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Nevada Caucus Coverage - 2000 Hour; Interview with Reince Priebus; Interview with Rick Santorum

Aired February 4, 2012 - 20:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: All right, most of the caucus sites in Nevada are closed. I want to go to CNN's Paul Vercammen. He's joining us now from Carson City, Nevada.

Paul, I know that they've been counting numbers for you. You have new votes that have just been tallied.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Yes, just in fact, on a piece of paper I was handed the final numbers out of Carson City again. There are about 12,000 Republican voters here. The turnout to the caucus wasn't as high as they thought. But here are the raw numbers.

Mitt Romney wins here in Carson City with 656 votes, that's 37 percent. Newt Gingrich comes in second in Carson City with 32 percent of the vote, 562 votes. Then we have Ron Paul at 268 votes. That's 15 percent. And then Santorum 252 at 14 percent.

So here in Carson City many of the people -- and can you hear this in the room today -- weighing in, and weighing in for different candidates, all of them wanting to show their support for the four different candidates and suggesting here that they will all have some sort of voice in Republican politics here in Nevada.

Now what's interesting here is, to a person, after some of this healthy debate, all of them would say this: stay unified. We do not want to carve each other's candidates up verbally because, in the end -- and they almost had a Super Bowl-like spirit about this -- we want to win the game, meaning in the end in November, they want to beat Obama.

So that's going to be something to watch, as you know, Nevada is a key swing state. Back to you (inaudible).

BLITZER: All right. Based on the numbers that you've exclusively reported to our viewers here in the United States and around the world, I want to update our tally as of right now, and you see we're going to put it in right now.

We're going to change the numbers, based on the outcome in Carson City, and you can see Mitt Romney still ahead with 48 percent, Newt Gingrich second, 23 percent; Ron Paul, 18 percent; Rick Santorum, 10 percent; 3 percent of the vote in Nevada now in.

You saw a change here. We're the only news organization that is already tallying these numbers, counting these numbers coming in. We've got reporters and producers at various locations around the state. Official numbers will be coming in.

But you make a great point, Paul Vercammen. I want to bring you back for a second. The folks there in Carson City, see it's on the western part of the state, not far from Reno, they really want these Republicans to sort of get their act together and get someone who can beat the President of the United States in November.

VERCAMMEN: Absolutely, Wolf. And you didn't hear any of this bitter rancor. Don't forget, Carson City, this is a state capital, there's a lot of white collar jobs here. They want an intelligent discourse. The one thing that you did hear, however, repeatedly was throw everybody out of Congress. That's what some people said here today.

I mean they're absolutely frustrated with Congress as well. But they are calling for unity and that was the theme throughout the day here, because they're talking about what is it going to take to defeat Barack Obama.

And just as a lot of political junkies at CNN like to look at the electoral map, they envision a scenario where Nevada could be the end game if this race stays that close.

And so the people of Carson City have spoken. As we said, everybody seemed to get a little bit -- nobody less than Santorum with 14 percent of the vote. We're going to see if they do indeed come together and unify here. And you may know, Newt, here in the northwest and Nevada, they tend to lean, you know, much more conservative and try to outweigh what's going on down south in Las Vegas.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll see what happens in Las Vegas 10:00 pm Eastern. All of the caucuses will be over with there. Paul Vercammen, once again, let me just update our viewers. This is a CNN exclusive, you'll see it only here on CNN.

The numbers, I want to bring them back up and show our viewers what's going on. This is the tally after the numbers just came in from Carson City. You saw Paul Vercammen report those numbers. Mitt Romney with 48 percent, 2,715. He's about 1,400 votes ahead of Newt Gingrich with 23 percent, 1,300.

Ron Paul, 18 percent coming in third so far; Rick Santorum 10 percent, 584 votes. Still very early, but these are initial indications of what's going on. Let me go back to Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, HOST, STARTING POINT: Right, Wolf, thank you. For some analysis we go to David Gergen and Gloria Borger. Let's talk about the state of Nevada.

Four years ago it was, I think, 40 percent of the people who were polling at this -- at the caucuses were saying that they were very conservative. That number's gone up by 8 percent in just four years. What do you think of the impact of this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, here's the interesting thing. If you look back to four years ago, unemployment was at 5.5 percent and guess what there was not in the state of Nevada? There was not a Tea Party. The Tea Party had not been invented at that particular point.

So what we have is an electorate that is more conservative, they're more upset about their financial problems, the highest in foreclosure and unemployment in this country. You have voters who want a change, and we'll have to see, as Jessica said, what the turnout is. But it is a more determined Republican electorate here because they're very upset.

I think the question we have to answer is whether they're now rallying or will accept Mitt Romney as a Tea Party standard bearer, which we have not seen before this, or whether Romney's just going to win so big that maybe a rising tide lifts all up.

O'BRIEN: Sort of the opposite results as we saw in the state of South Carolina where they have strong Tea Partyers and the very conservatives went for Newt Gingrich. It looks from entrance polls, at least, maybe that's flipping.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, exactly. That Mitt Romney now is winning a much higher -- more than half perhaps -- of the very conservatives and of the Tea Party types, that's a big breakthrough for him.

I think this is a romp for Romney that is going to serve him very, very well in the weeks ahead. But just as importantly, Soledad, as we talk about who is going to come in second and who is going to come in third, from my perspective, all three of the other candidates have had a bad night.

O'BRIEN: Right.

GERGEN: This has not been a good night --

O'BRIEN: The not-Romneys.

GERGEN: Yes, the not-Romneys. Santorum now has had, you know, ever since Iowa, he's had a hard time catching fire.

BORGER: But wait till Minnesota.

GERGEN: But, yes, but you know, it's a long, long time between. Ron Paul for -- has for, you know, abandoned the big states with the causes. Here's a caucus state. He's still around 20 percent.

