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JOHN KING, USA

Gas Prices and Politics; Romney Campaigns in Michigan

Aired February 23, 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: Good evening. I'm John King.

Tonight, President Obama tries to head off anger over higher gas prices, insisting there's no silver bullet to get us back to $2 a gallon.

Also, Mitt Romney rushes from CNN's Arizona debate to his home state of Michigan, desperately trying to build momentum and overtake Rick Santorum in a must-win contest.

And what will they think of next? This high-tech ad can tell, get this, whether you're a man or a woman. See what happens after it decides.

We begin this evening with what you're paying at the pump. More. Gasoline prices jumped three cents a gallon just overnight to a national average now of $3.61. That makes 16 straight days of higher prices. And experts say we're heading for $4 a gallon gas by summer if not sooner.

President Obama sees the political warning signs and knows the attack's already coming. This afternoon in Florida he tried to stay ahead of the curve.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since it's an election year, they're already dusting off their three-point plan for $2 gas. And I will save you the suspense. Step one is to drill, and step two is to drill, and then step three is to keep drilling.

Anybody who tells you that we can drill our way out of this problem doesn't know what they're talking about, or just isn't telling you the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's take a closer look at the problem.

Our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, is with us now from New York.

Ali, oil is the obvious culprit, right?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And I brought the barrel out. You haven't seen this for a long time because we haven't seen this kind of a threat in the increase of oil prices, up $1.53 a barrel to end at $107.83.

That's for the oil that we buy here in the United States. That's not a huge increase. OPEC has sort of said that we want to keep oil -- or they want to keep oil at about $100 a barrel. But what we have seen is a faster than normal increase in the price of gasoline.

Now, what's that got to do with? It's got to do with a lot of things. The threat from Iran, the fact that Iran has stopped selling its oil. Europe has stopped buying its oil, what could happen to the Strait of Hormuz. It has to do with demand in the world, and it has to do with supply. But it's a bunch of different culprits. What it's doing is it's causing gas to go up faster than oil. That is threatening this economic recovery that we're in the middle of, John.

KING: In terms of the political debate, Ali, anything a president, the Congress, any politician can do in the short term to lower gas prices?

VELSHI: Not really in the short term. We have seen the president release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Preserves. It has a minimal effect for a short amount of time. Ultimately, this is a long-term problem, a supply problem and demand problem in the long term in the United States.

We also have all sorts of regulatory issues that prevent us from getting more drilling done. That's something that the Republicans are going to talk about. But a claim that you can bring oil -- a campaign promise to bring oil down to $2 a gallon doesn't seem to be something that's within the reach of most presidents unless they're able to trigger a recession.

That will do it. That will bring gas down to $2 a gallon or lower.

KING: As always, smart perspective, our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi.

Ali, thanks.

Let's take a closer look at what Ali is talking about here. We use the wall to lay it out. Number one we show you the region where the tension is with Iran. One-fifth of the daily oil trade comes through the Straits of Hormuz. That's one of the reasons prices are going up. Tensions in the region here. How does that play out back home? That's what we just were talking about here.

Let's take a look at oil prices. Watch right now, as we said, $3.61 a gallon on average now, up three cents just from yesterday, up 10 percent this year. Go back and look at the price of gas during the Obama presidency. Watch this. When the president took office we were below $2 a gallon, around $1.60 a gallon. However, there was a steady climb, steady climb, steady climb.

Then you see the Arab spring here and it spiked way up. Then gas prices actually had been coming down. This is what we have seen in recent days, back up to $3.61. This can depend on where you live in the country. Let me turn this graph off. There we go. Bring that off. Where you live in the country depends a lot on how you pay because of state gas taxes, some of the transportation costs and the like. Darker the state, the higher the costs, $4.25 in California, in New York State.

Here's another way to look at it. In some states you have to drive longer distances to get to work. Some states people are poorer. If you see the orange or red states those are states where people spend 10 percent or more of their income just on gas. A big toll there economically.

We will watch this play out from a policy standpoint and in the politics in the weeks ahead.

Moving more now to more politics, Rick Santorum was the target early and often in our big Republican debate last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our Games were successful. But while I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the "Bridge to Nowhere."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Governor Romney got some help making his case Santorum is no fiscal conservative.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Congressman Paul, you've questioned the conservative -- fiscal conservative credentials of all these gentlemen but particularly this week Senator Santorum. You have a new television ad that labels him a fake. Why?

