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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview with Newt Gingrich; Interview with Ron Paul

Aired March 4, 2012 - 09:00   ET

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


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: Romney rules Saturday night's caucuses in Washington State. Next up, contests in 10 states with a total of 419 convention delegates.

Today, super states on Super Tuesday with former Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich.

FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have to win Georgia.

And Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS: Winning the primary, of course, is very, very important.

Then CNN's Dana Bash and Ron Brownstein on which Washington leader had the worst week in politics.

And --

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. Prime Minister, (inaudible).

CROWLEY: Israel, the U.S. and the threat from Iran with former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and former Undersecretary of State Nick Burns. I'm Candy Crowley and this is STATE OF THE UNION.

While Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum battled it out in Arizona and Michigan, Newt Gingrich went south to his old stomping grounds in Georgia. He was the congressman from the 6th District there for more than 20 years. Seventy-six convention delegates are up for grabs in Georgia, more than any other Super Tuesday state.

Looking to jumpstart a campaign that hasn't won a state since mid-January, Gingrich is pressing hard with a plan for $2.50 gallon gasoline, double-barrel blasts at Republican rivals and the president and superlative predictions.

GINGRICH: I believe we have a chance, a very real chance to win a historic election of landslide proportions carrying in control of the Senate, increased votes in the House and decisively defeating the Left for the first time since 1932.

CROWLEY: And former Speaker Newt Gingrich joins me now. Thank you so much for being here this morning. Let me start with that comment you made in Ohio about the possibility of a landslide victory, a historic proportions, taking over the Senate and the House and the White House. If we kind of review where we are at the moment, we see the president strengthening, his numbers are better.

We see this week two seats that Republicans really had pretty much counted on in terms of picking up or retaining, going by the wayside, thus, making a Republican Senate harder to get. What brings you the kind of optimism that makes you predict a landslide victory for Republicans?

GINGRICH: Well, we lived through this in 1980, and in the end issues matter and reality matters. The fact is that Ronald Reagan didn't pull ahead of Jimmy Carter until September. When he did pull ahead of him, he ultimately carried more states than Franklin Roosevelt carried against Herbert Hoover in 1932, and the reason is people take stock.

The price of gasoline is becoming a genuine crisis for many American families. If it continues to go higher, it will crater the economy by August because people will have no discretionary income.

And as a result, the president's going to go into the fall with very expensive gasoline, a weakening economy, a disastrously bad policy in the Middle East and a trillion-dollar deficit. I think that's a pretty big burden while he's waging war on the Catholic Church and apologizing to Islamic extremists. I think that's a pretty heavy burden for the President of the United States to carry for re- election.

CROWLEY: I want to -- first, obviously, you will have to get the nomination in order to take on President Obama. And I wanted to remind you of something you said January 17th. You were talking about both Rick Perry, who was still in the race at that time, and Rick Santorum. You were leading them both in the Gallup polls at that time, and here's what you said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: So I'm respectful that Rick has every right to run as long as he feels that's what he should do. But from the standpoint of the conservative movement, consolidating into a Gingrich candidacy would, in fact, virtually guarantee victory on Saturday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: We are now at a point where Rick Santorum has more delegates than you do in the delegate forecast. He's leading in the national polls. I wonder if you think it's -- and, by the way, his top adviser is asking you to get out so you can consolidate the conservative vote.

GINGRICH: Sure.

CROWLEY: What's your reaction? GINGRICH: Well, you can tell his top adviser -- tell his top adviser I'm taking Rick Santorum's advice. He stayed in. He was running fourth in every single primary. Suddenly, he went -- very cleverly went to three states nobody else went to, and he became the media darling and bounced back.

We have had a steady closing in the Gallup poll between Santorum and me every single week now for the last two weeks. I'm very confident that, in the larger state that is going to vote Tuesday, Georgia, which has more delegates than any other state, we're going to win a very, very decisive victory.

We've going to do pretty well, I think in Tennessee and Oklahoma and Ohio and a number of other states and I'm happy to continue -- I have basically a big solutions campaign, proposals like a personal Social Security savings account for younger Americans.

And, you know, I think Santorum gets out of the industrial states and gets into states where, having voted against right to work, having voted for Davis-Bacon on behalf of unions to cause billions of dollars of extra payments by the government, having voted for every single minimum wage the unions asked for, I think he has a much harder time when we go outside of places like Michigan. So this is going to be a long nominating process.

