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Nevada Caucus Early Results; Romney Takes Early Lead; Ron Paul Remarks

Aired February 4, 2012 - 18:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The presidential race has been won by Governor Ronald Reagan of California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George Herbert Walker Bush, the 44th President of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Clinton is now President Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's too close to call.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here it is, George W. Bush reelected.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Barack Obama, President-Elect of the United States.



BLITZER: On this Special Edition of the SITUATION ROOM, all eyes right now on the Nevada caucuses.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Mitt Romney is hoping for a night, so big that it will start a chain reaction of wins in states across the country.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, the first Republican presidential contest in the West, it's the new frontier for the angry showdown between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to be the big lie campaign with a big truth campaign.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's been flailing around a bit, trying to go after me for one thing or the other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will Romney score a third win or will the voters surprise us again?

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Republicans can do better. This campaign went down the hill. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's Nevada's choice. Romney had his day in the sun in Florida and he wants to keep his momentum going.

ROMNEY: ... American people and I will lead us back to prosperity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gingrich vows to fight on no matter how he does tonight.

GINGRICH: We are going to contest every place and we will be in Tampa as the nominee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The final four candidates in a marathon race for delegates.

RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're in third place when it comes to delegates and that's what really counts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wants to stay closer to the convention in Tampa and their party's big prize.

ROMNEY: Ours will be a united party with the winning ticket for America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will Republicans rally behind a single candidate soon or will the infighting last for months?

GINGRICH: I don't believe the Republican Party is going to nominate a liberal.

SANTORUM: I think they're going to be looking for a different conservative as an alternative to Mitt Romney.

PAUL: This grassroots stuff (ph) is the cause of liberty and we will prevail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These stakes are high.

ROMNEY: We need new leadership in Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every contest matters.

GINGRICH: We're going to beat money power with people power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And in Nevada, right now, all bets are off.


BLITZER: From the CNN Election Center, I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world to a special of THE SITUATION ROOM.

Nevada Republicans are casting their first votes from President of the United States. And tonight, we're going to find out the results. We have crews in positions across the state and across the country with the candidates out there on the campaign trail.

Here in our CNN Election Center, we have Soledad O'Brien with the "Best Political Team on Television."

But first, we have the first votes actually coming in from Nevada and let's tell you what's going on right now. Just one percent of the vote is in. It's very, very early but it looks right now pretty good for Mitt Romney, 54 percent, 1,329 points. He's ahead of Ron Paul.

There's a battle underway for second place with only one percent of the vote in though 459 to 448. Ron Paul slightly ahead of Newt Gingrich. Rick Santorum in fourth place with nine percent. But this is very, very early. More official numbers are coming in very quickly.

We're getting some entrance polling numbers coming in. CNN's John King is joining us. We're getting a little flavor based on what people told us after they actually voted how they feel, what are the issues, all of that.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In this case, actually before they actually voted because it's an entrance poll, remember caucus environment, we've had few primary nights, we poll them on the first night. Remember the first night of the season, Iowa caucus night, in a caucus, you poll them on the way in so it's an entrance poll.

But, Wolf, it is fascinating. We know this, 48 percent - we have a very conservative electorate - 48 percent of the voters, they describe themselves as very conservative, 35 percent said somewhat conservative, 17 percent said moderate to liberal.

Let's just look among very conservative voters how the electorate broke down. Governor Romney among the largest slice of the electorate getting the majority of the votes, 51 percent, so that bodes well for him. But, again, remember, it's early. We get official vote count soon. Speaker Gingrich getting 24 percent, so less than half among very conservative voters. That would be progress for Romney in the sense that in a state like South Carolina, those who describe themselves as very conservative were going for Speaker Gingrich. That's one way to look at it.

Let's come up here now and slide over and take a little bit more look at the electorate. We've got 53 percent men voting today, 47 percent women. Not a huge surprise there.

But here's an interesting one here. If you look - one of the big questions in this caucus state is how does Ron Paul do because a lot of times you see in the polling he's in low single digits, but there's a lot of passion. And passion matters in caucuses. Yet look at this. Ron Paul has done very well with younger voters and you have an older electorate in Nevada tonight.

Look at this out here. You see 65 and older, 50 to 64, the biggest groups in the electorate. So that will be interesting to watch at as we look at Ron Paul.

We look at this one a moment ago. Let's come out here now. Look, 12.6 percent unemployment, Wolf, in the State of Nevada. It's been over 14 percent. The foreclosure crisis out there is stunning. So no surprise at all. I'm actually surprise it's not a little bit higher.

Fifty-four percent of our caucus goers today saying the economy is issue number one and let's just look at that. Oh, we don't have the numbers in yet. That will feed in as the night goes on. We'll see how it goes.

Candidate quality can defeat President Obama is the number one. And remember Nevada will be a key swing state this November. George W. Bush carried it twice. President Obama carried it last time in part because of his strength among Latino voters.

And, Wolf, let's see if this one is filled in just yet. Not yet. We'll wait for that data to come in on the wall. But obviously these voters voting today, they want someone who is electable because they think their state, not only the national, but their state will be very competitive this fall.

BLITZER: A lot more older people are voting than younger people which is normal in most elections. Older people come out and vote, younger people not so much. Something the country has to work on.