And Newt Gingrich, who needs to raise money desperately beyond Mr. Adelson, and show some real momentum, he's going to come in somewhere between 20, 25. He may win second but he doesn't have a lot of bragging rights coming in with this. The only person who really comes out, I think, with a shining night is Mitt Romney.

BORGER: You know, I think Newt Gingrich was depending on the Tea Party to give him the organization that he didn't have and he couldn't pay for. And what we've seen, and we've seen it throughout these primary contests, is that the Tea Party has dispersed. So the fact they're not rallying around Newt Gingrich and in fact are supporting Mitt Romney this time is not good news for him.

O'BRIEN: Let's go ask our contributors. Hang on till I get to the other side of the room. I'm in high heels. Come on.

CNN contributor Roland Martin: What else were we expecting to happen tonight? OK, if you look at the numbers again, if 25 percent of the folks voting in this primary were Mormon and he's winning 91 percent, that's like a Democrat getting the lion's share of the black vote in South Carolina. Duh, you're going to win.

And so it should not be a shock that Mitt Romney is blowing them away in Nevada. It shouldn't be, so --

O'BRIEN: Yes, but isn't what is a little bit of a shock when you look at the Tea Party numbers and the entrance polling, when you look at the people who describe themselves as very conservative, I mean, isn't that sort of the whole -- what did Peggy Noonan call it, the great coalescing that everybody's been waiting for.


MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: And it hasn't happened here before.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And that is exactly the surprising number. That is the number we should be talking about. Nevada, as I suggested earlier, is looking very establishment tonight.


ERICK ERICKSON, REDSTATE.COM: And, you know, 25 percent of the electorate is Mormon. And they also transcend and do they consider themselves Tea Party activists. They consider themselves very conservative. And Nevada has the fourth highest population --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, don't say Nevada.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most readers are going to get upset. Maybe I'm cursing them out (inaudible) --

ERICKSON: -- population and this is considered a home state for Romney. He -- they expected him to win it in 2008. They expect him to win in 2012. It's going to be a very good night for him and a very bad night for Ron Paul if he comes in third.

CARDONA: But that's not really news. And, again on the consolidation, no other candidate really competed in Nevada. So the conservatives really had nowhere else to go if their vote really wanted to count.

O'BRIEN: Gloria Borger --

BORGER: You know, Newt Gingrich won with women in North Carolina because it was a romp, OK? He did really, really well. What we may be looking at with Romney -- with Tea Party voters here -- and we don't know yet; this has to play out -- is whether because it's a romp and he's really doing very well or because he is, in fact, consolidating the Tea Party.

Electability was the key number tonight. We've seen in all of these primaries, Republicans want somebody -- to nominate somebody who they believe can beat Barack Obama.


MARTIN: I'm more impressed that -- I'm more impressed that Mitt Romney consolidates Tea Party folks in a state that's not home field advantage.

O'BRIEN: OK, so what do you get out of the state of Nevada? OK, this contest, it's the second caucus, it's the first western state, what are the implications?

ERICKSON: You know, just all the Tea Party, it's -- (inaudible) for example, the Tea Party Express and the Tea Party Patriots, two of the major groups, Freedom Works, Americans for Prosperity, they're all split all over the board. They pretty much all agree Gingrich is questionable. They pretty much all agree that Romney's questionable. So you've got a lot of these people --


ERICKSON: -- sitting on the sidelines, and the individual voters, who consider themselves Tea Party, are weighing in. And, again I think it goes to Gloria's point that some of them are saying, hey, you know what, he's going to win, I might as well go vote for him.

O'BRIEN: David Gergen?

GERGEN: Just because -- come back to Roland. Just because there's no surprises tonight, which is true, does not mean there's no significance in the way it came out. And the significance is that Romney has now won three out of the first five. He's the first one to put back to back, he's the only one who has taken two battleground states.

You know, all of that adds up to stature in terms of the potential nominee. And it's hard to see how any one of these other guys breaks out of this.

O'BRIEN: OK, so what happens to someone like Newt Gingrich? Let's say he is not able to break into second place. Does he -- he has said he's not going to drop out of the race till August. And that -- what that does to Mitt Romney, obviously, is keeps him fighting the fight on two fronts, right? He's talking about President Obama but he's also having to deal with Newt Gingrich. What happens to him?

CAIN: Well, he's going to have a bad February, is what it suggests, because his home field, his home turf is the South. And I would be surprised if he left before he got to the South, where he could rack up some states and some delegates -- O'BRIEN: Can he afford it?

CAIN: We might see him tone it back by the -- over the next month as well. Will he keep up the nastiness he's been running on so far?


ERICKSON: Money and delegates.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What else does he have?

CARDONA: He could continue to run on fumes. But going back to the significance, I agree it's significant for Romney, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it has implications for the general election, because if you look at the GOP -- if you look at the GOP electorate in Nevada, it is -- looks absolutely nothing like the general election electorate in Nevada, which will be very significant.

O'BRIEN: You're talking about Latinos --

CARDONA: Talking about Latinos, but also a much less significance of the Mormon vote, a lot more Latinos and Mitt Romney is absolutely nowhere with Latinos, Obama trounces him completely. And so I think that that is something that we need to be talking about.

MARTIN: If you're playing a Gingrich (ph), you do what Ron Paul did in Florida. You say OK, that's great, I'll skip those. For Gingrich you focus on Super Tuesday. You want to be able to compete when you talk about Georgia, when you talk about Ohio, when you talk about Tennessee. He's not on the ballot in Virginia. That's -- if he doesn't do well come March 6, he has no shot. You focus on march 6.

O'BRIEN: Gloria.

BORGER: You know, you want to talk about the economy and the issue set for the general election. Mitt Romney is very laissez-faire when it comes to the foreclosure issue, right? He has been talking about let the marketplace work, let investors come in and buy the homes that have been foreclosed on, let renters come and rent the houses.

