Return to Transcripts main page


Rick Santorum Under Fire; Jeremy Lin' Rise to Fame; Syria's "Orphan Revolution" Hangs On; Interview with Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham; Time For U.S. To Arm Syrian Rebels?; Egypt Charging 19 U.S. Aid Workers; What's Next In The GOP Race; Santorum Surges Ahead; Houston Gravesite Opens To Public; John Glenn Marks Mission's 50th; The One Who Saw Lin Coming

Aired February 20, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now: Rick Santorum, the Republican front-runner of the moment, under a very hot spotlight, called on to explain some rather controversial remarks about President Obama, theology, abortion, even a reference to Nazi Germany.

Also, Syria's orphan revolution. The world unwilling so far to come to the rebels' aid. Now two U.S. senators say it may be time. I will talk this hour with John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

And nobody saw the sudden amazing rise of Jeremy Lin, except for one FedEx delivery driver in a small Oregon town.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Mesa, Arizona. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

They are numbers that may have to be making Mitt Romney rather nervous right now. And they are certainly catching the attention of the Obama reelection campaign. We're talking about the latest polls that show Rick Santorum at the front of the Republican presidential pack.

Take a look at this Gallup tracking poll number that has Santorum 10 points ahead of Romney nationally among registered Republicans. Even with the sampling error, Santorum is the front-runner in this poll. But that position comes with an extra bit of scrutiny and Santorum is now being called on to explain some rather controversial remarks from recent days.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us now.

Jim, what's going on with Rick Santorum and his campaign right now?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, even with the stunning poll numbers, Rick Santorum has spent the last couple of days making white hot comments about the president and touching on sensitive social issues. It's a reminder of the label of culture warrior that Santorum has worn proudly throughout his career.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (voice-over): Lately, Rick Santorum has sounded more fire and brimstone than a play-it-safe front-runner warning a crowd in Georgia against sitting idly by on Election Day as America did in the years leading to up its involvement in World War II.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We think, it will get better. He's a nice guy. I mean, it won't be near as bad as what we think. I mean, you know, this will be OK. I mean, oh, yes, maybe he's not the best guy, and after a while you found out some things about this guy over in Europe and he's not so good of a guy after all, but you know what? Why do we need to be involved? We will just take care of our own problems.

ACOSTA: Asked whether he was comparing the president to Adolf Hitler, Santorum said, flatly, no. But before that, at another event, the rising GOP contender appeared to call the president's political belief system a kind of theology that wasn't quite Christianity.

SANTORUM: It's about some phony ideal, some phony ideal, some phony theology, oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology, but no less a theology.

ACOSTA: Obama reelection campaign spokesman Robert Gibbs, who said the president's political team now takes Santorum seriously as a potential GOP nominee, called the comments part of a Republican race to the bottom.

ROBERT GIBBS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the idea that Rick Santorum could be the nominee is a very real one.

And, obviously, we're looking more at what Rick Santorum is talking about and what he's offering. He made some comments over the past few days that I think question people's character and question people's faith. And I don't think that belongs in our politics.

ACOSTA: In his own Sunday talk show appearance, Santorum denied he was questioning the president's faith.

SANTORUM: I wasn't suggesting the president's not a Christian. I accept the fact that the president is a Christian.

ACOSTA: And he defended his view that health insurance companies should not be forced to cover prenatal care because he says it leads to more abortions.

SANTORUM: Yes, prenatal testing, amniocentesis does, in fact, result more often than not in this country in abortion. That is a fact.

ACOSTA: Santorum claims that prenatal care is designed to find abnormalities in the womb. A staunch opponent of abortion rights, Santorum often points to his daughter with a rare genetic condition, Bella, as a living defense of his opposition on issue.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: A Santorum spokesman he says the GOP contender can separate his personal beliefs from public policy. The question is how voters will respond to this latest tough talk from Santorum. More comments like the ones he made over the weekend may have Republicans asking, how hot is too hot -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And he's sort of doubling-down on these comments, Jim. He's not backing away as far as I can tell from any of them.