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because he's a fake.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(BOOING)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm real, John. I'm real.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So did the debates stop of slow the Santorum surge? Voters in Michigan and Arizona will give us the biggest clue on Tuesday. And a new poll today we should note taken before last night's feisty debate suggests a tight and tense struggle for Michigan. Rick Santorum 38 percent to 34 percent over Governor Romney. That's within the ARG poll's margin of error, 4 percentage points there.

With us now to talk about the debate and the campaign, "TIME" deputy Washington bureau chief Michael Crowley.

Let's start with the debate. Did it fundamentally change anything in the race?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME": I don't know about fundamentally but I think it blunted Rick Santorum's momentum.

I think even his admirers and supporters are willing to concede it wasn't his best night. It's hard to run for president as a senator. You cast a lot of votes on Capitol Hill that become hard to defend when they're taken out of context and when you're talking the insider language of parliamentary procedure. He got into that last night. I think Mitt Romney was kind of able to slow him down and bring out some of the negative side of him voters may not be familiar with. Not a great night.

KING: Not a great night at a time when he is leading or in a very tight race in Michigan. The Romney people would tell you, we were down a lot more a week ago. And they have been making steady progress and the polls show that to be true.

How important now is Michigan to Rick Santorum? We talked about important it is to Mitt Romney. If Mitt Romney gets two wins on Tuesday they will think they have stability back. If Santorum comes away with nothing on Tuesday, what does that mean?

CROWLEY: It's tough. Presidential politics always is about this kind of strange expectations game that might seem odd from a distance, but the reality is the expectations got so high for Romney that it looked as though he was in deep trouble.

But now we're seeing a situation where they got kind of high for Santorum. Romney is starting to make a comeback. I think that if Romney can be the comeback kid as one of his supporters said the other day, it's a nice little boost for him. But here's the caveat to that, John. Super Tuesday is not a very friendly terrain for Mitt Romney.

You have got a lot of Southern states. You're going to have a conservative electorate. You will have Georgia voting, which is Newt Gingrich's home state. Not a lot of easy plays there for Romney. I think there is a chance that Romney could come out strong in Michigan and Arizona but then things get muddled up again on Super Tuesday.

That said, it would be very nice for Romney to win one or both states, particularly Michigan. I think the picture's brightening especially after last night's debate.

KING: Anybody else jump out? You say Santorum's surge probably blunted a little bit. Gingrich get anything back? Ron Paul distinguish himself?

CROWLEY: I think Gingrich did a pretty good job. He was quite sedate and muted in some of those debates previously. When he kind of had a moment, he didn't grab it. I thought he did a good job, but he didn't really have one of those YouTube viral lines, no memorable conflicts with the debate moderator, for instance.

KING: For instance.

CROWLEY: Ron Paul, the interesting thing about that is the way he was going after Santorum. We're seeing a little bit of a Ron Paul- Mitt Romney alliance, which I think actually could be quite significant, not only on a debate stage, but because Ron Paul has some money to spend on advertising. Right now he's targeting Santorum. Mitt Romney appreciates that.

KING: You bet he does. Michael, thank you for coming and helping us out.

CROWLEY: Thanks, John.

KING: Thank you.

Today we got our first look at the scene of a deadly helicopter crash at an Arizona Marine base. Seven Marines died when a pair of helicopters collided over the desert near Yuma last night. Officials say it was routine training operation as the Marines prepared for deployment to Afghanistan.

CNN's Miguel Marquez at the Marine Corps air station in Yuma.

Miguel, what do we know about this awful, tragic accident?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aside from just how awful it is, we do know there was a collision at 10:30 Eastern time last night between two workhorses of the Marine Corps, a Cobra helicopter, which is a close-in attack helicopter, and a Huey.

We also know there was a highly trained, highly experienced training pilot in that Huey in one of the seats. We don't actually know who was in command or in control of that Huey at the time of the crash. He may have been assisting a lesser experienced pilot or they may have been training on a new weapons program. It's just not clear.

Investigators are on the scene. Everyone there has been identified. All the dead have been identified. Six of them are from Camp Pendleton in California and one of them, that trainer, here from Yuma -- John.

KING: Miguel Marquez on the scene of such a horrible, horrible event in Arizona. Miguel, thanks so much on your reporting there.

Our thoughts and prayers with the families tonight.

A man wearing an Afghan army uniform killed two U.S. troops today amid a growing storm of violent protests after NATO forces confiscated and then burned some detainees' Korans and other religious materials.

