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Political Gas Wars; Killing Continues in Syria

Aired February 24, 2012 - 18:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. John King is off tonight.

So let's get started.

The political version of gas wars. Newt Gingrich says President Obama doesn't care how much you're paying. The White House says pixie dust won't make prices go down.

Also, a new U.S. shove trying to force the world community to put a stop to the slaughter in Syria.

And comedian Bill Maher matches his political sympathies with a million bucks. We will tell you who gets the money.

We begin first with the increasingly shrill politics of what you're paying at the gas pump. In today's case, it's three cents a gallon more than yesterday. AAA says the national average is just under $3.65 a gallon, 12 cents higher than it was at the beginning of the week.

This is the 18th straight day gas prices are up. The political blame game moved into high gear during this week's CNN presidential debate when Newt Gingrich said he had a plan to get gas prices back to $2.50 a gallon, a notion President Obama ridiculed during a stop in Florida.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Only in politics do people root for bad news, do they greet bad news so enthusiastically. You pay more, they're licking their chops.

And you can bet that since it's an election year, they're already dusting off their three-point plan for $2 gas.


BOLDUAN: And today in Washington State, Gingrich called the president's speech on gas prices nonsense.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's no reason we can't get back to a reasonably priced gasoline, a reasonable price of around $2.50 a gallon. The fact is yesterday's speech was political baloney. This president has no interest in lowering the price of gasoline and diesel. He has no interest in solving the problem of American energy independence.


BOLDUAN: The fight continues.

Let's bring in our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, the host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."

Candy, it seems like we hear this quite a lot during an election season, but it seems like we're going to hear a lot more of this going forward?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Especially an election season where the prices are going up at the wrong times.

Listen, it isn't so much gas prices as it is that it fits into both party's thematic political year issues. So the president can say, as -- oil profits, big company oil profits are bound to go up. They always do when gas prices are so high. And the president can say, this is why I want to get rid of their loopholes. They're making all this money and the consumers are being gouged, et cetera, et cetera.

You also hear that the Republicans are protecting their rich friends on Wall Street because they won't go ahead with some ways to kind of stop the oil profits from going up. Now, the Republican side, what is their big thing? Their big thing is that the president is a tool of radical environmentalists.

So they go back to the pipeline that they wanted built. They go back to where they want to drill where the president isn't drilling. So it fits nicely into the themes they have. And both of them are using it, frankly, because the fact is, this isn't the fault of the president. It isn't the fault of much, except for Iran.

Anybody I talked to today said this is about Iran, China, and India, like two booming economies that are going to need more and more oil, and then the insecurity of the Middle East.

BOLDUAN: And everyone pays it. It's an easy number for people to grab on to. The price of the pump, they can follow that. But when it comes down to it, Candy, do Americans vote on gas prices?

CROWLEY: Listen, if it's $12 a gallon in November, I suppose they will. But we have seen them go up and then we have seen them come down.

So if this is where it's going and it's going to start coming down as we have seen with previous spikes, no, I don't think they vote specifically on that. But if it keeps continuing and we do hit really high prices in November, look, that eats into people's spendable money. I mean, that's something -- like anything that happens to your house and anything that happens to your car is something you totally understand.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Big weekend coming up. Candy Crowley, host of "STATE OF THE UNION," we will watch.

Thank you so much, Candy.

I want to continue the conversation on gases.

Let's bring in Lizzie O'Leary into the conversation.

Lizzie, politicians, they can produce plenty of hot air, but can they do anything about the price at the pump?

LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN AVIATION AND REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, not really. This is what Candy was talking about in terms of what actually drives gas prices.

That's what we wanted to break down for you. When you look at the prices, you're talking about some $3.65 a gallon. What goes into that? What are the forces that actually move that? And mostly what you see is yes, there's some costs of refining gas and taxes, but it's oil.

There you see more than three-quarters of the price of a gallon of gas comes from oil. That price moves because of tensions in the Middle East, big economies that are growing like India and China, and then, of course, sort of the idea that there are whole markets of people who bet on the prices of oil. And you want to see how much that affects what you're buying, go back 10 years, when the price of oil really only composed about 37 percent of what goes into a gallon of gas. And then it was only a little over $1.

So that shows you how the impact here is really shaped by the oil market. That's the big one. It's a global market. It's traded all across the world, Kate. And that's what drives the price of a gallon of gas.

BOLDUAN: At the very same time, Lizzie, there are increasing calls for more regulation to help curb these prices. What's going on there?

