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Super Tuesday Showdown

Aired March 6, 2012 - 22:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so there you have it. Mitt Romney speaking before his supporters in Massachusetts, a state he easily carried. He's also carried Vermont and Virginia, three states for Mitt Romney, two so far for Santorum. Santorum takes Oklahoma, Tennessee. One for Newt Gingrich in Georgia.

We're watching two more states. The polls have just closed in Idaho and North Dakota. So far, we are not able to make a projection in Idaho and North Dakota, but look at Ohio right now. The polls close there at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. Look how close it is right now, 59 percent of the vote in, Santorum slightly ahead of Mitt Romney, 38 percent to 36 percent, Santorum with 254,757, Romney 254,739, Santorum just slightly more than 10,000 votes ahead. Gingrich and Paul significantly behind.

But we're going to watch Ohio very, very closely. Look what is going on in North Dakota right now, 73 percent of the vote in. Santorum is ahead in North Dakota as well, 39 percent. Ron Paul is second with 28 percent, Mitt Romney third, 25 percent, Newt Gingrich 8 percent. A small number of people participated in the caucuses in North Dakota, 75 percent of the numbers in. Santorum ahead in North Dakota.

But I want to focus in on Ohio right now.

You know, if Romney loses the popular vote in Ohio, he might still win the delegate count because Santorum didn't get on the ballots in some of the congressional districts. Bad performance on his staff's part to begin with as far as that is concerned, but if he loses the popular vote in Ohio, this race is going on and on and on.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: The race is going on anyway. It's the on and on part that gets very interesting if that stays purple.

Santorum is purple. Romney is the deeper red. Newt Gingrich has won Georgia tonight. He's won Georgia and South Carolina. We don't expect Gingrich to win anywhere else tonight. The question will be is he a regional Southern candidate?

But when you look at this, Wolf, let's come in on the state. After winning Michigan, Governor Romney thought I can come back in Ohio. This is an incredibly close race. I'm looking right now, and that's 10,784 votes, nearly 60 percent of the vote in.

The question is can Romney make it up? The answer is yes, but the window is very tight. Why is the answer yes? Look up here, the biggest county in the state, Cuyahoga County, 12 percent of the population, only 41 percent of the precinct's in, and look at that big Romney lead.

So if you see that, that's a 7,000 vote lead right here and it's only 41 percent of vote. As the vote grows, if the margin stays the same, there's several thousand votes for Governor Romney right there in that one county alone. It is doable, but that margin has to stick. It also has to come in a big margin like this down here in Hamilton County.

This just jumped from about 6 percent of the vote to 46 percent of the vote in last 10 or 15 minutes. You see the Romney edge right there 46-32, a little more than 4,000 votes right there. He needs that essentially to double. If you get up to 100 percent, he needs that extra margin there. It is doable if he keeps the votes coming in the populated areas, Lucas County another place where you see a Romney lead, not as big, but only 30 percent of the vote in. If he can keep the lead in this county if it matches up and gets to 100 percent, and you say 38-37, it's maybe 100 votes or so.

But the potential is there.


BLITZER: What about Columbus, the state capital?


KING: Columbus, the state capital, about half the vote in. The same point, it's about a 2,000-vote difference right now at 50 percent. If the margin stays exactly the same and this is precincts, not necessarily vote counts, but if essentially you double it, again there could be, emphasis on could be, a couple thousand votes for Romney.

If you look at some of these smaller counties where Santorum is winning, 100 percent of the vote is in, and you move over here, 100 percent of the vote is in, you move over here, 79 percent of the vote in. Santorum will get some additional votes as well, one presume. But it's not as populated if you pull it out.

We can look at it by population. If you want to look at the population of the state and you come back like this the thicker the lines, the thicker the area, the higher the population. You notice in the thick population centers, that's dark red. Governor Romney is winning in the population centers at the moment which is why as the rest of the vote comes in, he has a chance, he has a chance.

But it's 12,000 votes right now and we're up to 60 percent of the vote. Not much room of error. Definitely Hamilton County is key for Governor Romney. The corners of the state, if you will, the southwest corner, the northeast corner as the rest of the vote comes in is going to be critical.

I want to pull out because you mentioned North Dakota. Look at this in the middle of the country. This will be Santorum's argument. He won Colorado, he won Oklahoma, he started with a win in Iowa. Missouri was a beauty contest. It's not delegates here but it's an important state, Minnesota. Let's go to North Dakota, 78 percent of the vote in. Romney running third.

That was a disappointment for Ron Paul in another caucus state here. If you pull out and look at the map, you have two for Gingrich down here, you have got the Northeast and Virginia. The organizational failure of Santorum and Gingrich to get on the Virginia ballot could be a big legacy in the race tonight, Wolf. As we keep watching, we have to wait for Idaho, Alaska, and we will keep counting in Ohio.