CROWLEY: Apparently, no one seems ready to get out, least of all you. Let me turn you to some of the issues that you brought up at the beginning. You've been quite critical of the president for apologizing for what apparently was the accidental burning of the Koran by some U.S. personnel in Afghanistan. It's caused obviously riots in the streets, the deaths of some Americans.

I wanted to play for our listeners and for you the president's explanation of why he apologizes, as given to ABC's Bob Woodruff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The reason that it was important is to save lives and to make sure our troops, who are there right now, are not placed in further danger.

BOB WOODRUFF, ABC REPORTER: Think it has improved it, your apology?

OBAMA: It calmed things down. We're not out of the woods yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Mr. Speaker, as president, would you not issue an apology if you thought it would save American lives?

GINGRICH: If the commander in chief apologizes in a setting like that, where, remember, the Korans we're describing were defaced by Islamist radical prisoners, they were defaced by them, it would have been pretty easy to have said I certainly hope every cleric in Afghanistan is going to condemn the defacing of the Koran by these extremists.

When the President of the United States says, I apologize, he is basically taking on blame. Now, what's happened --

CROWLEY: No, wait, no, lots of people apologize for accidental things.

(CROSSTALK)

GINGRICH: The nation's officials said --

CROWLEY: You know, lots of people -- you know, you bump into someone, you say I'm sorry.

GINGRICH: Candy -- CROWLEY: It's not unheard of to do that and so what I'm wondering is --

GINGRICH: Would you like to hear my answer?

CROWLEY: I would but let me just add to --

GINGRICH: Listen, would you like to hear my answer before you do? I know you -- go ahead.

CROWLEY: I just wanted to get back to the question, which was if you thought it would save lives, as the president said he did think this apology would help protect Americans, wouldn't you do the same?

GINGRICH: I don't believe that the president saved lives by what he did. I believe the president set a terrible precedent of a commander in chief not standing up for American troops. I think he should have called Karzai and said, you know, it was Karzai's soldier who killed those first two Americans.

Have we heard any apology from the Afghan president for his soldier killing young Americans? No. And I think that this one-sided policy -- Obama went around the world apologizing -- this excuse of his is baloney. He has apologized so many times, around so many countries, it is, frankly, embarrassing to have a president who thinks that apologizing for the United States is a good policy.

I don't believe the President of the United States has an obligation to apologize and I think the commander in chief has an obligation to step up and say, I am proud of our troops, I think our troops are doing the best they could to help Afghanistan, and, frankly, if the Afghans don't want us there we don't need to be there.

But the idea that we are apologizing while religious fanatics kill young Americans, I think is reprehensible and I think the average American thinks it's just profoundly wrong.

CROWLEY: Mr. Speaker, I have to move you along to a couple of other issues. One of them is about the president's commitment to Israel.

He said in an interview with "The Atlantic" recently, "Every single commitment I have made to the state of Israel and its security I have kept. Why is it that despite me never failing to support Israel on every single problem that they've had over the last three years, there are still questions out there about that?"

Do you doubt the President of the United States' commitment to Israel?

GINGRICH: Of course.

CROWLEY: Why?

GINGRICH: You have Secretary of Defense -- you have Secretary of Defense Panetta pounding the table and saying, come to the table, and then using curse words and repeating it, come to the table, lecturing the Israeli government in public during a period where rockets were being fired into Israel from Gaza.

You have the president's new budget, which cuts aid to Israel for its ballistic defense shield. You've had no evidence that the president is prepared to take steps to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. They talk and the Iranians build. They talk and the Iranians build.

I mean, we're being played for fools. You have every evidence that this administration is desperately trying to get the Israelis not to preempt, and, frankly, an Israeli prime minister faced with the threat of nuclear arms in Iran is going to preempt.

They cannot -- no Israeli prime minister could responsibly allow the Iranians to get nuclear weapons, because Israel is such a small country, it is so compact that two or three nuclear weapons would be the equivalent of a second Holocaust.

CROWLEY: And, finally, I have to ask you, you have called the president opportunistic for calling the young woman who at the center of a controversy involving Rush Limbaugh and contraception, the availability of it in health care. Limbaugh called the young woman a slut and a prostitute. She is, in fact, a law student at Georgetown Law. Can you tell me what you think of Rush Limbaugh in this whole case?

