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GOP Battle Moves South; North Korea Rattling Sabers; Interview with Bill Richardson; Key Vote on Pipeline Fails
Aired March 8, 2012 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": Happening now: The fight to stop Mitt Romney shifts to the Deep South. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are turning to conservatives for votes in Alabama and Mississippi, but they may be turning on each other.
We have a Hollywood style preview of an upcoming Obama campaign film narrated by the Hollywood star Tom Hanks. But will this glossy production help voters forget worry about some worrisome daily headlines?
And North Korea rattles its sabers and make some new threats, even after agreeing to freeze it nuclear activities in exchange for U.S. food aid. Will the North's new leader honor that agreement? I will ask the veteran diplomatic troubleshooter Governor Bill Richardson. He is here.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The battle lines are drawn in the Deep South. Upcoming primaries in Alabama and Mississippi next Tuesday may be the last chance for Mitt Romney's rivals to halt his momentum. Rick Santorum would love to go one on one with Romney, but Newt Gingrich may have a different idea about that.
Let's go straight to our senior correspondent, Joe Johns. He is watching all of this for us -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Rick Santorum just finishing up an event in the Birmingham area and he's expected to head to Mobile, Alabama, later tonight. This is a situation where he has already proven he can win in the South by winning Tennessee. Nonetheless, the fact of the matter is Newt Gingrich is just such a strong presence here.
JOHNS (voice-over): It's tricky business for Rick Santorum right now, running against a favorite son of the South like Newt Gingrich. Santorum would love to see Gingrich leave the race, but he's got to be careful not to go too far.
In this speech, Santorum is suggesting there's a third man in the race besides Mitt Romney, but doesn't go much further than that.
FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R-PA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you go out and deliver a conservative victory for us on Tuesday, this race will become a two-person race, and when it becomes a two-person race for the Republican nomination, the conservative will win that nomination.
JOHNS: But if you ask Santorum directly about whether he or anyone on his campaign staff is calling for Gingrich to get out, he will tell you no way.
SANTORUM: If they're doing so, they're not doing so at my knowledge. Let's just put it that way. I have been very, very clear about my position on this. Are we asking people who are Tea Party folks to join us? You bet. Do we want them not to support Newt? Yes. We want them to support me. I want Romney voters to support me. I want everyone to support us. That's what we're running for.
But, no, if someone from my campaign is putting out that message, you're either misinterpreting it or it's certainly not coming from me and I don't support it. I mean, I have been very, very clear, unequivocal about this.
JOHNS: Still, the Rick Santorum super PAC has flatly called for Gingrich to leave the race. What is going on here is Santorum wants to be nice about it, because he and Gingrich are going after some of the same voters.
DOUG HEYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Given how far behind he is from Mitt Romney with delegates, it looks like that path continues to dim every day, which is very challenging for his campaign to overcome, because they now need to get about 65 percent of the delegates that are still available, and so the path probably doesn't exist. If it does exist, it needs to start with real wins and big wins in a hurry.
JOHNS: Gingrich meanwhile seems fairly unfazed, though it's plainly evident he needs to win in Alabama and Mississippi to remain credible in the race.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are staying in this race, as I believe it's going to be impossible for a moderate to win a general election.
JOHNS: What's interesting about Rick Santorum is how much buzz he's creating. Our friends at Twitter tell us that the conversation on Twitter about Santorum spiked far higher than any of the other candidates on Super Tuesday.
In just the hour between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Pacific time, there were nearly 40,000 tweets referencing Rick Santorum, which is a new 2012 Twitter record. The previous highest spike, if you will, belonged to Newt Gingrich on the day of the South Carolina primarily -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's see what happens on Tuesday. Thanks very much for that, Joe.
Mitt Romney concedes that campaigning in the Deep South is like playing an away game to him, his words.
Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger is joining us now.
What is the main problem that Mitt Romney has in the South?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He can't win. He really hasn't been able to have a win in the Deep South.
I think it really highlights the problem he has with what I call the base of the base of the party, because, in the Deep South, you have voters who are evangelical, who self-identify as very conservative, who strongly support the Tea Party and blue-collar voters. And they now comprise the real core of the Republican Party.
So every time he doesn't win in the South, it only highlights the problems he's got with the party's core. That's why when you look towards Mississippi and Alabama, the Romney campaign and the super PAC is spending a bunch of money there because even if they don't win, they don't want to have a strong enough showing so it doesn't look like this huge psychological hole smack in the middle of a Republican candidate's campaign.