O'LEARY: One of the things that happened in the Dodd-Frank bill was essentially something called a position limit. That means if you're trading oil, they want to say X-person, Kate, you can't trade more than a certain percentage.

There's a lawsuit about that now. The financial industry said, we don't like that. We don't like that model. We don't want someone telling us how much we can trade. It actually goes to court on Monday. That's the first legal salvo to see if there will be some limits put on how much people can trade in the very volatile oil markets.

BOLDUAN: And when it's in court, it means it's going to be a little while before anything happens one way or the other.


BOLDUAN: Our aviation and regulation correspondent, Lizzie O'Leary, thanks so much, Lizzie.

In another major story tonight, President Obama and most world leaders are banging the drum even louder demanding an end to the bloodshed in Syria.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is absolutely imperative for the international community to rally and send a clear message to President Assad that it is time for a transition, it is time for that regime to move on, and it is time to stop the killing of Syrian citizens by their own government.


BOLDUAN: CNN's Michael Holmes is monitoring the desperate situation in Syria, where at least 91 people died today. He joins me now from Beirut, Lebanon.

Michael, thank you so much for taking the time. We understand the International Red Cross was allowed into Homs tonight. What were they able to do, Michael, and is this a sign of progress?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You have got to say that it is, Kate, a sign of some progress.

Let's be cautious about it at the moment. It was the ICRC and the Syrian Red Crescent who actually moved into that besieged Homs neighborhood Baba Amr that we have heard so much about that has been sealed off, three weeks of constant bombardment.

Now, their aim was to go in and evacuate not just the two wounded journalists who are in there waiting to be taken out, but also in their words all persons in need of help without exception. They did one trip in with some ambulances. They came out with seven badly- wounded civilians, took them to a hospital in Homs away from the main part of the fighting.

That was the one and only trip in. It got dark. They say they're going to recommence going back in on Saturday. The uncertain factor is the fate of those two wounded journalists who were hurt when the two other journalists were killed, Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik. Activists say they want more civilians to come out before the journalists.

BOLDUAN: I can only imagine how many more trips are needed to help the injured and to remove the bodies of the dead.

But I do want to ask you, looking at some of the big news today, Michael, you have been watching tonight's meeting in Tunisia. Is there any optimism from the activists you're talking to that the international community can bring some kind of real change with these meetings? HOLMES: As you said, Kate, another 91 people died today. There was 100 I think yesterday.

It's just daily, daily carnage going on inside Syria. And the people we talk to on the ground, they say, OK, it's all very fine to have these meetings. We're sick of the talking. Where is the help? Where's the humanitarian assistance? They want assistance of other types, too, arms, to help them in their fight.

So they're in I think it's fair to say "We will believe it when we see it' mode. They're not holding out huge confidence of anything changing in the immediate future. And they're determined to keep up their resistance -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: It's an amazing and really horrific thing to watch unfold on a daily basis. Michael Holmes monitoring it all for us in Lebanon, Michael, thank you so much.

The bloodshed in Syria provoked an unusually harsh statement from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It is just despicable. And I ask, whose side are they on?


BOLDUAN: She is angry. Next, we will tell you who Secretary Clinton is so angry with. It isn't just the Syrians.

Plus, comedian Bill Maher is donating some serious cash to President Obama's reelection effort. We will have the details.


BOLDUAN: Today saw a breakthrough in efforts to help people who are trapped, starving and wounded in the Syrian city of Homs.

After a week of shelling, street fighting and hundreds of civilian deaths, the Syrian government finally allowed the International Red Cross to evacuate some of the wounded.

One body that wasn't included in that group was an injured French journalist whose gripping report posted on YouTube has gone viral.


EDITH BOUVIER, FRENCH JOURNALIST (through translator): We were injured yesterday during an attack on Wednesday morning with a group of journalists in which Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik were killed.

My leg is broken the length of my femur. I need to be operated on as quickly as possible.

The doctors have treated me as best they can, except they cannot perform any surgical operations.


BOLDUAN: That's so terrifying.

At a conference in Tunisia today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the U.S. will provide $10 million to humanitarian efforts in Syria. In unusually blunt and emotional terms, Secretary Clinton condemned Russia and China from blocking U.N. action against the Syrian regime.


CLINTON: It's quite distressing to see two permanent members of the Security Council using their veto when people are being murdered, women, children, brave young men. Houses are being destroyed. It is just despicable. And I ask, whose side are they on?