ACOSTA: That's right, only the comparison with World War II. He says flatly he was not making a comparison with President Obama and Adolf Hitler.

And I also talked to a Santorum spokesman, Hogan Gidley, who also said that Santorum was talking about Washington, the way Washington works. He says that they're taking people's liberties away in Washington and that's what happened over in Europe, not a comparison with Adolf Hitler, according to the Santorum campaign, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, Jim Acosta reporting.

And you just heard in Jim's piece Santorum's controversial remarks about prenatal testing. We're doing a serious fact check on this entire subject and Lisa Sylvester will report in our next hour.

The super PAC backing Mitt Romney is responding to the Santorum surge the same way it did when Newt Gingrich rose to the top of the polls, flooding the airwaves with attack ads.

Our senior correspondent, Joe Johns, is covering the campaign right now. He's with Mitt Romney in Cincinnati.

What is the very latest on this front, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if the campaign has really learned anything after all this time, it is that they make progress when they get aggressive. And here in swing state Ohio today, the Mitt Romney campaign pretty much came out swinging.



JOHNS (voice-over): In more than one way it was business as usual for Mitt Romney in Cincinnati, selling his experience in the private sector, going after the latest contender to zoom to the top of the polls.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the people I'm running against, Senator Santorum, goes to Washington and calls himself a budget hawk. And then after he's been there a while, he says he's no longer a budget hawk. Well, I am a budget hawk. I don't want to spend more money than we take in.

JOHNS: At a small business event, Romney appeared with Ohio Senator Rob Portman, a former U.S. budget director under George Bush who is often mentioned as one of several Republican vice presidential contenders. I asked Portman about that, but he wouldn't go there.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: I'm happy representing these folks in Ohio.

JOHNS (on camera): Would you take it if he offered it?

PORTMAN: You know what he's going to need when he gets elected is people in the United States Senate.

JOHNS: Frankly though the immediate question is not about running mates. It's still about who will be the party's nominee for president, and to that end, the Romney campaign is creating deja vu all over again in the Super Tuesday states, as well as Michigan and Arizona.

Just like the Florida primary, a flood of advertising from the Romney campaign and the pro-Romney super PAC hits the next states up on the campaign calendar, $2 million this week in the Super Tuesday states, plus almost a million in Michigan, where the candidate grew up. The super PAC ads hit Santorum hard as a Washington insider.

NARRATOR: Romney rescued the Olympics.

NARRATOR: Santorum was in Washington voting to raise the debt limit five times.

JOHNS: No accident that there are already questions whether Santorum's surge to the front of the pack could have occur too early, questions whether he peaked too soon, with Michigan and Arizona not even scheduled to vote until the 28th of the month, still time for a change in the race.

Could Santorum take a fall like Newt Gingrich did in the Florida primary?

FORD O'CONNELL, GOP STRATEGIST: The difference between Santorum and Gingrich though is that Santorum doesn't have as many holes in his record, so the pressure really is on Romney right now to either show some passion, or come up with a compelling message because this isn't about records. This is about the fact that Mitt Romney is not giving conservatives a reason to vote for him.


JOHNS: Mitt Romney attends a fund-raiser here in Ohio tonight and then he heads back to the state of Michigan to continue working there. A lot of hopscotching right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: And it looks like that strategy that they used to really beat back Gingrich in Iowa, later in Florida, as you say, that's the strategy that they're going to use in Michigan right now, a little less here in Arizona. They're more confident about Arizona, the Romney folks, than they are Michigan.

JOHNS: It certainly looks that way.

BLITZER: Joe Johns on the scene for us as usual, thank you.

Despite the bitter contest, the Republican candidates are united in their attacks an President Obama and the sudden spike in gas prices is giving them a brand new weapon.

Our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is joining us now from the White House.

Brianna, what's the latest on this front? Because potentially it could be a significant weapon against the president.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And , Wolf, the White House and the Obama campaign is bracing for a continued assault on this issue, not just from Republicans out on the campaign trail, but also from congressional Republicans.