BLITZER: And the Santorum folks would like nothing better than to see Gingrich lose in both of those states and as a result drop out.
BORGER: Sure, they would. They would like to see him drop out. As you just heard from Santorum himself, he said we're not asking anybody to step out.
I spoke with a top adviser to the Santorum campaign today who said the same thing, but he did point me in the direction of Richard Viguerie, a real conservative who said that Newt leaving would be "an act of patriotism," and also Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, who said that Newt Gingrich could become a "kingmaker" if he were to drop out and support Santorum.
They would like to state him leave but they're not going to push because, by the way, it wouldn't do any good.
BLITZER: Romney wants both of these guys to stay in for as long as they can, fight each other, so that he has a little bit better opportunity.
BORGER: Let's just say if they're not both going to get out, it may help Romney for both of them to stay in. Because they will divide the conservative vote that Romney may not be getting, but the Romney campaign has been saying, look, the math is inevitable, we are going to win.
But they don't want to be seen crawling across the finish line, which is in fact what could occur, Wolf. For now, if they both stay in, fine, but they probably wouldn't want to see Newt Gingrich throwing all of his support to Rick Santorum and really make it a hotly contested race.
But they have been having meetings in Boston, where Romney is headquartered, to try and figure out what to do next. They will go back to their basic message on the economy, let Mitt Romney take on the president and take it from there.
BLITZER: I think the Romney folks are anxious March 20 and the Illinois primary to come around. They think they can do well there.
BORGER: And Missouri, absolutely.
BLITZER: They have some other things. Thanks very much.
Jack Cafferty is here. He has got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed. Thank you, Wolf.
Pity our poor Congress.
Many members of Congress are calling it quits this year -- and some of them say it's because the job just sucks.
Politico reports that lawmakers young and old are leaving public service for the private sector because "the thrill is gone."
They say it's just too hard to get things done with the gridlock in Washington.
Republican Senator Olympia Snowe made a splash with news of her retirement -- highlighting the "dysfunction and political polarization" in the Senate.
Democratic Congressman Barney Frank has said he is frustrated because the public no longer tolerates deal-making.
Retiring four-term Oklahoma Democrat Congressman Dan Boren tells Politico, "I'm used to being a player. You want to get things done for your constituents. If you can't ever become speaker or a committee chairman, why are you doing it?"
For some lifers the job just isn't as prestigious as it used to be -- plus, these days nobody likes them very much.
They can't earmark money for constituents, they need to maintain residences in two cities, fund-raising is a headache, and a lot of perks have disappeared thanks to those pesky ethics rules. Aww.
And their pay has been frozen for three years -- at $174,000 a year. They work about half a year.
Not quite a hardship for millions of Americans who deal with extended high unemployment, soaring gas prices and plummeting home values. Pick something you like.
You want more?
Other lawmakers cite the constant media presence in the era of blogs, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. They worry about having any little thing they say or do splashed on the Internet. So here's the question: Would you want to be a member of Congress? Some of them say the job sucks.
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog, or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.
Tough to gin up much sympathy for them. But we will see. Sympathy by the way -- well, I can't tell you where sympathy is found. For another time.
BLITZER: I know. You don't have a lot of sympathy for these guys. That's obvious. Jack, thank you.
A lot of the viewers by the way totally agree with you.
By the way, they're voting right now on the floor of the United States Senate on the construction of the Keystone oil and gas pipeline. You can see the vote under way right now. We should be getting a result soon. If in fact the Senate, including some Democrats, votes for the construction, it would be a major political embarrassment for the president of the United States, who wants further study of the Keystone pipeline before it gets the construction go-ahead.
We will watch this. Dana Bash is up on the Hill. We will go to her and we will let you know what's going on, a significant vote on the floor of the United States Senate right now.
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign recruits some of the biggest names in Hollywood for a new documentary campaign film. We're getting a first look at it.
Also, new threats from North Korea are raising serious questions about its promise to freeze nuclear activity. We will talk about that with the former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. He's been to North Korea on several occasions.
BLITZER: North Korea flexing its muscles in a live fire exercise this week.
And state television in Pyongyang airing a threat to turn South Korea's capital into what they call a sea of flames -- all this following North Korea's agreement, supposedly, to halt nuclear activities and long-range missile tests in exchange for American food.
Officials have been working out the details of the aid shipments and the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog is hoping to get its inspectors back in.