KING: As well, if young people don't come out, it's also in Nevada a lot of retirees out there, but young people have been Ron Paul's strength all along. We'll see, though. We'll see how he does. We'll see if he's going to expand his space. That's one of the big challenges.

In the month ahead, we have caucuses in Nevada, caucuses in Minnesota, caucuses in Maine, earlymarch caucuses in Washington State, viewed as Ron Paul strength because of the passion of his followers. We'll know it a little bit how he did in Nevada.

BLITZER: We certainly will.

All right, let's go over and check in with our reporters who are covering what's going on. In Nevada, Jim Acosta is over at Romney headquarters. Brianna Keilar is over at the Gingrich headquarters.

We'll be going to Jim Acosta first. Set the scene for us. What's happening where you are, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Mitt Romney right now is on his way back to Nevada. He was at an event just a few moments ago in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Just a sign that the Romney campaign is already looking past Nevada into these upcoming caucus states like Colorado, which has its caucuses on Tuesday.

And Governor Romney used that occasion to look beyond his opponent, his main rival in this GOP race, Newt Gingrich. He went after President Obama, accusing the president of weakness on foreign policy.


ROMNEY: The president thinks America is in decline. I don't. I think he - it reaches out to the some of the world's worst actors like Ahmadinejad, Chavez, formerly Kim Jong-Il, now Kim Jong-Un. And I think - I think he thinks that somehow if he appeases them and accommodates them, that things will be better.

In my view, American resolve and American strength is always the best way to deal with tyrants and autocrats.


ACOSTA: Now, Mitt Romney also used part of that speech to go off on the president's stimulus package. Some unfortunate timing though for the Massachusetts governor, Democrats in Colorado were pointing out that the facility where Mitt Romney was giving that speech actually received stimulus money.

Mitt Romney was trying to address that in his comments to voters out there saying, well, he's talked to the owner of that company and according to that owner that stimulus program did not help very much in terms of hiring people out there.

But Governor Romney is on his way back to Nevada as we speak. He'll be watching the returns come in at this casino where we're standing out right now. We'll hear his victory speech - his expected victory speech later on this evening, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be waiting and watching together with you.

Brianna Keilar is over at Newt Gingrich headquarters. We didn't see much of him today, Brianna. What is our sense? What's he up to?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, Wolf. No public events today. In fact, in a sign that perhaps Newt Gingrich has all but seeded Nevada to Romney, the only thing he has on his schedule today and tonight, I should say, is to talk to reporters and it will be well after caucus goers have had their say.

No rally, no events for supporters. He has been focusing on fundraising. One source telling CNN that he met with 60 donors last night, Wolf. So the best case scenario for Newt Gingrich today is to have a second-place finish. Make sure he doesn't lose ground to Ron Paul and try to be able to point to some support from conservative voters, voters who identify with the Tea Party here in Nevada, Wolf.

BLITZER: What's the speaker's efforts that he's trying right now to specifically target conservatives, Brianna?

KEILAR: He's really raising questions trying to raise questions about Mitt Romney's conservative credentials. He did have two campaign events yesterday here in Las Vegas. One was at a church where he hit Romney for comments that he made on CNN saying that he would patch holes in the safety net for the very poor. Gingrich essentially saying that this is an endorsement of a welfare state.


GINGRICH: My good friend, the governor from Massachusetts, said it was OK to not worry about the poor because after all they have a safety net. It's not a safety net. It's a spider web. It traps them in poverty. It keeps them at the bottom. It deprives them of independence.

One of the reasons I am running is I want to replace the spider web with a trampoline that launches them into the middle class and gives them a future.


KEILAR: So, Wolf, Newt Gingrich not expecting to win here in Nevada. What he's trying to do is stay relevant through this month until Super Tuesday in March when you're going to see voters in more conservative states head to the polls, specifically those southern states, Wolf.

BLITZER: March 6th, Super Tuesday. It will be a big, big day, Brianna. Thanks very much.

Soledad, I love it when Newt Gingrich calls Mitt Romney "my good friend." You don't know what the two of these guys have said about each other at recent days and weeks. I'm not necessarily so sure that they're such good friends.

O'BRIEN: Yes. It's always a bad sign when they start with "my good friend" and then botch, it's going to be very, very bad.

All right. We've got Gloria Borger and David Gergen with us this evening. Why don't you start with me, Gloria? What are you looking for tonight? Is it really all about the race for number two?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it really is about whether Mitt Romney can really start consolidating that conservative base? You know, even though we had that big win in Florida, he was still losing among people who were strongly identified with the Tea Party, strongly said they were very conservative, what I call the base of the base. And we'll have to see tonight whether those people are starting to rally around Mitt Romney.

You just heard Newt Gingrich. Newt Gingrich was telling the voters out there, you know what, he's not a conservative. Mitt Romney doesn't even understand what the conservative economic message is. He said, we're all about the trampoline, rising tide, lifts all boats. Not about the social safety net, which is, of course, to some conservative's way of thinking more government, right?

So he's saying, you know what, I'm the conservative alternative.

O'BRIEN: Brianna also said that he really is trying to stay relevant through the month of February because to some degree he sounds like he's obviously conceded this race, according to Brianna.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, Soledad, so good to see you.