BOLDUAN: And with us now from New York, Fouad Ajami, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover institution and a distinguished Middle East scholar.

Thank you so much, Professor, for joining me this evening.


BOLDUAN: You heard those tough words from Secretary Clinton today in Tunis. We don't often see the secretary of state get downright angry like that.

But there were some important steps taken by the international community today when it comes to Syria. Is this enough in what they have come out with today?

AJAMI: Well, Kate, these words by Secretary Clinton, in my opinion, are quite pathetic when you think of it.

Why should we be saying this to the Russians and the Chinese? They're doing their thing. They're autocracies. They're dictatorships. They don't want humanitarian intervention. And of all people, Secretary Clinton should understand this, because her husband, President Clinton, did two rescue operations of two besieged populations in the '90s, one in Bosnia in 1995, and one in Kosovo in 1999, without any reference to the United Nations.

He understood the Security Council would not go along and he did the right thing for people under siege. Now the Obama administration is reluctant to do it. And these words are not very meaningful.

BOLDUAN: I want to get to the "Wall Street Journal" opinion piece that you wrote. In it you had some very strong words. In one portion you said: "It is an inescapable fate that the U.S. is the provider of order in that region. And we can lend a hand," you continue to say, "to the embattled Syrians or risk turning Syria into a devil's playground of religious extremism."

And you were, Professor, also quite critical of President Obama, as you were just there. What is the president in your view doing wrong with regard to Syria, I guess the administration at large?

AJAMI: Well, I think the president is just running out the clock.

Obviously, President Obama is concerned above all with the presidential election. This is a very, very simple point. This is a presidential year, an election year, and I think he's very keen to make sure that the man who prides himself on liquidating the Iraq war and bringing that war to an end is not going to plunge himself into an operation in Syria.

But I think what the president has done is he's made it seem that we either have to wage war in Syria or we leave it to its own cruelties. There's a lot we can do. We can arm the Free Syrian Army. We can give them help. This is what we're not doing. These are the kinds of things, by the way, that Senator McCain is talking about, that we can do a lot to help the Syrians without sending our forces into that mine field.

BOLDUAN: Now, I want to ask you, Americans are no doubt horrified by the violence and the bloodshed in Syria.

But for an American audience who may feel removed from it all, can you look at the camera and tell Americans why it is important for the American to care about the fate of Syria, besides the obvious humanitarian crisis that everyone cares about?

AJAMI: Well, we can't really be indifferent to these things. We can't be indifferent to the Middle East at any rate.

And we can't be indifferent to the prospect that this country, Syria, will become, as you quoted these words, it would become a devil's playground. We can either help the Syrians or they will seek help from jihadists, they will seek help from terrorists. It is the fate of America, if you will, to be this indispensable nation, as our own leaders keep telling the nation.

We can't be indifferent. In Libya, we waited and we led from behind. In Syria, we're even doing much worse. And it is -- these things come back to haunt us in a way. We can't abdicate. We always pay a price for these things. We can't quit the Middle East. And when you look at the borders of Syria, we can see that this is a very strategically important country.

BOLDUAN: We know that President Obama just late today said the international community cannot be bystanders in his words during these extraordinary events.

We will be all watching very closely to see what steps are taken and when.

Thank you so much, Professor Ajami, for joining me this evening. AJAMI: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Seven states are taking the fight over birth control and the new health care law to a whole new level. We will have more details about that in a minute.

And soon you will be able to use your computer to glide along one of the world's most beautiful and most remote natural wonders.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back.


BOLDUAN: Coming up, there's a new controversy tonight over performance-enhancing drugs in big-time baseball. And, next, a player who just got out of a 50-game suspension insists he never was guilty and complains his name has been dragged through the mud.

And in Hollywood, they're rolling out the red carpet for a little gold guy and a whole lot of stars.


BOLDUAN: In this half-hour, amid a fourth day of rioting over burned Korans, a top U.S. general reminds -- the Afghans are our friends.

And, also, a baseball player who failed a drug test and just beat the rap blasts what he calls a fatally flawed system.

And what do you do when your boss says, make me a burger? How about check to make sure he's really your boss?

Across Afghanistan today, thousands took part in anti-U.S. and anti-NATO rioting. It's the fourth day of violence after people learned NATO troops had burned Korans and other religious materials confiscated from detainees.

Everyone from President Obama on down has apologized, to no avail. The top U.S. commander is urging troops to show restraint.