But what about all of these threats? What's going on in North Korea? Joining us is the former New Mexico governor, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the diplomatic troubleshooter Bill Richardson.
Governor, thanks very much for coming in.
FORMER GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: A new leader there, a young guy, 26, 27, 28. We don't even know how old Kim Jong-un is. What is going on North Korea right now because once again they're making these promises? Just give us a lot of food aid.
Count me as skeptical, but what do you think?
RICHARDSON: Well, you have to be skeptical of the North Koreans, but so far since Kim Jong-un came in, the signals have been reasonably good.
I know they do these provocations, but that always happens, these military provocations. But they have frozen their uranium enrichment.
BLITZER: We don't know that for sure.
RICHARDSON: No, but...
BLITZER: They say they have. They say they will.
RICHARDSON: They say they will.
Today, there was an announcement that we're resuming, the U.S. and North Korea, the recovery programs of our remains. Remember when I was there four years ago
BLITZER: From the Korean War.
RICHARDSON: From the Korean War, they gave me seven remains. DOD, the Department of Defense, the North Korea's (INAUDIBLE) today. So that's another good sign. Look, you've got to watch these guys, it's very uncertain, unpredictable. It's another world. But I think the administration is moving in the right direction by engaging them.
In the past, I was concerned because they were isolating them. But now, they're engaging. There's no preconditions.
BLITZER: You're always one of those that's talking better than talking.
BLITZER: Even if nothing --
RICHARDSON: I mean, you and I went there. And I believe our trip helped stop the North Koreans aggressively go after the South Koreans.
BLITZER: When we were there in December of 2010.
RICHARDSON: Yes, a year ago.
BLITZER: It was a real, tense moment.
BLITZER: You saw the cover of the "TIME" magazine, they have a picture of the new leader of North Korea. There it is. The headline, "Lil' Kim," if you will.
What do we know about this? Is he really in control? Or is he just the son that took over, but there really are other powers there?
RICHARDSON: There are now other powers, the North Korean military, the party congress. But he is still the accession, the titular head -- and I think they're grooming him. But there are other power centers.
The good news is that the foreign ministry types who negotiated the nuclear agreement in the past --
BLITZER: The once that you and I met.
RICHARDSON: The once that you and I met are still there. Kim Jung Un. I mean, for instance, there's a track to diplomacy of the North Koreans and American officials, ex-officials, in New York going on right now. So there's more engagement, the recovery, a good talk between the American negotiator and the North Koreans and Beijing.
BLITZER: So, when they did these exercises, these live fire exercises last week, what was that all about? Is it just a little bluster?
RICHARDSON: It's bluster. I mean, they have to respond some way for the American/South Korean exercises.
Look, I'm not apologizing for them. What I'm saying is that the bluster continues, but the dialogue seems to be churning in a positive way. They did commit to freezing --
BLITZER: How much is that commitment, that new agreement related to this big anniversary that they have coming up -- it's in April, right?
BLITZER: Tell our viewers what that's all about and how much do you think is related to that? Because they want to invite all sorts of people to come in.
RICHARDSON: Well, it's sort of the anniversary of the revolution and they want the entire world to come and see the new leadership. A lot of it is P.R., but at the same time they're engaging, they're going to be taking also to the South Koreans, I think fairly soon. I think there are some good signs.
Now, Iran is another story, but North Korea engaging them is working.
BLITZER: Now, if you go back to North Korea it's one thing. But if the administration sends an official, a U.S. official to Pyongyang, that's obviously, you're a private citizen right now.
BLITZER: It's something else. What would you recommend?
RICHARDSON: Well, I'd recommend that they continue their policy, that we'd engage them directly, like the recovery. I would proceed with food aid. I would watch them on whether they were going to continue to put a moratorium on their nuclear activities, on the Yongbyon reactor, which I have visited, on restraining their or freeze on uranium enrichment.
Watch them. Watch but verify. But at the same time engage. And then get the six-party talks, get South Korea involved, get Russia and China and Japan and the United States to reengage the six-party talks. That's what I would do. And I believe that's what the administration is doing.
BLITZER: One political question -- the new governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, you think she's potential a vice presidential? She's a Republican.
BLITZER: A, what do you think about her? Do you think that's realistic, all this talk about there that she could be the running mate for let's say a Mitt Romney?