And there are Republicans in that state, conservative Republicans who say, you know what? We actually need government help. So I think this is going to be an issue aside from all the other issues.


ERICKSON: Show him the poll and he'll change his position.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's a good defense.

GERGEN: That's a conservative defense.

MARTIN: On that point, though, part of the problem with President Obama, his housing policies have not worked thus far. And so it very well might be a wash there.

CARDONA: But that -- but he's actually --

MARTIN: But he's trying.

CARDONA: No, at least he's talking about it.


O'BRIEN: I want to get to Candy Crowley. She's in Washington, D.C. Hey, Candy.


O'BRIEN: I'm exhausted from breaking up the fighting. Help me out here.

CROWLEY: Do your ears hurt?


CROWLEY: Listen, in terms what Newt Gingrich does, I think it's absolutely right. He has to focus on just the plate. Arizona could well be very good for Newt Gingrich, so I wouldn't leave that out of the mix.

But, in general ,the Gingrich campaign has always felt that, in fact, Super Tuesday was their chance to make a mark in those southern states and in Ohio. I think it's significant that one of the states on Gingrich's short-term itinerary is, in fact, Ohio, where I think there have been some recent polls showing him leading there.

So he's got to -- he's -- you have to pick and choose at this point, even if you're winning, simply because, you know, there's too many states coming up in March to be in all of them. So I think he goes South and I think he goes to Ohio.

O'BRIEN: The Nevada Congressman, Joe Heck, apparently has said now is time for Gingrich to drop out. And maybe he tweeted that, I believe.

MARTIN: Congressman, (inaudible). I mean, look, the guy's not going anywhere. One of the things that Erick and I were just talking about, what Gingrich could do, you look at Michigan. Romney made it clear, hey, let GM go aside.

Gingrich has been talking about the poor this week. If he can make an argument, even in Michigan, we can say that's home field advantage for Mitt because his dad was governor.

But if he can say this is the guy who would have let your town die, let these factories die, how will he care about you if he's in the White House? That could play in Michigan. I'm not saying it will be a winning argument, but he at least could make that argument in Michigan.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let me check in with Wolf Blitzer, who's jumping in to this conversation.


BLITZER: We've just had a change in the vote tallies once again. These are our official numbers that -- only CNN has these numbers right now. We're beginning to get more of the vote in, 4 percent, now in, based on what we're getting from various caucus sites out in Nevada, Mitt Romney with 48 percent; Newt Gingrich, 23 percent; Ron Paul so far coming in third with 18 percent; Rick Santorum, 10 percent.

Once again, only 4 percent, only 4 percent of the vote in. You can see it beginning to color in some of those counties in Nevada right now. The red is the counties that -- where Mitt Romney has a decisive lead, an impressive lead right now. More numbers are about to come in.

We just heard from Ron Paul. You heard him live here on CNN. You heard his speech. I interviewed him. We're still waiting to hear from the other three candidates. They're getting ready to speak to their supporters out in Nevada, also in Colorado, much more of our coverage from the CNN Election Center right after this.


O'BRIEN: Polls show that most people care about the economy when it comes to what they're going to vote on. Don Lemon has a look at the economy and also housing, both big problems in the state of Nevada.

DON LEMON, ANCHOR, CNN NEWSROOM: Absolutely. Jobs, the economy, of course. But where's the bulk of your wealth mostly? Most people, it's in their homes. I'm going to put it in perspective. We have about 30 people in the studio, Soledad.

So if you live in Nevada, two people here would be hit by foreclosure. And for the people at home, if you're going to a Super Bowl party tomorrow, right, if you were a Nevada resident, if you went to a Super Bowl party, there were 16 people there, chances are one of them would have been hit by foreclosure. That's how bad it is.

It has the highest foreclosure rate in the country and it's sustained because it's gone on for the last five years.

We're going to look at this. I'm going to call this the rest of the state here. I'll tell you, these are the two most populous counties, where Reno is and where Carson City is and then also Clark County down here where Las Vegas is, the most popular counties. These -- the way we did this, these people tend to vote the same, that's why picked this.

But look at this. If you're looking at this, Soledad, if you're looking at this and the rest of the state housing prices fell almost half, 50 percent. So if you have a home that's $100,000,right, chances are now it's worth about $40,000.

If you look at Washoe County, 52 percent. That's what the home prices fell in 2007. Clark County, where Las Vegas is, 60 percent. You were interviewing someone, you said her home is now -- it was $100,000 worth --

O'BRIEN: Yes, $180,000 and she has -- she owes on it and now it's worth $32,000.

LEMON: Unbelievable. So let's take a look now. CNN's Dana Bash went out to take a look. And it's not an easy fix when it comes to fixing this problem. Take a look.


DANA BASH, CNN REPORTER: Here in Nevada it is ground zero for the housing crisis in this country. Look at the valley behind me. Two out of three homes are underwater. In fact, Las Vegas, in particular, has the highest foreclosure rate of any city in this country. One out of 150 homes is in foreclosure.

PAUL BELL, NEVADA REAL ESTATE AGENT: Foreclosures are in every type of neighborhood in all price ranges. My name is Paul Bell, and I've been practicing real estate since 1990.

BASH: All of these new homes, how many do you think of these have been in foreclosure over the past four years?

BELL: I think about 70 percent.

BASH: Seventy percent of these houses?

BELL: In this zip code.

BASH: There is some good news here. In 2011, it was a record- breaking year for sales of existing homes. But the bad news is the reason for that record is because these homes are being sold at bargain-basement prices.

You see this pink sign here? This is classic. And it tells you everything you need to know about not only this house, but this area. This house has been foreclosed.

You can see the pool and this house has been emptied out. But it's still pretty nice. In fact, this house was originally $800,000. It's been foreclosed so now it's on the market for half that, under $400,000.