GINGRICH: I think he's indicated himself he made a mistake. And I think he did the right thing. As you point out earlier, but, again, let me draw the distinction, he isn't commander in chief. His apology didn't do anything worldwide. It didn't put any blame on the United States. He did the right thing. I'm glad he did it. That issue ought to be behind us.

CROWLEY: He is seen as kind of a spokesman for the Republican Party, though, and it hurts the party, wouldn't you think?

GINGRICH: Oh, come on, Candy. I know everybody in the media is desperate to protect Barack Obama. That's silly. The Republican Party has four people running for president, none of whom are Rush Limbaugh. One of them will end up as the nominee, that person will be the Republican spokesman and I don't think any of the four of them were involved in this controversy at all.

CROWLEY: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, thank you so much for joining us.

GINGRICH: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Coming up Congressman Ron Paul down but determined to push on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: Wee do not know exactly, exactly what will come out of campaign. We do know that the strategy of building up delegates is pretty sound position to have.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: And headed north, way north in his search of a first win of the season.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me from the Super Tuesday state of Alaska congressman and presidential hopeful Ron Paul.

Congressman, thank you for joining us.

I want to start out on a couple of issues in foreign policy. where you differ the most from your Republican colleagues. The president will meet this week with the Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel. If you were the president and the prime minister sat down and said I want you to know that we are prepared to bomb Iran because we want to keep them from developing the aptitude for having nuclear weaponry, what would your response be?

PAUL: Well, first thing I'd like to stay out of their business. I'd like to let them do whatever they want. I don't want to interfere with what they need to do for their defense and I don't want to interfere with Israel when they want to have peace treaties.

But if I were forced to give my personal opinion about it, I would say, you know, doesn't make any sense to bomb a country that is no threat to anybody just because they might get a weapon and try to point out that containment worked pretty well with the Soviets and they had 30,000 and they were rather ruthless people killing millions and millions of their own people and we stood them down in the Cold War. So I'd try to calm it down a little bit. But, quite frankly, I don't think we should tell Israel what they should do or shouldn't do. CROWLEY: Speaker Gingrich is a -- former Speaker Gingrich as I think you may have just heard said he thinks the U.S. has been played for fools by Iran, that accused of president of doing nothing to try to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions if indeed they have them. As we know the president has tried to gather world opinion to force Iran to stop what nuclear development it's doing. We also know that he's been at the forefront of sanctions.

Do you think the president has failed to do anything about this or do you in general go along with what he's done?

PAUL: Well, no, I think he gets too much involved. I think sanctions gives the motivation for them to want to have a nuclear weapon. Everybody around them, we have 45 bases around them. We can demolish them within an hour, so -- and the worst thing sanctions do and the Republicans and the Democrats both support it, Republican -- the other Republican candidate, they just want war even more.

But the whole thing is is a lot of dissension in Iran and we should encourage it by not interfering. Once we get involved or threaten to bomb them, they -- it becomes nationalistic, everybody joins the Ayatollah and Ahmadinejad and so there's a blowback, unusual circumstances, you know, unintended consequences.

So, yes, our people whether Republican or Democrats are well intended but they don't realize how much damage they do by not accomplishing what they want and causing more harm to us.

So our military personnel right now are very adamant not to be involved in the bombing of Iran. It makes no sense whatsoever to our military personnel, to our CIA, nobody who's supposed to be in the know right now even though they're much more interventionist than I am say it makes no sense whatsoever to encourage or bomb Iran right now and that certainly would be my position.

CROWLEY: And may I ask you do you think the president was wrong to apologize for the accidental burning of the Koran in Afghanistan? The president said he did it to try to protect U.S. soldiers. As you heard the former speaker thinks it was a bad idea.

PAUL: Now, I don't think it's wrong but it's pretty much irrelevant. But I think the Republicans who are condemning it are a little over the top too. Because you know, in '08 some of our soldiers in Iraq took the Koran and used it for target practice, you know, just to humiliate the Muslims in that country. Ronald Reagan apologized in what is so terrible about that, it might calm things down.

I would -- I'm personally more apologetic for invading countries who never did anything to us and occupying, disrupting it, causing thousands of deaths of our own people and causing hundreds of thousands of refugees. This is the thing that I feel sad about.