We know from a House Republican source that Speaker Boehner told his House Republicans last week this is a debate they should welcome especially while they're on recess and they will making the case for increased drilling. On the campaign trail, especially looking toward Super Tuesday, you're seeing some of the Republican presidential hopefuls really make this case as you see these -- some of these prominent energy states going to be in play on Super Tuesday.

Listen to what Rick Santorum said, blaming President Obama for high gas prices and the effect that it has on Americans who are already struggling.


SANTORUM: All of a sudden they're going to be hit with the same force of wind that hit us in 2008 in the summer that caused us to go into a recession, all because of the radical environmentalist policies of this president.


KEILAR: Now, the Obama campaign, the White House, they're pretty confident with their defense. They say, Wolf, and you have heard them say this about economic issues before, control what you can control. They look at Iran and say they can't control that but we have done things that we can control.

The payroll tax cut extension, they point to that, putting more money in the pockets of Americans so they can afford higher gas prices. They point to the fuel-efficiency standards and the actions the president has taken and that's during his administration. And they also point to the fact that domestic oil production is the highest that it's been in 10 years, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, I have covered a lot of presidential campaigns and there's a history of presidents getting hit on this specific issues with isn't there, Brianna?

KEILAR: There is, Wolf. It doesn't matter if they're a Democrat or if they're a Republican. If you take a look, we can kind of take you back to March of 2004 when John Kerry was hammering President Bush as he tried to unseat him over gas prices. He was in San Diego, where gas prices were about $2.15. Of course, we'd love to see that , but it was high at the time. Listen to what he said.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I will tell you what, if the gas prices keep rising at the rate they're going now, Dick Cheney and George Bush are going to have to carpool to work.


KEILAR: So channel that frustration and this is a tactic that as I said has been used by Democrats and Republicans. And, Wolf, I should tell you that there's a sense in the Obama campaign and at the White House that the big concern, while they are concerned about gas prices, obviously they're much more concerned about that unemployment number, especially when gas prices tend to recede in price after the summer.

BLITZER: Yes, one of the problems, though, if the gas prices keep going up so might the unemployment number because there could be a correlation. More expensive energy, less jobs.

All right, thanks very much, Brianna, for that.

Just days before the Arizona primary election, the GOP contenders will face off in the Arizona Republican presidential debate. That's here in mesa, Arizona, Wednesday night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN. Our own John King will moderate the debate.


BLITZER: A look at a side of the Syria fighting only CNN can bring you.

Just ahead: the men behind the Syrian opposition.

Ivan Watson takes us to the countryside where farmers, carpenters, university students are waging war against a brutal dictatorship.

Plus, the U.S. is trying to keep Israel from taking action against Iran.

Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator John McCain, they're my guests this hour.

We will talk about whether or not that's a good or a bad idea.

And on a very different note, Jeremy Lin's unbelievable rise to fame.

Just ahead, you are going to meet the man who predicted it years ago.


BLITZER: Potentially pivotal meeting plan at White House.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on, Lisa?


Well, mounting tensions between Israel and Iran are no doubt high on the agenda when President Obama hosts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. The White House announced that the two leaders will meet March 5th. Netanyahu will be in Washington to speak to the annual policy meeting of a pro-Israel lobby.

Israel has made clear it considers Iran's nuclear program enough of a threat to warrant an attack on its infrastructure. The U.S. has advised Israel against it.

The death toll from Friday's suicide bombing at a market in Pakistan's tribal region climbs with each passing day. A government official now says 40 people are dead from the blast. Dozens more were wounded.

It happened in a town about 180 miles west of Islamabad. Someone riding a motorcycle entered a festival crowd after prayers and detonated the bomb.

And chaos at a prison in northern Mexico has left 44 people dead and 30 inmates on the lam. Federal and state police around the facility in Nuevo Leon where rioting erupted yesterday. The local governor says the 30 escapees are member of the Zetas drug cartel. The prisoners directors and 18 guards are been removed and are under investigation.

And in northern California, two pilots -- they managed to survive a midair collision. Shaken but not badly hurt. It happens Sunday evening when a helicopter clipped a small plane. A federal aviation spokesman said the chopper went down near Rio Vista, between San Francisco and Sacramento. The plane landed about 20 miles to the south. One fire official says it was lucky for everybody involved.