BLITZER: John, stand by for a moment because we have another important piece of news to report to our viewers right now.

CNN projects that Rick Santorum will win North Dakota caucus. You can see it right here. North Dakota caucuses, they closed just at the top of the hour, 28 delegates at stake. A third win for Rick Santorum tonight. He earlier won Tennessee, earlier won Oklahoma, now North Dakota.

Mitt Romney earlier won Vermont, his home state of Massachusetts, and Virginia where only he and Ron Paul were on the ballot. Gingrich won in Georgia. Ohio, we're still waiting for Idaho and Alaska. Alaska, the polling closes at midnight Eastern.

But North Dakota finally, we have made the projection, North Dakota, Rick Santorum wins. So it's three wins so far for Santorum. Three wins right now for Mitt Romney. But we're going to be waiting for Ohio. Right now, Santorum, Santorum has a slight lead in Ohio right now. But it could be the tiebreaker, a very significant tiebreaker in Ohio right now.

I want to go to Dana Bash. She's in Cincinnati, Hamilton County in Ohio.

Dana, tell our viewers what's going on over there because this race is really tight, Santorum slightly ahead.


He's slightly ahead on the state level, but here in very, very important Hamilton County, he's not. With about half of the votes in to Hamilton County, Mitt Romney is actually winning by about 3,700 votes. He's got 46 percent, and Rick Santorum has about 35 percent.

So Mitt Romney is doing very well here. However, I will tell you that they're waiting for a very -- if we're really getting specific and in the weeds here, this is very interesting. Anderson Township, that's a very important town that they're waiting for. It's also a place with a lot of Tea Party voters and probably a big voting area for Rick Santorum. We're watching that very closely.

I want to take you over here. This is where it's actually happening. This is where the folks here at the election center are counting the votes. They're getting actual cards in and they're putting them in card readers and it's sending the information into the computer system to give us a sense of exactly where the votes are from specific precincts.

I mentioned earlier to you that there were going to be trucks that were going to come here and physically bring the ballots from across the county, and that happened. I think we have some video of it. Some trucks and actually some cars, but I have to tell you, even for a crusty reporter like me, it was kind of cool to see that kind of democracy in action, old fashioned-democracy in action, to see people pulling the ballots off the trucks and putting them into the bins and bringing them up here and watching them count them, certainly some electronic, but still, it's pretty old-fashioned -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much. We will stay on top of that, Hamilton County, which is Cincinnati, an important part of the state indeed.

It's interesting. I want you to explain to our viewers, John, why even if Santorum were to win the popular vote in Ohio, Romney could wind up getting more of the delegates of Ohio.

KING: Delegates are awarded in several ways, first statewide. You get proportionality. Unless somebody gets 50 percent -- no one is going to get 50 percent. If you're 50 percent, you get all the statewide delegates. No one will get to 50 percent tonight. We're safe in saying that.

Then there are district delegates. They're done by congressional districts. Let me sneak over here, grab the right map, grab Ohio map. I will pull this over. This is Ohio divided. You see me lay this over. It's hard to see the districts in the Cleveland area. There's a lot of districts in the more populated areas.

But if you look at the other black lines within, this is Ohio divided by all its congressional districts. A bunch of them are up here in the populated Cleveland, Akron area, and look at that filled in, a lot of Romney red up there. You see these exclamation points? These are places where Santorum had deficiencies.

Either he does not have any delegates in those congressional districts or he can't get all of the delegates in the those congressional districts because they simply didn't meet the filing deadlines. The Santorum campaign was saying early on, we were struggling, we didn't have the organization money, we didn't have the resources to do this.

Again not on the ballot in Virginia tonight, a big setback in a conservative state. He won Tennessee, and perhaps he could have won in Virginia. Leaving delegates on the table there. And even if he wins here in Ohio tonight, Senator Santorum will leave delegates on the table, if you will, because you see him doing very well right here in this congressional district, for example. He doesn't get delegates or he won't get all of the delegates because of his filing deficiencies. Governor Romney seems to be winning this one, so it's not as big of an issue, but here Santorum doing very well in this district here and he's carrying all of the counties at that moment. Again filing deficiencies will keep him from getting all of the delegates there if any. And in this district up here, which looks much more competitive, some Romney counties, some Santorum counties, again he could lose out.

Up here where he has issues, it looks like Romney would carry those areas anyway. But when we go through the delegates tonight it's likely looking at this map that you're going to have a very close race either way, whether Santorum holds on to the lead or Romney can come back and eke out a victory in Ohio.

Romney is likely to get more delegates than Senator Santorum because of the filing and organizational deficiency. I want to put this back over here just to come back and look at the state one more time, come out and then come back in, really looking at it purple at the moment. Remember he has won Tennessee, he has won Oklahoma, he has won North Dakota.