LT. GEN. JOHN ALLEN, COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCES: There will be moments like this when you're searching for the meaning of this loss.

There will be moments like this when your emotions are governed by anger and a desire to strike back. These are the moments when you reach down inside and you grip the discipline that makes you a United States soldier. And you gut through the pain, and you gut through the anger, and you remember why we are here. We're here for our friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: CNN Pentagon's correspondent Chris Lawrence joining me now.

Chris, you have heard what the general said, pretty emotional, moving words there. And you have been in contact with some of those currently serving in Afghanistan. What are they saying?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I have been in touch with a few of the guys that I just kept in touch with over the years that I have met in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And, Kate, they're just somewhat frustrated. It's not that they oppose the apology, so to speak, like you have seen some of the politicians making a political statement out of it. They're not necessarily opposed to it. But where they really feel rubbed the wrong way is that they don't feel it's reciprocated.

In other words, everyone, from the top general in Afghanistan to the president himself, has apologized for the burning of these Korans. But as one of the troops said to me, he said, look, we understand how significant the Korans are and how sacred they are, but no people died, and yet two of our U.S. soldiers were killed as part of these protests. And there hasn't been the same level of calling for an apology from the Afghan government or the Afghan people when they see American flags being burned.

And that sort of rubs some of the troops the wrong way, that they feel that they're really operating under a very extreme double standard.

BOLDUAN: And on some level I'm sure there's a little bit of how much more -- what more can they do? They've apologized. And the reciprocation, as you said, seems to be far worse.

Chris, in terms of the military, what steps are they taking, if any, to make sure that this sort of error is not repeated?

LAWRENCE: Yes, General John Allen has ordered all the troops in theater, every troop on the battlefield is going to have to go back and go through sort of the cultural training all over again.

And some of what they've received, even before going to Afghanistan, is pretty extensive. They bring in Afghan-Americans to do role playing. They put the troops in different scenarios, teach them how to respond.

But the specific training that they're going have to relearn is how to dispose of, how to handle religious artifacts like the Quran. Because the general feels there's been a disconnect between the way in which they were trained and what happened here in this situation.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And it does not seem that this story is over. We'll be watching it closely.

Chris, thanks so much. Chris Lawrence from the Pentagon. BOLDUAN: And on a very different story, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun blasted Major League Baseball's drug-testing system today after an arbitration board tossed out his suspension. The 2011 national league MVP said the process was, quote, "fatally flawed" and maintained his innocence.


RYAN BRAUN, MILWAUKEE BREWERS: If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally, I'd be the first one to step up and say, "I did it." By no means am I perfect, but if I've ever made any mistakes in my life, I've taken responsibility for my actions. I truly believe in my heart and I would bet my life that this substance never entered my body at any point.


BOLDUAN: So the board voted 2-1 in his favor overturning a 50- game suspension for testing positive for elevated testosterone in October. This is the first time that a Major League Baseball player has argued a drug suspension and won.

So to get a little perspective on this, HBO sportscaster and CNN -- HBO broadcaster and CNN contributor Max Kellerman -- hey, Max -- joins me now from St. Louis. So how significant is this, Max?

MAX KELLERMAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's a big deal. It's the first time in the history of -- in the history of Major League Baseball's drug testing policy that someone successfully appealed the suspension. And though Braun maintains his innocence, he got off on a technicality.

BOLDUAN: So he's saying that the system is fatally flawed. Is the testing system fatally flawed? Did he just kind of -- or did he just kind of get off the hook on a technicality?

KELLERMAN: He did. I'll get a little technical here. They're looking for a ratio of epitestosterone to testosterone. And Braun's sample exceeded the threshold by greater than seven times. You know, they had him dead to rights.

The -- I read over in the rules what the tester is supposed to do once he collects the sample. If FedEx is closed, he has to make sure that he maintains a continuity in terms of the chain of -- you know, that it's under his control and that he keeps it in a cool place. He did all those things.

When FedEx opened on Monday, he shipped it out. But apparently, in that extra 36 hours or whatever it was, that was enough, even though the seal with Braun's sample inside was not broken, even though there's no medically known reason why it could have come up with a positive response instead of a negative test, especially at the levels that they found, including the presence of synthetic testosterone in the sample, even though all those things were true, the arbitration panel decided that technically baseball hadn't followed their own rules precisely. And though I disagree with them, that was the ruling.

BOLDUAN: So 50 percent of that was over my head, obviously. Someone who does not watch this as closely as you do.