What about the pictures of torture? Weren't they every bit as bad? I mean this, is what incites the hatred. This is what we have to try to understand but, you know, I thought McNamara was rather astute when they asked him after he wrote his memoirs about the mess he caused in Vietnam, because he had all these second thoughts and they said, well, don't you think you should apologize or you want to apologize, you know, to the American people and to the world. He said, what good is an apology. If you make mistakes and you see this and stir up enough trouble, why don't we change our policy? That's what he said. We should change our policy. So if we have a policy going on in the Middle East that is begging that we apologize now and then and others condemning it because they don't think we should apologize, I think we should reassess our foreign policy and that is what I think we are not doing. And that is why i am quite different than the other candidates and the president that American people I think are sick and tired of this war and the wars going on over there. We're going broke. We ran of a debt of $4 trillion in this last ten years fighting these wars that were not legitimate and that we were not attacked. They were not declared and the American people by a majority now want us out of there.

CROWLEY: Let me turn you to a domestic issue. I'm sure you know that tornadoes have hit a wide swath of states, particularly in the Midwest, about 10 states. The damage is enormous.

You have frequently been critical of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the federal money that is given to some of these home owners and those that are also -- other victims of storms like this. Is there a role for federal money in helping all of these citizens get their lives back together?

PAUL: Not really, because it's not authorized and there is no such thing as federal money. Federal money is just what they steal from the states and steal from you and me. So there is no federal money unless you say, well, they can print it and cause internal problems.

But to say you don't support federal money doesn't mean you don't care about people, because FEMA is inefficient. I've lived on the Gulf Coast and I got re-elected constantly by criticizing FEMA because of people who had to put up with FEMA after the hurricanes, had nothing but frustration and anger with them.

And to point out, well, they might give you a home, yes, they bought a lot of trailers for Katrina, you know, and it's just so wasteful, inefficient. But, you know, the Guard units and other things within the states certainly is there. The people who live in Tornado Alley just as I live in a hurricane alley, they should have insurance for doing this.

But under major emergency, natural disasters, if there is a need, you know, for some help such as the military to come in, that is not a tragic violation, but to say that any accident that happens in the country, send in FEMA, send in the money, the government has all this money, it's totally out of control and it's not efficient.

There's a much better way of doing this and helping it. The FEMA, I was constantly told by the people of my district, they just get in the way. They take over law enforcement. They take over and they hinder the voluntary group and they hinder the state organization, exactly opposite of what we should be doing.

CROWLEY: Texas Congressman Ron Paul, so far away from home in Alaska, good luck to you, sir, on Tuesday. Thanks for joining us.

Ten states want to decide the fate of the 2012 Republican election and the front-runners aren't leaving anything to chance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM, R-PA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don't feed a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: We need a clear choice.

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Rick Santorum is a nice guy. But he's an economic lightweight. He doesn't understand what it takes to make an economy work on a personal basis.

CROWLEY: Four hundred nineteen, less than 48 hours until Super Tuesday.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: After talking to two presidential candidates, there's a lot to digest. Luckily, I have reinforcement. Joining me is Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst; and Dana Bash, CNN senior Congressional correspondent.

OK, Super Tuesday is coming up. And what I want to look at first is Newt Gingrich, simply because my sense is nobody really is in big jeopardy on Super Tuesday except for maybe Newt Gingrich.

DANA BASH, SENIOR POLITICAL CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, because, I mean, he said it himself. He set the bar high, saying he's got to win Georgia.

And the issue with Georgia, of course, is that, like other states, it's proportional, so Mitt Romney can take a little, Santorum can take a little and you know, he could have a moral victory, symbolically. But in terms of the delegates even -- I think even if he doesn't get the majority of the delegates, he's in big trouble.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, the administration has been remarkably tumultuous, on the one hand, more leading in national polls than in any Republican race ever.

On the other hand it has a lot of stability, in the sense that the party is dividing among familiar lines from state to state, in some ways of reminiscent of Obama and Clinton, with clear demographic alternatives. And that's one of the reasons why it went on so long. No one could shake it. So we have where Mitt Romney is running quite well with the more upscale managerial part of the party, and Gingrich has pretty much eclipsed in that more conservative wing by Rick Santorum. It'll be a real question whether he can find any way to leapfrog back over Santorum. So even winning Georgia would not be enough to change that basic dynamic.

BASH: No, I mean, the question is whether or not he's going to get out of the race and he made pretty clear to you today, with that brilliant question where you played his own words back to him, no, he's not going to do it.