Adding that to the four states he had won previously, this is the biggest prize of the night, and at the moment, again, 64 percent of the vote in. Look at that right there, a little more than 12,000 votes. That margin has been staying as the overall percentage goes up, which spells trouble for Governor Romney. The question is can he get the votes?

Yes, we still have more than half of the precincts to come in Hamilton County, critical, as Dana Bash just noted. There are a couple thousand votes he could get there, and the other place to watch is up in Cleveland and in Summit County, around Akron, but if Romney is going to come back, he has to do it pretty quick in the big populated areas.

BLITZER: It's increasingly going to be more and more difficult as the percentages go up.

Here is what we have so far, three wins for Mitt Romney in Virginia, in Vermont, and Massachusetts. Three wins for Santorum, Tennessee, North Dakota, and Oklahoma. One win for Newt Gingrich. Three more states still outstanding, especially Ohio.

We're going to continue our coverage, much more coming up from the CNN Election Center right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Nice win for Rick Santorum in North Dakota. In fact, he's doing well tonight, Rick Santorum.

He has won three states so far. He's won North Dakota, he's won Tennessee, he's won Oklahoma. Three states so far for Mitt Romney, Vermont, Virginia, and Massachusetts. Gingrich wins one.

You can see what's going on. We're still waiting for Ohio, we're still waiting for Idaho. They closed the caucuses in Ohio just a little while ago. Alaska, we're waiting for as well. But this is the key state right now, Ohio.

Rick Santorum still maintaining his lead, about 14,000 right now, 289,000-plus for Santorum to 275,000 for Mitt Romney, 38 percent to 36 percent, 15 percent for Gingrich, 9 percent for Paul.

Look at Idaho -- 5 percent of the vote is in, very, very small numbers so far, but Mitt Romney has a significant lead in Idaho, 76 percent there. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum tied for second with 10 percent or so, 4 percent for Gingrich in Idaho.

It's very, very close though in Ohio. We're watching it very, very closely.

You know what? A lot of people are wondering if this goes on and on and on, could it actually going all the way until the end of August, when the Republicans will convene their convention in Tampa?

Tonight, Tom Foreman is taking us on a virtual, a virtual convention to give us a sense of how the delegate count may play out.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Earlier, we looked at the array of forces, of delegates for each candidates here in our virtual convention floor in Tampa.

It's easy to see how Mitt Romney was leading in the delegate count before tonight's votes started coming in, but still far from establishing an insurmountable lead. Now let's see how the battlefield is changing this evening.

Remember, at the end of the night, the delegates are all that matters, and even though it's complicated to figure out precisely how many each candidate is picking up, we can say with confidence that this is one of the bigger nights for Newt Gingrich.

You see we have added his new delegates over there on the left. Rick Santorum is definitely collecting some, too. He's in purple them toward the middle. And with his wins now including Tennessee and Oklahoma, we will certainly be able to show more for him in that section soon.

Ron Paul picks up a few over on the right, but look at Mitt Romney expanding his lead, trying to grind down his opponents by picking up another whole bloc of seats.

In short, the view from the podium at our virtual convention is changing rapidly tonight, but so far, we still don't have an answer. Is this party headed for a coronation of a clear favorite in Tampa or a confrontation between two or more contenders with legitimate claims to the nomination on this floor?

BLITZER: Tom Foreman with our look at the virtual Republican Convention in Tampa.

Let's show you what's going on. We will go to Idaho first -- 6 percent of the vote is now in. Mitt Romney has a significant lead so far in Idaho, 1,184 votes, only 160 for Ron Paul, 149 for Rick Santorum, 59 for Newt Gingrich. Mitt Romney with 6 percent of the vote in doing well in Idaho.

In Ohio, look at this, 70 percent now in, and Santorum's lead is actually growing. It's more than 15,000 right now, 305,850 for Santorum, 290,848 for Romney, 38 percent to 36 percent. It's a significant Santorum lead. Only 30 percent of the precincts outstanding so far. We will see if Romney can overcome that 15,000- vote deficit.

It's going to be increasingly difficult for Romney to do so. We will check back in Ohio in a moment.

I want to go to Idaho right now. Our own Shannon Travis is standing by in Boise with more.

You have a huge crowd there, Shannon, behind you. Where are you right now? Tell us what's going on.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right now, we're in the Taco Bell Arena, Wolf, here at Boise State University.

We were expecting for this to kick off about a little over an hour ago, but it's just starting right now. But to your point about huge, you can't get much bigger than this. I'm going to have our photojournalist just pan the crowd. Organizers are telling us, get this, Wolf, 9,000 people in this arena.