At one of today's demonstrations -- you see it here -- students paraded and then burned in effigy of President Obama. In an effort to soothe the anger, President Obama took the extraordinary step of writing an apology, calling the Koran burning inadvertent and an error.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh tracking this story in Kabul.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, the violence now into its third day. Two American soldiers shot dead on a base east of where I'm standing in Nangarhar by a man in Afghan army uniform. Apparently an act connected to the protests happening outside that same base which themselves turned violent, two protesters shot dead, seven injured.

Protests popping up around the country in the past three days and deep concerns that tomorrow around Friday prayers, religious leaders may stir Afghan crowds by talking about this. We could see yet further unrest.

America is doing its best to apologize as much as it can, but there's no one more senior left to apologize since today President Obama had his ambassador here hand-deliver a letter to the Afghan president saying they'd hold whoever was behind this accountable and hope it would never happen again.

Afghan authorities are rushing forward their investigation into how this happened, saying today they'd like to see restraint from Afghans, but also suggesting they might like to see a trial for the U.S. soldier who was behind this obviously unintentional mistake. That's going to cause a huge headache for U.S. officials if Afghans insist upon that.

The question still remaining how on earth did this happen. And I understand from a military official this was religious texts in a detention facility being used to pass what they refer to as extremist messages. They were gathered, handed up, meant to be disposed of differently, but ended up being sent to the conventional incinerator they use on the base for trash.

Local Afghans found these messages, found the religious texts, saw they had been partially burned, and then spread the word, causing these protests. But really now there's no real sign the violence is going to slow. And this is exactly what NATO does not need as it tries to push this message of security here so it can begin to withdraw its troops and hand over to Afghan security forces a country on edge really for tomorrow -- John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: CNN's Nick Paton Walsh there in Afghanistan.

Within the past hour in Spokane, Washington, Newt Gingrich slammed the president for making any kind of an apology.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president apologized for the burning.

But I haven't seen the president demand that the government of Afghanistan apologize for the killing of two young Americans.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: There seems to be nothing that radical Islamists can do to get Barack Obama's attention in a negative way. And he is consistently apologizing to people who do not deserve the apology of the president of the United States, period.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: There on the campaign trail last hour.

Coming up here, will the United States formally support the opposition against the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out today.

Plus, new details in the case against the man accused of engineering the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Disturbing new images from Syria today where opposition reports say at least 100 more people died in the Syrian regime's brutal crackdown on dissent.

A United Nations report identifies Syrian commanders and high- ranking officials who the U.N. says bear responsibility for crimes against humanity and gross violations of human rights. In another important development just today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signaled the United States may now throw its support behind the opposition to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad despite misgivings about some members of that opposition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's a fluid situation. But if I were a betting person for the medium term and certainly the long term, I would be betting against Assad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's get some perspective from CNN's Fareed Zakaria. He's with us now.

Fareed, the secretary of state says the United States should lean toward this opposition, be prepared now to embrace this opposition. I want to listen here to what General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told you just the other day, because he seems quite worried about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: There's indications that al Qaeda is involved and that they're interested in supporting the opposition. There's a number of players, all of whom are trying to reinforce their particular side of this issue.

And until we're a lot clearer about who they are and what they are, I think it would be premature to talk about arming them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, General Dempsey's talking about arming them. But what about the idea of embracing them? Is there a split and should there be caution on that front?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think that's a very smart question, John.

Everyone has assumed that the only way that we can support the Syrian opposition is to arm them. And, of course, that is the most effective way we could do it and, of course, that's probably what they want. But there are many things we can do short of that, because that involves us in what has essentially become a civil war.

And we're not sure we understand it well enough to take that jump. But perhaps what we could be doing is trying to support them, help them organize, figure out who they are so that some of General Dempsey's concerns can be addressed.

KING: Arwa Damon is one of our brave CNN reporters who has been going into Syria and risking her life. Listen here to this account, this appeal for help from a father of two in Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAMON: "If there is an outside interference it will be an ocean of blood, an ocean of blood if this situation continues like this. People will explode. They won't be able to take it anymore. They won't respond to us. It will be a cycle of you're attacking me, so I have to attack you."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: When you hear these ominous accounts mixed with appeals for help, Fareed, and then you see the international community is having a hard time coming up with a consensus upon what to do, what does that tell you?

ZAKARIA: Well, the truth of the matter is that Syria has some backing. And that is why international support is so difficult to muster for the opposition.

They have Russia, they have China in the Security Council, they have Iran next door. And so when that gentleman says, if you don't get involved there will be oceans of blood, unfortunately, the tragedy is that if we would get involved there would perhaps be even more blood because there would be activism on all sides.