KELLERMAN: Kate, short term, shorthand it's a technicality he got off on.

BOLDUAN: Sounds like the story is not over. We'll have to watch this more and talk to you more about it, too, have you explain to me what it actually means.

Max Kellerman. Thanks so much, Max. Have a great weekend.

KELLERMAN: Appreciate it.

BOLDUAN: CNN in-depth all this week, we are taking a close look at addiction in America. Today a man with one of the biggest names in U.S. politics says at last he's found healing and peace.

Patrick Kennedy is the son of a senator and nephew to a president. Now he's building a life outside of Washington. And he's very grateful.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): Patrick Kennedy. The name says it all. Son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, nephew of Senator Robert Kennedy, and President John F. Kennedy. Patrick Kennedy was born into the American political dynasty, so it's no surprise he followed in the family footsteps.

Kennedy was 21 years old when he won his first election to the Rhode Island state house. His meteoric rise continued.

PATRICK KENNEDY, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: You've got a fighter in me, and I'm going to fight on your behalf.

BOLDUAN: Winning a seat in Congress six years later, eventually serving eight terms in the House. Kennedy was a leading voice on mental health issues.

KENNEDY: Let's pass mental health parity.

BOLDUAN: But despite his very public life, Kennedy was fighting a very private battle: alcoholism, bipolar disorder, an addiction to prescription drugs.

WENDY SCHILLER, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR, BROWN UNIVERSITY: It seemed as though he was sort of crumbling under the weight of the Kennedy legacy more than any personal struggle. So when it finally came out that he had a personal addiction and he had personal struggles, it was almost a relief that there was an excuse for the fact that he hadn't really delivered the way that people hoped he would.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The story involves a car, allegations of intoxication and special treatment, and a Kennedy.

BOLDUAN: It was then this early-morning incident in 2006, when Kennedy crashed his Mustang into a Capitol Hill security barrier, that the public facade began to crack.

KENNEDY: I would say I've been to rehab easily over half a dozen times.

BOLDUAN: His mother Joan has long battled alcoholism. His father Ted Kennedy said in his memoir, quote, "I myself drink too much at times and feel exceedingly lucky to have been spared addiction."

Following rehab and the death of his father from brain cancer, Patrick Kennedy announced he would not seek re-election in 2010, instead shifting his focus to his own health and recovery.

KENNEDY: Living in the public eye and in political life was not conducive to really getting that kind of long-term, steady recovery that, you know, has absolutely got to be the No. 1 priority in my life.

BOLDUAN: Now today I spoke with Kennedy and asked -- and started by asking him if he's fully recovered now two years after leaving Congress.

KENNEDY: Recovery for me is a day-to-day process. And however, living a different life that isn't quite as stressful is certainly conducive to good sobriety. And for me, I needed to reduce the number of stressors in my life in order to have a chance to let recovery take hold.

And now I have a wife, a family, a connection that is also crucial to my recovery. Because there's nothing better than love and another human connection that's really important to you in your life to help keep you thinking of the future and working every day to make that future better by living better for today.

BOLDUAN: And you have been very candid and public with your struggles. I want to go back just a bit for our viewers. When would you say, Congressman, that you knew that you had a problem, that the problems really started? It seemed that that was at a pretty young age.

KENNEDY: Right. Well, we know from most science that, if you start binge drinking as a teenager, your likelihood of becoming an alcoholic and an addict is off the charts. So the real key is to minimize young people's exposure at an early age.

Unfortunately, in my case, I started drinking and drugging early in my life. And I did it as a way of self-medicating for the anxious feelings that I had. I'm now living a life where one day at a time I try to stay sober. And that is my medicine for today.

So I'm also a chronic asthmatic. And if I don't take my medicine, I'll have an asthma attack and end up in the emergency room. But most people know that if I did that, no one would report about it, because it's not news.

BOLDUAN: But when it comes to you, you know, looking at it from the outside, so many people will think quite honestly, this guy had it all. A member of Congress, a Kennedy, for goodness sakes. How could he have an addiction problem? Was it the added pressure, though, of the Kennedy legacy, the public office, Congressman, that was part of the problem for you?

KENNEDY: No, no. No, Kate, you see, addiction affects everybody. Rich, poor, black, white, men, women, it really doesn't discriminate. And that is the message here, is that it can affect everybody. And so we need to treat it as a medical issue, not as a moral issue.