The arena itself, we're told, sits between 10,000 and 12,000 people. They're saying they have 9,000 so far. Some of the organizers are even wondering if this was the largest caucus so far of this season. We will try and check those numbers and verify, but let's talk a little bit about the process.

You will probably notice behind me there's a line of people. These caucus-goers are lining up and they are going to go behind that black curtain. We're going to zoom in to what this guy right here -- you might notice a white bucket. Each of them are getting a coin.

This caucus is different. They're not writing anything down. Wolf, they're taking the coin that they're getting from that person there and dropping it in a bucket, very similar to the bucket that the man has right there. Each one of the buckets, four buckets, has a candidate's name on it, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul.

Just to give a sense, a little bit of a sense of what that coin looks like, it looks a little bit like this. This isn't the exact coin. They wouldn't give me the coin, but it's very similar to this. They cast their coins into the buckets, and then from there, the buckets go up that stage, up those stairs where we have a camera trained on the coin counters, we will call them, the vote counters, and CNN is the only network to have a camera up there exclusively. We will be watching that.

I just talked to an organizer to get a sense of how long this might take. He said he hopes that all 9,000 of these people, that they can get their votes finished in about 45 minutes. Anyone's guess how long the actual counting of those coins will take -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So far, Romney doing very well in Idaho. Stand by, Shannon. We will get back to you.

I want to update our viewers on Ohio right now. Take a look at this. These are the latest official numbers coming in from Ohio, 70 percent in Ohio now in, Santorum maintaining a 15,000-plus lead over Romney.

This is a dramatic, dramatic development. If Santorum wins the popular vote in Ohio, it's a major setback for Mitt Romney.

We will go back, check the situation in Ohio. John King is taking a very, very close look at the counties. Can Mitt Romney overcome that 15,000-vote deficit with 30 percent of the vote outstanding? Stand by. We will be right back.


BLITZER: Three wins for Romney, three wins for Santorum, one win for Gingrich.

Let's go to Ohio, take a look at the voting right now -- 72 percent of the vote is now in. Santorum still ahead by almost 15,000 votes, 38 percent to 36 percent. Gingrich and Ron Paul, third and fourth.

Let's go over to John King right now, taking a closer look at Ohio.

A lot of people are asking, are asking whether or not there are enough votes out there left to make up that 15,000 deficit.

Hold the thought because I'm told being Dana Bash is in Cincinnati. She's got some new votes that are just coming in. John, pay attention to this because these numbers are first being reported here.

Dana, tell us what you have.

BASH: That's right. This very important county, Hamilton County, 80 percent reporting. Mitt Romney is actually up here by about 10,000 votes.

He's got 27,807 votes and Santorum has 17,267 votes. So Romney has about 48 percent of the votes, and Rick Santorum has about 29 percent. So there you see why I'm sure that we and other news organizations are not calling Ohio, because this shows that Mitt Romney is doing well in this very, very important state, and they're still waiting for important townships in this county to come in.

But, you know, it certainly defies the broader picture of the state of Ohio.

BLITZER: Because that's going to be a net plus of 6,000 votes for Romney if you take a look. The 15,000 advantage that Santorum had is going to go down by 6,000 if you take a look at these numbers coming in from Hamilton County.

KING: You can't do the direct math because this lead is already factored in, but, yes, that's about the right math there, 6,000 roughly. You can look at that.

That's one county there. That gets us up to -- she said 80 something percent. More votes -- presumably, more votes, if the margins hold, more votes, several hundred, maybe 1,000 more votes for Governor Romney there. So let's stretch the map back out.

Can he get elsewhere what he just got in Hamilton County? When the votes come in elsewhere, will it give him a big jump like that? The answer is yes, but a thin needle to thread right now. Where can he get them? Let me turn this off so we can open these up.

He can get them in Stark County. Right now you see just 43 percent of the vote in. You see a Romney lead. Again, at 43 percent, he's got the lead. If these margins hold up and that goes up, the rest of the vote comes in, you could see a couple thousand votes there for Mitt Romney.

Move up to where Akron is, that's Summit County, we're at 89 percent there, so not much room there. This is a place where Mitt Romney is leading. He needs that to come in, but that number was smaller just a minute ago. Now that it's up to 89 percent, smaller room for him to make it up there.

This is it right there, the rest of the vote in Hamilton County, and the vote here in Cuyahoga County. Right here, look at this, 41 percent of the vote, again a big Romney lead. He needs -- you see the 7,000-vote difference right there at 41 percent? If he can get another 6,000 or 7,000 or 8,000 votes here, that's where you could conceivably make up the difference.

Otherwise, if you go around the lake, where he is doing well, 100 percent of the vote is in there, 100 percent of the vote is in here. You come over here, 100 percent of the vote is in, and this is 100 percent of the vote in.