O'BRIEN: Likewise. Thank you.

GERGEN: I love that you are on the set here tonight.

O'BRIEN: My pleasure. GERGEN: And you've been really much in the news. You've been driving the conversation.

O'BRIEN: Not me, Sir, just my interviews.

GERGEN: I think the - I think the question in mind about it (ph) transcend about it is about who owns the month of February. There are a series of caucuses and primaries in February are relatively small individually, but taken together they're critically important. And we have three battleground states that are up for grabs in February. These are states that come November they're going to be critical, about a dozen battleground states around the country.

If Mitt Romney can win all three and beat these other guys, there's not a guy who don't have a plausible argument about why they ought to be a national candidate. If they can't win in a primary, in a battleground state, what reason do we have to believe that they can win against Obama in a general election in a battleground state?

So I think Nevada building on Florida. If Romney can romp here tonight, the number I would look at is if he's above 50 percent -

O'BRIEN: I was going to say, is that the - is that the line, 50 percent?


GERGEN: To me it's about 50. But, Gloria, you may have a different line.

BORGER: But he was - but, you know, he was at 51 percent last time and he didn't get the nomination. So -

GERGEN: But he's - yes, he's got these - he's got these other guys out there.

BORGER: And we have to see who he wins with and we have to see if Newt Gingrich is number two or Ron Paul is number two, how close - how close to Romney -

O'BRIEN: And we have many, many hours to see all of that.

GERGEN: Many, many more - oh, we have a lot to go.

O'BRIEN: Yes, we do. All right, guys, thanks. We'll check in with you a little bit.

Our Chief Political Correspondent is Candy Crowley. She's in Washington, D.C. getting ready for her "STATE OF THE UNION." Hey, Candy. Good evening.


O'BRIEN: I'm well. Thank you. So what are you looking for this evening? Is it the 50 percent plus mark that Gloria and David were just talking about?

CROWLEY: Yes. I mean, I don't know that I'd put a percentage on it, but, you know, it's like pornography, you'll know it, when you see it. I mean, we'll know if it's a big win. And I hesitate to put a number on it.

But I have to say I think this has to be part of the big role for Romney. It reminds me a little bit of Barack Obama versus Hillary Clinton when he really began to get - I mean, Iowa obviously was a great win for Barack Obama when he was a candidate.

But it was these caucus states that begin - you know, people don't say, oh, well, there's only four delegates here or only six delegates here. People say, oh, they won another one and so it was during this period that Barack Obama began to rack up sort of victory after victory after victory that really made him look like he was on a role.

If Romney can do that and make it through Super Tuesday in some fashion and he can say I won most of the really important states, I agree with David, it's going to be really difficult for anybody else in the race to argue that they still should be the nominee.

O'BRIEN: Really a measure of momentum. Candy Crowley in D.C., thanks, Candy. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: We're getting ready, Soledad, for a significant number of votes to come in from Nevada. Get ready. We're about to report on the official vote count as it's coming in.

A caucus, by the way, is nothing like the privacy of a voting booth. They're very public and they can get loud and passionate. Stand by for our first look inside some of today's gatherings.

Also, Congressman Ron Paul is getting ready to fire up his supporters in Minnesota. We're going there. As soon as he starts speaking, you'll see it, you'll hear it live.

Lots of news happening right here from the CNN Election Center, the Nevada caucuses tonight. We're only just beginning.


BLITZER: We're watching for the next round of results from today's caucuses in Nevada. We expect to get a lot more numbers coming in very, very soon. Stand by. We'll update you as soon as they come in.

But let's go back to John King over at the magic wall, looking at entrance polling data. We're getting more information on what folks are saying as they were going in to register their votes.

KING: More information about not only who they voted for, but what was on their mind as they voted.

Let's go over and look at the time of decision. This one's interesting. Look at this. Nearly 6 in 10 of the caucus goers today have made up their mind before January, before January. So a lot of these people have made up their mind, Wolf, a long time ago.

And look at this. Governor Romney getting nearly 6 in 10 of those votes, 57 percent; Ron Paul in second with 23 percent; Speaker Gingrich. So this is an electorate that decided early voting today in Nevada that benefited Governor Romney.

Let's move over here as we decide here. This is an interesting one here. Among voters who wanted a candidate who can defeat President Obama, that was the largest group, 44 percent said that was their top candidate quality. Can they win in November?

Among those voters, you see here an overwhelming - overwhelming win for Romney, 74 percent, three out of every four voters in Nevada thought Mitt Romney. If they thought that was the number one quality, beating Obama, they thought he was the right candidate. A very distant second for Speaker Gingrich here.

But look at this, Wolf, if you want to look at one weakness potentially on Romney, and this is - we're not nitpicking in a sense that it looks like he's on his way to a convincing win. We'll actually count the votes. But as you see, most voters wanted him to defeat Obama and he wins so big, that would suggest he's going to win.

But look here, among those who the top quality is getting a true conservative, Ron Paul is getting 45 percent of the votes, 31 percent for Speaker Gingrich, Rick Santorum, third. Among those who are looking for a true conservative, 17 percent of the electorate, out there, Governor Romney comes in last.