CROWLEY: He's just not a step-aside guy unless just really jammed into a corner. I want to play something that President Obama said about the debates, and ask you a question coming out of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Or not -- I'm sorry. I'm going to read this to you -- in which the president said at a funder on Thursday, "I recommend you watch the recent debates. I'm thinking about just running those as advertisements without commentary, here you go."

The more serious part of this is the difference between this race and Obama-Clinton, as far as I recall, is that Obama and Clinton got more popular and more acceptable to the other side as they went along, and these guys seem to be in this circular firing squad.

BROWNSTEIN: The last ABC "Washington Post" poll had Mitt Romney facing a squeeze that, in theory, should not be possible. His favorability ratings were simultaneously declining with the voters who described themselves as the most conservative, and with independents.

He's kind of, you know, the base is resisting and the swing voters. Yes, I mean, look, from Obama's point of view and from the democratic point of view, the Republicans have been driven toward positions that will give them openings in November. Romney has come out with a 20 percent marginal tax rate cut, which is not going to be simple to sell in the time of a trillion-dollar deficit.

Immigration, other issues, let's not forget Obama has some significant vulnerabilities because of the economy, but there's no question the Democrats feel that Republicans have wrapped themselves around the axle, to some extent, in this campaign.

BASH: Exactly. And you talk to Republicans and they make the argument that, well, it's not that bad if we have a lengthy process because look what happened to the Democrats, but it's a really good point.

It is very, very different in terms of the substance of what they're talking about. I mean, part of the reason why President Obama and the Democrats are so thrilled is because you have Rick Santorum pulling the whole conversation to the right. You have a conversation suddenly about contraception, where Mitt Romney early on said in a debate, why are we talking about contraception? (CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: My question exactly.

BROWNSTEIN: Since February 7th, since Santorum's re-emergence you don't really hear many Republicans saying a lengthy process is benefiting them. I think there is a real change, because what they -- as you say, what they've been forced to discuss, the way they're discussing it has -- I don't think anybody feels that February has been a good month for the Republican hopes of beating Obama.

BROWNSTEIN: Doesn't mean that they can't get back in the game, but this has been a tough few weeks.

CROWLEY: One of things that Newt Gingrich brought up was, well, look, gas prices, you know, this summer and we all know people pay more for gas, they're not spending it any place else. We also know that businesses don't hire if their overhead goes up.

One of the problems on the horizon for President Obama, I wonder if this is another. This was a Gallup/USA Today poll on enthusiasm about voting in the presidential election, 18- to 29-year-olds, February 2008, 76 percent were really excited. February, 2012, right now, only 48 percent. Is that a danger signal for Obama?

BASH: Absolutely. I mean, I think because if you look at that figure in other key demographics, it's not that different. And that is his big problem is that the bar was so high from 2008, particularly with young voters.

And, I mean, even anecdotally, you know, I know we know people in that age bracket and they're like, he hasn't done enough for us and he needs to -- as much money as he has, as much organization he has, just like we're seeing from Mitt Romney, he needs to have the enthusiasm and it is not there.

CROWLEY: Let me take a quick break, come back, we'll get your answer to that question. When we come back, Dana and Ron are obviously sticking around to tell us who had the worst week in Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Talk about the blind side, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe stunned the political world this week, announcing her retirement, lamenting the lost art of bipartisanship.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: What I like to call the sensible center has now virtually disappeared in Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Snowe's retirement turns her fairly solid Republican seat into a question mark and greatly complicates Republican plans to gain the four seats they need to win control of the Senate. Also looking dicier, Nebraska, where retiring Democrat Ben Nelson left what looked like an easy opening for Republicans. Now former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey changed his mind and says he'll run for the seat.

He's probably not an easy fit in Nebraska more than 10 years after he left, but Kerrey is a stronger player than Republicans planned on, so they are taking early shots calling him a "tax-and- spend liberal who was involved in back room deal-making." And one of Kerrey's Republican opponents quickly fired off this ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kerrey voted for billions in earmarks. Bruning says eliminate earmarks and cut spending. The choice, New York liberal or Nebraska conservative John Bruning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: At worst, Nebraska and Maine Senate seats go to Democrats in November, at least Kerrey's entrance and Snowe's exit force Republicans to spend more money than planned in states they had counted on to put together a Senate majority.