So we're starting to run out of places, essentially, for Mitt Romney to make up the difference. Here is another key place to look, Franklin County, again, a more populous area. You can tell by the higher vote total counts -- another quarter of the vote to come in. Governor Romney could pick up a couple hundred votes here, maybe 1,000 votes here if it matches up. But Wolf, he's now trying to thread a very thin needle. He needs the rest of Hamilton County. He needs Franklin County, and he needs Summit and Stark to give him a boost, as well as the Cleveland area, Cuyahoga County right there.


KING: Again, 41 percent, Mitt Romney depending right now on the largest metropolitan area of Ohio...


KING: ... to make up a big difference.

Again, Senator Santorum had some filing issues, some organizational issues, so Romney is going to get more delegates tonight out of the state of Ohio, no matter what happens right here. But...

BLITZER: But the bragging rights.

KING: ... the moral power -- the moral power of that state being purple on this map tomorrow for Rick Santorum would be remarkable, to make the argument that sure, Mitt Romney -- Romney will have more delegates at the end of tonight. We know that.

But for Rick Santorum to wake up tomorrow morning and say, "Look at the middle of America. Look at this huge" -- no Republican has won the White House in modern history without winning the state of Ohio. Psychologically, if that is purple tomorrow, it's a very different race.

BLITZER: Santorum and his campaign, in fact, didn't spend much money in Ohio. The Romney folks spent a lot of money there. It's going to be a very significant embarrassment if they can't capture that popular vote.

All right. Look at the bottom of your screens. You'll see the vote coming in. We'll take another quick break. Much more of our coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Hey, welcome back to our continuing coverage. What a night in Ohio. Take a look at the numbers. Rick Santorum now, the lead is shrinking. Rick Santorum, with 78 percent of the vote in, he has 336,000 votes, just 6,856 votes ahead of Mitt Romney, who has 37 percent. Newt Gingrich down at 15, Ron Paul at 9. A very tightening of the race, but again, we are -- it's too close to call at this point.

Jim Acosta threw a question to Rick Santorum just moments ago on the rope line, asking him what a win in Ohio would mean for Rick Santorum. Here's the answer.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Senator Santorum, what happens if you win Ohio tonight? What happens to this race, do you think?

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We feel great. That's all I can say, is we feel great. We're in this race. And we're in it to stay. And that means all the way to the convention if necessary.


COOPER: To our panel here, contributors and analysts. What do you make of this? If you were in the Romney camp tonight, Donna Brazile, how do you look at these numbers so far? DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the biggest issue for Mitt Romney is that he can't seal the deal. He cannot seal the deal with self-described conservatives. He's having trouble with independents. And of course, he's still uninspiring to young people.

So I think Mitt Romney's problem is that he cannot put together the coalition to get this nomination over.

COOPER: And among evangelicals, as well.

BRAZILE: Well, I haven't looked at them. I haven't preyed (ph) on them yet.

CASTELLANOS: Romney's preying (ph) on them.

This is a scary night for Mitt Romney. Santorum is going to be able to look him in the eye tomorrow and say, "You outspent me to three to one in Tennessee. You outspent me four to one in Ohio. And in 90 of 95 counties in Tennessee, I beat you."

And in Ohio, we don't know. This thing is getting scary close for Romney here. This is a near-death experience.

COOPER: A near-death experience?

CASTELLANOS: Near-death experience. It's so taut.

Now, what may happen here is Mitt Romney has the strategy, "We're going to crush my opponents with more message, more media, more manpower in these states." The Florida strategy, right? He's not winning them; he's making his opponents lose. We may be seeing that coming to an end.

These candidates have been out there so long now they're getting known on their own. The negative ads may be having a little less effect. So Mitt Romney, we may be getting to a point now where he's going to have to start winning races, as opposed to making his opponents lose.

BEGALA: We come here, every week, this is the week he'll close the deal, as we say. And if he was as bad, by the way, closing deals on Wall Street, he'd be homeless today. Two hundred million dollars, right?

It doesn't -- and it's not the campaign. He's got good people. He's got the biggest super PAC of them all. He's got good ads. He's just not very good at this. I mean, look what we've got (ph). He's just not that talented a politician.

FLEISCHER: A little longer term perspective here. Compared to Iowa, this could be a landslide tonight.

What's fascinating is you might have a switch between Michigan and Ohio. In Michigan, Mitt Romney won the popular vote, and then Rick Santorum said, "But I won the delegates." That didn't hold up, but it was true. He had a 50/50 split for a moment. Ohio, switch it. You could have Mitt Romney win the delegates but Rick Santorum win the popular vote. And everybody is going to say Rick Santorum won Iowa -- Ohio.

But if you're Romney, again, back to basics. He's winning the delegates, and that's the grind. It's taken longer than I think anybody in Romney world wanted it to go, but that's the way it goes.