BLITZER: That's a real weak point for him.

KING: A weak point as you go forward. And especially if you start thinking of other caucus states, it's potential that that could be exploited.

One other quick thing I want to show you, 74 percent of those caucusing today in Nevada say they support the Tea Party Movement. Remember, back in 2010, the Tea Party was big out in the State of Nevada. Seventy-four percent say, yes, I support the Tea Party. This has been to a degree a weakness of Governor Romney in other states, but he's getting half.

Fifty-one percent of those who support the Tea Party today, Speaker Gingrich, it's a two to one edge for Romney over Gingrich among those who support the Tea Party.

So if you look at what people said on the way in, the issues on their mind, where they come from the Republican Party, these numbers would suggest that Governor Romney is on his way to a very comfortable victory. But as you noted, we're going to get some actual results pretty soon.

BLITZER: Yes. We are getting some results already, John. We're going to get a lot more. We're watching all of this unfold.

We got some live pictures from Carson City, Nevada. You can see over here. They are already counting the vote in Carson City, and elsewhere in the state as well. Throughout the day, in fact, CNN cameras and reporters have been following the action at several caucus sites across Nevada. Take a look and listen.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I'm Paul Steinhauser in Las Vegas. We are in Becker Middle School in the northwest part of the city. There's a caucus going on here today. We're in the cafeteria and we've got three precincts meeting right now.

One of them, as you can see, people are already starting to speak on behalf of their candidates. We're hearing people in support of Ron Paul. Now, we're in our second speaker who is supporting Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination.

After people give their preferences and after they speak, the voting begins.

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: I'm Peter Hamby here in the caucus site in Henderson, Nevada. I just want to give you a sense of the scale of these caucuses.

Look at this precinct right here, there are three precincts in this cafeteria. This is one of them. Just give you a sense of how small the turnout is. At this one, there's about 378 registered Republicans in this precinct, but only about 35, 40 people are showing up today.

Remember, there's not the political culture surrounding the caucuses in Nevada that there is in Iowa. This is only the second caucus that Republicans have held here. The first one was in 2008, obviously. So we're seeing a little bit of logistical confusion as people kind of figure out, you know, the ballots and that sort of thing here in Henderson.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: I'm Paul Vercammen here at the Carson City caucus.

Democracy in action as the voters here check in. They're expecting more than a 50 percent turnout here in Carson City. Now, this area, 11,000 Republicans, 10,000 Democrats. They're dropping their votes off over here in the precinct boxes. There are 24 of them.

Now, in 2008, Carson City went for John McCain in a totally unscientific poll. Talking to people on this room it seems that Mitt Romney is doing very well. Of course, he's spent a lot of resources and covered a lot of northwest Nevada.

I'm Paul Vercammen in Carson City.

BLITZER: And we're going to go to Carson City live as soon as they actually start counting the votes in Carson City at the Nevada caucuses.

More numbers are coming in right now. We're going to update you in a moment. But let me go over to Soledad once again. She's got some excellent contributors over there.

O'BRIEN: Yes, the best. The best. Wolf, thank you.

In fact, let me introduce you to the contributors. Maria Cardona, is at the end. She got the memo, wearing the red jacket tonight. Thank you, Maria.


O'BRIEN: Roland Martin is sitting next to her. We've got Erick Erickson from joining as well. And Will Cain is with us, "The Blaze" columnist.


O'BRIEN: Yes. It is - it is -

WILL CAIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You've been promoted to the big boy table.

O'BRIEN: You've been promoted to the big boy table. But we're going to start with Erick. Is it all about momentum, who has it and how much tonight?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: To a degree, yes, it's about momentum. But it's also, you've got to remember, looking at a lot of the polling we've seen thus far, it takes a while for news events to catch up as well.

So we're going to see Mitt Romney probably have some momentum coming out of Nevada if things go as people have been speculating for weeks he was going to go. And then that would help him in the caucus states coming up.

But also you will see, for example, the Marianne Gingrich story, that came out right before South Carolina, it happened three or four days before South Carolina, it did not have a chance to impact South Carolina, but it did in Florida.

The Mitt Romney interview with you, it came so soon to Nevada it hasn't had time to percolate. After Nevada, it's going to have time to percolate.

O'BRIEN: Oh, I was going to ask - let me talk to Roland Martin. Let me put this question to you. I was going to ask you about that. Because, of course, he was talking about the poor and we'll run a little clip of it in a second.

But, really, when you look at the State of Nevada, you're talking about a place where unemployment is higher than the rest of the country, a place where homes are in foreclosure at a higher rate than the rest of the country.

Let me play the clip first and then, Roland, I want you to come in on the other side.



ROMNEY: 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. I'm not concerned about the very rich. They're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of America. The 90, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling and I'll continue to take that message across the nation.

O'BRIEN: All right. I know I said last question but I've 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 sentences, Soledad. I said I'm not concerned about the poor that have safety nets, but if it has holes in it, I will repair them.


O'BRIEN: Roland Martin, Erick seems to say that haven't quite caught up yet in the State of Nevada, in a place where they're really hurting economically.

