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CNN Election Coverage of the Maine Caucuses; Maine to Announce Winner Soon; CPAC Straw Poll Results Come Out; Sarah Palin Speech at CPAC Makes Clear She's No Romney Fan; Ron Paul Themes Absent from CPAC; Ron Paul Expecting Maine Win or Strong Showing; Potential for Brokered GOP Convention; Rick Santorum Discusses Campaign Going Forward; Michelle Obama Discusses Campaigning, Balancing Roles of Wife, Mother, First Lady.

Aired February 11, 2012 - 17:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our special coverage of the Maine caucuses. I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington.

Tonight, we are tracking two big events on the Republican calendar and our political A-team is here, John King, Gloria Borger, David Fromm, Donna Brazil and David Gergen. In Maine, the caucus results expected in a little bit, less than an hour from now.

Our political reporter, Shannon Travis, is over at GOP headquarters in Portland, Maine. Our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is over at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference that is under way here in Washington. We will have the results of the Maine caucuses as they come in. Stand by for that.

Right now, I want to go to Shannon Travis over at Republican headquarters in Portland.

Shannon, set the scene for us. We are getting ready to see potentially a winner in Maine tonight?

SHANNON TRAVIS: That's right. Let me first add I may have the toughest assignment of the night. I'm at a party sponsored by the Maine Republican party. I'll have my cameraman pan around here. Some of the people are just filing in. We expect possibly a few 100 enjoying a little bit of food and drink. But this is important business. They are going to be announcing the results right here. Going to have my cameraman swing over to the podium behind there. Charlie Webster is the chairman of the Maine Republican party. He'll step up to the podium in under an hour and announce who won these caucuses, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney. The two of them are the two who have been actively campaigning here. Not so much Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.

Romney and Ron Paul campaigned in Maine today. This is Mitt Romney's first time campaigning in Maine this cycle. Earlier, I was at a caucus site both attended, Romney and Ron Paul. Take a look at some of the caucus goers I spoke with -- Wolf?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRAVIS: We continue to show you democracy in action taking you inside the caucuses. This one here in Sanford, Maine. Behind me, a caucus leader is explaining the process and taking care of some local issues. After that, the people will separate to different tables and groups and talk person-to-person, neighbor-to-neighbor about this, in particular, the presidential preference survey ballot. There are no names of candidates on here. You write in who you want, who you prefer.

One person we know who his preference is, is Mark here.

Mark, you were in the Army before.


TRAVIS: You were telling me your history.

UNIDENTIFIED MAINE RESIDENT: I voted for George Bush twice. I voted for Barack Obama and am now supporting Ron Paul.

TRAVIS: What would you say to anyone who says it's a strange voting history?

UNIDENTIFIED MAINE RESIDENT: I would say my understanding of politics is evolving and the Ron Paul message rings true to me.


TRAVIS: Wolf, that was earlier. Two other really quick points. The Ron Paul campaign says they think if this could come down to less than 100 points, that could be effective. In Washington County, they canceled their caucuses due to weather -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Shannon, stand by. We'll get back to you.

Shannon Travis, on the scene for us in Maine.

I want to go to that CPAC straw poll that has just come out. On the one hand, it's only a beauty contest. On the other hand, it shows who is the favorite of a critical part of the Republican base. Listen to this.


TONY FABRIZIO, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: For you CPAC attenders, the results are a little bit different.


FABRIZIO: It is the same order of finish, but Governor Romney does a couple of points better.



BLITZER: The results, Mitt Romney got 38 percent; Rick Santorum, 31 percent; Newt Gingrich, 15 percent; Ron Paul, 12 percent.

Dana Bash is over there.

You've been speaking to folks at this conference. Blunt question, why did they choose Mitt Romney?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, for the most part, anecdotally, the people I talked to, who said they support Mitt Romney, did it because they say their number-one goal is to beat Barack Obama, and they feel he is the best to do that. But I can tell you that this is no surprise. There is a relief in Boston at Romney headquarters that he won here. He's got to do everything he can to get his momentum back after such a bad week last week losing those three contests.

But when his win was announced here, it got mixed results. There was cheering and some booing. He excites some people, but maybe not a lot of people. That is what Romney people I talked to say this was announced say they find the business so important. It is symbolic. They are hoping there is a ripple effect out to conservatives out in the country who say maybe conservatives should take another look at him.

BLITZER: Dana, the former Republican vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska, she just spoke over at the conference where you are right now. Did she give us any indication where she stands as far as the winner, the CPAC straw poll is concerned, Mitt Romney?

BASH: I think, yes. It was not a very positive statement she made. It wasn't direct. She didn't say his name, but it was certainly clear she was aiming this at Mitt Romney. She said we need somebody who can instinctively turn right. It's too late to teach that or spin. I was talking to one of her supporters who said she stuck her stiletto in and twisted it. She made it clear she is not a fan of Mitt Romney.