COOPER: And even after spending all that money, that's still a good win?

FLEISCHER: No, no. No, you don't want to have to spend all your money, but as long as you've got money to spend, you can keep spending it.

CASTELLANOS: But look what he's got coming up. He's got North Carolina. He's got Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Maryland, Kentucky. Those are not Romney-friendly states right now, unless he can kick his campaign up from just a campaign to that cause.

COOPER: He's already spending a lot of money, you're hearing, in Mississippi.

BEGALA: Yes. He's already spent $3 million in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, which are inexpensive states. And the only other person who spent any money is Newt Gingrich, or his super PAC. I couldn't find out which. Fifty thousand on radio.

He's already carpet bombing these states, but I think to little effect.

BRAZILE: Under Ohio law, I hate to bring up a recount...

FLEISCHER: Please, feel free.

BRAZILE: But -- well, didn't I tell you. Leave me alone. Under Ohio law, recount can commence one of two ways. By application or when the margin of victory is very small. An automatic recount. This is Florida. This is possibly Florida again tonight.

BORGER: Oh, my God.

COOPER: Right now, I should say it's 5,601 votes. Actually, now back up to 6,055 votes.

BORGER: You know, can we just say the delegate count aside, because I think Ari is right about this. The delegate count. When you look at Mitt Romney's performance this entire evening, I would have to say he's underperformed.

I mean, he won in Virginia. But he beat -- he was only running against Ron Paul. I would argue that beating Ron Paul by, what, 14 -- however? He should have beat Ron Paul by more than he did in Virginia.

In Tennessee, he lost to Santorum by ten points. Oklahoma, six points.

I've been corresponding here with some Republican strategists who say, if you look at Tennessee, it's a good way to look at Romney's weaknesses.

Tennessee is a southern state but not the Deep South. There's a lot of urban areas that consider themselves kind of moderate. They elect senators like Bill Frist and Bob Corker, and so therefore, therefore -- right, Fred Thompson. Therefore, Romney should have done better in the state of Tennessee. They're not saying he should have won Tennessee, but he shouldn't have lost it to Santorum by ten points. It's less ideological, less evangelical. Although it is evangelical, I think. Seven of 10 voters maybe.


CASTELLANOS: ... many southern states. I think you're absolutely right.

BORGER: More establishment. And so if you look at that and you say, OK, what's Romney's problem? Well, he's not connecting. He's not even connecting to the people he should be connecting to.

COOPER: Donna, North Dakota, you're saying.

BRAZILE: He lost North Dakota. In 2008, he beat John McCain with 35 percent of the vote. And tonight, Rick Santorum won in North Dakota. Again, surprising to me. It's a caucus state, but Romney carried it four years ago.

GERGEN: Just one thing to add to this: he still may win Ohio. Let's wait. We want to wait.

But I do think there are two things going on here. One is the weakness of the candidate, because this is a weak field. Who could have imagined you'd have a hard time putting away Rick Santorum in Ohio or Newt Gingrich at this stage of the campaign? So that speaks to the weakness of candidate.

But I have to say, there's one other thing. That is, this party has changed a lot. You know, 20 years ago, 10 years ago, Mitt Romney would have been a very good candidate within the Republican establishment field. Today, this is a much more conservative party than it was. And I think it's much, much harder for a Mitt Romney to succeed in that kind of environment.

BURNETT: We have talked so much about money and how important money is and we've sort of demonized, oh, money can win an election. I think we've all been making that point. If money so far has not bought the easy wins you would have expected it to beat for Romney. If you look at Ohio, he spent 5.5 times what Gingrich and Santorum spent combined.

You look at what he's doing overall, the 10 states on Super Tuesday, I repeat more than four times. Since the -- all states combined, just the campaign to campaign, Mitt Romney to Rick Santorum, eight to one. And so it just goes to show you, money doesn't necessarily.

And I think that's kind of incredible. Because it's kind of this sort of throwaway comment we'll make: oh, you can buy an election. Actually, at least so far, it's not been that easy. It's been a really expensive one.

BORGER: As I think Alex was saying, people feel like they know the candidates, because they've seen them in the debates. They've processed...

COOPER: And that's only going to increase.

FLEISCHER: As far as knowing the candidates, this is what I think. If you're Rick Santorum, he's got to be kicking himself. He's got to be saying, "If I had just said it differently, if I didn't go so far, I really would have had a nicer win in Ohio. It wouldn't have even been close, and it would have been such a different race."

He made a mistake, and he's still digging out.

CASTELLANOS: Might have won Michigan.

BEGALA: He should have fielded a full slate of delegates in all the districts in Ohio. All he needed was three delegates in each congressional district.

He couldn't get on the ballot in Virginia where he has lived for a decade.