MARTIN: Yes, they are hurting, but a lot of people don't consider themselves to be poor, OK? So you have people who were retired, who went there and they had a second home. And so - and mentally they say, oh, I'm middle class, I'm just simply having a difficult time.

It's also a question of how do the other candidates also hit on that. All of a sudden, you hear Newt Gingrich offering some comments that is speaking to that very issue. What will Santorum do? What will happen when they go to states where you have a significant number of Catholic voters? And you look at Catholic charities, did you look at what they do?

I think he's going to have to deal with this issue beyond just thinking, oh, these are just some really poor, unfortunate people. Especially if we're start going to states that are some of the poorest in the country, he has to deal with this. I believe - Erick is right, it's going to catch up with us.

ERICKSON: The consolidation as well prevents that from happening for him.

O'BRIEN: Well, let's talk about consolidation.

CAIN: Well (INAUDIBLE) whether or not that stings is actually going to hurt him in Nevada. What's interesting is that was problematic to conservatives and liberals but for different reasons. They heard different things. Liberals heard that statement and took it literally that Mitt Romney does not care about the very poor.

I don't think most conservatives actually believe that. A very charitable man. What they heard was somebody who's adopting an argument that's not very conservative. It's not that you are picking groups to favor and disfavor, those to help and those to ignore. The conservative line should be the one that Gingrich and Santorum is giving, I see you all as one group, Americans.

O'BRIEN: All right, Maria Cardona, we'll check in with you in a moment.

First, I got to talk (ph) to us ahead this evening. We'll be watching Ron Paul. He's trying to get a jump on his rival. He's in Minnesota where Republican caucus will be there on Tuesday night. You want to stay right there. We're going to expect to hear him speak pretty soon.

Also, we're getting some new data from our entrance polls from today's caucuses. We'll bring that o you as well.


BLITZER: We're about to get some more vote results coming in very, very soon, so stand by for that. We're awaiting the official numbers. We're the only television network is getting counting ballots. So stand by. We're about to get a whole bunch of new votes that coming in to the CNN Election Center.

In the meantime, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul aren't in Nevada tonight. They're looking ahead to the contest on Tuesday, this coming Tuesday. The first time this year, voters in more than one state will weigh in on the same day.

Tonight, CNN's Gary Tuchman is in Colorado with Rick Santorum. David Mattingly is in Minnesota with Ron Paul. Let's go to David, first. David, why is Ron Paul in Minnesota as opposed to Nevada?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's a good question, Wolf. We're 1,600 miles away from where the action is right now, but that's because Ron Paul is a candidate badly need of -- they are looking right now, very closely at Nevada.

Felt very good about what they're seeing right now. They believe that this campaign is going to get some new life into it. It's going to start there, but then they're looking at Minnesota and the caucuses here on Tuesday to tell them how high that bounce is going to go.

So they are already on the ground here. So this will be the third campaign stop for Ron Paul in Minnesota today. He's been getting a lot of applause from the crowds that he's attracting on less government and more freedom, but also on his position on foreign affairs. Listen.


RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm an advocate of changing our foreign policy. One that it's called non-intervention, mind our own business. Come on, don't be a nation (inaudible). Don't be the policemen of the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MATTINGLY: Now, again, Ron Paul is watching from the back room here, watching what is going on in Nevada. He feels very good about what he's seeing right now.

But he's also feeling very good where he's positioned in this state because Minnesota has been known to embrace unconventional campaigns and he definitely fits that mold.

They are very enthusiastic, very passionate about participating in the democratic process. You hear some of that enthusiasm right now.

That's what he's counting on, Wolf, to get that bounce higher and higher if he does well tonight in Nevada because he needs something that he hasn't seen since November and that is momentum -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Hold on a second, David Mattingly. I want to go to CNN's Paul Vercammen in Carson City watching what's going on. We got an exclusive piece of information about to share with our viewers.

Paul, I know that they are counting the ballots in Carson City. You have access to this. We're the only network that is actually going to see how the folks in Carson City are voting. Go ahead and share what we know.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in Carson City, Wolf, (inaudible) caucus. I'll tell you what I've overheard from two precincts.

Romney in one of the precincts wit 20, Paul 13, Gingrich 12 and Santorum 15. Then at another precinct, you had Romney with 42, Gingrich with 40, 19 for Santorum and 20 for Paul. As we go ahead and whip around, let's get a look at our campaign.

You can see that the ballots are pouring in. There are 24 precincts here in Carson City, Wolf. What you have is about 12,000 Republicans in this area, about 10,000 Democrats. This county did go for John McCain in the last election.

So it will be interesting to see how everything shakes down here. They've had a pretty brisk turned out. It looked to be at least 50 percent. All the precincts seemed to tell us that they believe they will hit that mark tonight.

And they'll be done hopefully in about an hour and 45 minutes with all of these precincts, but so far Romney, of course, is doing the best as we've heard. He flooded this northwest part of Nevada, made a lot of stops.

But all the candidates seem to be registering to a degree and I hear Ron Paul in my ear. They've got a lot of Ron Paul supporters here as well as Gingrich supporters and Santorum.