KAREN TORRES, NEVADA RESIDENT: My name is Karen Torres. And I've been renting this house for over a year. And we got a notice on the door saying it was going into foreclosure, and now we're being evicted. The economy is so bad right now. And I'm doing everything I can to keep my head above water. I'm at a loss. I don't even know what to do.

BASH: Here we are in Las Vegas, doing a story on the housing crisis in Nevada. And we stumbled on somebody who is affected in the most significant way. Chuck is homeless. CHUCK (PH): It's a decision to make between some of the things that you like in life, like my lamb chops, or eating absolutely nothing and going around the food kitchens and getting food to supplement your nutritional needs in order to live in one of these roach-infected, crack-infested places. Is it nice living out here on the rocks? Hell, no. Come on.

BASH: Dana Bash, CNN, Las Vegas, Nevada.


LEMON: Really sad. And when you look at the homeless problem there, why are so many people homeless? Well, that's because most of these people who are out of work. They've been out of work for longer than six months in Nevada. It's a terrible problem.

O'BRIEN: It's extra hard in that state, certainly, right?


BLITZER: Big problems in Nevada, like all over the country but worse in Nevada as you correctly, guys, point out. Thank you.

Candy Crowley is watching everything unfold in Washington. Candy, I know you're getting ready for "STATE OF THE UNION" tomorrow morning as well.

CROWLEY: I am indeed. And, you know, I had a chance to sit down with Reince Priebus tonight to talk to him about the flow of the campaign so far. And one of the things I asked him about is one of the things you all have been talking about.

We saw on Friday the lowest unemployment rate in almost three years, and the highest Dow Jones industrial average since before the recession. So I put it to him point blank and said, listen, if this economy keeps going and it's looking good in September, what is plan B for Republicans who wanted to run on the economy? Here's some of what he said.


REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: Obviously, we'll have to wait and see, but I think we're pleased that things are ticking down and not up. But ultimately what this is about is about how people feel. I thin this is about how people feel in America. Do they feel like their lives are better -- ?

CROWLEY: Consumer confidence.

PRIEBUS: Right. I mean, that's really what campaigning and what politics is all about. I mean, number one, you know, am I better off today than I was three or four years ago, did this president fulfill the promises that he made to the American people?

And, you know, jobs, that's an important issue but I don't think, you know, 8.3, 8.4, 8.2, 8.6, whatever it's going to end up being, you know, that is one number. But the reality is is that there are less people that are employed today than there were when Barack Obama took office.

And if there were the same amount of people in the workforce when Barack Obama took of course, as there is today, unemployment would be at 11 percent. So there's a lot of reasons for those numbers, number one. Ultimately we're happier that they're going down and not up, but this election is going to be about much more than just what one Department of Labor statistic says.

CROWLEY: Sure, but if -- I'm just saying that there are other signs that sort of show that perhaps the economy is picking up, perhaps it will be better than we think it is, come this fall.

And so I wonder if the case that's being made is, he spent all this money and has got nothing to show for it, and when, in fact, he can come in and say, this is the worst recession since the Great Depression and I have brought it this far along, isn't that a president that has a pretty good record to run on as far as the economy is concerned, which is what Republicans want to run against him on?

PRIEBUS: Right, well, and I don't want to be a bucket of cold water here. So I don't want to lose the fact that we're happier --

CROWLEY: But you can't be rooting for a bad time.

PRIEBUS: And I'm not rooting for a bad time. But then to take the leap because we've gone down, what, two or three tenths of 1 percent, to suddenly now take the leap that our country is on the right track, that spending is down, the deficits are cut in half as the president promised, the debt is not going to bury our kids and grandkids, and that we're fulfilling the American dream for middle-class Americans, I don't think that's the case.

And I'm not ,you know, look, I think we're hurting in this country as far as the economy is concerned. People aren't better off than they were three or four years ago. And we have the most predictable economic disaster facing America on unfunded liabilities, debts and deficits coming out of our ears.

So I mean, we probably don't have enough time to go through each of these things, but clearly we're not on the right track, Americans don't feel like we're on the right track and I think what Republicans want to make sure and what our message is is that if you work hard and you play by the rules, we want to make sure that you get to live the American dream. That's the message.

CROWLEY: You have defended for a couple -- or at least a month -- the idea of a long primary season, saying it's going to, you know, what doesn't kill us is going to make us stronger. The candidate (ph) will be better for it. You pointed out the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama primary that went all the way to June.

But should it become clear -- that was a very close race, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's candidate. If it should be come clear along the way that you have a candidate but the delegates haven't all come in, because that frequently happens, would you be for the others dropping out?

PRIEBUS: No. I mean, I have to play by the rules, Candy. And, obviously, we have rules at the RNC, which means, you know, when we have a presumptive nominee, then we'll join forces with the presumptive nominee and get the fundraising going and everything else moving in the right direction.

You know, I'm just not going to be in position as chairman of the party to force people out, to suggest people to get out. I just don't play that way. I never have, so --

CROWLEY: So you could see yourself signing on to the whoever the presumptive nominee might be, but not necessarily saying, and you guys need to get out?

PRIEBUS: If we have a presumptive nominee -- if we have a presumptive nominee --

CROWLEY: Who may not have the delegates yet, but he's on course?

PRIEBUS: Well, no, I mean, there's a -- there's a rule for that, Candy. And so they have to have the delegates and then we would join forces with them. So, no, we -- presumptive nominee is that you have the delegates but we haven't met at the convention to actually, you know --


CROWLEY: You've got to have the 1,144 (inaudible). OK.

I know you don't -- you're agnostic in this, but I am always curious whether Republican chairman or Democratic chairman do have favorites. At some point, you're going to be in a state; you're going to have to vote. Have you, in your own mind --


PRIEBUS: That is a great --

CROWLEY: -- somebody?

