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JOHN KING, USA

2012 Campaign Triple-Header; Interview With Ron Paul

Aired February 7, 2012 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight: the first 2012 campaign triple- header.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Republican presidential contests in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, and there could be a curveball coming.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, the Republican candidates compete on three battlegrounds at once.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This president has failed. That's why he has to go and we need a new president.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It isn't enough to nominate Obama-lite.

ANNOUNCER: This could be a moment when the underdogs steal the show.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not a household name like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sounds like the revolution has already come to Minnesota.

ANNOUNCER: Will there be a dramatic upset in Minnesota, Colorado or Missouri? It's America's choice.

Mitt Romney's been on a winning streak, but his momentum could stall again.

ROMNEY: I will stand for our rights and I will stand for our values.

ANNOUNCER: Newt Gingrich is angry and determined to hit Romney where it hurts.

GINGRICH: I have never before seen a person who I thought of as a serious candidate for president be that fundamentally dishonest.

ANNOUNCER: Rick Santorum and Ron Paul may be Romney's biggest threats tonight.

SANTORUM: Money is not going to bite presidency. PAUL: Once you become a Ron Paul supporter, you remain a Ron Paul supporter.

ANNOUNCER: Who might surge or stumble once the results are in tonight?

SANTORUM: The contrast between Obama and Romney is just not going to work for us.

ANNOUNCER: All four candidates are signaling a bitter fight to the finish.

GINGRICH: I am a candidate for the president of the United States. I will be candidate for the president of the United States.

ANNOUNCER: Three states are voting. Big contests are around the corner. And this race is spreading all over the map.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Welcome to the CNN Election Center and this special edition of JOHN KING, USA.

Right now, three battleground states have a chance to jolt the presidential race once again, 33 delegates at stake in Colorado tonight, 37 in Minnesota, plus a Missouri primary with no impact on the delegate chase but still a potential momentum changer.

Mitt Romney not long ago had dreams of a possible February sweep. But tonight, two of his rivals have hopes of an upset.

As always, Wolf Blitzer is here to help guide us through every twist and turn.

BLITZER: That's right, John.

The underdogs in this race are trying as hard as they possibly can to even the score. Mitt Romney heads into this round of voting with three victories under his belt. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have one each.

Ron Paul still searching for his first big win -- John.

KING: And, Wolf, our correspondents as always are covering all four candidates tonight.

Jim Acosta is at Mitt Romney headquarters in Denver. Joe Johns covering the Gingrich campaign.

Gingrich sending a clear signal tonight by moving ahead to Columbus, Ohio.

Jim, let's start with you. You're in Denver tonight. Is that -- Governor Romney think Colorado's his best hope?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we will see, John. Not everything has gone Mitt Romney's way today. There was a morning snowstorm that made Romney late for his one and only event of the day. He was actually forced to Skype from his campaign bus to the crowd waiting inside the event. But once he was able to get on stage, he sounded pretty confident he will win Colorado tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Don't be late to the caucuses tonight. That's the important thing. You guys make sure and be there and we're going to have a celebration also together tonight at -- is that Sarah Palin? That's -- look at that. There she is right there. Look at this.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: There are a lot of Sarah Palin look-alikes out here. They want to be. But, anyway, we're going to have a little celebration tonight in Denver I guess at the Hyatt. So if you get down there, we would love to see you.

I really appreciate the warm welcome we're getting on such a cold and snowy morning. I guess it took a long time to get the snow off the windshield of the bus. So it slowed us down. But it did not slow you down. I appreciate your willingness to be here and to participate in this process. Colorado's got something to say about who our nominee is going to be. And I think I'm going to be that nominee.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, for the record, Sarah Palin was not in that crowd. It must have been a look-alike.

But behind the scenes the Romney campaign released a strategy memo that laid out what it thinks is its path to the nomination. But in that memo, there was basically an acknowledgement that Rick Santorum, if you read between the lines, will win one of these contests tonight.

The memo also went on to predict a long haul to the nomination, basically saying that Romney is best positioned to win in states out West and even the U.S. territories. John, when a campaign is talking about winning the U.S. territories, you can bet it's probably going to be a bumpy ride to the nomination.

KING: They're clearly expecting a long road ahead. The one state they can't lose tonight would be Colorado. Governor Romney won big there four years ago. Jim Acosta will be with us all night from the Romney headquarters. Jim, thanks.

And Joe Johns is in Columbus, Ohio, with Speaker Gingrich.

And, Joe, does that in and of itself say that Speaker Gingrich is in a state that is not voting tonight that he expects to be shut out?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not that clear at all. But he certainly is a state that is not voting tonight.

And I think he's really just trying to get a leg up on Super Tuesday because frankly it's just so important for him, John. The strategy here really is for the speaker to try to amass a bunch of votes in Ohio and also a bunch of votes in the state of Georgia and then just sort of hold on until he can get back to some of the Southern states to try to replicate that big victory he had in South Carolina.

One of the most interesting things I have found -- this is Columbus, Ohio, and it will be the third stop of the day for him. He started out in Cincinnati, moved on to Dayton, Ohio. And in Dayton, that, of course, is the hometown of Wilbur and Orville Wright, who are the pioneers who are widely acclaimed for starting aviation, manned flight.