But for the most part her speech was focused on Barack Obama. She did rip after rip on some of his most famous lines, yes, we can, hope and change. Here is one example of the way she riled up the crowd.


SARAH PALIN, (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR & FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president says small Americans, small-town Americans, we bitterly cling to our religion and our guns because we're just doggone frustrated with his pace of change.


PALIN: You say, I say, we say, keep your change, we'll keep our God, our guns, our Constitution.


(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: The other thing Sarah Palin said here, she thinks competition is good. She sort of went against the grain for people who say that they're worried about the Republican primary fight going long. She said, that's fine, if there is competition, it will make the nominee, whoever it is, the best. She said. at the end, whoever the nominee is, everybody should support them to defeat Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Her husband, Todd, endorsed Newt Gingrich. She's come close, but SHE hasn't gone that far.

Thanks very much for that.

Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here, with our CNN contributors, Donna Brazil and David Fromm. Also joining us from Boston, our senior political analyst, David Gergen.

David, I was surprised Romney won the CPAC straw poll. I thought Rick Santorum, who has surge going right now, he would have won.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You talking to me, because there are two David here?


GERGEN: Fine. I was surprised, as well. Mitt Romney has won this in the past. He won 2007, 2008, and I think 2009, then Ron Paul won it two years in a way. So it's not a predictive poll. I thought, given the sag we've seen with Romney, all the talk about conservatives rejecting him, that they would go elsewhere. They would pick a, quote, "true conservative," not a, quote, "moderate Massachusetts governor." I do think while this has very little real significance, it's a significant psychological boost for him. If Romney were to win in Maine tonight, as well, that will change the storyline as we go forward.

BLITZER: I'm sure it will. He's got to beat Ron Paul. We'll see what happens.

Gloria, were you surprised?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST; I was surprised, particularly since a lot of Republicans were scratching their heads at Mitt Romney's speech when he called himself a severely conservative Republican governor. Lots of people, not sure what severely conservative means.

Maybe you can tell us, David Fromm.

But I also think this may reflect what we've been seeing in all the polls in every primary, every caucus, which is that Republicans want somebody they consider to be electable. When it comes to electability, Mitt Romney does well. This is a conference held in Washington. These are people who want to take power. Maybe they decided to go for the person they thought was the winner.

BLITZER: If it was with Maine tonight, that would be significant. DAVID FROMM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think the CPAC win is more significant. This is a serious organizational challenge. CPAC has a new chairman. Al Cardin (ph) is the former Republican chair in Florida. Not David Keen (ph), who is a Washington lobbyist connected to more of the traditional conservative movement.

The Campaign for Liberty people weren't there. You could see the Romney people didn't organize in 2010 or 2011. But when they needed to organize, they had a friend at the top, they got the organization done. The panels were arranged in ways, Ron Paul themes were not there, the Campaign for Liberty people were suddenly discouraged from taking over the whole thing. This may be a model of the way this larger race will go.

BORGER: Romney reached out to conservatives, as well, in small groups, which is something he hasn't done in the past.

BLITZER: Were you surprised, Donna, Newt Gingrich came in a distant third among this group?

DONNA BRAZIL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No. I think Newt Gingrich campaign is on life support. He needs a win. After South Carolina, people thought he could consolidate the conservative base. He's having a hard time consolidating them, especially now that Rick Santorum won three times over the last couple of days.

Look, Mitt Romney had his surrogates out in full force at the CPAC convention. He had his activists working the crowd. I'm not surprised he won CPAC and I won't be surprised if he wins the main caucuses. After all, he carried 51 percent of the votes for years ago.

BLITZER: We'll see how Ron Paul does. I suspect he will do well in Maine.

Guys, stand by.

One presidential hopeful, hoping for his first win. Another trying to recapture his lost momentum.

We are waiting the results from what we're calling the Maine event. Our reporters are on the scene.

And my interview with Rick Santorum after his stunning triple-header success this week. What does he expect in Maine and beyond?


BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures from Republican Party headquarters in Portland, Maine. We expect, in about a half hour or so, to get the results from the Maine caucuses. You'll hear it live here as our coverage unfolds.

I want to stay in Portland, Maine, over in Ron Paul headquarters. CNN's Mary Snow is standing by. They need a win, the Ron Paul campaign. So far, they haven't had a win, but they potentially could get one tonight. Is that what they are expecting?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are expecting to be very close. But supporters here tonight, Wolf, are saying they feel it is very important that there is a win for Ron Paul to gain momentum in what would be his first victory in a presidential contest. Ron Paul has campaigned here more than anyone else. He's been appealing to Libertarians in the state and young voters. Earlier today at a caucus site, he says he believes he has a good chance of winning.