And unfortunately, we have this kind of moral judgment we place on people. Because of course, the symptoms of their disease are behavioral. And so we associate behavior with a conscious decision to act that way.

But when you're in the throes of addiction, you lose control of making that decision about your own behavior. And that's why it's a disease. You need to treat it. And once you know you have it, it's up to you to be responsible to treat your illness.

BOLDUAN: You are out of politics, but of course never too far. You're campaigning fundraising for your cousin, Joe Kennedy, who's running for Congressman Barney Frank's seat. Do you miss it, I think is a question a lot of people will ask. And also, do you think, Congressman, you could ever get to a point in your recovery where you would be ready and wanting to run for public office again?

KENNEDY: Well, obviously, you know the family I come from. We love politics and love government service. Unlike a lot of people who look down on it, we love it and look up to it. I'm very honored to be supporting my cousin Joe Kennedy for Congress up in Massachusetts.

BOLDUAN: Do you think you could ever get to a point where you could see yourself running again?

KENNEDY: I -- you know, I -- my dad was able to balance kind of a public and private life. And I was less successful in trying to do that. And that's why I chose to take a turn towards a private life more. Because it doesn't have the stresses that the public life does.

But hopefully, in the future when I have a family and I have some long-term recovery, I might be able to look at other ways to serve that may be more public. But right now I think I made the right decision.

BOLDUAN: Well, many good things coming in the coming year for you and your family. So good luck with that. And thanks so much for coming in and talking to me.

BOLDUAN: Oh, my pleasure. Thanks, Kate.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BOLDUAN: Up next, Jeb Bush speaks out about what he says is a troubling turn in the Republican race.

And it's graduation day for the host of "America's Top" -- "America's Top Model." Did she get top honors? We'll have the details about her diploma.


BOLDUAN: Just days away from two critical Republican primary contests that could turn the tide of this race, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney are both in Michigan tonight as they battle for a win in the state Romney considers his home turf.

We're joined by Republican strategist Terry Holt, Democratic strategist Penny Lee, and former Republican congressman, J.C. Watts, to weed through this all.

Let's talk first about a -- some poll numbers that are just out. This is a Gallup poll. Let's throw that out so we can show everyone. And it's showing that Santorum's lead nation-wide is shrinking slightly, down from 10 points to 6. Obviously, Romney is close behind, Gingrich and Paul thereafter.

When you look at that, Terry, what's up with Santorum? What's -- I mean, I know we -- the day-by-day we don't like to make conclusions. But what does this say in terms of momentum going into Tuesday?

TERRY HOLT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The honeymoon is brief. You know, he rose; he had such a splash on the national stage with his wins a couple weeks ago. But now we're into the heart of the matter. We're a week before Michigan.

You know, Romney had a good debate this week. It was probably his best week since the Florida primary, winning there. So things are going to even out. And I think we're in for a real fistfight in Michigan. It could be close.

BOLDUAN: So Penny, as our resident Democrat this evening, taking a look at Tuesday, how important is Tuesday for all of the candidates? But when you think about it in the scope of the general election? I mean, if Mitt Romney can't win Michigan, his home turf, is that -- what does that say?

PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes. It really does question what does it really say? Is it that it is a lack of -- an indictment of who he is and what he is standing for? Or is it just a temporary blip that was specific to Michigan because he wasn't for the auto bailout. So it will be curious to see how they kind of spin it coming out of there. It's also going to be curious to see if he wins Arizona. So is it a split?

But I think they've done a very, very poor job on managing expectations. They came in saying Michigan was going to be their firewall. Now they are fighting for their lives.

BOLDUAN: J.C., what do you think?

J.C. WATTS, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: Well, Governor Romney -- as I've been traveling around the country talking to Republicans for the last 18 to 20 months, there's always been two camps. The Romney camp and "anybody but Romney" camp. And it has -- that has proven out to be true over the last or the first seven or eight contests here.

And now we see that he's struggling going into Michigan. And so I was in Michigan the first of the week, and people think that Santorum is going to -- going to win Michigan. And so looking at those polling numbers, you -- I probably wouldn't argue with that.

BOLDUAN: What's your advice to your man, Newt?

WATTS: Well, after Vegas we for, all intents and purposes, we kind of start focusing on Super Tuesday. We felt like that was the next, you know, battlefield for us. I think personally we have to do well on Super Tuesday. But I think that we will. We've got Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama.

BOLDUAN: Georgia, Georgia, Georgia for you guys.