What everybody in this room seems to say today is, this is a Super Bowl for them. In terms of a game, Wolf, they want no matter who they are going to support in the end, for everyone to come together and make sure that in November they are galvanized and unified and in the end they are able to defeat Barack Obama. Now back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Paul Vercammen in Carson City. You saw it here. He actually saw the votes as they were counting. You saw the tally change as he was speaking based on these results. Let's take a look at where it stands right now with 1 percent of the vote actually in about 1 percent, 53 percent for Mitt Romney with 1,391 votes.

He's 891 votes ahead of Newt Gingrich with only 19 percent. Ron Paul similarly 19 percent and only 9 percent for Rick Santorum. Once again, you're seeing actual votes right here on the CNN election center.

That's because we have reporters and producers at various locations. We're counting the ballots. We're seeing how the results come in as they are officially reported and that's why we can share them with you.

I want to check in with Gary Tuchman right now. He's with Rick Santorum in Colorado watching what is going on. Colorado, Nevada, what is the decision making?

We know that there's going to be a contest on Colorado on Tuesday. He wants to get an early start basically realizing Nevada is not going to be all that strong for him?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Rick Santorum has known for a while now that he wasn't going to do particularly well in the state of Nevada. So he held on to his chips from Nevada and he's doubling down here in the state of Colorado and also in Minnesota and Missouri where there are caucuses and a primary this Tuesday.

So when the tabulations come out from the Nevada caucus tonight, he will be in this huge ballroom. I'm almost by myself in the ballroom with some waiters because the people will arrive shortly.

This is the Annual Weld County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner in honor of that very famous Republican president who saved the union back in the 1860s. They do this every year. It's a big tradition.

Rick Santorum will be the featured speaker at this event tonight. You can see they have cowboy hats here in the center of each table with the American flags because the motto of the night is how the west will be won in 2012.

So Rick Santorum will get about 600 people listening to him, talk about why he wants to be president of the United States and his believe that he can still be president of the United States.

A lot of people don't see that path for him right now how he can be the nominee against Barack Obama, but Santorum says he's in this until the convention and he's talking about during his campaign steps, what he would do during his first day as president of the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will help be prepared for a variety of different things that we can do everything from first firing every czar that is there. To look at things that we can do immediately to get this country turned around on a variety of different fronts everything from turned around economically, by signing the Keystone pipeline project and moving that forward.


TUCHMAN: So the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania will be speaking here in Colorado in about two hours from now. After his speech, he will then fly to the state of Minnesota where he will spend the day campaigning tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I know. His aides have high expectations for both Colorado, the caucuses there and the caucuses in Minnesota, but low expectations tonight in Nevada. Gary, we'll check in with you.

Early, we'll, of course, anxiously wait to hear from Rick Santorum. Ron Paul is getting ready to speak. We'll hear him as well. John, more information coming in as far as entrance polling?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, you just saw those numbers. We need to get more results obviously, but it looks like both from our entrance polling and from those early results that Governor Romney seems to have a pretty big lead.

So we have a big question, who would get second place if those numbers hold up? You see Speaker Gingrich and Ron Paul both in about 19 percent. Remember Ron Paul was polling in a low single digits so what might be helping him?

That's what we want to look at, Wolf as we dig a little deeper in the entrance polls. Entrance polls because you're into a caucus. I want to know -- I looked through all of these income groups and Mitt Romney is carrying every group except those who made under $30,000 a year.

It's 10 percent of the caucus electorate today in the state of Nevada. And look at this, Ron Paul winning that group with 32 percent, Governor Romney and Speaker Gingrich so essentially a three-way split there.

It's the only group though that Governor Romney is not leading by a big margin. So there's a piece of Ron Paul supporters, only 10 percent of the electorate, but if he can hold on --

BLITZER: Probably young people?

KING: They're probably young people, but electorate as young as he would hope because of his support there. But there's one thing you see right there.

About 18 percent of the electorate today describes themselves as independent. Look at that. Ron Paul getting almost half of that vote, 48 percent there, Governor Romney next, Speaker Gingrich, a distant third among those who describe themselves as independents. Again, this is a source of strength for Ron Paul. Not a huge slice of the electorate, but he's right now competitive with Newt Gingrich for second place. And then if you come over here and you look, this is a younger electorate, which is part of the problem for Ron Paul.

He generally would like that percentage to be high because he does well with younger voters. That's too small of a slice here. We're not getting the slice because sometimes when the slice of the electorate is so small, you don't see as hard of a number.

If you look here, this is the biggest slice of the electorate and this is why at the moment, Governor Romney is well ahead. He's getting 60 percent of the vote among the largest slice of the electorate, but we're looking and looking to try to help us.

As you have a Gingrich/Paul race for second where it appears right now, we'll keep scrubbing the data and try to find more interesting information.

BLITZER: Fascinating information. When you say Democrats, independents, Republicans, this is a closed contest. Only registered Republicans can actually participate, but I guess some independents and some Democrats, they register as Republicans.

KING: When they go in, they describe themselves as independent, but they have to be allowed to vote in the process. They just described themselves as independent.

BLITZER: Good point. All right, John, thank you.

We're about to get a significant update of the Nevada vote totals. Also, the first candidate we will hear from tonight, Ron Paul. We'll go there as soon as he starts speaking, stay with us.