Already, Syria is turning into a kind of cockpit where there is a cold war between Iran on the one side supporting the Syrian government, Saudi Arabia on the other side supporting increasingly these militants who are either in Syria or coming into Syria. So when we talk about bloodshed, there will be a lot more bloodshed. That's not a reason not to support the opposition because at the end of the day we want to do the right thing both politically and morally.

But let's face it. Getting more involved in Iraq or getting more involved in Afghanistan did not produce less bloodshed. It produced more. It widens the war.

KING: It certainly would.

I want you to listen here. I asked the Republican candidates for president last night what they would do differently from the current president. Here's what Mitt Romney said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: With Assad in trouble, we need to communicate to the Alawites, his friends, his ethnic group, to say, look, you have a future if you'll abandon that guy Assad.

We need to work with -- with Saudi Arabia and with Turkey to say, you guys provide the kind of weaponry that's needed to help the rebels inside Syria. This is a critical time for us.

If we can turn Syria and Lebanon away from Iran, we finally have the capacity to get Iran to pull back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A reasonable answer?

ZAKARIA: Yes, I thought it was actually a very intelligent answer.

You're used to hearing such, frankly, nonsense on the campaign trail, because people just make wild accusations. That was a sensible, thoughtful, sophisticated answer.

In an odd sense, of course, what Mitt Romney is suggesting is a version of Barack Obama's strategy in Libya. In Libya, we let the Europeans take the lead and we said we will support what you do, but you guys have to be out in front. What he's suggesting is Turkey and Saudi Arabia should take the lead and we would support it.

I'm sure he's not going to call it leading from behind, but that's sort of what he's suggesting.

KING: I was just going to close on that point if you didn't. No, I will bet everything I have in my pocket Governor Romney is not going to call that leading from behind.

Fareed Zakaria, thanks for your help, as always.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure.

KING: And coming up: a tight race on Governor Romney's home turf, new details about how the battle for Michigan is shaping up.

And, "Harry Potter" fans, get excited. Here's some news, J.K. Rowling writing a new book, this one for adults.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: A surprising revelation today about Senator Marco Rubio, who a lot of Republicans are mentioning as a possible vice presidential candidate. Turns out for a short time he was a Mormon. Details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In this half-hour, we fact-check Newt Gingrich's inflammatory allegation that Barack Obama once voted for infanticide.

Also, did Rick Santorum help or hurt himself in last night's debate? We dig deeper into the truth about Santorum's performance.

And this may be a little security. A new high-tech sign bases its message on who you are, because it can tell whether you're a man or a woman.

In the spin room, after last night's CNN Arizona Republican debate, Mitt Romney's people were confident their man will reclaim his frontrunner status by winning next Tuesday's primaries in Arizona and Michigan.

But a new Michigan poll out today shows Governor Romney's home state is more of a tossup than a sure thing. Rick Santorum has a 38 percent to 34 percent lead. That's within the sampling error of that new ARG poll.

In just a few moments, Governor Romney will be campaigning just outside of Detroit. Senior correspondent Joe Johns is there.

And Joe, you hear the confidence in Arizona after the debate that they will win Michigan, the Romney people. Do you feel that on the ground?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, John, frankly, you do know this: predictions in politics can be very dangerous things. And you have a guy in the spin room in Arizona saying, "We will win Michigan."

Well, today I reached out to the campaign to try to get somebody, some of the message people to sort of back that up or expand on that. And I've pretty much gotten radio silence throughout the day.

Nonetheless, I can tell you that the Romney people do feel as though Santorum's performance in the debate last night actually helped the Romney case. They do like the way he tried to defend his votes on Capitol Hill. They very much liked the notion that this is a guy who would actually go out and say he took one for the team, because they think that plays into the story they've been telling about Santorum, which is that he is a Washington insider.

So they've been hoping to expand on that. Romney talked about it a little bit in Arizona before he left to come here to Michigan. And we're likely to hear more of that when he gives the speech before this group of Tea Partiers here in Milford, Michigan, John.

KING: And you say, speaking of Tea Partiers, I think that's quite significant. You've got a few days left and Michigan is a huge battleground state. What shall we look for in these final days?

JOHNS: Well, I think the first thing we have to look for is tomorrow morning in Detroit he's expected to give a speech before the Detroit Economics Club.

This is a speech that's been very much anticipated because Romney has been told that if he is, in fact, the sort of economic fix-it guy, he needs to come before an audience here in Michigan and lay out his case. Take all the pieces of the puzzle that he's been delivering around the country and put them out there for the consumers in this state, which was hit so hard by the country's economic problems.