And Newt Gingrich there sort of chose that place as the opportunity to take some of his critics on who have gone after him so much for proposing a space colony on the moon. He even took on "Saturday Night Live" itself. Listen to sound bite.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: "Saturday Night Live" made fun Saturday night about the idea of a colony on the moon.

And I think that's terrific. And I think "Saturday Night Live" is a funny show. And my only challenge to them is when the colony is there, I hope they will come and broadcast from the moon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: So here he is trying to answer his critics in the state of Ohio. Newt Gingrich says he will be in it for the long haul.

But it certainly looks like it will be a very tough road for the former speaker of the House to try to get the nomination -- John.

KING: Joe Johns tracking Speaker Gingrich tonight in Columbus, Ohio.

Joe, thank you.

And Speaker Gingrich is scheduled to speak later in this hour. We will take you there when that happens.

Let's show you a little bit more about what we expect to learn tonight. First, we will go over to the magic wall and just show you the race so far. Excuse me for turning my back. We started with Iowa, went to New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada.

These three states voting tonight. We get more of a case in the Midwest. You see Santorum winning Iowa here. He's very confident in Minnesota and Missouri for just that reason, conservatives, evangelicals. He believes he will get one, maybe two wins tonight. Colorado, a state Governor Romney carried four years ago, it is critical.

Let me move over here just for a minute. This is our exit polling center. There's no entrance or exit polls tonight in these three states. But what we have done at CNN we will bring you is a compilation so far. We have gone through all the states that have voted already and collected all the data. How is the Tea Party voting so far? What do evangelicals think so far?

Throughout the night we will give you a snapshot as we move now into the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth contests of the Republican race. We give show you a snapshot of how the Republican electorate is feeling so far. And as always, we also have the best political team on hand.

Wolf, a big night. Missouri, for example, no delegates at stake, but a huge state for Rick Santorum if he can win that to try to make his case that he's the better conservative alternative than Newt Gingrich.

BLITZER: Yes. He's certainly counting on some sort of win. He needs it badly right now.

John, let's bring in Gloria Borger and David Gergen to assess what's going on.

Rick Santorum could have an upset tonight. That could set back Mitt Romney's sort of air of inevitability.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

What Rick Santorum is looking for is a win here. He really needs a win, Wolf. He's trying to prove in this race that he's the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, not Newt Gingrich. So if he has a win or two wins, both of which are possible, then he gets the bragging rights. And he can continue on and perhaps raise enough money and get enough juice to go on and compete in Super Tuesday and make the case about his conservatism.

BLITZER: Because a lot of people thought only a few days ago that Romney was going to coast in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, three states almost tailor-made for him.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This looks like a sleepy night, Wolf. I think a lot of us are wondering why are we going to Atlanta to talk about this tonight?

And here we are. It's a night of real drama. There's a real possibility -- especially if Rick Santorum were to win two out of the three, but if Santorum wins one and Ron Paul wins the other, that could very much upset the dynamic of this just before Super Tuesday. It would be the last big major political event before Super Tuesday. And that would cast a lot of questions, raise a lot of doubts about Super Tuesday.

BORGER: Right. And here's the other thing about Missouri. We talk about no delegates, beauty contest and all the rest. True. But it is the first time that you have Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney together without Newt Gingrich on the ballot. So without Newt Gingrich on that ballot, this is a test of Rick Santorum. Can he beat Mitt Romney and be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney?

So that's a race that's worth looking at for the future.

BLITZER: Let's not forget Ron Paul. He's got a devoted group of supporters. Next Saturday night, the Maine caucuses, I think he will do well in Maine.

And remember at the end of the month, Arizona and Michigan before Super Tuesday. So there's going to be some more moments here.

The question to you is this. Newt Gingrich, if he doesn't do anything between now and Super Tuesday, what does that do for him?

GERGEN: Well, he's got a debate, which could help him, in Phoenix with the CNN debate. But he's also going to be going into the South. And what could emerge...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: On Super Tuesday.

GERGEN: On Super Tuesday. And what could emerge from this is a regional pattern in which Mitt Romney is really strong in the Northeast and in Florida and in the West, that Newt Gingrich is really strong in the South, and that Rick Santorum is really strong in the Midwest.

That is a fractured party. That's a nomination that's up for grabs if that were to develop.

BLITZER: And it guarantees that this process keeps on going and going and going.

BORGER: Right. It does.

And what's interesting today is that the Romney campaign put out a prebuttal to what's going to occur tonight. Jim Acosta was just talking about it. And they talked about Newt Gingrich's Southern strategy.

And let me quote. They called it -- quote -- "a flight of fancy and not grounded in reality," because they say, look, he may do well in some of those Southern contests, but don't forget, it's proportional. So he's not likely to win even if he gets -- unless he gets 50 or 60 percent of the vote he's not likely to win winner take all.

So the Romney people say, we're the only ones with the organization and the money to march on.

GERGEN: But just a few days ago after Nevada, we said the cloak of invincibility is back on Romney. He once again looks invincible. He loses a couple tonight, we're in a new ball game.

BLITZER: Let me go to the White House.