Also, we'll check in at the Republican Party's nerve center in Nevada. Lots of news happening. We're here at the CNN Election Center. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our special SITUATION ROOM. We're here at the CNN Election Center. We're getting actual vote totals coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, the CNN Election Center right now. Take a look at this.

One percent of the vote is coming in, but -- there it goes, 3 percent of the vote is now in. You saw it change live here at the CNN Election Center. Mitt Romney with 52 percent, a decisive lead over Ron Paul with 20 percent, Newt Gingrich 19 percent, Rick Santorum 9 percent, very, very early, but look at these numbers so far very impressive numbers for Mitt Romney.

We'll see if that holds up as we go into the night. It's going to be a fascinating night. What going on in the caucuses across Nevada report to a central nerve center in Las Vegas, that's the largest in Nevada. Our own Peter Hamby is there. He's waiting for the all important numbers.

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Wolf, we're inside the nerve center of the Nevada Republican Party. It's a hotel suite inside the Venetian Hotel where votes have been counted all day long.

I want to bring Amy Tarkanian here who's the chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Party. Amy, we see a bunch of computers around here. What is happening exactly? What are these folks doing?

AMY TARKANIAN, NEVADA REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIRWOMAN: Sure. What we are doing is we are tallying the votes as they come in. This is our state secretary and he is in charge of verifying the votes as they come in and then he will be sending those over to Twitter and Google.

And we'll input them so they will be announced at 5:00, 16 out of 17 counties and then the largest, which is Clark, we'll relay those votes at 7:00.

HAMBY: OK, I want to ask you about turnout. We were at the caucus site earlier today and turnout was actually pretty low at the precinct we're at specifically. What are you seeing across the board? Was turnout higher than it was in 2008?

TARKANIAN: Well, that's really hard to judge right now. Clark is the largest county so until we get their counts, their poll counts that's really a hard call to make. But I can say that I'm very proud of all the counties, statewide, they've worked really hard and for the most part, it's been pretty smooth.

HAMBY: OK, great. Thanks, Amy.

TARKANIAN: Thank you.

HAMBY: Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Peter, thanks very much. We'll check back with you throughout the night as well. Ron Paul, the congressman from Texas, the Republican presidential candidate, is getting ready to speak right now.

I want to go and listen to what he has to say. He's in Minnesota where the caucuses in Minnesota take place this coming Tuesday. Here's Ron Paul. He's got a very enthusiastic crowd lined up in Minnesota. I want to hear what he has to say. Here's Ron Paul.

PAUL: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. It sounds like the revolution has already come to Minnesota. I want to thank Kirk for that very nice introduction and I do want to emphasize Marianne Stebbins, all the work that she has done to organize this and many other freedom oriented events.

Also, I'd like to introduce my wife who is sitting over here, Carol. And we have -- and we have one of our 18 grandchildren and she's sitting with her and that's Linda. But it is great to see a nice crowd and a lot of enthusiasm for a very special issue, something dear to my heart and that he is liberty. If government is the opposite of liberty, especially when they avoid doing the things they are supposed to, the government in our country especially was created to protect liberty. Unfortunately in these last several decades I'm afraid they have been misled and they are stealing our liberty from us.

But something pretty big is happening in this country. Not only with this election, but there is a change in sentiment. There's lot of enthusiasm now for the cause of more freedom and less government, less war and a free market economy.

We do a fair amount of criticizing the current administration which deserves it. But our problems didn't occur in the last three years. Our problems have been around for a long time. Unfortunately, it's been a bipartisan affair too often.

There's been, in a way, too much compromise in Washington. They said, no, you want more compromise. But if they compromise on doing the wrong things, it's not worth very much. And this is what has happened.

You know, conservatives and Republicans might want to spend money in one way and liberals and Democrats might want to spend in one way and then they get together and agree on it. And then they agree on a monetary system that facilitates it.

You can tax but there's a limit, people might object. You can borrow, but there's a limit or interest rates would go up, but then they had this crazy scheme that they came up with in 1913 and they said, what we need to do is make sure that the money is not backed by anything.

It's just paper, and we can create it endlessly and of course, that has led us to this trouble that we have today. This is the reason that founders were explicit during the constitutional convention and putting into the constitution.

That they didn't want to have runaway inflation again because they had it at the beginning of our history and that is why they said that the states only could use gold and silver as legal tender.

And they placed an explicit prohibition against printing money, which was called emitting bills of credit and they gave no authority for the Federal Reserve System. So if we ever want to get our economy back on foot again, which is an absolute necessity, we cannot do it without addressing the subject of the monetary system, the subject of the Federal Reserve.

And it should begin with an absolute complete auditing of the fed to find out who their buddies are and who they have been bailing out. So much of our problems of big government came from 1913 on and especially in 1971 when the last link to gold was removed.

And that meant there were no limits whatsoever and look at any chart about what happened since '71, the expansion of government, he expansion of debt, the price inflation, the many wars we have been fighting. It's exponential growth since there are no limits except the market is also very powerful too. The governments are powerful, but the markets are even more powerful because there is a limit to how much money you can print because eventually trust is lost.

And I believe this is what we have done. We have entered into a phase in these last for years where it is been recognized that this debt and this financing and the printing of money cannot be sustained.