That's what he's planning to do. And from there on as you know, it's game on as we start the sprint to the finish line, John.

KING: Joe Johns, live at a Romney event out in Milford, Michigan. Joe, thanks so much. We'll keep in touch.

And a surprising revelation today about Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. The "Miami Herald" -- "Miami Herald" revealed that Rubio was eight years old and his family lived in Las Vegas, they joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons. The family moved back to Florida when Rubio was 11, and he rejoined the Catholic church.

Amid all the complaints about President Obama during last night's Republican debate, this one by Newt Gingrich may have caught some people by surprise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just want to point out, you did not once in the 2008 campaign, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What's all that about? Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, did some fact checking for us. Jess, before we start, this is not the first time we've heard this. Let's listen. This is Senator Rick Santorum from last year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Think about that. Any child born prematurely, according to the president, in his words, can be killed. Now, who's the extremist in the abortion debate?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So Jess, take us through what's going on here.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK. This dates back to the president's time, John, in the Illinois state Senate when he was presented with a born alive bill three times. One time he voted present. Two times he voted against it.

Here's what the bill said: "A live child born as a result of an abortion shall be fully recognized as a human person and accorded immediate protection under the law."

At the time, John, then state senator Obama opposed those bills. He said once, "Essentially, this would bar abortions, because the equal protection clause already does not allow somebody to kill a child."

Later he said that, unlike a federal version of this same law, the state measure lacked federal language clarifying that it would not be used to undermine Roe versus Wade.

Now, John, the federal Born Alive Act was voted in in 2002, and there is some dispute over how different the two bills were -- John.

KING: And Jess, we heard Rick Santorum arguing the president said any child born prematurely can be killed. The Pulitzer Prize winning Politifact site gave that claim "Pants on Fire" rating, which is their worst. Why?

YELLIN: That's in part because there was already a law in Illinois that protected born-alive fetuses, if you want to call it that. That law required that doctors give life-saving care if they thought there was any chance of survival after a botched abortion.

Now, I read some of the record from those days, and then-Senator Obama said, and this is a quote, "I have confidence that if these children that are being born alive, that the doctor who is in the room will make sure that they will be looked after." So the group determined he did not stand for killing prematurely-born infants.

KING: It's a tough issue to talk about. Jess, what about Newt Gingrich's claim that the mainstream media -- he said the elite mainstream media or elite media -- didn't pursue this back in 2008?

YELLIN: We have video. Actually, CNN covered this in 2008 several different times. Roll video proof. And also the Christian Broadcast Network's David Brody asked President Obama about this issue. Brody was a CNN contributor then. And we played part of his interview on CNN -- John.

KING: Always good to check the facts after the big debates. Jess, thanks so much.

If you don't like President Obama's healthcare reform law, well, Mitt Romney says you should blame his Republican rival, Rick Santorum. During our debate last night here on CNN, Romney pointed to Senator Santorum's support for then fellow Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The reason we have Obama care is because the senator you supported over Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, the pro-choice senator of Pennsylvania that you supported and endorsed in a race over Pat Toomey, he voted for Obama care. If you had not supported him, if we had said no to Arlen Specter, we would not have Obama care. So don't look at me. Take a look in the mirror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Former senator Specter now gives us his perspective.

Senator, it's good to see you again. For our viewers who don't understand what happened, you were the incumbent Republican senator. Pat Toomey challenged you. He mounted a conservative challenge to you in the Republican primary. And Rick Santorum did support Arlen Specter. Let's listen to what he said last night, Senator. He said he supported you only after a conversation in which you made a promise. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: Arlen Specter as chairman of the judiciary committee, we had a conversation. Now, he asked me to support him. I said, "Will you support the president's nominees? We had a 51-49 majority in the Senate. He said, "I'll support the president's nominees as chairman."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Speaking there about President Bush's nominees for the Supreme Court and other high judicial nominations. Senator Specter, did you have that conversation? Did you make that promise?

ARLEN SPECTER, FORMER PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR: No.

KING: No. Never happened?

SPECTER: I made no promise about supporting anybody. I wouldn't do it. It would be wrong to make a promise in advance of knowing who the nominee was and what the qualifications were. KING: He says that you asked for his support. He ultimately gave you his support. But he says you had the conversation. Is he making that up last night? Is he misunderstanding something?

SPECTER: Well, I'm telling you what the facts are. I'm not going to undertake any characterizations.

When Senator Santorum backed me for re-election of a primary in 2004, so did President Bush. When it came time to use the commercials, it was President Bush. There was never any discussion at all between Senator Santorum and me about support. It was just assumed that he would support me, like I had supported him when he had a very tough election back in 1994.