REP. RON PAUL, (R), TEXAS & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Seems like the supporters always seem to come through. We can't compete dollar to dollar, of course, with Governor Romney, but our supporters are very generous. So far, they've always come through when we need them.


SNOW: I just talked to the campaign a short time ago. They are expecting this to come down to the wire, saying, potentially, it could come down to fewer than 100 votes, possibly even fewer than 20 votes -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary, stand by.

Shortly after the results come in, I'll speak live with Ron Paul here, as well. Stand by for that.

The former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, isn't worried about the real possibility this Republican contest could go all the way to the GOP convention in Tampa at the end of August. Listen to what she told Peter Hamby a while ago.


PALIN: I don't think that it would be a negative for the party, a brokered convention. People who start screaming that a brokered convention is the worst thing that could happen to the GOP, they have an agenda. They have their own personal or political reasons, their own candidate who they would like to see protected away from a brokered convention. So anybody who starts saying, can't allow that to happen, that's part of competition. That's part of the process, and it may happen.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our own John King.

John, a lot of folks are saying it may actually happen, even though it hasn't happened in a long, long time, a brokered convention. What are the prospects of that? JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is unlikely, Wolf, because it hasn't happened in so long. You have to go back to 1940. Is it possible? It is.

Let's look at the map. Maine is voting today. Maine is the ninth state to vote in this process. Michigan and Arizona will round out the month of February. By the end of this month, we'll have 11 states. This is about delegates if you're campaigning. Most nomination battles are not about delegates. Somebody gets momentum early on and wraps it up before this number, 1144, comes to play. But Governor Romney stumbles a bit. Maybe Speaker Gingrich recovers. Maybe Rick Santorum keeps his victories.

Let's give it up. Let's assume -- I talked to Romney people in Maine. They are confident they'll get a win tonight, a close one. For the sake of argument, let's say Ron Paul gets his first win tonight. It changes the delegate math a little.

I'll jump ahead a little bit. We'll go through some states quickly here. First we show where the contest goes from here. Michigan and Arizona close out February. Let's assume Governor Romney wins them. Again, Gingrich, Santorum all competing hard in Michigan. Let's for this scenario do this, then you come in March 3rd, I'll give that to Ron Paul. Then, Super Tuesday, you see a bunch of states that are all over. Some in New England, Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee, some southern states, Oklahoma, more out to the west. Split them up. Santorum wins some, Gingrich wins some, Romney wins some. If you keep flashing through this way, this is what happens. If Santorum can stay viable, Gingrich start winning in the south, I'll bump ahead all the way to the convention. If that played out all the way -- Wolf, again, hasn't happened in our lifetime, unlikely to happen this time -- but given the nature of this race, is it a possibility? Sure. If Santorum is winning in the Midwest, wins his Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, Gingrich is strong in the south, Romney wins in the west and New England up here, he's on the ballot in Virginia, Santorum and Gingrich are now, you could get to a scenario something like this. Romney gets to the convention, 800 or so, 900 delegates, short of 1144. Gingrich in the 450, 500 range, Santorum in the 600 to 700 range, it could happen. Then you get to the convention and you'd have interesting negotiations and deliberations, my friend.

BLITZER: I've even heard some folks say if that were to happen, someone like Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, he could emerge over the convention in Tampa and win this convention. I guess that's theoretically possible.

KING: If you go back to the pre-cable-television, pre-television days, when these things were possible. What would happen, if you got to a convention with these candidates, Governor Romney would try to win? He would try to talks somebody into giving up his delegates, try to negotiate. Maybe he'd try to offer the vice presidency to somebody. If that didn't happen, yes, then you throw it open. You have a couple of ballots and nobody wins, then the rules allow new names to be put into nominations at some point. Then it's anybody's bet. I want to stress unlikely, hasn't happened in our lifetime, but given the volatility of the race and the dissatisfaction with Governor Romney in some circles and the see-saw between Gingrich and Santorum as the alternative to Romney, some people look at the map and say maybe this is the year.

BLITZER: You heard Sarah Palin say maybe it is, as well.

Thanks, John. Don't go too far away.

Within a half hour, we'll get the results of the Maine caucus. We're standing by too for that. You'll see it and hear it live on CNN.

After a stunning success in the week's Republican triple-header, Rick Santorum talks about his chances in Maine and the contests that lie ahead. That's coming up.

And Michelle Obama makes some candid comments about campaigning and balancing her roles, as wife, mom, and first lady.


BLITZER: We're getting ready to hear the results of the Maine caucuses. You're looking at live pictures. Expect the results within the next 20, 25 minutes or so. We're standing by for that. Who will win in Maine? Stay with us.