Pretty amazing when you consider everything, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very lucky, indeed. Amazing, you're right. Thank you, Lisa.

It's been 17 days of unrelenting shelling by Syrian forces on opposition strongholds in the Syrian city of Homs. CNN cannot verify the authenticity of this YouTube video but it demonstrates the pounding neighbors into the besieged city are said to be taking.

The opposition movement, with few arms and no sign of serious international support, is a poor match against the well-equipped forces of Syria's Bashar al Assad regime.

CNN's Ivan Watson got a first-hand look at Syria's so-called "orphan revolution."


IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Meet Syria's armed opposition -- a handful of men on a hillside, leading prayer by a masked cleric.

"God grant us victory over the sinners," he chants. "Make us victorious over the family of Assad."

Bravery against a 40-year dictatorship from fighters who are little more than boys.

(on camera): This is a rebellion of farmers, carpenters and university students. The men here describe themselves as members of the Free Syrian Army. But it would be much more accurate to call them an impromptu village guard. Many of them are defending these olive groves that surround their community with little more than hunting shotguns.

(voice-over): The men guarding the entrance to this opposition- held town, don't have enough guns or ammunition. The commander is a former Syrian army general who defected six months ago. Like many of his fighters, he covers his face for safety.

He calls Syria's 11-month-old uprising "the orphan revolution", because unlike the revolts in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen, he says, the Syrian rebels haven't received any foreign support.

With no outside help, the men of this community turned to a higher power.

Friday prayers in a packed mosque in the rebel-held town of Benish. Condolences for a man killed by a sniper's bullet in the nearby city of Idlib turned into a full-throated roar of Allahu Akbar, "God is great."

The crowd marches into the town square and performs a weekly ritual of defiance against Bashar al Assad. There's no Syrian government presence in this town but Assad's tanks are never far away.

"HUSSAM", RESIDENT OF IDLIB PROVINCE, SYRIA: They are one kilometer away from here.

WATSON (on camera): The Syrian army?

"HUSSAM": Yes, Syrian army.

WATSON: Will you fight if the Syrian army comes here?

"HUSSAM": Yes. We were here for 10 months and it was peaceful. But now, there is no other solution.

WATSON: You have to fight?

"HUSSAM": Yes. We have to fight, lose our lives -- maybe lose our lives.

WATSON: Not everyone shares the spirit of defiance. Abed el Mena'am spends his days taking care of the flock of pigeons he breeds on his roof.

"These are hard times for the whole country," he says. "It's too dangerous to travel outside of town because you don't know who you could meet on the opened road. And if you leave, you may never come back."

Trapped at home while his birds fly free, Mena'am waits for what many here feel inevitable, a Syrian civil war.


BLITZER: And joining us now is CNN's Ivan Watson who just filed that report.

Ivan, first of all, glad you're safe and back in Turkey out of Syria. But here's a question: how much control does the Syrian government really have over the northern province of Syria that you were in?

WATSON: In Idlib province, the Syrian government is facing an insurgency, Wolf, that the Syrian government has a network of military bases. It's got tanks. It's got attack helicopters and air power and troops. But they seem to be staying largely confined to their bases.

Meanwhile, we drove through village after village, town after town, where the opposition had set up road blocks at the entrances to their villages and towns. They had blocked roads with either sandbags or piles of dirt and they were controlling what was taking place inside their towns. There were no government officials to speak of in the towns that we visited.

The residents are terrified of the power of the Syrian military, knowing that they can't really fight back if there was a full-fledged assault. But the fact of the matter is, there's some kind of uneasy stalemate with deadly skirmishes taking place throughout the countryside between the two assailants -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ivan, thank you. Ivan is fortunately back safe in Turkey right now. We'll stay in close touch.

Here's a question, though, should the U.S. be arming Syria's rebels? Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, they say, yes. It may be time to start seriously considering that. They're coming up next right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're reporting today from Mesa, Arizona, the site of Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate.


BLITZER: Almost 9,000 people have died since the uprising in Syria. And now, there are calls for the Obama administration to help the rebels.