WATTS: Georgia on our mind. You bet. That's right.

But I think -- I think the speaker's positioned well. One of the things we have to recognize, the perceived frontrunner here, the guy that's got the momentum, has three delegates. Santorum has three delegates. And so, you know, I think everybody's still in the game. It's still in play. And we'll see what happens in the next couple weeks.

HOLT: Let's go back to 2000. The Bush...

BOLDUAN: Real quick.

HOLT: There was a huge battle. It was kind of an ugly battle between Bush and Senator John McCain. That process, even though everybody now thinks it was short, they weren't wrapping that up until well after Super Tuesday. So even though...

BOLDUAN: So calm down, everybody.

HOLT: Even though it's drama every week...

LEE: We love it. We love it.

HOLT: ... we still have a lot of states at play. Virginia, Ohio.

LEE: I actually hope it lingers for quite a while.

BOLDUAN: Let's move onto Mitt Romney, because he gave a speech in Michigan billed as a major economic speech today. One of the things that he struck on a lot was sacrifice. Let's listen here to this.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My plan for America requires leadership, and it calls for sacrifice. It doesn't require a leader to promise bigger and bigger benefits and free stuff. It requires a leader if you need to call for sacrifice.

I'm convinced that the American people, if they're led by people who are actual leaders, who know how to call for sacrifice rather than just promise bigger and bigger benefits, that Americans will rise to the occasion.


BOLDUAN: So he's hitting on a lot of big Republican themes in talking about sacrifice. Smaller government, cutting spending, tackling the deficit. But he's still not connecting in Michigan while he's making this speech. J.C., talking about sacrifice, is that a winning message?

WATTS: Kate, give me a physical break. He's not connecting in Michigan. He's not connecting anywhere.

BOLDUAN: From an unbiased person.

WATTS: No. I'm serious. I'm saying, "Look." And then when you say, you know, bring in everybody along in the game, three weeks ago we were talking about him cordoning off poor people and saying, "I'm going to give them more benefits if that's what they need to fix the safety net."

So what's the difference? He just was critical of growing government, bigger government, but that's exactly what he was doing.

I think poor people should have an opportunity to obtain the American dream just like anybody else.

BOLDUAN: Terry, talk about it from the Republican standpoint of messaging. Is hitting on -- is hitting on sacrifice, maybe it will -- maybe it's good for a primary, but is that going to work?

HOLT: Well, I thought -- in that clip, I saw one thing that, among Republicans, we remember Barack Obama's campaign speech. It was promising everything to everyone without a price tag. It was hope and change and not much more.

So he's tapping into the frustration Republicans have had with Barack Obama. He's also tapping into something that's very politically popular right now. It's about -- it's more popular to talk about cutting spending than it is to actually talk about raising or lowering taxes. People get it that government isn't going to change unless spending cuts happen.

And so this is playing more -- when we're talking about the economy, we're talking about a Republican strength, but we're also talking about a strength that Romney thinks he brings to the table.

BOLDUAN: He's champing at the bit to get in. It does make a distinction where the Republican stance is and where they are...

LEE: I would say -- I was stuck on a plane today when I was trying to read and catch up with what he was saying, all based on Twitter and some other things. All it was, was about the fact he had a lost opportunity day. He went into a 70,000 arena and has 1,200 people. Talk about lack of enthusiasm: 1,200 people in a 70,000.

And the one thing that he said, again, trying to connect. He compared and said, "I love cars" and went on about cars. Cars, you know, I've got a Dodge and this and that. And my wife has two Cadillac Espanades. The average price on those is $68,000. More than the average worker makes.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about -- let's talk about a Republican not in the race currently. Jeb Bush made a speech in Dallas. Speaking in Dallas, he said he really seemed worried about the Republican primary and where it is. I'll read to you what you said.

He said, quote, "I used -- I used to be a conservative, and I watch these debates and I'm wondering. I don't think I've changed, but it is a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people's fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective."

Jeb's not naming names, but when a high-profile Republican is even troubled, what does that say about the primary? Real quick, go at it.

HOLT: I think it means that Jeb Bush has seen the attack on capitalism that some of the candidates that were trying to pick off Romney brought in. You know, Romney was a successful business person. He made money. And there were candidates in the race and frankly attacked him for that. That made some Republicans nervous. I think that Bush is giving voice to that.