I mean, Santorum has performed as -- just as a person, as a candidate, as a man, far better than Romney. Romney's campaign is far better than Santorum's.

CASTELLANOS: There was a great Romney speech tonight. Unfortunately, it was given by Ann Romney. It was terrific. But you see the difference in these candidates. Old school, new school.

COOPER: Let's go to Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's take a look at Ohio right now, because it's narrowed. That gap, that Rick Santorum gap has now closed. Only 2,570 votes ahead of Mitt Romney. It's tied, 37 percent for Santorum, 37 percent for Mitt Romney; 358,742 for Santorum, 356,172 for Romney. Only 2,500 votes separate the two.

Only a little while ago, Santorum had a 15,000-vote advantage. It's narrowed now to 2,570.

This race is not over with: 84 percent of the vote is now in, 16 percent still to go. Anything is still possible.

Stay with us. You're watching our election coverage from the CNN Election Center.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Rick Santorum's lead in Ohio has dramatically narrowed right now. Under 3,000 votes, but guess what? We have exclusive new information coming into CNN from Hamilton County. That's in Cincinnati. Dana Bash is there.

Dana, tell us what's going on in Hamilton County, the latest tally.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is big news for Mitt Romney. We have Amy Circe (ph) here. And she's going to tell us what the numbers are again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, so now, with over 99 percent reporting from Hamilton County, we now have Mitt Romney with 49 percent of the vote and Rick Santorum with 29 percent of the vote. We're looking at 38,116 all goes to Romney, 22,785 for Santorum.

BASH: So a big lead right now.


BASH: And let me just give you the number again. I know we're being asked to give it again, the total raw numbers here. Mitt Romney, 38,116. Rick Santorum, 22,785. So...

BLITZER: Well, Dana, just let me interrupt. I'm here with John. John -- John, if this holds, that puts Santorum second, Romney ahead state-wide.

KING: That's just shy of 16,000 votes right there. And we had it at 10,000 votes. So there's a net plus of 6,000 votes for Mitt Romney right there. The gap was 2,700 coming into this conversation.

BLITZER: That would put Romney ahead.

KING: That would put Romney ahead. Now again, that would put Romney ahead. I'm going to turn off the telestrator and come out. That would put Romney ahead, based on that account. And you see this is where we are in the official count right now.

BLITZER: It would put him ahead by about 3,000 votes.

KING: By about 3,000 votes. And then you start looking, is there any place Rick Santorum can make that up? Well, let's pop in.

He is winning in Fairfield County, 93 percent of the vote counted there. So Santorum could pick up some votes here.

I'm just going to tap some Santorum counties, just to show you. A hundred percent of the vote in, 100 percent of the vote in, 100 percent of the vote in, 100 percent of the vote in. In most of the places Santorum is winning, Wolf, we have 100 percent in or very close to it.

And here is Governor Romney's extra bank, if you will. Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is, 41 percent of the vote, a very big lead. If the numbers hold up, we'll give Romney the votes to come back. By our count, CNN's exclusive numbers from there, pay no attention to this, actually. We have Romney would be ahead.

BLITZER: This is now 99 percent in Hamilton County. Yes.

KING: Hamilton County, our numbers -- the numbers we're getting into the system, 78 percent. We'll update this when I close the wall down for a second, but by this exclusive new number, Romney is winning in the state, and there are a few places where Santorum is voting where you have votes out. I'm just tapping random counties so you're seeing them. A hundred percent of the votes in. Sixty-five percent of the vote in. Not a lot of votes.

But again, here's the chance for Senator Santorum to pick up some votes here. But in the big population centers, the big population centers, how many states have we seen where a lot of the map is purple for Santorum, but Romney in a place like Summit County, 98 percent now in. You see that lead. You drop down here, only 50 percent in Stark County. Romney ahead there. So a chance for Governor Romney to pick up some extra votes there. So by our count, thanks to Hamilton County, he's now ahead, and he's got a chance to build a bigger cushion.

BLITZER: Because in Cuyahoga County, with only 41 percent of the vote in, and you look at the significant 7,000-or-so vote lead for Romney in the Cleveland area, you still have more than half of the vote in that area to come in. Presumably, if it matches the first half, that would be very good news for Mitt Romney.

KING: Presumably. We need to see -- these are some precincts. Other precincts aren't exactly the same, but we do know this area. When you get into the suburbs, this is the area outside the suburbs, out to the east and the west of Cleveland along the lake are the kind of places where Governor Romney tends to perform much better than Senator Santorum, and you see that if you pull out to the map here. In the suburbs around all of these cities -- Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown, Columbus, Cincinnati -- Governor Romney is winning. Toledo has been back and forth.

Lucas County, Santorum was ahead just moments ago. You see that right there. So in the areas, you see these dots, those are the cities, the major population centers.