RICHARDSON: Well, I'm not going to engage too much on that. I will say that I am concerned if Romney puts a Hispanic on the ticket. I think it's probably going to be Marco Rubio, but I still think the administration and President Obama has very strong Hispanic support, because what he's doing on the appointments on civil rights, on immigration. I just think the Republicans are too boxed in, too looked at as anti-immigrant for a Hispanic to be on the ticket.
But I worry about Rubio.
BLITZER: Governor Richardson --
RICHARDSON: Thank you.
BLITZER: I want you to stick around for a moment because there's a story developing right now. Watch this.
I want to go right to our congressional correspondent Dana Bash.
Dana, a very significant vote on the floor of the United States Senate right now, the future of the Keystone pipeline between Canada and Texas on the line right now. Tell our viewers what's going on.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what happened is the Senate just defeated a Republican measure to, despite what the president says, start development and construction of that pipeline immediately. The vote was 56 to 42. They needed 60 votes to pass this.
But what is also significant is that Republicans got, by my count, 11 Senate Democrats to defy the president across party lines and vote for this. If you look at the list of the Democrats, many of them are in tough elections this year, many of them are in oil- producing states, some of them are in states where this pipeline could come through, and have been hearing from people back home this is, as Republicans say over and over again, a jobs bill. This was not clear- cut, pretty tough policies for Democrats.
And at the end of the day, they prevailed, but they lost a lot of the rank-and-file.
BLITZER: Yes, it's an embarrassment to the president of the United States. What do you say, 11 Democrats defied the president or 12? What did you say?
BASH: Well, by my count I have 11, but we were listening as it was going along. We'll wait to give you the final until we can actually see the final roll call because we were just kind of trying to scramble it down as we listen to them call the roll. But by my count, it's 11. It depends on who was here. By the math, it could have been 12. We'll let you know finally in a little bit.
BLITZER: All right. Dana, thanks very much.
Quickly to Bill Richardson, that's an embarrassment for the president, even though they didn't get the necessary 60 votes, to start construction of the pipeline. It's still an embarrassment. So many Democrats defied the president.
RICHARDSON: Well, but nonetheless I think the president's in the right position. What he's saying is you have to go through the environmental studies, the water studies.
BLITZER: They've been doing that for years already.
RICHARDSON: Nebraska, you know, doesn't want this. Conclude the studies.
The Congress and the Senate Republicans have been trying to jam the president, saying, make the decision. And what the president is saying, I'll make the decision after the environmental studies.
I think the fact that the president technically won the vote is good, but the Republicans are going to keep using this issue. And I think it's unfortunate because you want a study the environmental impact of something as broad and vast as that.
BLITZER: Governor, thanks for coming in.
RICHARDSON: Thank you. Thank you.
BLITZER: Governor Richardson, we'll talk to you before you head back to North Korea if you go there. Maybe I'll go with you. Who knows?
BLITZER: It has the look and feel of a Hollywood blockbuster, but it's really an Obama campaign film. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As he walked out of room, it dawned on me, he's all alone. This is his decision. Nobody is standing there with him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're going to get a first look at the trailer, and what the Republicans are saying about it as well. Stay with us.
BLITZER: An important vote on the floor of the United States Senate just occurred -- a vote designed to create the construction of a new pipeline from Canada to Texas. The Keystone pipeline that will carry oil from Canada through the United States.
Dana Bash is our chief congressional correspondent.
Dana, the measure failed. It didn't get the necessary 60 votes for passage, but a whole bunch of Democrats defied the president of the United States and voted with the Republicans.
BASH: That's right. By our count, still 11 Democrats voted with the Republicans. We're still trying to get an official count on that. But the bottom line is they did that even though the president himself made calls on this, trying to lobby for the Democrats not to vote for this.
And the politics of this are really interesting, Wolf, because Democratic leaders decided that the White House has made a political stake in this. They decided that this is a political issue that's important for them to stand up on. And that's why they said, if you want this political fight, you the White House, the president himself has to make the calls to make sure that this doesn't pass. And that's exactly what happened.
And Republicans saw that, and they jumped big time. They accused the president of making calls and lobbying against jobs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Personally lobbying against the Keystone pipeline, means the president is lobbying for sending North American energy to China and lobbying against American jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: And that line right there, Wolf, that is why this is such a difficult issue for Democrats and why so many defect. Now, I should note that the White House does argue that they're not necessarily against the Keystone pipeline. They just don't want to approve anything until the actual route is designed. When that's done, then maybe they'll decide to do it. But as of now, they're against it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Almost anything that's really, really important. The Senate requires 60 out of the 100 votes, and the Republicans, even if they got a dozen or so Democrats to join them, didn't have enough to get to that 60 threshold. Dana, thanks very much.