But ultimately, this is a fascinating comment, because Jeb Bush is one of those guys that a lot of Republicans would like to have seen run for president. And he's one of those guys who's not -- he's one of the guys that J.C. referred to that is in one of two camps. There's Romney; it's "anybody but Romney."

BOLDUAN: Unfortunately, J.C., you're not going to be able to rebut.

Penny, I love you, but it's Friday. We're getting out of here.

Terry, Penny, J.C., thank you so much, guys. Have a great weekend.

Excitement is already building for the Academy Awards this Sunday, but not all the focus will be on the nominees. We'll give you an Oscar preview and show you who might just end up stealing the show in our "Moment You Missed." Stay with us.


BOLDUAN: The Oscars are just two days away and "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT'S" Kareen Wynter joins me now from the red carpet.

I know what you're doing this Sunday, Kareen. I also know what I'm doing.


BOLDUAN: Watching you on the red carpet. So tell me, who are some of the nominees to watch this Sunday?

WYNTER: Oh, my gosh. Two races that we're absolutely focusing on right now because they have some hot contenders, Best Actress and Best Actor. Let's start with Best Actress.

And Kate, I have to say, we're seeing some friendly rivalry going on here with best buds facing off. I'm talking about Viola Davis from "The Help" going up against Meryl Streep from "The Iron Lady" in the Best Actress category.

A lot of critics say they believe that Meryl has this locked up, because -- just because she's one of the greatest actresses of her time but also this is her 17th Oscar nomination, a record nomination. She's won twice before. Back in 1983 for "Sophie's Choice."

Viola has never won, and so they're thinking that Meryl may take it home.

And another category, Best Actor, George Clooney going up his best pal, Brad Pitt. Brad Pitt, of course, the star of "Moneyball." George Clooney, "The Descendants." Again, Clooney may have an edge over Brad. He's won an Oscar before for "Syriana," the supporting actor role. So we'll have to see who takes it home on Sunday. Doesn't get more exciting than that, though, Kate. Right?

BOLDUAN: No, it doesn't. I love Oscar weekend. I will admit it, and I will own it. Kareen Wynter, thank you.

WYNTER: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: Lisa Sylvester also, I know what she's doing Sunday. She's back with some other news you need to know right now. What's up?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Beginning with the weather. Well, the seasons are starting to change, which means some parts of the country are getting bad winter weather this weekend, and other folks will cope with thunderstorms and tornados.

Expect snow in the Great Lakes and the Northeast, strong winds and thunderstorms across the south and mid-Atlantic and a new storm in the Pacific Northwest.

Retired supermodel Tyra Banks has been on magazine covers across the globe, but she has never been photographed like this. Take a look here. The host of "America's Next Top Model" shows off her diploma from the executive education program of Harvard Business School. Yes, I said Harvard. Harvard Business School. She tweeted these pics today after graduating from the program, which lasted a couple of weeks.

And this isn't a joke. A man walked into a Wisconsin Denny's, told employees he was the new boss. He went into the kitchen and started cooking himself a cheeseburger.

Now, according to NPR, the employees called the home office to ask, "Really?" And when the home office said they'd never heard of the guy, the employees called the cops. Well, he apparently got through about three quarters of his cheeseburger when the police arrived, and they arrested him. So you know, that's some guy...

BOLDUAN: It's one of those situations, where you always argue that, you know, if you just are confident about what you're doing, you can probably pull it off for a little while.

SYLVESTER: He actually walked in with a suit and a briefcase so he looked the part, he looked the role. But you know, they're like "We're not expecting the new boss. You heard about this?" And so they called the home office.

BOLDUAN: File that under some people have just too much time on their hands.

And finally, the "Moment You Missed" today. Some nervous folks who run the Oscars apparently urged comedian Sacha Baron Cohen not to show up at Sunday's ceremony dressed as his new character, the Dictator. Seems the Dictator wasn't happy about that.


SACHA BARON COHEN, ACTOR: While I applaud the Academy for taking away my right to free speech, I warn you that, if you do not lift your sanctions and give me my tickets back by 12 p.m. Sunday, you will face unimaginable consequences!


BOLDUAN: I don't even know -- want to know what the unimaginable consequences are when it comes to Sacha Baron Cohen.

SYLVESTER: Yes, can you say publicity stunt? This is all leading up to one big moment at the Oscars.

BOLDUAN: It works for him and I'll probably see the movie. I'm a sucker for that.

Thank you so much. Have a great weekend.

That's all for us tonight. John King will be back on Monday. And have a great weekend, everybody. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.