BLITZER: And joining us now from Cairo, Senator John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham.

Senators, thanks to both of you for joining us. Lots to discuss.

But I want to start with Syria first. Very much on the minds of a lot of folks. Are you both saying that the United States should now start arming the opposition to President Bashar al Assad, the rebel forces in Syria?

Senator McCain, first to you.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: What we're saying is that there should be no option left off the table. The massacre goes on. There's risk of stalemate.

Hezbollah is in Iran -- excuse me, in Syria. The Iranians are there. The Russians are supplying with arms. And the massacre goes on.

There's lots of ways of getting weapons and assistance to the resistance there besides the United States direct shipment of arms. There's a contact group that the United States is joining with in Tunisia this Friday and I believe they need medical, technical and all kinds of assistance and every option should be on the table, including the way to get weapons to them.

I would remind you that we intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo because massacres were taking place. A massacre is taking place in Syria today and with all options need to be on the table.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, General Martin Dempsey, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he raised some concerns, saying maybe this is premature right now in an interview with our own Fareed Zakaria. Among other things, General Dempsey said there's indications that al Qaeda is involved and that they're interested in supporting the opposition.

If the U.S. were to provide arms or others for that matter, friends of the U.S. provide arms, how worried would you be that they might get into the hands of al Qaeda?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, number one, I think it's in our national security interests to break Syria away from Iran. And I do believe that al Qaeda tries to fill vacuums wherever they exist.

But I don't buy the narrative that the Syrian people are risking their lives and that they're appearing on CNN every night -- your network is doing a good job -- to become a branch of al Qaeda. So, yes, I'm worried about al Qaeda trying to fill in vacuums.

I do believe as Senator McCain said, it's in our national interests to get Assad out. The Arab League has spoken boldly. The idea of trying to arm the opposition forces needs to be considered very much considered.

And at the end of the day, what happens in Syria really can change the course of the Mid East and I do hope we can break them away from Iran. But you know, General Dempsey is a fine man.

But when he said that he thought the Iranians were rational actors, I just want to go on record. I don't think it's rational for a country to try to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador in a restaurant in Washington.

I don't see what Iran is doing is being rational. I see it as being dangerous and so that's why we need to make sure Syria ends well.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, let me follow-up on Iran for a moment because it looks now like the U.S. is trying to discourage Israel from launching any sort of pre-emptive military strike to try to take out or weaken Iran's nuclear potential out there.

Comments from General Dempsey now Tom Donalin, the president's national security adviser is in Israel meeting with Israeli officials. What do you know about this? Is this smart to try to discourage Israel right now from taking military action?

MCCAIN: Look, Israel understands very well what the threats to them are, to very existential threats to the state of Israel is and that is a nuclear armed Iran.

So I think that their judgment is going to be made on their view of what the threat is. Obviously, we want to avoid, if at all possible, every means possible, that -- to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon, but as the president of the United States or Barack Obama said, Iran with a nuclear weapon is unacceptable and I'm sure the Israelis feel the same way. And after all, they're probably the first target.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, let me get to Egypt. You're in Cairo right now. Why are you upbeat that the Egyptian government will release, will allow these pro-democracy workers, including the son of the U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray Lahood, Sam Lahood, to get up and leave the country? What makes you upbeat about this?

GRAHAM: Well, I've talked to people here and we talked to the Muslim Brotherhood and this is definitely a work in progress, you know, when the Muslim Brotherhood did well in the elections and it caused concern for me.

But we had a meeting today and they said the NGO law they want to change it because when they were in the opposition standing up against Mubarak, these laws were used to oppress them. We talked with the head of the Egyptian military today.

We have a valuable relationship. The aid we provide is important. When you talk about rational, I think people are beginning to understand that the charges against these organizations are not fact-based. They are politically motivated.

John McCain is the head of IRI. Madeleine Albright is the head of the NDI. These organizes are not trying to divide up Egypt and over time, this is calming down a bit and I don't know the outcome, but I do know this.