We're also right now getting a first look at a trailer of an upcoming Obama campaign film. It's called "The Road We've Traveled." It's a 17-minute look at the president's first-term accomplishments. The first is directed by the Oscar winner Davis Guggenheim.
And the trailer was released today. It's narrated by Tom Hanks. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM HANKS, NARRATOR: How do we understand this president and his time in office? Do we look at the day's headlines? Or do we remember what we, as a country, have been through?
AUSTAN GOOLSBEE: The president-elect is here in Chicago and he's named the members of the economic team. And they all fly in for the first big briefing on the economy.
DAVID AXELROD: What was described in that meeting was an economic crisis beyond anything anybody had imagined.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting of unpleasant decisions, that time has surely passed.
HANKS: His advisers would ask where to begin, which urgent need would he put first.
MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL, CHICAGO: Which is one, which is two, which is three, which is four, which is five? Where do you start?
BIDEN: If we don't do this now, we'll be a generation before 30 million people have health insurance.
ELIZABETH WARREN: If the auto industry goes down, what happens to America's manufacturing base? What happens to jobs in America? What happens to the whole Midwest?
BIDEN: Entire national security apparatus was in that room. And now, we had to make a decision, go or not go.
As he walked out of the room, it dawned on me, he's all alone. It's his decision. Nobody is standing there with him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. That's a little bit of the documentary, a little bit of the Obama campaign documentary.
Let's discuss it with our chief -- with our CNN White House correspondent Brianna Keilar.
Brianna, what jumps out at me in this trailer is the opening line by Tom Hanks, do we look at the day's headlines or do we remember what we as a country have been through? Is the campaign really worried that all the day-to-day headlines are really going to drag down the prospects of the president getting himself reelected?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, Wolf, if the campaign had its way, that would not be the metric by which they would want voters to judge President Obama. Instead you see him here really trying to create enthusiasm and excitement, and really kind of a mood by evoking some of these iconic and historic moments that have happened in the Obama presidency, especially as polls show, the campaign is really facing an enthusiasm gap compared to what they had in 2008.
And I asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney today about this strategy of perhaps avoiding headlines. And he laughed off the suggestion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: -- narrated by Tom Hanks, the Oscar-winning director. Is the everyday defense of the president's record not getting through?
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Are you suggesting that I'm no Tom Hanks?
CARNEY: I would refer you to the campaign. I think as a matter of broad principle, as someone in the communications business, as you are, that we -- you know, take advantage of every opportunity we can to explain the president's policies, explain his positions, describe his vision for the country moving forward. And that would apply both, as I discuss those matters of policy from here, and I'm sure -- not speaking for the campaign, but I'm taking a wild guess that I'm sure that's the approach they take.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: So Jay Carney joking there about the approach, Wolf, but some Republicans certainly aren't. A spokeswoman for the RNC saying voters don't need a movie trailer or a documentary to learn about the president's records, blaming him for unemployment -- the unemployment rate, the national debt and for high gas prices -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brianna is at the White House. Thanks very much.
Let's discuss this a little bit in our "Strategy Session," joining us now Robert Wexler, the former Democratic congressman from Florida. Also joining us our own CNN contributor, Republican strategist, Mary Matalin.
Mary, what do you think about this? Why is the Obama campaign putting out a very, very impressive documentary like this? My own gut tells me it's designed to energize that base. He needs -- he really needs them to -- to be energized and for this documentary to go viral.
MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, you're right, Wolf. And he has an enthusiasm gap as was just reported. And they will respond to that. They -- it harkens back to celestial being days, but the voters that he needs, well, I am not saying this as a partisan. I find it strikingly discordant against the backdrop of record unemployment and underemployment, and rising gas prices, a strikingly discord against the promise of his presidency and that three years later the failure of this leadership.
I really feel like it's going to backfire and I think independent voters are going to be insulted by this blitzy, gauzy, Hollywood type approach to their votes when they're hurting every single day.
BLITZER: All right. Robert Wexler --
MATALIN: I think it's terrible.
BLITZER: Robert Wexler, go ahead and respond to that.