Jessica Yellin is our chief White House correspondent. She is joining us right now in Washington.

Jessica, you look at these three states that are voting tonight, especially Colorado, this is a state that if President Obama's going to be reelected, he desperately needs.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He's counting on winning it, Wolf.

They argue that they can win the White House again without it. But you know he picked it up last time around. It's nine electoral votes. One of their maps says that they need to pick up 19 battleground electoral votes. And if they could just get, for example, Colorado plus Minnesota, or Colorado plus another state like North Carolina and Iowa, that could be the springboard that gets them to the White House.

It's going to be a hard win for the president because he's lost some of the support there that he gained at the last -- four years ago. But we're going to see a lot of the press -- I'm going to be spending a lot of time in Colorado covering the president, let's put it that way, in the next year, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know they will be watching what happens tonight, not only at the White House, throughout Washington, but also in Chicago at the Obama reelection campaign -- John, back to you.

KING: And, Wolf, also watching is Ron Paul. He's counting on doing quite well tonight. But what if he doesn't? I will ask him about the possible threat to his campaign and his message.

And will Newt Gingrich be able to win even just one more state? Well, the best political team's take on that question is ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The Texas Congressman Ron Paul has always said his campaign would fare better in the caucus states. And yet he was a disappointing third place on Saturday in Nevada.

So how does he view the stakes tonight, as three states vote?

We spoke just a bit earlier.

The congressman was in Minnesota.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Senator Paul is with us now.

Sir, the three contests tonight -- Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota -- does Ron Paul think he has a chance to win in any of those three states?

PAUL: Well, we're going to win some delegates. Whether we're going to come in first or one, two or three, I don't know exactly that. But we feel positive about moving along and picking up more delegates. But we'll have to wait and see how many.

KING: If we wake up Wednesday morning, though, eight contests will have been held in the Republican race for president by then.

If Ron Paul is zero for eight, meaning no wins, what would that say about your prospects of actually winning the nomination?

You're certainly having an impact on the race and you're certainly getting delegates, but if you're zero for eight, are you a viable candidate to win the nomination?

PAUL: Well, it depends on what happens for the next 52. I mean 42 states, you know, there will be a lot more primaries to go. So -- but, obviously, you do have to start picking up. And -- and we have some others. We are optimistic we're going to keep picking up delegates. That's what the other ones are doing. Nobody else is, you know, about, to this moment, jump ahead of Romney.

But I will tell you what, we -- we think we're going to keep -- keep doing this. And we have a very good chance on what's happening on -- up in Maine.

KING: As you campaign across the country, one of the things you say at every stump speech is that if you're president of the United States, you'll get much more serious about the deficit. You say you will cut $1 trillion in the first year in office.

Ben Bernanke, a man with whom you often disagree, the chairman of the Fed, has been testifying before Congress in recent days. And has been asked this question, essentially, at a time of a fragile recovery, how quickly can you cut?

And his focus has been, yes, deal with the deficit, but be careful.

Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: Well, we need to at least avoid doing harm. I would say do no harm is an important piece of advice I would offer you. so there is -- there is a -- a balancing act.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What he's trying to say there is don't cut too much too soon.

Do you agree or disagree? PAUL: Well, I would question the credibility of the chairman. I mean go back and look at what he said in '06, as he was moving into becoming chairman. He said don't sweat it, people. The markets are great. There's no housing distortions, no bubbles. And he -- he's not been very good in predicting and warning us about anything. I mean he -- he was around when the NASDAQ bubble was about to burst. He didn't warn Greenspan at the time.

So I would say that be careful in using him as your expect witness.

KING: Let me ask you what a President Paul would do, if you were president at this moment, about a couple of world hot spots.

Number one is Syria. The U.N. Security Council, because of a veto by China and Russia, did not pass a resolution the Obama administration wanted, putting more pressure on President Assad.

The president of the United States has said he believes Assad should step down. You've seen the reports and the videos, I'm sure, of the killing and the bloodshed, a government killing its own citizens.

PAUL: Right.

KING: What would a President Paul do about that right now?

PAUL: Well, that problem has been going on for many, many years, if not centuries, bad governments. Look at what they did. The communists killed millions, hundreds of millions of people.

So it's a tragedy and it happens in Africa all the time.

But I'm not representing those countries as a congressman and as a president, I represent the United States. And I don't think it's a wise thing to get involved in the civil war that's going on in Syria. That would cost money. It would cost lives. And it would -- it may -- may well spread.

And already, because we are agitating, we're already very much involved, trying to get the U.N. to do this and that. And the -- the Russians now don't like it and the Chinese don't like it. So what should be a domestic civil war is now turning into an international crisis and the Russians and the Chinese are reacting to us by pushing this.

I think it's none of our business. I think it's a tragedy, but I can point out many tragedies manyfold greater than this. But it's not in American interests. now, as president, if there was a crisis like this and it was building and somebody was making the case, oh, no, it's in America's national security, I would go to the Congress. I wouldn't go to the United Nations or NATO.

I would go to Congress and say, do you think this deserves a war?

If it does, you declare the war and we'll go to war, fight and win it. But to assume that we have an automatic obligation to be over there, I think, is a very dangerous thing to assume.