It is in all of our interests to get this episode behind us. These people have done nothing wrong in my view. The Egyptian legal system is moving and I'm optimistic that rationality will take over and the relationship between us and Egypt is important.

I know we're broke at home. I'm willing to invest American taxpayer dollars in Egypt if it will help to stabilize this region and created a democracy in the ashes of kind of an autocratic regime because what happens in Egypt really does matter to us.

BLITZER: And Senator McCain, you know, there are some who believe that there are elements in Egypt right now who are simply itching for a crisis, a rupture, if you will in the used to be strong relationship with the United States.

In order to allow them, if you will, to serve their peace treaty with Israel, are you among who sees that conspiratorial theory underway right now by the actions, the recent actions of the Egyptians?

GRAHAM: I think that there are groups and individuals who hold every view in Egypt today, but I believe the majority of their parliament who we met with today and the majority of their military do not want to see an aggregation of the treaty with Israel and as you know, that's what triggered the aid we've been extending to Egypt ever since as a Camp David accords.

I don't think they want to see that. They're consumed with their own internal problems. Huge debts and deficits, shortage of hard currency, unemployment, I want to tell you, Wolf, they have their hands full with their domestic challenges that they have today.

BLITZER: Senators McCain and Lindsey Graham, thank you.

He's the new frontrunner, so what does Rick Santorum need to do here Wednesday night at the CNN Arizona Republican presidential debate?

We're going to talk about that and much more with Donna Brazile and Will Cain, they're standing by live in our "Strategy Session."

Plus, meet the real-life money mall genius who predicted the rise of Jeremy Lin two years ago. He's not what you'd expect.


BLITZER: In just two days, the final four of the four remaining candidates will face off right here in Arizona at the Arizona Republican presidential debate, a beautiful day here in Mesa, Arizona.

And as our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley reports, the stakes for each of them have never been higher.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There are four things to watch in this week's dessert debate, they are --





CROWLEY: The final four have not shared a stage in almost a month, not since Romney won Florida, Nevada and Maine. Santorum took Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado and Paul won, well, nowhere, depending on what your definition of "win" is.

PAUL: The bottom line is, who's going to get the delegates and we think we're doing pretty good.

CROWLEY: And Gingrich won also, nowhere.

GINGRICH: I've been frontrunner twice. I suspect I'll be the frontrunner again in a few weeks.

CROWLEY: Gingrich may have faded and Paul may have hit a sealing, but they have all suffered. The latest CNN/ORC poll shows Republican satisfaction with the field has dropped just over half of Republicans are happy with the field.

Arizona is a chance to shake things up. An oasis for Gingrich's regularly in debt campaign, an audience of millions for the price of a plane flight and a hotel room.

And debates are usually terra firma for Newt who has a jugular instinct and a way of channelling the angry, frustrated Republican right.

GINGRICH: I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.

CROWLEY: Much of Santorum once needed Gingrich to fall. Gingrich now needs Santorum to collapse under the weight of expectations for a frontrunner.

SANTORUM: One of the great gifts that I've had in my political career is that no one ever thinks that I can ever win anything. CROWLEY: There's not much room for error at the top of a pyramid and this will be Santorum's first time ever center stage. Where the frontrunner stands and gets pummelled.

Gingrich isn't the only one looking to push him. Ron Paul is traveling to Arizona, loaded for bear.

(on camera): Do you believe today, from what you see, that Rick Santorum can beat President Obama in November?

PAUL: I don't see how that's possible. And his voting record is, I think, from my viewpoint, an atrocious voting record. How liberal he's been in all the things he's voted for over the many years he was in the Senate and in the House.

CROWLEY: But like so many of the recent debates, angst is highest for the sometimes frontrunner, the almost frontrunner, the weak frontrunner, Mitt Romney.

Despite the wild ride that's been this campaign pundits still give the former Massachusetts governor the edge, but now he's in danger of losing his home state of Michigan holding its primary in a little over a week.

ROMNEY: That won't happen.

CROWLEY: Numerically, Romney could lose Michigan and still win the nomination, but the optics of a loss in his home state leads to uncomfortable questions, if he cannot connect there, if he cannot connect now where and when will he? He remains a main in search of passion.