Rick Santorum certainly is surging after this week's triple victory. In my "SITUATION ROOM" interview with him yesterday, I asked him about how he feels about his prospects in Maine and beyond. Watch this.


BLITZER: Which states, looking down the road, are you looking at to win in the coming weeks, Senator?

RICK SANTORUM, (R), FORMER PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you know, obviously, we were in Oklahoma yesterday and that's a Super Tuesday state and we feel very good about that. We like our chances in states like Tennessee, and North Dakota, for example, are a couple other states. We'll compete very vigorously in Ohio, Michigan. And frankly, we're planning to compete sort of across the country. Obviously, we're probably not going to make any trips to Massachusetts but, other than that, we'll be campaigning throughout the country.

BLITZER: And Maine, you don't expect to do well tomorrow night?

SANTORUM: Well, no. We're up there. We're working. I made a couple visits earlier in the year and, you know, we're working hard up there. We've got a good team of volunteers that are helping us. Obviously, that's not necessarily my backyard, as we saw from the results in New Hampshire, but I think we might do better than expected.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much.

SANTORUM: My pleasure, Wolf. Thank you.


BLITZER: Let's bring back our analysts.

Gloria, first to you.

He seemed to get himself a little bit in trouble this week when he suggested that maybe women aren't ready to serve in combat roles in the United States military. He's been walking back a little bit from that. But in my interview he almost doubled down.

BORGER: It's interesting and it's funny you used that phrase. When I was out on a campaign trail with Santorum, over and over again, he'd get himself in trouble with gay marriage and then he'd double down. He doesn't back off the controversy. In fact, he courts it. And I think that's part of his appeal to conservative voters because they feel he believes these things, and he's not going to back down in the way that other candidates have changed their positions. but in terms as a general election candidate, I think things like women in the military and position on gay marriage, et cetera, could hurt him with Independent voters.

BLITZER: What do you think, David Fromm?

FROMM: Not doubling down. Doubling down isn't the theme of this week. and the Republicans wandered in a battle over contraception and health care that, at first, showed potential to help Republicans, in that it had a theme, that the administration is not sensitive to religious concerns, but that's widened because the Republican response is to introduce a bill to allow all employees, Catholic, non-Catholic, to deny contraception coverage to anybody for any the conscientious reason. Suddenly, we're not talking about the rights of the Catholic Church anymore. We're simply talking about the contraceptive issues, not a good thing to be talking about, because I think just about everybody's in favor of it.

BLITZER: Hold on for a moment. While the Republicans certainly are in the middle of a very rough-and-tumble campaign, the Democrats, including the president of the United States, are stepping up their re-election efforts. And now Michelle Obama, the first lady of the United States, is talking openly about whether she'll hit the campaign trail.

Let's go over to the White House. Our correspondent, Brianna Keilar, has more.

What is the first lady saying, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is something that the "Wall Street Journal" reported. Michelle Obama has been on the road for a couple of days promoting her Let's Move initiative on its anniversary. She said, "My approach to campaigning is this is the time that I have to give to the campaign, and whatever you do with that time is up to you, but when it's over, don't even look at me. Don't look this direction. No calls, no anything." So very interesting, Wolf. She's drawing the line there. Of course, it's been reported before, Michelle Obama is someone who definitely guards her time with her daughters for sure. But she's also one of the president's best surrogates. She's very popular, much more popular -- her approval rating is much more higher than President Obama's. Of course, Wolf. But she's saying she's going to be drawing the line.

That said, on the anniversary of this initiative, we've been seeing a whole lot of her lately, she's been on "Ellen" Jay Keno, Jimmy Fallon, and she's even talking to, answering viewer questions that will appear on our web site on Monday -- Wolf?

BLITZER: She could potentially be a great asset for the president on the campaign trail. And as you say, she probably will get pretty busy out there just as, whoever the Republican nominee will be, I assume, his wife will be pretty busy as well.

KEILAR: Yes, she'll be very busy. One of the things she was talking to reporters about was that she empathizes with a lot of people who perhaps have been frustrated with her husband, that she will actually be validating some of those concerns, but sort of, as well, painting her husband as someone who is calm, is sort of looking forward at the long and sort of a long road, even though there have been some frustrations along the way that she'll validate -- Wolf?

BLITZER: I assumed some of the aides to the president, maybe even the president, are getting ready to watch the results in Maine. They're pretty interested in what's going on.

KEILAR: Yes, of course. I think more than anything, obviously, the Maine caucuses even a lot more for the Republican candidates. but this is something of course that the campaign certainly always keeps a close eye on -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar, at the White House, thanks very, very much.

We're only minutes away from getting the results out of the Maine caucuses. Stay with CNN. Our special coverage continues right now.