KING: And what would you do about the current situation unfolding in Egypt?

They say 19 Americans who were working for pro-democracy groups, assisting the citizens of Egypt, trying to build political parties and the like, Egypt wants to put them on trial and prosecute them for meddling in its in affair -- affairs.

What would a President Paul do about that?

PAUL: Well, I think we should do everything conceivable, you know, diplomatically, to get our people out. But, obviously, we have to look at this in the context of how this came about. We propped up Mubarak for 40 years and tens of billions of dollars, and I think it was close to $50 billion, which meant that it was an artificial situation.

So now the revolt and the blowback comes from this, that there's a revolt against our puppet dictator.

And who's taking over?

People who don't like us and who hate Israel.

And this is backfiring on us. Our intervention, our propping up of Mubarak, is coming back to haunt us.

But as far as the people he's holding, we should do everything conceivable, diplomatically, to get them out of there.

KING: Appreciate your insights on this important night.

Three states voting tonight.

We'll check the results and then, sir, we'll see you this weekend in Maine.

Take care, sir.

PAUL: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Ron Paul there.

We're waiting now to hear from Newt Gingrich at an event in Ohio. No, it's not voting today but it's a state critical to his stop-Romney strategy.

And with that in mind, I will do the delegate math. Does the former speaker really have a viable path to fight all the way to the convention?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: You're watching a special edition of JOHN KING, USA, three contests tonight in the Republican presidential race, caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado and a primary in Missouri.

This could be a good night for the underdogs, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.

More politics in a moment.

But, first, Wolf Blitzer is here with the latest on the crisis in Syria -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a situation that's horrible right now, John. We have been watching a bloodbath in parts of Syria today, people dead in the streets, even children. At least 35 civilians reportedly were killed. More casualties in the brutal crackdown by the Bashar al- Assad regime.

I spoke about that earlier today with the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You're being seen around the world, including in Damascus, right now. I want you to look into the camera, as you are, and assume you're speaking directly to President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

What would you say to him?

SUSAN RICE, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: I would say the United States stands with the people of Syria fully and unequivocally in their aspirations for peace, for democracy and for a brighter future. Your days are numbered. And it is time and past time for you to the transfer power responsibly and peacefully. The longer you hang on, the more damage you do yourself, your family, your interests and, indeed, your country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's go to CNN's Arwa Damon. She's covering this crisis from Beirut.

Arwa, a powerful message from the U.S. government, but can the people in Syria actually hear these kinds of very strong words from a top U.S. official?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the issue, Wolf, is not whether or not they're hearing it, but what sort of impact it would actually have.

And, unfortunately, this is not the first time that we have been hearing harsh rhetoric by various U.S. officials. The U.S. has for quite some time now been calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step aside. And that has proved to be entirely fruitless. People inside Syria want to see the U.S. take even harsher action. They are tired of rhetoric. They are tired of people trying to push forward diplomacy and debate. They say that the time for talk is finished.

When it comes specifically to America, activists want to see the U.S. even go so far as to provide medical and even perhaps military support to the opposition, because they say the window for dialogue is closed. And the window for peaceful resolution, well, that closed a long, long time ago, unfortunately, Wolf.

BLITZER: The U.N. says more than 7,000 people, mostly peaceful protesters, are dead, tens of thousands injured or arrested or simply disappeared or have become refugees right now.

Here's the question. Without a dramatic improvement in assistance from the outside world, how much longer can they continue?

DAMON: Well, we keep asking activists, residents of various areas, the opposition that very same question, and they say that they will continue until the death, because they quite simply do not have another choice.

But if we see the status quo continue, you can be pretty much assured that eventually, at the end of the day, the Assad regime could possibly end up wiping out every single voice of dissent. That being said, at the same time, we are seeing the Free Syrian Army growing in strength, growing in the areas that it is beginning to control.

So the other option would be a very, very long and bloody, slow movement towards a civil war. But at the end of the day, unless there is very harsh action, the situation for Syrians is going to be incredibly dire, not to mention the repercussions that are going to be felt throughout the entire region.

The unfortunate conclusion, though, at this stage in the uprising, given everything that has transpired, is that there is going to be no peaceful resolution to Syria.

BLITZER: We're going to be updating our viewers in the United States, Arwa, and around the world every hour. This is a dramatic story, a lot at stake right now.

Arwa, we will check back with you.

In the meantime, John, let's go back to you.

KING: And, Wolf, we will get back for now to our election coverage and the two candidates who are watching very closely tonight -- we're watching very closely tonight, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.

Dana Bash is covering the Santorum campaign. She is in Missouri. Shannon Travis is with Congressman Paul in Minnesota.

Dana, I want to start with you.

You could say, I believe, that this is the most important night of the Santorum campaign.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

And the Santorum campaign, they wouldn't deny that. In politics, the goal is to set expectations low. It's pretty hard for the Santorum campaign to do that, because they understand how critical tonight is.

They say inside the Santorum campaign that they don't really know how well they're going to do. They don't pay for polling internally. There are no reliable public polls. But they're pointing to the way Mitt Romney has been acting and the fact that he has set his sights on Rick Santorum, the Kennepark (ph) polls as evidence that they're going to do fairly well.