KING: Well, so then what went through your mind when you heard of this exchange? He says, "Arlen Specter, as chairman of the judiciary committee, we had a conversation. I said, 'Will you support the president's nominees?' He said, 'I'll support the president's nominees'."

You say it never happened. What do you make of hearing this?

SPECTER: Well, it may be politically expedient for him to make that response. But I can't read his mind. You can draw inferences as well as I can. What I can tell you are the facts.

KING: Do you have a candidate in this presidential election? Are you supporting President Obama? Are you looking at these Republicans?

SPECTER: I am not impressed with any of the Republican candidates. I think President Obama is in the driver's seat at the moment. But a campaign is a long process. And what I intend to do is to follow it closely. And when the time comes to cast a ballot, they call it a secret ballot.

KING: The former Pennsylvania senator, Arlen Specter. They do indeed call it a secret ballot. Sir, appreciate your time today.

SPECTER: Nice talking to you.

KING: Coming up, the "Truth" about Rick Santorum's debate performance and how it might impact the GOP race.

And Sacha Baron Cohen is not banned from Sunday night's Academy Awards but the academy would like him to ban a certain costume from his red-carpet wardrobe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: It's a dangerous business to try to score a debate. Each viewer, each voter sees the thing through their own political prism. For example, if you backed Ron Paul going into last night's debate, most likely you cheered when he spoke and still backed Ron Paul when it was over. Or some say Mitt Romney helped his cause in the long Republican nomination battle. A lot of Democrats today are betting this Romney comment on immigration will be a losing general election position if Romney gets that nomination.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: If you see a model here in Arizona, they passed a law here that says -- that says that people who come here and try and find work, that the employer is required to look them up on eVerify. You do that. And just as Arizona is finding out, you can stop illegal immigration. It's time we finally did it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So a lot of this is subjective. Still tonight's "Truth" is a judgment we can make. It was Rick Santorum's moment to raise his game but he came up short, sounding more like a senator than a president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: When abuse happened I said we should stop the earmarking process. But I did say there were good earmarks and bad earmarks. I have to admit I voted for that. It was against the principals I believed in but, you know, when you're part of the team sometimes you take one for the team for the leader, and I made a mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Did he hurt his efforts? Well, the voters in Michigan and Arizona and beyond can answer that starting Tuesday.

But he had an opportunity to help himself. And like others before him, didn't make the most of his first chance at debate center stage. It was clear, for example, that Governor Romney got under his skin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: You're entitled to your opinions, Mitt. You're not entitled to...

ROMNEY: I've heard that line before. I've heard that before.

SANTORUM: You're not entitled to misrepresent the facts. You're misrepresenting the facts. You don't know what you're talking about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Herman Cain knows how it feels to claim and then yield center stage. So does Rick Perry. It's important to note that Santorum has something Cain and Perry did not: wins. Santorum has four of them. But here's one thing Santorum does not have: another debate on the calendar. He has been a good and consistent performer over the course of the 20 Republican debates. "Truth" is, last night was not his strongest performance. And there may not be a take 21.

Here to talk truth tonight, Republican strategists Rich Galen and John Feehery and Democratic strategist, CNN contributor Maria Cardona.

Rich, as you watch this race...

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I didn't realize how short I was.

KING: We'll get you a box next time, I promise. We'll stretch you out a little bit.

We have seen this before in this volatile race where sort of who's the alternative? Was this Bachmann? Was it Perry? Was it Cain? This was Santorum's moment. What happened?

GALEN: Well, you know, it's a tough position, especially if you've never done it before. I mean, Rick Santorum has never been in this position. When we started in Iowa -- it seems like 17 years ago -- but it was really only about eight weeks ago, you know, he was at 3 percent, kind of bumping along. Then he did very well; turned out he won, but who knew?

So he's never been in the position, as you say, at center stage, you know, as the frontrunner with everybody -- all -- everybody aiming their arrows at him. He found it just a little tougher than I think he thought it might be.

KING: So how is it different, John, preparing for one of these debates? Before, when he was lower in the polls, he had to fight to get into the debate conversation. He's more of the insurgent; he can make his key points. He had to know his record, his votes were going to be center stage, because he was the one surging in the polls.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Title X, Title 20. Anytime you have that in the debate you're losing. He sounded like a senator. When you're a senator -- you've got to be an executive in these debates. He sounded like a senator. He got caught up in all of these votes. He was for earmarks before he was against them. Good and bad earmarks. It was a disaster for Rick Santorum. He was on center stage, yes.