All in all, while the political world was watching the presidential campaign in Michigan and Arizona, Senate Republicans were having a very bad week. Up next, the fight for the Senate with CNN's senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash and CNN contributor Ron Brownstein.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now, Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst, and Dana Bash, CNN senior congressional correspondent.

George Will, conservative, Republican, but quite outspoken, had this to say in a column this week. "Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are conservatives, although of strikingly different stripes. Neither, however, seems likely to be elected. Conservatives this year should have as their primary goal making sure Republicans wield all the gavels in Congress in 2013."

Let's just start out with the fact that a leading conservative columnist is saying, I don't think Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum can win.

BASH: Is saying what we all hear from a lot of Republican strategists quietly.

BROWNSTEIN: A lot of concern, absolutely. Republicans are talking about the possibility they will have to run "don't give him a blank check ads" in the fall aiming at Obama. Let's keep in mind, Obama is not Ronald Reagan. I mean, his approval rating is at a range that virtually assures the Republican nominee will be competitive.

But there's no question that the past month and really Romney's performance off and on and the inconsistency of it has raised a lot of concern among many Republicans thinkers about their prospects.

CROWLEY: Moving to the second part of this, which is, let's make sure that the House and the Senate are run by Republicans, a lot of power in that. The problem is, as we -- as said earlier, Olympia Snowe gets out, making a pretty solid Republican seat -- although she might have had some trouble this year, but it looked like she was going to win it, they counted on it, she's gone.

You know, and so may that seat be, as well as Ben Nelson's Democratic seat. Now they have got Bob Kerrey in, who is a stronger opponent than they thought they'd have. What are the chances?

BASH: Well, absolutely. Look, I mean, the conventional wisdom, and it was based on real math, had been that Republicans had a very good shot at taking over the Senate because of those that are actually up, Democrats have 21 seats that they're defending, Republicans have only 10. Let's just start there.

Then you had seven Democratic retirements, so that's always bad news. And the fact of the matter is it's also the environment. The Democrats are having trouble defending a lot of these states.

The fact that Democrats saw suddenly a burst of a chance in the red, red state of Nebraska, keeping that, a huge chance in Maine. There's no question that they are extremely excited and there's no question that Republicans in the Senate are going, oh, because they're going to have...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: How do you assess their chances now, Republicans, about taking over the Senate?

BROWNSTEIN: Probably no more than 50/50, I think. I think no more than that. I mean, look, the Obama shadow is going to be very large on this race. Since the 1970s we have seen in polling a steady decline in the number of people who split their ticket between presidential and Senate elections.

It's now routine, Candy, for 80 percent of the people who approve of a president to vote for his party's candidate in a contested Senate race, and 80 percent-plus of the people who disapprove to vote against his party's candidate.

So if you kind of look at the map, Obama is going to be a big shadow, places like Nebraska, North Dakota, Montana, Missouri, where, even if he wins the election, he's not going to run well, that's going to be a drag on the Democratic candidate.

On the other hand, you look at some of the opportunities Democrats could have for pickups. Now Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, all states where he could run well, plus Virginia, Wisconsin, Hawaii, New Mexico are places where he could also help them. So, you know, just a real quick number, in 2010 he was over 50% approval in nine states with Senate races, Democrats won 8 of the 9. He was under 47 in 15, they lost 13 of the 15. Only Harry Reid and Joe Manchin surviving.

So it's clear that his fate is not -- is going to be a big overall impact, but also in terms of the distribution. You know, one of the things Olympia Snowe talked about, very few cross pressured members that come from states that vote one way for president...

BASH: Exactly, in fact she said, Candy. She pointed out that in 1994, 34 senators that she was serving with came from states where the president was voted for, for another party. And that went down to 25, that's 25 right now.

But one thing I will say, though, is that if you look back over the past three elections, they're huge kind of wave one issue elections. 2006, swept in the Democrats, it was very much anti-war. 2008, it was obviously anti -- still anti-Bush. And 2010 it was kind of the Tea Party.

Talk to strategists on both sides they say it is going to be very, very difficult -- it's not going to be like that this time. It's probably going to be race by race, candidate by candidate, issue by issue, state by state.

CROWLEY: And very exciting. I love -- I could do this, but let's do it again. And sort of look state by state at some of these. Ron Brownstein, Dana Bash thank you so much.