PRIEBUS: You're very sharp to try to trap me like that. But, no, I don't have any favorites. My objective is to put a Republican in the White House and, quite frankly, I believe that we need to defeat Barack Obama because he hasn't delivered on his promises. I think that is essential to us, saving this country economically, and that's my goal.

CROWLEY: Reince Priebus, chairman of the RNC, thank you so much for (inaudible).

PRIEBUS: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: I also asked the chairman about Newt Gingrich's letter, saying that Florida's 50 delegates should be apportioned, it should not be winner-take-all to Mitt Romney. I asked him if that was possible and he said, well, you know, somebody could write a letter and we could work it out at the convention.

But, he added, if we're down to figuring out where 16 delegates ought to go and it comes down to that in Florida, we've got a lot bigger problems than just whether Florida is winner-take-all, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, because Rick Santorum is now suggesting that maybe he should be on the ballot in Indiana. He apparently didn't have enough signatures in some of the counties to get on the ballot in Indiana.

We know that Newt Gingrich complained he's not going to be on the ballot in Virginia. So there's a lot of issues for a Republican Party chairman like Reince Priebus, that he would have to deal with down the road if. And it's obviously right now a huge if, Candy, if it really comes down to that.

CROWLEY: Yes. Yes. And he -- and he doesn't, I don't think, expect that to happen, but this has -- this has been an unexpected primary season, shall we say. And all you can do is what you're doing now, is watch is state by state by state.

BLITZER: Candy, thanks very much. We're going to get back to Candy. Obviously she's going to have a great "STATE OF THE UNION" tomorrow morning as well. We're also getting new numbers. We're up -- I'm told we're about to get some more numbers coming in, these are official numbers. Let's see what's going on, 6 percent of the vote now in in Nevada.

Take a look at this, 48 percent for Mitt Romney, 23 percent for Newt Gingrich. Actually, it just changed, we're getting some more numbers coming in, once again, 6 percent still, but Mitt Romney ahead with 48 percent to Newt Gingrich, 23 percent; Ron Paul, 18 percent and Rick Santorum, 11 percent.

If you go over to the map over here, you can see that three of those counties now, Romney is ahead. But one of the counties -- take a look just outside of Carson City and Reno, Newt Gingrich is ahead over there.

We're still waiting for Las Vegas and Henderson. That's the biggest area in the state. Those numbers should start coming in around 10:00 pm Eastern, when all the caucuses will close from there, about 90 minutes or so from now . We're getting all these numbers coming in.

Tonight we're also hearing from all four remaining Republican presidential candidates. Stay with us. I'm about to go one-on-one with Rick Santorum also. We'll hear from Josh Romney, the son of Mitt Romney, and stand by for more updates to our exclusive vote count as it comes in from the Nevada caucuses.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: All right. Let's update you on the vote count as it's coming in from Nevada right now, the caucuses. They almost all of them are complete except for Clark County. That's where Las Vegas and Henderson, the largest county in the state.

Right now, 6 percent, you see, of the vote is in. Actually, even as we're talking 8 percent is now in. And look at this. Mitt Romney with 45 percent to Newt Gingrich, 22 percent. Very close battle for second place, because Ron Paul has moved up. He's got 21 percent.

Rick Santorum, 11 percent, a fierce battle for second place underway right now, 8 percent of the vote coming in right now. You can see the state, the dark red are counties that Romney is ahead in, some of the -- some of the other counties that Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul is taking some of those counties as well.

Let's go in depth right now to the magic wall. Take a look at the state.

KING: Take a closer look, Wolf, and pop it out. You mentioned this county Ron Paul is carrying. Guess what? He will carry it. This is Nye County. It's about 1.6 percent of the state's population. And we have 100 percent of the vote reported from this country, Ron Paul winning with 46 percent of the vote in this one county. You can see 454 votes. It's a very small turnout in a very small county.

But I just want to go back in time for a little consistency. In the 2008 Republican race in Nevada, guess what? Ron Paul carried Nye County with 34 percent of the vote then, just barely beating Mitt Romney four years ago. But he is winning there tonight as we come back to this map.

But here's the county Newt Gingrich is winning. And he will carry Mineral County, but again, look at that, less than 1 percent of the population. He's winning the county with 39 votes. So we need to be careful and remind people, as you just did, that as we look at these results starting to come in, Mitt Romney has won these three counties.

Almost all of the votes are down here and the rest of the votes are up here. And so we're still waiting on the two most populous counties to turn in. If you go down to Clark County and take a look at it, this is where Henderson and Vegas is, it's 70 percent of the state population. So most of your votes are going to be down here. We'll get those later tonight.

BLITZER: And we're not going to know that until 10 o'clock.

KING: Not until 10 o'clock, and the same when you come up here -- you come up to Washoe County up here. It's -- I don't know why that's small like that, but that's 17 percent of the state population. So we've got a while to wait for the big population centers.

But as we wait, we can say that the map is starting to fill in. Ron Paul will consider that a small moral victory. And you have, with 8 percent in, as you mentioned, a pretty fierce fight for second place. BLITZER: For second place, not necessarily a fierce fight for first place. But we'll see, as you correctly point out, almost 70 percent of the people in the state of Nevada live in Clark County, that's where Las Vegas and Henderson is right there. So that's going to be huge. Let's go back to Soledad right now.


O'BRIEN: All right, Wolf, thanks. Then I'll take it right back to our contributors.

So Mitt Romney should have had a great February and maybe is poised to have a great February, but the first day out after his win from Florida, he fumbles and mumbles through his I don't -- I'm not concerned about the poor. And you also see him getting attacked really viciously by conservatives now. Seems like everyone is kind of coming out and taking a piece of him.

What's going on here, Erick?