ROMNEY: I served in government, but I didn't inhale. I'm still a business guy. That experience of slimming down, cutting, eliminating, I want to take that to Washington. I want to get my hands on Washington, D.C.


CROWLEY: The stakes are enormous, but not just because there's been no debate for almost a month. But because no more are scheduled before Super Tuesday, that big day in March when ten states hold contests.

So for Santorum and Gingrich, Paul and Romney, Arizona may be their last chance to make another impression. Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.

BLITZER: Rick Santorum surging ahead in the Republican presidential race, but can he keep it up? Donna Brazile and Will Cain, they are standing by live next. Our "Strategy Session" is coming up.


BLITZER: Joining me for today's "Strategy Session," two CNN contributors. The Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile in New Orleans and from New York, Will Cain, the columnist for

Will, let me start with you. Look at these new Gallup tracking poll numbers just out. I want to compare a week ago and now. Look at Santorum, a week ago, he was at 30 percent and now he's up to 36 percent.

These are registered Republicans. Romney has gone down from 32 percent to 26 percent. Gingrich has gone down from 16 to 13 percent. Ron Paul, gone up slightly from 8 percent to 11 percent.

Will, what does Santorum need to do Wednesday night at the CNN debate here in Mesa, Arizona, to keep this momentum going?

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, he needs to just keep doing what he's doing. What is that? That's the big question. Look, for the first time on that stage, Wolf, with you next week, he'll be the frontrunner. He'll be the prohibitive frontrunner and the question will be, how will he respond to that?

I think so far Santorum has proven to be a pretty adept debater and he's managed to cultivate an image of three things. He's now despite the protest of people like me over his economic populism or his tenuous relationship with the 10th Amendment, he's now seen as the conservative purist.

As such, he's secondly, the Mitt Romney alternative. He's the clear alternative at this point and now that he has won several states he's electable, making him the guy to essentially be the vote when you're not voting for Romney.

The tougher question to me, Wolf is what does Romney have to do? That's the hard question. How does Romney begin to attack Santorum? There's not a good answer for that.

BLITZER: Yes, Donna, the Democratic National Committee is now beginning to go after Santorum. They used to only go after Mitt Romney assuming he was going to be the Republican nominee, but they now see Santorum as a threat. Who's a bigger threat, in your opinion, Donna, to the president's re-election?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, I continue to believe that all of the above. We need to be prepared for any of the Republicans because I think the base is still on a shopping spree.

Rick Santorum is speaking their language this week, but you know, I'm under the impression that after a few licks and kicks from Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum may lose all of the shine and luster and next week, we might have even another frontrunner.

It might be Newt Gingrich again or Ron Paul. But right now, Rick Santorum is in the driver's seat. He has to assume that Mitt Romney is going to try to kick him out of the driver's seat and, of course, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul will also try to put brakes on his new-found momentum.

BLITZER: Is that realistic, Will, to think that Newt Gingrich, after Super Tuesday, there's going to be 10 races including in Georgia and some of the other southern states, that Newt Gingrich could get another bounce, if you will, get some new momentum?

CAIN: I think it would be incredibly stupid for me to say that's not realistic having watched this field for the next -- last eight months and seeing one guy after another rise and fall. In Newt Gingrich's case, rise again.

So I can't say that wouldn't happen. The issue is this, Gingrich or Romney is going to have to make it clear to the voters that Santorum is not the conservative purist he's played to be. That's a hard argument to make in this respect, Wolf.

You have to essentially explain that Santorum has been someone who's had a tough relationship with federalism. That he's empowered Washington, D.C. over the states. That does not lend itself to commercials and sound bites and easily digestible information for the voters. They much for easily see style and Santorum stylistically, sounds conservative.

BLITZER: I worry, Donna, should the president and other Democrats, be about this dramatic rise in the price of a gallon of gasoline? More than doubled since he took office and it looks like it's going to continue to go up certainly over the course of the summer?