Also, say -- Santorum advisers tell me that their Web site traffic is very -- is very high. Anecdotally, they believe that is a good sign for them. They've got big crowds at Senator Santorum's events. They believe that tonight is the night where they can set the perception that they can be a viable alternative to Mitt Romney and not Newt Gingrich.

Listen to what Senator Santorum said earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Romney's been able to bully his way through this primary, outspending opponents on average about 5 to 1, and been able to win by outspending. But he's not inspiring. He's not painting a vision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now John, this -- this whole idea of how important it is tonight, look, they say that everybody's been asking the Santorum campaign, and the senator himself, what's the path to victory? They say that February, the month of February is about perception and momentum, and they are hoping that that starts for them tonight.

KING: They need at least one. We'll see if they can do more than that. Dana Bash, the Santorum campaign in Missouri tonight.

Let's move over to Congressman Paul headquarters. He's in Minnesota tonight. And Shannon, I spoke to the Congressman earlier today. I tried to get him to say after a disappointment in Nevada does he need a win tonight? He wouldn't go quite that far. Take us inside the Paul strategy.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL REPORTERS: Yes, the Paul strategy. And I heard that interview that you had with him, John. It is delegates. He mentioned that to you, is to rack them up and try to blaze a path to the nomination.

Now, is that realistic for Dr. Paul? A lot of people say no. So what's the next step? Possibly having those delegates wield a lot of influence at the convention, the Republican convention this summer. That could also be part of Dr. Paul's strategy.

But I just got off the phone with the Paul campaign a short while ago, and here's something new. In this auditorium later on tonight, we expect a lot of people, perhaps even hundreds, maybe even 1,000 as I've been following him. He's been having large crowds. How will they turn those crowds into votes? As you mentioned, he's 0 for -- he might be 0 for 8 going into -- after this caucus.

The campaign tells me that part of their strategy going forward is to have Dr. Paul actually show up at some of the caucus sites to try and convince voters right there on-site to caucus for him. That's why he's going to a caucus site tonight. It was an unplanned visit, something they put on the schedule at the last minute, John.

KING: Up close and personal campaigning. Shannon Travis tracking the Paul campaign. I suspect you're going to head over to that caucus, as well. Keep in touch with Shannon all night as we watch. Congressman Paul says it's about delegates. Eventually you need a win.

Wolf, we can go back to you. That's one of the big challenges here. There's no doubt Congressman Paul is having a big impact on this race. But Santorum has won, Gingrich has won, Romney has won a few. The question for Congressman Paul is, is he going to break through?

BLITZER: You know, you need a lot of delegates, 1,044 delegates, in order to get the Republican presidential nomination. So it's still relatively very early in the process. We've got lots of questions about what happens tonight and in the weeks to come in this Republican presidential race.

Who better to try answer these questions than the best political team on television? Here's our first question. Will the GOP race go all the way to the convention in Tampa at the end of August? Only one of our panelists says yes. Let's find out who that panelist will be.

Let me, first of all, introduce all of our analysts who are here once again. Roland, of course, Roland Martin is here; Donna Brazile; Ari Fleischer; Erick Erickson; Gloria and David, of course, are here, as well.

Will the GOP race, Roland Martin, go all the way to the convention?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I recall sitting here just three days ago. And all I heard from the folks in the room was, Mitt Romney is in the driver's seat. Everybody else has fallen back. Oh, my goodness, the race is almost over. And I said things can change very quickly.

So what's happening? Here we talk about Santorum possibly winning tonight, how that could change his campaign. We do not know what is going to happen. The voters have the final say so. This thing is going to keep going. There'll be more surprises, and we'll be sitting here saying, "Man, how did that happen?" BLITZER: Will the race go all the way to the convention, Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, I would love it to go all the way to the convention, Wolf. Because I think it would -- there's nothing better that I enjoy doing than hanging out with Ari and Erick, of course.

But on the other hand, I do believe as a strategist that Mitt Romney understands that, while he may lose a couple of contests between now, Super Tuesday as well as between Super Tuesday and when New York and Pennsylvania, there's no question that he'll probably have enough delegates to wrap it up sometime by the middle of April.

BLITZER: What do you think, Ari?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There's only one scenario that gets you a convention that is meaningful, contested in August. And that's if Newt Gingrich were to end up the frontrunner going into it. Because then you'd see everybody in Washington doing their best to block Newt Gingrich from becoming the nominee. Outside of that, no.

And this is typical. Races do go through February. They do go into March. There is absolutely nothing different about this year and the length of the race so far this year from any previous year.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I want it to, because I'm just not excited about any of the candidates all the would love to go find a new guy at the convention. It's not going to happen. Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee. I still think that's what's going to happen.

I do think, though, that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich bang him up enough when he gets to the convention he's going to make some serious compromises particularly with who he picks for his vice- presidential choice.

BLITZER: Let me ask David and Gloria. David, first to you. Will it go all the way to Tampa?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know. I think it's unlikely it will go all the way to Tampa. I think this is less about delegates than about psychology. At some point the party is going to basically settle on someone. And before the full delegate count, first (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or maybe after this. I think someone will have it before the Tampa.