ERICKSON: You know, to a degree, when you look at some of the conservatives who have suddenly been critical -- Peggy Noonan in this week's "Wall Street Journal," saying the truth is it's a myth that the establishment likes him. In fact the establishment doesn't like him either, they don't trust him. They don't know where he stands --


O'BRIEN: -- they don't like Gingrich --

ERICKSON: Yes, they don't like Gingrich either. You have "National Review" suddenly being very critical of him. I think there's -- the last danger for Romney before he becomes the nominee, and I think he's on the path to being the nominee, is I don't think we've had time for his comment for you to percolate yet. It usually takes a week in polling --

O'BRIEN: The poor?


ERICKSON: -- the concern about the poor. It took mirroring (ph) Gingrich's interview on ABC, it waited until Florida to happen. Maybe in Minnesota, Missouri, Colorado, we'll start seeing the impact of that comment, if there's going to be one.

At the same time you have a lot of people who now think he's got it in the bag. He had a huge win in Florida, he's going to probably have a huge win here tonight, and they can have it in the bag.

And you've got people who are with Romney, not necessarily because they like him but because they dislike everyone else so much more, suddenly feeling like they can speak a little freely now because they won't do harm, which may, in fact, be too soon. TAYLOR: If you're a conservative, you need Mitt Romney to do well with white blue-collar voters in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, to make the argument in Virginia, to make the argument in Michigan.

If the Obama campaign is able to say this guy doesn't care about you, this guy isn't thinking about you, this guy will not fight for you, that makes it even more difficult.

If you look at how the unions have risen in Ohio, in Wisconsin, you're dealing with working-class people, folks who are -- I mean, when Romney says hey, don't bail out GM, let them go, and all of a sudden GM is now back to being the number one automaker in the world, that plays into a narrative that benefits the Obama campaign.

CARDONA: And it's not only a narrative that benefits the Obama campaign, it's a narrative spoken by Mitt Romney's own words. It wasn't just the poor comment that he made to you, Soledad, but that is just the latest a huge string. I mean, it's literally like 10 or 12 or 15 things that he has said, the $15,000 bet, the $1,500 tax cut as a temporary Band-Aid, the letting


TAYLOR: -- that wasn't much money.

CARDONA: -- letting Detroit go bankrupt -- exactly. And then when he stands with Donald Trump, as Donald Trump is endorsing him.

TAYLOR: That (inaudible).

CARDONA: I was with a friend at the Chamber, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and he was cringing, saying, I cannot believe that his campaign is having him stand with Donald Trump.

O'BRIEN: One of Mitt Romney's -- one of Mitt Romney's economic advisers was sort of doing the math on the improvements in the economy and what that would mean for President Obama and he came up with a figure of 2 percent. And sort of the backlash from that was is it never a good sign when your own advisers are starting to calculate what this would mean for the person who is going to run again.

ERICKSON: That's an extremely premature analysis. This thing is nine months away. And there are so many global influences on where our economy will be come November, from Iran, to China's slowdown to what's going on in Europe. There are things beyond a one-month jobs report, a one-month unemployment report that are going to tell us where this economy is headed.

Granted, it's a trend. President Obama's economy is doing well but that doesn't mean it's going to be doing great --


TAYLOR: You know, what the problem with that argument, Soledad, the problem with the argument is that's the exact argument President Obama has been saying for three years, by saying, don't just make it all about me, there are global implications. So it's kind of hard to make it --


TAYLOR: -- when you criticize him making the exact same argument.

O'BRIEN: Georgia Borger, you wanted to jump in.

BORGER: Well, I just want to talk about the numbers and how you play them now, because obviously the unemployment numbers are very, very good for Barack Obama.

But what you -- the question in my mind is will Barack Obama be Ronald Reagan in 1984, where the numbers did move down very quickly? Or where the growth rate was 8 percent, which we don't have anything near that now? What do we have, 1.6 percent?

Or will he be George Bush 41, whose unemployment numbers started coming down, but they didn't come down fast enough for him to win in 1992.

ERICKSON: But there's no Ross Perot in 2012. Ross Perot played a critical role --

BORGER: We don't know, do we?

ERICKSON: Well, he might. I'm saying right now, Ross Perot was talking about running at this period in 1992.

BORGER: Right. But I don't know.

O'BRIEN: David Gergen.

GERGEN: The irony tonight for me is that, even as Mitt Romney is gaining momentum as a nominee, he's losing ground as a national candidate.

O'BRIEN: How so?

GERGEN: He has -- he has been slipping, President Obama has been gaining on him, and I now think has moved ahead of him in term of likelihood of winning. Look at (inaudible), you know, where the -- where the bets are placed on a day-to-day basis.

President Obama's chances of winning as of yesterday after the unemployment numbers came out, he got an odd job (ph), but they had moved from 46 percent chance of winning reelection in October to 56 percent now. He's been moving up pretty steadily, and it is in part -- yes, it's partly the economy and that is very uncertain, but it's also been this campaign is taking a toll on Mitt Romney as a national candidate.

TAYLOR: Look, President Obama also had decided to finally have a much more smart, populous argument. He's been running against Congress. He's finally -- the language that he's been using also being -- playing into the mood of the country as well, saying I'm going to fight for you. That helps him. (CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But Mitt Romney has lost 20 points since November with independent voters. And if you look (inaudible)

O'BRIEN: -- Nevada, one of the things that you notice is that he didn't really say anything. He was very careful to say nothing, very (inaudible) --


O'BRIEN: He stuck to a very tight, short script that he did not go off of.


ERICKSON: In the macro picture, there's the Rayfair (ph). He's the economist, I think, from Yale who has a big calculation, last year said Barack Obama would win it. If you look at Rayfair's (ph) calculation, it's been fairly accurate for several decades.

It looks like it'll be very close election where Barack Obama may lose because of the growth of the economy, which more so than unemployment, has been a very good indicator for where independent voters go in November. And if the growth of the economy stays at 2 percent, and doesn't go higher than that, then the president is going to have a tough reelection.

