday speeches and everyday talks and everyday interviews, because he just keeps doing these things. And he just cannot afford that kind of mistake.

MADDEN: He gives staff too much credit. Remember, there's only one person on stage. The candidate, who gets all the credit.

NAVARRO: The guy they Don't want to give credit to and I think...

MADDEN: The candidate gets credit.

KING: David Frum gets credit. How about that?

David, Kevin, Ana, thanks for coming in. An interesting month just passed, and we've got a very interesting month ahead.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour. Erin's here with a preview, and Erin, you're looking at this mysterious donor behind these super PACs. What are you learning?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Interesting. We're getting some names, and I had a chance to talk to a few of these donors today. Why they chose to put a million dollars in some cases behind the super PAC of the Republican candidate.

And one interesting thing, John, as I was doing this, that I thought you'd really enjoy. We've all heard so much about Sheldon Adelson, right, and how he put $10 million behind Newt Gingrich's super PAC. And you think, wow, that's an insane amount of money, right? It is, by any account, except for by Sheldon Adelson. Because $10 million for him, who's worth $21.5 billion. No joke. If the average American gave amount of their income the same as Sheldon Adelson did, $45. So, $10 million to Sheldon Adelson is like $45 to you and me.

KING: You know, it would be a conflict of interest. I'd apply for a grant right now.

Erin, we'll see you in just a few minutes. Sounds like fascinating reporting.

Ahead here, the nation's No. 3 airline announces huge layoffs today in an effort to save more than one billion dollars. We'll have the very latest. Plus, new details emerging in the death of "Soul Train's" creator, an American icon, Don Cornelius. Stay with us.





KING: Sad news to watch these images and listen a little bit. Sad news, if you're watching those images. From California today. Kate Bolduan is back with the latest news you need to know right now, including...

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good memories, but very sad news. We'll catch you up on this. Of course, I'm sure you know this, everyone. A man who made a huge impact on music television and, frankly, civil rights, is dead tonight, apparently by his own hand.

In 1971, Don Cornelius created and for over 20 years hosted "Soul Train," which helped a generation of African-American musicians go mainstream. Los Angeles police say Cornelius died of a gunshot that appeared to be self-inflicted. He was 75 years old, and he will be missed.

In other news, American Airlines told its unions Wednesday it plans to cut 13,000 jobs from its staff of 88,000 at the nation's No. 3 airline. The cuts will fall most heavily on airline's maintenance operations, but pilots, flight attendants and management will also see layoffs. The company says it needs to save more than $1.25 billion annually in labor costs as it climbs out of bankruptcy.

And at long last, the holy grail of the Internet IPOs is here. Facebook filed Wednesday to raise $5 billion in an initial public offering. Trading won't begin for several months, as always happens. The company now has to field questions from regulators and, of course, court investors for its sale and make sure they, pun intended, like it. John loves that joke.

John, you'll appreciate the bet a pair of U.S. senators have on this weekend's Super Bowl. They're betting beer. Senators Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Chuck Schumer of New York announced a bet on Twitter today. The loser buys -- get this -- every senator a round of beer -- every senator a round of beer -- from that person's state.

KING: Nothing against, they are the New England Patriots. Nothing against Senator Shaheen, but where are Kerry and Scott Brown in this? I mean...

BOLDUAN: They're probably staying far.

KING: Hello!

BOLDUAN: Hello. KING: All right. Finally, tonight's "Moment You May Have Missed." Congressman Ron Paul explaining why his wife, Carol, not with him on the campaign trail this morning.


REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've been on a pretty extensive tour, and my wife's been with me. She didn't make it this morning, because this was her day. I said that she could sleep in, and I provided her breakfast for her this morning, because it's our 55th wedding anniversary today.

Now, I have to confess, I didn't make the breakfast. I just called room service and made sure it was ready when she got up.


KING: Ah, a romantic call to room service. Oh, well.

BOLDUAN: He knew he had to say it that way or else she was going to call him out.

KING: We'll see you tomorrow night. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.