But I do agree with Ari on one point. I don't think this is typical in one sense, and that is the longer this has gone on, the more it is apparent that it's hurting Mitt Romney against Barack Obama in the fall. And that does not always...

KING: Hold your thought. Let me get to Gloria.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I want to see what happens in Tampa. I mean, that's what's really interesting to me. For example, if Newt Gingrich amasses a certain number of delegates, if Ron Paul amasses a certain number of delegates, what are they going to get in return? I mean, there's got to be some kind of deal going on. Is it a prominent primetime speech by Ron Paul or by Newt Gingrich? Will their delegates have some say in vice- presidential choice? Will they have to play to those delegates? I mean, that's -- that's what's going to be very important.

And I agree with David. I do think this is different. Because these candidates are meaner and nastier than even John McCain and Mitt Romney were to each other in 2008.

BLITZER: Well, let's let Ari -- Ari, does a long, drawn-out process hurt Mitt Romney, assuming he gets the nomination?

FLEISCHER: I don't believe this has been a long, drawn-out process.

BLITZER: If it goes all the way to the convention?

FLEISCHER: If it goes all the way to the convention, chances are that will be hurtful, because the only one, I think, who has the possibility of taking it there is Newt. That would be a civil war in the Republican Party.

But here are the dates. Mike Huckabee didn't drop out until March 4, four years ago when John McCain won. John McCain didn't drop out until March 9 against my old boss, George Bush. Bob Dole didn't drop out until March 29 against George Bush 41. And George Bush 41 didn't drop out until May against Ronald Reagan.

BORGER: It's what they say. It's what they're saying to each other.

FLEISCHER: Bush, of course, said of Ronald Reagan "voodoo economics." When you're in the middle of it, it never feels good. And then all of a sudden, it's over and people look back and say, "We are so energized. We now have a chance to beat Barack Obama."

I think that's the big drive of this cycle. And there's a potential that it could become even messier for Mitt Romney, but I don't see it yet.

MARTIN: I don't think Newt's going to be saying those things.

BRAZILE: History suggests that Republicans like to clean up their nomination process very early. On average, they take about 50 days. It's been what, 35 days. So I think in -- the last time, I mean, they don't do well in long, contested primaries. We do much better, because Democrats know how to fight and then we lick and heal our wounds. Republicans sort of keep their wounds open and therefore it's very difficult for them to get independents and other voters in the poll.

ERICKSON: I think there's a difference to Ari's point citing Reagan-Bush or even Bush-Dole in '88 or McCain-Bush in 2000. There's no love rapport (ph) except you had this interesting dynamic of bringing to the Gallup poll this time, where Reagan, all those people were the frontrunners. But the second choice was acceptable. And for the people who were voting for second choice, the first choice was acceptable.

In this case you have this interesting dynamic where the first choice isn't acceptable to still a majority of the party. And while he probably will be the nominee, that's the problem for him. The Bush people, they really liked Reagan.

BLITZER: I know, Donna, you said Democrats like to fight and lick their wounds. Not always, if you remember. You may not be old enough to remember Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy. They fought. They didn't exactly kiss and hug when they made up. That hurt Jimmy Carter.

BRAZILE: That was before I turned 21.

BLITZER: You probably don't remember -- you don't remember that race back then.

All right, guys. Stand by. Newt Gingrich is promising a fight to the bitter end. We're taking a closer look at the battle for delegates from here all the way to the convention in Tampa. We're going to find out why the ad war also in Minnesota has been different than any place else. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado voting tonight. Newt Gingrich doesn't expect to win any of those states. Already he has skipped ahead to a big Super Tuesday battleground. He's speaking right now live in Columbus, Ohio, moments ago talking about a big judicial decision today out in California. Let's listen in.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You couldn't have a Catholic university, a Catholic hospital, a Catholic institution that would not have secular rules imposed on them by the Obama administration.

Now, this becomes ultimately a question of what kind of country are we? And ironically, people came to America to escape religious persecution from governments that sought to tell them whether or not they could worship God. And now you have an administration seeking to tell us what it means and what we're allowed to do and what we're not allowed to do. And that's why this is a very, very important election.

But it's also an important election in terms of how do you create jobs. You know, the unemployment numbers went down last month. And you'd think that was good. Until you learn that the No. 1 reason the unemployment number went down is that 1 million 200,000 people dropped out of the workforce. Literally aren't looking for work. So under the Obama model, if all of us quit looking for work, we would have zero unemployment. You know, I mean, you can't make this stuff up. The prime minister of Canada apparently is about to go to China. Now, why is he apparently about to go to China? Because he's looking for a reliable partner to build a pipeline to get oil out of central Canada and to get it to the ocean. And he's found that Barack Obama is an unreliable partner. And can you imagine an American president so short-sighted that he would drive Canada into a partnership with China? Yet that's what Obama is doing.

And that's why the Keystone Pipeline decision was such a terribly destructive decision. Here was an opportunity to create 30 to 50,000 new construction jobs and to have 50 years of processing Canadian oil in Houston, Texas and Galveston, Texas and have the ports ship the oil. So there was work for Americans for the next half century. And it increased our energy security by giving us a pipeline to bring Canadian oil into the United States.