And I hate to sound -- parrot myself all night, but if the economy gets worse, the Republicans win. If the economy gets better --

O'BRIEN: You ought to write that down right now --


ERICKSON: -- make this worse.

O'BRIEN: OK. Hold on, David, I'll get to you in a second.

CAIN: (Inaudible). It's right off of what David said. There's essentially two different sets of analysis going on right now. There's a primary election analysis and a general election analysis. In the primary election analysis, this has been an awesome night for Mitt Romney. He won votes across the ideological spectrum. He won votes -- when people said the economy was their number one issue, he von that vote.

Now, is he setting himself up? Are things going on that hurt him in the general election? Well, we'll just see.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's go to Wolf. (Inaudible) in a little bit, but first, I want to go to Wolf.

BLITZER: We're about to get, Soledad, another update on the actual vote count. But let me just update you right now with 8 percent of the vote now in the caucuses in Nevada, Mitt Romney maintaining a sizable lead over Newt Gingrich, 45 percent to 22 percent.

Ron Paul, not far behind, 21 percent, a fierce battle for number two in Nevada under way right now; 11 percent for Rick Santorum. But as I said, we're about to get a whole lot more numbers very soon.

Rick Santorum, the Republican presidential candidate, the former senator, we're going to be speaking live with him very soon, stand by for my interview with Rick Santorum. Also we'll be speaking with Newt Gingrich's two daughters, hear what's going on as far as their dad is concerned. Much more of our coverage from the CNN ELECTION CENTER right after this.


BLITZER: Rick Santorum getting ready to speak to his supporters out in Colorado. The Colorado caucuses are scheduled for Tuesday, this coming Tuesday, caucuses in Minnesota as well, a primary at the same time Tuesday in Missouri. Right now the focus is on Nevada. We're watching what's going on. We see what's going on right now with almost 10 percent of the vote in. It looks like a very good night for Mitt Romney.

KING: It does look that way coming in. And one of the things we asked in Florida -- this was a big factor and one of the things we asked people on their way in, remember it's a caucus, it's an the entrance poll, on the way in, Nevada voters were asked how much role did the TV ads play? It's been a largely negative campaign on TV.

Forty-one percent said, yes, the campaign ads were important for their vote. Among those who said that, see Governor Romney getting 57 percent, who followed the ads, 21 percent for Speaker Gingrich.

Wolf, 54 percent, a majority of the consultants are saying why did we spend all that money? Fifty-four percent -- well, the consultants aren't saying that. Maybe the candidate is. Fifty-four percent said, no, the ads weren't a factor at all.

Fifty-three percent of that vote went to Governor Romney, 21 percent to Congressman Paul, 18 percent there. So it's always a debate. Voters say I'm not affected by negative advertising. I don't like them, but they often influence folks.

Just take a look at where the ads went up and who was spending the money. When you pop out Nevada here, this is the state results coming in so far, we can take a peek here at TV ad counts. And as can you see, this is Mitt Romney, that's Newt Gingrich.

So this is by Romney's campaign and his supporters in the PACs. You see them right here, the dark red here in Vegas and up in Reno, the two big media markets. Then you have here -- this is Ron Paul's spending, I'm sorry; Ron Paul's spending, not Newt Gingrich spending in the state.

And so that's the two big markets, Wolf. That's the TV spending you have and Romney's campaign dominating yet again, his campaign and that pro-Romney PAC dominating the ad spending. Voters say they don't matter, but they often say that.

BLITZER: Because you as you say, only Romney and Ron Paul spent money advertising in Nevada. The other two didn't spend a penny, as far as I know.

KING: Not a dime. They decided to save their money. I was interesting that, remember, the biggest backer of Newt Gingrich's super PAC, Sheldon Adelson, right there in Nevada, they decided not to invest there, saving their money for March. We'll see if that strategy --


BLITZER: -- a little deeper right now. Soledad is standing by with Don.

Soledad, I'm fascinated by all the, you know, they always say negative advertising bad, bad, bad, but they do it because, you know what? It works.

O'BRIEN: Yes, one would imagine that that is the case. I think, though, that we have Gary Tuchman now. He's with Rick Santorum, who is in the state of Colorado.

Gary, is the candidate out?

I guess they have started with the Pledge of Allegiance. Let's listen in for a minute.

All right. We'll go to (inaudible).

Don lemon? We were just --


O'BRIEN: OK. Here's what we're doing.


O'BRIEN: We're going to talk about ads and spending. Well, as we saw from John just a moment ago, way outspending his rivals, obviously Mitt Romney's been able to do.

LEMON: Break it down even more for you, I want everyone to keep in mind here, -- keep this figure in mind, $30 million. That's what has been spent on ads in the entire United States tonight. And break it out. Here you go. So you said it was Romney and Paul that was spending the most money in Nevada. But this is U.S.

The first number I showed you, the first number is what the campaign spent. The second number is what added with the super PAC. So and you look at the United States, that's $30 million. Let me show you Nevada, a state that's -- whose economy is hurting the most, and you would think the candidates may say, hey, you know, we want to put a little money into the economy. This is Nevada right here. This is what the campaign spent. And we had to adjust it because it's $488,000, and then this is Ron Paul, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney, the only people spending. And this added on top of it is what the super PACs are spending. Not a lot of money. They're spending zero here. Zero here.

So it's interesting, they're not add to the economy here. And when you look at the five places that they've had caucuses and primaries, $30 million, and this 400 and -- $561,000 not a lot.

We have time. Let's look at some of the ads. You said negative ads work. Well, this one from the Romney campaign, this is about Newt Gingrich. It's a negative ad. Let's look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) ethics violations, Gingrich resigned from Congress in disgrace and then cashed in as a D.C. insider. If Newt wins, this guy would be very happy.