In about 90 minutes, President Obama will speak to AIPAC, the powerful American-Israeli lobbying group here in Washington. With the U.S./Israeli relationship under strain by Iran's nuclear ambitions and Republicans accusing the president of being weak-kneed on the issue what kind of reception might the president get?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY The Middle East remains a place full of deadly maybes. In the past six weeks, we have learned that Iran may be ever closer to nuclear weapons capability, that Israel may be wants to bomb Iran's suspected nuclear facilities sooner rather than later, that the U.S. thinks sanctions still might work and that Israel maybe won't reveal its plans to the U.S. ahead of time.

Amid the high stakes diplomacy and the threats there is another dynamic, tensions between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is long standing over issues from Israeli settlements in occupied territory to the current crisis in Iran. As one Israeli scholar put it, "it's like a psychological showdown when Netanyahu comes to Washington."

Earlier this week Obama called his relationship with Netanyahu very functional, but dodged a question about whether the two are friends. Probably not. The most recent dust-up, the White House sent a national security adviser to Israel to persuade leaders not to attack Iran and the news was leaked to the press.

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SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA; I think the prime minister has every reason to be upset. I can understand why relations are in very bad shape right now.

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CROWLEY: But even if the personal relationship between leaders is rocky, Israel and the U.S. have common purpose. Both are rock solid that Iran cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. Up next, the U.S./Israel/Iran and this week's meeting between the president and the prime minister with former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and former undersecretary of state Nick Burns.

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CROWLEY: Joining me now for a preview of the president's speech, Nicholas Burns, former undersecretary of state for political affairs in the George W. Bush administration and Martin Indyk who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel and is the author of the book "Bending History: Barack Obama's Foreign Policy."

Gentlemen, thank you both for joining us this morning.

The president's going to give this big speech to AIPAC, the lobbying -- Americans lobbying for pro-Israeli causes, I want to ask you first, Nick, about the personal interaction between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama, they're meeting later this week. How much does that personal interaction play in U.S. policy?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FRM. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I think it probably has very little to do with the substance of U.S. policy. It's no secret that the president and Prime Minister Netanyahu are not best friends, but then again as the president pointed out the other day, the United States -- our military relationship and intelligence cooperation with Israel has never been better. And I think the president in the last couple of days has been able to show that he is tough-minded on Iran.

I heard the toughest message in his presidency in that Atlantic magazine interview the other day from President Obama that an Iranian nuclear device is unacceptable, that he's got Israel's back and that he's prepared to use force. So I see the president trying to reassure the Israeli public and Prime Minister Netanyahu that we do have their back and that we have their interests in mind.

CROWLEY: Mr. Ambassador, I want to just read a little bit of what the president said in that Atlantic article that Nick is talking about. The president said "I think that the Israeli government recognizes that as president of the United States, I don't bluff. I also don't as a matter of sound position go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say."

So give us the undiplomatic translation of this? Is that a signal to Israel we'll have your back when the time comes?

MARTIN INDYK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Basically what he's saying and he said -- started saying it in the State of the Union Address is that if Iran decides to get a bomb it will be bombed by the United States, not by Israel and that's the heart of his message in this interview. And I believe we'll hear that again today in his speech. He wants to make clear that he will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. The question is, where the decision is made as to when the as to when the Iranians are actually acquiring it. The Israelis see them approaching the threshold of a nuclear weapons capability. And the Israeli point of view, they can't wait until they actually go to get a bomb whereas Obama with 5,000 nuclear weapons Continental United States, superpower, is in a more comfortable position, and then say, if we see the Iranians going for a bomb, that's when we'll act.

But he did one other thing, if I could, in the interview, which I thought was very interesting. He took containment off the table. He said we -- you know, we cannot afford to contain a nuclear Iran, from an American point of view, because that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, four or five nuclear-armed states that will bring down the nonproliferation regime. And from an American point of view, we can't afford that.

So we're not going to live with an Iran with nuclear weapons. That is already a shift in U.S. policy in which he's making very clear that, if they go for it, the United States, we use force, and that's a much tougher message than we've heard before.

CROWLEY: And, Nick, if the ambassador is right here, should this be enough to satisfy Israel?

In other words, they do seem to be -- both nations are saying Iraq -- I'm sorry -- Iran cannot get a nuclear weapon, cannot have that capacity, and that now we're down to a matter of timing. Israel wants to go early, before they get the capacity, before they have a chance to do it. And the U.S. seems to want to sit back.