And the other thing is he didn't have a strategy. He didn't have a strategy for going after Mitt Romney. And I think it showed.

KING: John makes an important point there. Because look, you all counsel politicians. And one of the things that drives people in my business crazy is you ask them the color of the sky. And maybe they -- maybe they say it for a second, then they pivot. That's what Senator Santorum -- that's what he didn't do. He actually answered the questions. He -- every time Governor Romney raised something, he wanted to counter it, he wanted to explain it, as opposed to saying you can talk about that, but this is more important.

Why? How do you teach a candidate don't get so personal? Don't let it get under your skin. Make the pivot. MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Practice, practice, practice, John. That to me, I think, was the most telling thing. He clearly didn't practice for this.

We have what we call murder boards, right, where you practice debate, especially when you know you're the one who's going to have the bull's eye on your back. And you go through and you have either your closest advisers or your friends, if you can't pay advisers, really go through the questions. You practice the pivots.

Romney did it beautifully. He was asked very pointed questions, and he pivoted back. And he had done his research. His spokesmen had given him the research. Santorum had nothing, and he didn't use it.

KING: Maria makes an important point. We saw last night in Governor Romney, like it or not, whether you think it's all attack and no vision, very clearly disciplined candidate with a very good opposition research team.

GALEN: What they did, I thought, last night we were just talking about this before is on the -- on the Obama care stuff, Romney cut them off with the Santorum business and everything early in the debate. And it was a little bit like a professional basketball team cutting off the lane driving into -- from the left.

Whatever that team is, they're going to have to take outside shots from the left-hand side for the rest of the debate. So I thought as a debate tactic it was very well done.

KING: How much does it matter? That -- you know, you have bad debates. Every one of those candidates has had a bad debate. Ron Paul probably less than the others, because he's just consistent there. They've had time to recover. They know there's another one coming. Now, there might be a primary in between. They might take a lump in between. But there's none on the books right now. How does that impact Santorum?

FEEHERY: Rick Santorum has dominated the news headlines beyond the debate. He's been talking about contraception. He's been talking about all these things that are off his major message, which is how do you get manufacturing jobs back in the United States? That's what he needs to win Michigan. He's off that message.

And you know, I think that after 21 debates you'd get used to things. But Maria is absolutely right. You have to be ready to be the frontrunner. And he didn't have a way to get back the debate at hand, which is how you get manufacturing jobs back in America?

CARDONA: And you know, the one thing that I think really hurt him was when he actually said that he voted against his principles. Up until now, his whole narrative was that he was the principled person in this field. And that, I think, really hurt him.

He could have said, "Look, I thought the law was going to do something different than it did. I now regret it. I wish I could have changed it." But to say, "I voted against my principles"? KING: Prime reason (ph) about ideology take one for the team. Stay put. Everybody stay put. We'll be back to our group in just a minute.

But "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" comes up at the top of the hour, and Erin is here with a preview. And you're speaking to another guy with a lot of debate experience, Rudy Giuliani, tonight.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. He sure does. And he's very passionate about one of the key issues on the table, and that of course, is Ron (ph). Also going to talk about the GOP field. He's coming up top of the hour.

And also, John, a man who played one for the Super Bowl for the New York Giants and also the Chicago Bears killed himself a year ago. His family now filing suit, saying that they have proof that his brain was injured, and they know specifically how in playing football. Suing the NFL. We're going to talk to his family tonight.

Back to you.

KING: It's a horrible, horrible story. Looking forward to that, Erin. Thanks so much.

And coming up here, the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, strikes a deal with an unlikely supporter, and he's a Republican. Sort of. We'll show you that in our "Moment You Missed."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Continuing our conversation about last night, big Republican debate and the campaign ahead. Rich Galen, John Feehery, Maria Cardona still with us.

One of the most interesting moments last night, when we were in Arizona debating, immigration obviously an issue. There was a question from the audience and, in talking about as president how they would address this issue, listen to Mitt Romney here calling the Arizona state immigration law, which has been quite controversial, a model for the nation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: You see a model here in Arizona. They passed a law here that says -- that says that people who come -- come here and try and find work, that the employer is required to look them up on eVerify. You do that, and just as Arizona is finding out, you can stop illegal immigration. It's time we finally did it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, you think, Maria Cardona, as the Democrat, and a Latino Democrat, in the conversation -- I've been watching all day long, getting a lot of e-mails personally, seeing all the press releases from organizations, people saying essentially, "Thank you, Governor Romney. If you win the nomination, we'll see you in November." Why?