LEMON: When you look here at the bottom, this ad has played 500 times. A very similar ad in Florida, 1,700 times it played, not a lot. As we go back here and look, this one is also a negative ad from the Romney super PAC that is running. It's about Newt Gingrich and his relationship to Ronald Reagan.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From debates, you'd think Newt Gingrich was Ronald Reagan's vice president.

GINGRICH: I worked with president Ronald Reagan.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gingrich exaggerates, dropping Reagan's name 50 times, but in his diaries, Reagan mentioned Gingrich only once.


LEMON: So, (inaudible). It's run 120 times. The people, you in Nevada know you're sick of it because even if it's only 120 times, it's still almost every time you turn the television on. The other person who is spending money down in Nevada, Ron Paul.

This one is about Ron Paul. It's not necessarily a negative ad but it shows I want smaller government. This is what I would cut. And I think it's kind of been because he's talking about the departments he would cut. I think this was for Rick Perry, who is no longer in the race, but listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Budget crisis? No problem. Cut $1 trillion plus year one. That's trillion with a T. Department of Education, gone. Interior, Energy, HUD, Commerce, gone. Later, bureaucrats. That's how Ron Paul rolls.


LEMON: So there you go. That one ran 200 times. And again --

O'BRIEN: He's had some of the best ads of the campaign, I think.

LEMON: All of these together real quickly don't track them. This one ran 500 times, in fact. (Inaudible) this one ran 120 times, this one only ran 100 times. One ad in Florida, 1,700 times. So there you go.

O'BRIEN: All right, Don. Thank you.

When we come back in just a moment, we're going to hear from the candidate, Rick Santorum, who is in Colorado. That's straight ahead. Stay with us. We're back in just a moment.


BLITZER: Gary Tuchman is in Colorado with Rick Santorum right now. I want to go there. I think he's got a little exclusive interview coming up with the former Pennsylvania senator right now, right, Gary?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Wolf. Rick Santorum has just walked into the room. It's the night of the Nevada caucuses, but we are in Colorado, specifically Weld (ph) County, Colorado, a big dinner, Republican Party dinner, 600 people. First question I want to ask you, Senator, how come you decided to spend the night of the Nevada caucuses in the state of Colorado?

FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM, R-PA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, the Colorado caucuses are coming up on Tuesday, and we think we can be competitive here. We think we can be competitive in Minnesota and Missouri. And we're going to work those states very, very hard. And that's what we're doing. We spent the entire day here in Colorado.

TUCHMAN: Can you win here in Colorado? Can you win in Minnesota and Missouri?

SANTORUM: Well, you know, I think we can -- we can do well. I -- you know, I'm hopeful, optimistic we might be able to pull out one of those three and finish well in the other two, or finish this well in all three. But, you know, I take this as where the race begins to turn a little bit.

The first five states were sort of -- been on the map for a long time, and Governor Romney has had -- you know, campaigned there and worked there for a long time. This is our opportunity now, as the field widens a little bit, that he doesn't have that natural advantage.

TUCHMAN: "The Denver Post," the newspaper here in Colorado, came out with an endorsement today for Mitt Romney, said, you know, the issues, but you don't have any world experience. What do you have to say about that?

SANTORUM: Well, I think I have a lot of world experience. I mean, I'm a father of seven children. I think that gives you a lot of world experience. The fact that I practiced law for five years and I worked in a tech company for three years, that I was on the board of public companies. I have I a lot of experience in the private sector.

But you know what, I'm not running for CEO of the company. I'm running for President of the United States and having experience in how to lead this nation is much more important in being commander in chief than running a company. And I've had experience in both public and private sector.

And here's the other -- here's the other difference. I've got a consistent record, I've got a clear contrasting record with Barack Obama that Mitt Romney doesn't have.

He is someone who has been all over the map on almost every issue and gives away three of the biggest issues in this campaign, health care, cap and trade and the Wall Street bailouts. We can't afford to nominate a candidate who simply gives away too much to start this race.

TUCHMAN: Do you feel, Senator, that you have a realistic path to this nomination?

SANTORUM: Oh, I expect to win the nomination. I feel very, very good about --

TUCHMAN: You do?

SANTORUM: Look, a Rasmussen (ph) poll out today that has Mitt Romney trailing Obama by 3 and having me ahead by 1. This race is a long, long way from being over. People are looking at this race and they're going to start to see that Mitt Romney simply and Newt Gingrich don't have what it takes to win the -- win that general election.

They may be able to win a nomination but that's not what Republican voters are looking for. They're looking for someone who has what it takes to beat Barack Obama and we've got the right message and we've got the right background and contrast to do that.

TUCHMAN: Isn't it crucial for you, though, to be one-on-one against Mitt Romney right now?

SANTORUM: Well, we'll see that in Missouri. You know, Newt's not (inaudible).

TUCHMAN: Newt Gingrich is not on the ballot there. But I mean overall, at every primary caucus that still comes up, don't you have to be one-on-one with him to win this?

SANTORUM: Well, eventually. I mean, we've had five states. There's a long, long way and lots of delegates to be allocated. We hope to get a little share of delegates, you know, along the way here and eventually this race will come to us as the strong conviction conservative who presents the best chance to win.

TUCHMAN: This is the Lincoln Day dinner here in Greeley, Colorado. They do this every year. They hear candidates and now they're hearing you, running for the President of the United States. What are you going to say to these people in Colorado? I'm sure you want all 600 of these people to vote for you.

SANTORUM: Sure do. And, you know, we just had -- in Montrose (ph), was there up on the western slope, we had about 750 people there, we just left a 500-people rally over in Loveland (ph), and, you know, we've been -- we've been traveling all over the state of Colorado, north, south, western slope and feel very good about the crowds we're getting and the response we're getting.

TUCHMAN: Senator Santorum, thank you for talking with me.

SANTORUM: Thank you.

TUCHMAN: Best wishes to you.

SANTORUM: Thank you.

TUCHMAN: Our coverage continues now on the Nevada caucuses.