What about the map is unique? In all of the population centers, Governor Romney is ahead. This is where organization matters. This is where turnout matters. And this is where, in the demographic of this race. Santorum tends to win in the rural areas, Romney tends to win in the closer-in suburbs. You get out into the ex-burbs (ph), you have more of a fight.

As you look at this right now, though, Franklin County, Romney ahead there. Some more votes still to come in, but again, that should help Governor Romney. Hamilton County, with numbers we just got help him. We're waiting right here to see what happens in Cuyahoga County.

If you pull out the map, look all the way back. At the moment, this is still purple, because that's the official count, but because of those new numbers we have into CNN, this would now be red, as we await the final count. This is a huge. Delegate-wise, it won't make too much of a difference. Romney is going to get more delegates out of the state of Ohio, but he wants this to be Romney red when we wake up tomorrow morning. And if that vote count continues, we might have it back that way in just a little bit.

Again, when you look at this map, you think no, Santorum has to be winning the state, but again, look at the major population centers. And again, I'm wondering why the count is so slow up here in Cuyahoga County. But Governor Romney there, that's a big lead, 60 percentage points, 7,000 votes in this county with only 41 percent of the vote in. We've a ways to go as we try to figure this out.

Hamilton County, our map hasn't updated yet with -- our system hadn't updated yet with those numbers we just got. You watch all this fill in, I want to come out now and see where we are for the night.

That one still in play. Santorum. Santorum, Santorum. Idaho, 12 percent. Governor Romney is ahead there. He very much needs Idaho. We're talking about the big state of Ohio, but as this night goes on, one of the things we're learning in this race as it goes on and on and on, number of people say why is Obama going to the Dakotas? Four years ago, the smaller states, North Dakota for Senator Santorum. Idaho potentially for Governor Romney will matter in this delegate chase.

And boy, oh, boy, we're almost to the finish line in Ohio, Wolf.

BLITZER: Almost to the finish line. Let me do some bragging for CNN. We're the only network that has these latest numbers, thanks to Dana Bash in Hamilton County in Cincinnati. Let's update you on what we know right now, and let's go to Ohio first.

Let's bring it out where we're taking a close look at Ohio. Ohio closed at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. Look at how close it is right now: 85 percent of the vote in in Ohio.

Santorum slightly, slightly ahead right now. But that was before the numbers in Hamilton County were reported. These do not include those Hamilton County numbers that Dana Bash just shared with us.

Take a look at this. You can see what's going on in Ohio.

Let's go to Oklahoma. Oklahoma closed at 8 p.m. Eastern. Oklahoma, Rick Santorum wins in Oklahoma. Ninety-one percent of the vote is in. We projected Oklahoma goes to Rick Santorum.

Let's take a look at Tennessee, as well. Tennessee, another state that Rick Santorum won. They closed the polls in Tennessee at 8 p.m. Eastern. Thirty-seven percent of the vote in Tennessee going for Rick Santorum. Twenty-eight percent for Romney, 24 percent for Gingrich, only 9 percent for Ron Paul.

And Idaho, let's take a look at Idaho right now. Idaho closed at 10 p.m. Eastern just a little bit less than an hour ago. Take a look at this. Romney significantly ahead. Only 12 percent of the vote in. Seventy-eight percent for Romney, 11 percent for Paul, 8 percent for Santorum. Newt Gingrich, only 3 percent.

Our own Shannon Travis is there in Boise, Idaho. We're going to go there. We're watching Ohio, what's going on in Ohio. This is very close. By our estimate, at least right now, Mitt Romney slightly ahead of Santorum in Ohio. But guess what? It's not over with yet. Much more of the coverage right after this.


BLITZER: Because you're a CNN viewer, you know this. You know that Mitt Romney right now is slightly ahead of Rick Santorum in Ohio. We have the numbers. No one else has these numbers. It's a knockdown, drag-out fight for Ohio between Santorum and Romney.

COOPER: And it's the biggest political prize of the night, still up for grabs right now. Which candidate is going to add to his win column tonight? Find out.


ANNOUNCER: Tonight, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum dividing Super Tuesdays spoils, Romney scoring wins in Vermont, Virginia, and Massachusetts.

ROMNEY: We're going to take your vote and take that victory all the way to the White House.

ANNOUNCER: Santorum, claiming victory in Tennessee, Oklahoma, and North Dakota.

SANTORUM: This was a big night. We have won in the West, the Midwest, and the South. And we're ready to win across this country.

ANNOUNCER: Republicans in ten states have their say. Hundreds of delegates are being awarded tonight. Will the GOP field change in any big way once the Super Tuesday dust settles? This campaign isn't over. More than half of the states still haven't voted, and no one has the GOP nomination locked up yet.