CARDONA: Because right now, the numbers say that Republicans -- and this comes from Matthew Dowd -- cannot win -- an advisor to President Bush -- cannot win the White House without at least 40 percent of the Latino vote. And that was according to numbers in 2004. That number has got to have jumped at least to 45 percent today with the growth in the Latino vote.

Right now, Mitt Romney doesn't even get to 25 percent against -- against President Obama, and all of the others are even less than that. And right now, the way that he is talking about immigration in terms of the Arizona law, which the majority of Latino voters are against, the DREAM Act, which the majority of Latino voters support, he's already said he would veto that, there's no way he's going to be able to pivot credibly to any sort of sensible solution that would in any way attract Latino voters.

KING: You buy that?

FEEHERY: Well, the Latino vote is a very important vote. Romney's got to come up with a strategy to attract Latinos to his campaign.

There's a lot of ways to do that. Talking about jobs and the economy is one way. Talking about family values is another way. And then maybe putting Marco Rubio on the ticket is the third one. Those are three ways to possibly.

GALEN: Maria's using -- using primary numbers to try to generate a general election scenario, and it just doesn't work. I mean, we'll see what happens, assuming that Romney's the nominee when everybody coalesces behind him. And we'll see what happens.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I'm going to try something here. Get ready. We did this with the candidates last night. We did a great suggestive question from somebody online. Describe yourself in one word. Let's hear it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Congressman Paul.

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Consistent.

KING: Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM: Courage.

KING: Governor?

ROMNEY: Resolute.

KING: Mr. Speaker?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Cheerful. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: "Cheerful" was my favorite. Rich Galen, one word.

GALEN: Tall.

KING: John Feehery?

FEEHERY: Happy.

KING: Maria?

CARDONA: Woman.

KING: Woman. Happy and tall. Thanks for coming in today. We'll see you again, soon.

CARDONA: How about you, John?

KING: Curious.

Kate Bolduan's back with the latest news you need to know right now -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, John. That was very, very fun panel.

All right. Catching up on some news, everyone. Sarah Palin's top advisers haven't seen the movie yet, but they've -- they're already condemning "Game Change," HBO's upcoming film about the 2008 presidential race.

Julianne Moore plays Governor Palin. Based on the trailers for the film, which debuts next month, a one-time Palin aide calls "Game Change," quote, "a false portrait cobbled together by a bunch of people who simply weren't there."

And Sacha Baron Cohen is welcome to attend the Oscars after all. It had been reported that the British actor was banned, but apparently, it was all a misunderstanding. They just don't want Cohen to show up as his latest character, the Dictator, and hijack the red carpet.

The Oscars air Sunday night. Probably don't need that reminder, though.

A new, high-tech billboard being tested in London uses facial recognition software to determine whether a man or a woman is watching and shows different content, depending on the gender of the viewer.

So if I were in London, I could see a 40-second video promoting women's education in developing countries, but a man, however, wouldn't be able to see that. He would instead be referred to the organization's Web site. It's really amazing. A little terrifying, though, I will say, John. KING: And the point here is so that men understand sometimes that men are denied opportunities, something as opposed to understand that it happened to women before? Is that the point?

BOLDUAN: Yes. You know, it's called revenge. No, I'm kidding.

KING: I want that now, I can. I was a little uncertain what this was about. Now I get it. Sometimes revenge is sweet. Sometimes, it's funny. Sometimes it's not. It is one word, that's true. Kate's one word tonight is revenge.

All right. Finally, last night's debate, "Moment You May Have Missed." That's because it wasn't part of our CNN Republican debate, but a debate between the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, and Stephen Colbert. They actually came to an agreement. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "COLBERT REPORT": Well, of course you want to own the presidency, because if you keep the receipt, you can exchange him for a new president if you don't like him. That's just logical. That's business. You don't believe in business, Madam. I say let the -- let the free market decide who represents us.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Well, that's interesting for the free market. And I support the free market, but I also support free elections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So is that a deal, Kate? What do we think?

BOLDUAN: I think the disclose act (ph) is far from being a deal. They're working on it, though.

You did pretty well -- I looked at some old clips -- when you were on "The Colbert Report." You did a pretty good job, too.

KING: I've enjoyed the program. He's always fun. Colbert. It's good for us to get a little comedy break every now and then. Then we get back to these very, very serious jobs.

BOLDUAN: Yes. So serious.

KING: That's all for us tonight. Come back tomorrow night right here. And then I'll see you again on Monday. That's all.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.