And instead, to take care of some environmental extremists in San Francisco, the president turned the whole thing down. Apparently, the environmentalists thought if they could stop it from coming through the U.S., they would stop it. In fact, the Canadian prime minister said almost immediately, "We'll just work out a deal with the Chinese, build it across the Rockies, and go straight to Vancouver. But the United States can't stop us from getting -- exporting our oil."

Now, this is the sort of destructive, short-sighted behavior Obama does regularly. And it's an enormous problem. I think this is the heart of the campaign. This is going to be...

KING: Former House speaker Newt Gingrich speaking in Columbus, Ohio, dedicating most of his remarks so far to criticism of President Obama. We'll see if he brings up any of his Republican rivals. He's not in a state voting tonight.

Anderson Cooper has joined our coverage. And Anderson, if Speaker Gingrich is not in Colorado, Missouri or Minnesota, does he expect to go 0 for 3 tonight? And if he does that, can he come back in Ohio and beyond?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Right. And also it's interesting to watch him speak. His wife Callista is by his side. There's been a lot of talk just in the last couple weeks about the difference between Callista Gingrich, how sort of she manages her role, and Ann Romney. We're seeing Ann Romney a lot now, introducing her husband on the campaign trail.

BRAZILE: You know, what's interesting is that Ann Romney is -- is like a surrogate. She's there to not only help to paint a portrait of who Mitt Romney is, to fix it, turn around. I haven't heard her talk about his cooking schools yet, but that will come.

But Callista, you just looked at her. I mean, she just stands there very proper. Look, if you want to get to a majority of delegates in any contest, Republican or Democratic, you really need to go after the women's vote.

And since South Carolina, women have voted overwhelmingly against Newt Gingrich. He has a women's problem. It's very difficult for him in this race to get out and get women to trust him. And dealing with some of the internal issues that many of us maybe we don't talk about it. I'll talk about it. There's a problem with trust. Women don't trust Newt Gingrich.

MARTIN: I know Erick's wife does not like Newt Gingrich to come up. But Erik, isn't part of the issue here that if, talking about trust for the women, it's going to be hard to stand her out to say trust with women when they're looking at you saying, "OK, I can't forget the affairs."

ERICKSON: This is a problem that Newt Gingrich has not figured out how to overcome.

Ann Romney can speak, and I think it is an intentional strategy from the Romney campaign to continue to very subtly nuance, highlight this issue. That they've been married for a very long time. Newt Gingrich is on his third wife having left the first for the second and the second for the third.

What is her role? Her role within the campaign is engaged, apparently, but she does not speak. Unless they can humanize Callista Gingrich to female voters and have female voters meld to a degree with Gingrich, he's going to have a problem.

COOPER: Why, then, is she standing by his side while he speaks basically everywhere? They don't want her -- they feel she puts some people off, because she was having an affair with him for, I think, a number of years while he was still married to his wife. Why have her stand next to his side?

ERICKSON: I think this is part of a process that they have never completed on connecting her as the wife. And having outreach to female voters, which hasn't gone anywhere with the campaign. They're going to have to do this. That's the only explanation I can give for why they would do something like this.

MARTIN: I think it's hard, though. I think it's hard if she's not there with all the -- "Hey, with your history. I don't see your wife. All of a sudden, I'm thinking stuff."

COOPER: Gloria? BORGER: ... wants her there. If the candidate -- you know, I mean, that's sort of the bottom line with these kinds of things. If the candidate says, "I want my wife standing to my side everywhere I go," then that's where she's going to be.

And I think the problem for Newt Gingrich is that wives, if they're not the candidates themselves, can sometimes serve the purpose of softening the rough edges of a candidate, like Newt Gingrich, who is a really a -- very much a tough candidate.

COOPER: Do you think she's -- do you see her softening?

BORGER: No. No, no, she does not. And that's the problem. Because they don't let her have a speaking role. And they don't let her have a speaking role, because they don't want to remind voters of the past history.

FLEISCHER: But when you analyze Newt Gingrich's campaign, you have to focus on one fundamental truth. It is an unconventional campaign. It's all about him singularly. He's the strategist. He's the mastermind. He figures out what he wants to do. He is running so far in front of his coverage. He has very few blockers, and he's 20 yards down the field from them.

So the things that typically are done in a campaign, that's just not Newt world. Newt world is Newt. That's about it.

GERGEN: Donna is right that Newt does not do well with women. He has a women's problem. I don't think the evidence is in about -- as to marriage.

Newt is also very bombastic. And he -- just his tone, the way he conducts himself, will drive women away. And I don't think we know. I think the -- Callista is not exactly a silent person. She speaks at a lot of events. I've been to events where she's spoken.

BORGER: I've been to one to where she read children's books.

GERGEN: Exactly. But I've been to things where she's actually talking about the films and the world they live in (ph). But it's the nature of that relationship. They go everywhere together. They are -- they are not more than three feet apart any time you ever see them.

I want to go back to Mitt Romney, because I think that's actually the more important story here. They're doing what I think has been a very smart strategy of putting her out more. She does so much to bring warmth to his events. And he has had -- he doesn't have a women problem. He just has a warmth problem; he has an empathy problem. Even though I know who he is, she gives testament to someone -- if you're married to a woman like this and she is so warm and wonderful, maybe there's some warmth in you. I think it's been helpful.