Are the president's reassurances that it will not happen enough to keep Israel staying in Israel for the time being?

BURNS: Well, Candy, I think these are very significant reassurances, as Martin has said, from President Obama.

He said very forthrightly the United States will not accept a nuclear-armed Iran, but there's another message here that the president is sending ahead of this meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and that is that the early use of military force is not very smart and might maybe turn out to be very unwise, by -- force by Israel.

Because, you know, there's no military scenario that most people are aware of where all of Israel's nuclear -- Iran's nuclear facilities -- excuse me -- can be taken out. And, in fact, it might lead to a wider war. And we do have the prospect of crippling sanctions coming into place, both the E.U. oil embargo that takes effect this summer and the U.S. Central Bank sanctions.

These are the toughest sanctions ever put upon the Iranian government, and I know that the administration believes it will also be in negotiations with Iran, along with the Europeans, Russia, and China, in a few short months.

So the far smarter and sophisticated strategy, I think, is the Obama plan because it allows for at least sanctions to work. It gives the prospect of negotiations and it allows us to leave the threat of force on the table and to use it later at a time of our choosing when it's really necessary.

CROWLEY: Mr. Ambassador, simply put, will sanctions work against Iran?

I think everybody looks at Cuba and goes, oh, it doesn't work there. They look at other countries where we've done it. Why will they work against Iran?

INDYK: Well, it's true. Iran has been under sanctions of one kind or another for 30 years and it hasn't made a whit of difference in terms of their determination to approach the nuclear weapons threshold.

In this case, as Nick says, these are crippling sanctions on their Central Bank, on their oil exports. We're essentially going for the economic jugular of Iran, and the supreme leader there has said they are crippling sanctions.

The worry I have is that our theory of the case may actually prove to be wrong. That is to say that we think that, by bringing the Iranian economy to its knees, the Iranians will cry "uncle" and give up on their nuclear weapons program. I fear that such pressure will convince them that we're trying to bring down the regime, and they'll figure that the best thing they can do is get nuclear weapons in order to deter us.

CROWLEY: Martin Indyk, Nick Burns, thank you both so much for your expertise.

We will watch the speech in just about one hour, but, first, bologna, aging rock stars and a five-year-old economist, just another week on the campaign trail.

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CROWLEY: Some odds and ends this week on the campaign trail, but mostly just odd. Candidates speak for hours a day on the trail. Sometimes they do ramble off the rails. Case in point: Newt Gingrich called the president's energy policies "bologna," and then this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm trying to figure out how to design, you know, some kind of picture of what -- what does Obama bologna look like. It would be all left-wing. Maybe it's bologna made of the left wings of turkeys. I don't know. It's...

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CROWLEY: Perhaps that's why the president likes his teleprompter.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney had a rock star kind of week.

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FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Kid Rock!

(APPLAUSE)

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CROWLEY: Kid Rock performed at a campaign event. Motor City mad man and guitarist Ted Nugent tweeted a ringing endorsement. And Mitt's campaign rally in Idaho was jammed like a concert, and we caught this sign in the crowd.

No, that's not Mrs. Romney holding the sign. We checked.

And, finally, props on the campaign trail are not new. President Obama occasionally busts out a chart. Rick Santorum likes the pocket Constitution, and as does Ron Paul, when he's not shaking silver coins at the Fed chairman. And Newt Gingrich likes chickens.

Off-Broadway, the possibilities are endless. Rhode Island Senate candidate Barry Hinckley went the adorable route.

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(UNKNOWN): Do you know the gas that my mom uses to bring me to school? It's a lot more expensive now. This is when I was born. And this is what it is now. This is real bad.

Tell your mom and your dad to vote for my dad, Barry Hinckley, because he's going to balance the budget.

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CROWLEY: Cute and potentially effective, but the problem with this kind of prop? It talks.

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NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Hudson, are you worried about our debt?

Can you hear me, buddy?

(UNKNOWN): Are you worried about paying back the money, Huddy? You worried about paying back the money?

(UNKNOWN): No.

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CROWLEY: That's OK, Hudson. Only 4 percent of Americans want to hear presidential candidates talk about the national debt, so you are on to something. Thank you so much for watching "State of the Union." I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Join me next Sunday at 9 a.m. Eastern for my exclusive interview with Senate majority Leader Harry Reid.