BRAZILE: Wolf, as you know, there's a lot of volatility in the world right now and that plays a big role in oil prices. Domestic production is up. I don't know if it will have any impact object crude prices that we see now given the fact that Iran just stopped importing oil to two European countries.

But I think the president and the White House are focused on it. They know that we got to do more in this country to become energy independent. And we're not relying on foreign oil, but at the same time, we know that the Republicans will exploit it.

They're cheerleaders for pessimism so I'm not surprised that they're going to try to make this their new issue since the payroll tax cut has now been put aside.

BLITZER: Donna Brazile and Will Cain, guys, thanks very much.

By the way, coming up in our next hour, we'll have an exclusive interview right here in Mesa, Arizona, with the Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu.

Suddenly swept up in a scandal that forced him to resign as Mitt Romney's Arizona co-chairman amid some shocking allegations by a former boyfriend. Stand by. The interview in the next hour.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf. Well, if you are one of the 21 million people who have an iPhone 4, you could be in for some dough. When the iPhone 4 came out, Apple was blasted for reception problems. Well, now the company has settled a class-action lawsuit and you may be eligible for a free case or $15.

A mountain of flowers, notes and mementos and a steady flow of fans at the gravesite of Whitney Houston, Westfield, New Jersey, Fairview Cemetery opened to the public today after the late singer's private burial yesterday.

And 50 years ago today, John Glenn boarded a rocket to become the first American to orbit the earth. He went around three times. Now 90, Glenn said he remembers the mission like it was yesterday.


GLENN BECK, FIRST AMERICAN TO ORBIT THE EARTH: I guess, I've recalled it quite often over the past 50 years and that's kept it fresh, but it was such an impressive thing at the time that indelibly imprinted on my memory and I can recall those days very, very well.


SYLVESTER: Wow, John Glenn later went on to serve in the U.S. Senate and at 77, he returned to space in 1998, making him the world's oldest astronaut -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And a great hero, there's no doubt about that, as well. Thank you.

Rick Santorum says prenatal tests lead to more abortions, but can they save lives? We're doing a fact check for you.

And nobody saw the sudden amazing rise of Jeremy Lin coming except for one FedEx delivery driver. We're going to meet him that's next.


BLITZER: Jeremy Lin is a national basketball sensation seemingly overnight, but there's one person who actually predicted it. CNN's Jim Spellman reports.


JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From out of nowhere, Jeremy Lin and the ensuing Linsanity has taken the country by storm. But one man saw it coming, self-proclaimed stat head, Ed Weiland.

ED WEILAND, AMATEUR SPORTS ANALYST: This is my sort of my master database.

SPELLMAN: Armed with a laptop and a mountain of college basketball statistics, Weiland pours over kin details looking for future NBA standouts. In 2010, Jeremy Lin, a little known player at Harvard caught his eye.

(on camera): When you're analyzing Jeremy Lin as a college player, did you ever watched him play?

WEILAND: No, I didn't.

SPELLMAN (voice-over): Based solely on statistics like his ability to rebound, steal and block, Weiland wrote blog post proclaiming Lin to be one of the best point guards in college basketball.

At that time, no one listened and Lin wasn't even drafted. But now, he's the hottest player in the NBA, and among his fellow stat heads, Weiland is looking pretty smart.

(on camera): Do you look for underdogs?

WEILAND: Yes. I mean, when I led the 2010 preview off with Jeremy Lin, the idea was that, you know, I thought this would -- if and when he broke out, you know, that there might be some notoriety there, but I never anything expected like this.

SPELLMAN (voice-over): But the notoriety has come for Lin and for Weiland. Weiland is not the obvious sports analyst. He makes his living as a FedEx delivery driver in a small town in Oregon, far from the glamour of Madison Square Garden. He watches the Linsanity unfold on an old TV in his simple apartment.

(on camera): At the moment, you're both kind of the underdogs in your chosen thing?

WEILAND: Yes, we are, aren't we? Connected.

SPELLMAN (voice-over): Will they meet?

WEILAND: You know, I guess so. If it fits his and my schedule, yes, I'd love to. That would be fun.

SPELLMAN: Jim Spellman, CNN, Bend, Oregon.