BORGER: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Anderson, you go back to 2000, Gingrich had a problem with women. Suburban women did not like him, did not like the policies. And then-Governor Bush came with compassionate conservatives, and they said, "We like that better than Gingrich." They lost the House as a result of not liking how he treated minorities. The poor, suburban women said, "We didn't like it." So his issues with women go back...

FLEISCHER: They didn't lose the House until 2006. They kept the House in 2000. But your point is still well made about Newt and the issue.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: Right. Especially among independent women. Independent women are more tolerant. And I think some of his language, this tone, the way he -- even tonight when he's talking about the president's so-called war on religion. No. Most women see it as a war on women's health. They don't see it as a war on religion.

So I think he has a problem with independent women, especially in some of these primaries where independent women can caucus with either party. And he also has a problem in capturing married women.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry, go ahead.

FLEISCHER: The flipside of this, when you look at Romney, Romney's cooler presentation, less bombastic style is more attractive to independents, women, groups that aren't rock-solid Republican. His problem is the rock-solid Republicans.

The interesting thing is, if he wins the primary, does this give him an opportunity in the general election that other Republicans would not have? That's the big general election question.

COOPER: We'll see if -- when Governor Romney speaks tonight, if Ann Romney does introduce him as she has many other nights, John. That's one thing of the things we'll be watching for.

KING: An important point to the conversation you're making there, because we'll be watching these three important state tonight. We're also going to look ahead to the fall election and what it takes to win. This is the 2008 map. Tonight's contest will give us clues about the fight for 2012 electoral votes, and will the Tea Party help or hurt the eventual Republican nominee? Well, we're polling our best political team. Their answers ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Three states voting tonight. You can see right here from the clock, caucuses start in Minnesota in just over an hour. The polls will close in Missouri about that time. Colorado in the west votes a little later than that. They're having important caucuses tonight, to Republicans for president. That's the choice tonight.

But we watch these states tonight: Minnesota, Missouri, Colorado, all battleground states in November. So as we watch to see who the choices are for Republican tonight, we can also look ahead to the fall campaign a bit.

This map's probably familiar. This is when President Obama, then-Senator Obama, beat Senator McCain 53-46 in the nationwide vote. The blue is the electoral map. It was a blowout in the Electoral College, President Obama winning quite handily.

We asked the "Best Political Team," look at this map and decide which states will be in play this time. We know the map won't be as favorable as it was in 2008. Here's the electoral projection right now from the "Best Political Team."

If you see the states in yellow -- maybe they look gold at home -- we're calling those toss-up states. So red states are states our team thinks will go reliably Republican. The blue states are the reliably Democratic states. As you see here, you need 270 to win. Our analysts have Obama down to 182 with the Republican nominee down to 159. So what are the key battlegrounds? If you look through this tonight, Colorado votes tonight. That's on this list. Minnesota votes tonight. That's on this list. Missouri is on this list, as well.

And I'm going to do something here. I'm going to add my choice to this. Missouri is a state President Obama lost last time. His team is not really counting on it. If things change, they would compete. But for the sake of argument, I'm going to give Missouri, for the conversation, to Republicans, and I'm going to bring our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, into the conversation.

And Jess, I have the map right here. Help me. If you're reflecting, reporting from team Obama looking at this map, how do they get to 270?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think they'd give themselves Minnesota pretty easily, John. And I think that -- blue, there you go, and I think...

KING: That's Wisconsin. Look at that. See, I don't know my own map. I think they'd give themselves Wisconsin, too, but I'm going to take it away from them for now.

YELLIN: I think that they'll concede that that's going to -- they're going to have to work for Wisconsin. They -- they're going to have to fight for Colorado. Colorado, as you know, has -- a third of the vote there is independent voters, a third Democratic, and a third Republican. So, their real swing vote is the fight for the independents there.

Nevada is going to be a big fight. They think that they can win Iowa.

KING: OK.

YELLIN: So, I think you can give them Iowa.

KING: I don't know if I'd give them Iowa. I'm going to give them Michigan. I'm going to give them Michigan, and I'm going to give them Pennsylvania just because of history.

YELLIN: You're giving them Pennsylvania.

KING: I'm going to give it to them just for fun. Just for fun. I'm going to give Republicans Indiana here. And you see Obama, 228/180 right here as this plays out. So as you can see, it's interesting. This is a hypothetical. If you live in these states, you're probably saying why is he doing this. But this is why these states matter so much.

Colorado, in particular, voting tonight, will be a key, without a doubt, a big fall battleground state. We know that.

And Jess, let me ask you this. Arizona, John McCain won that last time, of course. He was the nominee. Democrats, the Obama team, think they can play there this time?

YELLIN: They are insistent that they can because of the surge in registered Latinos there. And they're convinced they can. I don't talk to many outside operatives who are as persuaded as they are, but they plan to invest a lot of resources in Arizona, John, and fight to win it.

KING: A fascinating night to watch not only for the Republican race but also looking ahead to the race for 270 in the fall.

Stay with us all night long. Our coverage of "America's Choice: 2012" continues.