So our efforts now to return to sound economic policies return our constitution is more vital and more necessary than ever before. So if liberty is the cause we have to restrain the government. That is what the founders gave us. They gave us a document that placed no restraints on the people, but put restraints on the federal government.

Today it's been turned around. The federal government is putting restraints on the people and they have turned the government into a secret operation. It should be the opposite. We should have full exposure not only of the fed, but the full exposure of our government.

And of course if we want our secrecy back and our privacy back, I would think we have to restore the 4th amendment, which means we have to repeal the Patriot Act. You know the problems that we have had since 9/11 have been significant.

And that was a bad day for all Americans because many Americans died and it was a very, very tough time. I was supportive of going after those individuals who were responsible and we should have done it and we did do it.

But unfortunately, it provided an opportunity for our government to do a lot of things they shouldn't have done and used it as an excuse. And for instance this was their excuse to do something they had been waiting to do and that was to invade and overthrow the government of Iraq. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. That war was totally unnecessary and based on false assumptions and lies.

Now there was a simple little procedure placed in the constitution to try to prevent wars of that sort. The provision is simply that presidents aren't allowed to go to war without a declaration of war. The Congress and the people through their congressmen are supposed to make these declarations.

I was serving on the International Affairs Committee when the resolution was coming along to give this authority to the president. It wasn't a declaration of war. So I said, look, this is going to lead to war. What they want to do is give the authority to the president to do whatever he wanted and whatever he thought was necessary.

They had been wanting the war for about six or seven years before this. My first speech against the oncoming war was in 1998. It was announced by the administration that our policy was the overthrow of the government of Iraq. So when the debate came up I offered an amendment to this blanket giving of authority to the president. I offered an amendment that said to declare war, but when I discussed it, I said I don't want the war. I will vote against this amendment, but if you want the war go to war in a proper fashion and voted up or down.

They ridiculed this. They didn't want to vote. They voted and the voice vote was all no. Nobody wanted to pass it. Then I forced them to have a recorded vote, which further annoyed them. They didn't want to be on record. This everybody voted against it.

And in the discussion, the chairman of the committee explained that I was off based to talk about the constitution because he explained it to me. He said that part of the constitution is anachronistic. We don't follow it anymore.

Unfortunately, because they've been able to get away with things like that, whether it's the monetary policy or going to war, this constitution in a way has become anachronistic.

If we are going to have peace and prosperity we have to force the people who represent us, the president on down and send only people there who know how to read and understand and will take their oath of office seriously.

But because we have delivered so much power to the executive branch we go to war without declaration. We have delivered the legislative process to the executive branch. Technically under our constitution only the legislative body, the Congress writes laws.

But just think of all the regulations. Just think of the federal register. Thousands and thousands of pages and every year the numbers go up. I would like to be the first president that actually shrunk the size of the federal register. Even the courts legislate. We don't live within the confines of the constitution. And unless we do we will continue in this process.

Go to war that are undeclared. Spend money that we don't have. Print the money that we don't have, but we have to change our appetite for big government. We have to can ask the questions the founders asked. What should the role of the government be in a free society?

They came to the collusion it should be very, very limited. We will write restraints on the federal government to say you can't do this. The constitution was written precisely to restrain the federal government although they wanted the colonies together in one unit and at the same time, they wanted to restrain the government. They wanted to put no restraints on the people.

But unfortunately, we have gone in the wrong direction especially in the last hundred years especially since 1971, but the time has come and it is evident that something dramatic has happened in the last four or five years although there are several of us talking about this for a long time.

The dramatic revelation occurred with the collapse of the economy, with the suicidal approach of just spending money and not cutting anything and printing money and think it's going to work forever.

We have an economic crisis come upon us because we had too much government, too much spending, too much debt, too much taxation, too many wars and what do they do? They try to solve the problem doing the same thing. It's not going to work and that's why we have to change our direction.

In Washington, they talk a little bit about the budget but they do nothing. They talk about cutting spending but they don't -- they're not telling the truth. They're talking about, you know, that Congress couldn't do it.

The "Super Committee" couldn't do it. So they turned it over to an automatic cut of $1 trillion over ten years. On the automatic increases of $10 trillion they will cut $1 trillion out of the increases and they're call that a radical cut and an extreme cut.

They are fighting each other on trying to prevent, which cuts are going to happen. That's $100 billion a year of cutting only proposed increases. The national debt is going up $100 billion every month.

So my solution or at least the beginning of the solution is to cut the budget by $1 trillion in one year. There you go. Some people get a little bit nervous about the government not spending money, but I tell you what. Don't get nervous if the government would quit spending a trillion dollars.

They don't know how to spend the money. It's always spent politically. They do the wrong things and we get hit twice. They take it from us that's one hit and when they spend it they come down hard on us with more regulation.

So there is nothing wrong with this whole economic moral principle of saying you have the right to spend the money you spend the trillion dollars and you spend it your way and not the way of the politician.

And this can be defended on constitutional grounds and moral grounds and economic grounds. The politicians and the bureaucrats are not smart enough to know how to spend your money. It's based on the principal of individual liberty.

We get our rights in a natural way or God given right. We get our life and we get our liberty. And we ought to be able to keep the fruits of our labor under those circumstances.