ROBERT WEXLER (D), FORMER FLORIDA CONGRESSMAN: I think it's not only appropriate for the president and his campaign to put in context the events of the last three years, but it's actually compelling. That in January 2009 when the president took office, it was not a forgone conclusion that the stock market would be at almost historic highs. It wasn't a forgone conclusion that the automobile industry in America would have great promise and a real future.
It wasn't a foregone conclusion that we would have almost two years of straight growth in the private sector in America. And I think as voters then take stock of the context, they will realize, especially when you add in the security dimension of Osama bin Laden, and the decision that the president made to eliminate him, that actually this president has made a series of bold decisions that are now paying off in very significant real-life ways for most Americans.
BLITZER: I will say this, but Tom Hanks certainly has a great future as a narrator of documentaries if the acting thing doesn't work out for Tom Hanks. Maybe he'll go into that down the road.
Guys, stand by for a moment. We're going to continue this conversation, a lot more coming up.
Mitt Romney comparing it to playing an away game. The frontrunners got some big primaries coming up in the Deep South. So how will he fare against his conservative rivals.
BLITZER: The battle lines are drawn. Right now in the Deep South there are crucial upcoming primaries in Alabama and Mississippi this coming Tuesday. So how will Mitt Romney fare against his conservative rivals in the Deep South.
Our national political correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us now from Mississippi.
Jim, it was interesting that Newt Gingrich was supposed to go this week also to Kansas. Kansas has its primary on Saturday, but he's decided not to go to Kansas, to devote all of his energies to Alabama and Mississippi.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it underscores just how important winning the south, not only for Newt Gingrich but also for Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. You'll recall on Super Tuesday Mitt Romney had a good night, but he failed to knock his opponents out of this race, and so Mitt Romney may by up in delegates, but he is campaigning down south where his rivals have a chance to play some serious catch-up.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Mitt Romney is not in Boston anymore. Asked about next week's primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, the former Massachusetts governor told a Birmingham radio station he's not exactly on his home turf.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How important is it for you to pick up a southern state?
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I realized it's a bit of an away game, but I also think we're going to -- we're going to pick up some support in these -- in the states that remain this month.
ACOSTA: Translation, delegates.
ROMNEY: I'm confident we're going to get some delegates. That's, of course, what this -- what this is all about.
ACOSTA (on camera): There's a dividing line right down the table here.
(Voice-over): Inside this diner in Pascagoula, we found two men, one from Mississippi, the other from Alabama, divided on the subject of Romney. (On camera): What do you think about Mitt Romney?
ERIC VON SUTHOFF, MISSISSIPPI VOTER: Pretty boy, intelligent, he's got a business background. I like that.
ACOSTA: You say he's a pretty boy?
VON SUTHOFF: I did. I can't get away from the feeling that he thinks he looks like the president more than he will be one.
GLENN TRAVIS, ALABAMA VOTER: And we don't mind if he's moderate. I think that's what it's going to take. The business line (INAUDIBLE) is definitely what Washington needs.
ACOSTA: So you might vote for him?
TRAVIS: I might.
CHIP SALTSMAN, FORMER HUCKABEE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: It is a bit of an away game and since we're getting ready for tournament time --
ACOSTA (voice-over): Former Huckabee campaign manager, Chip Saltsman, has dubbed the coming weeks "March Madness" for Romney because several states on the calendar, especially in the Deep South, are not exactly tailor-made for a New England Republican, but there's a danger for Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, too.
SALTSMAN: I think what we're going to really find out over the next couple of weeks is how much is Santorum and Gingrich hurting each other. I think the early polling we've seen from out of these states, they're almost split right down the middle, which gives Mitt Romney an opportunity to win one of these states.
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you go out and deliver a conservative victory for us on Tuesday, this race will become a two-person race.
ACOSTA: Santorum is putting the pressure on southern voters to stop Romney.
SANTORUM: Conservative Alabama, the heart of conservatism. Cannot fail. Cannot fail us.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that Mississippi really matters next week.
ACOSTA: Gingrich is looking to the south to help his campaign rise again.
GINGRICH: I don't think the president buy gas.
ACOSTA: And he's willing to get his hands dirty pumping gas.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When is the last time you pumped gas? GINGRICH: About a week ago.
ACOSTA: Now the Romney campaign has a national, you might say even a global plan for this month to offset any delegate losses down south. They're looking to pick up some wins even in U.S. territories going as far as to send Mitt Romney's son Matt all they way out to Guam in the search for voters in these upcoming contests out in U.S. territories, Wolf. So the longer the fight for this GOP nomination, the longer the flights, you might say.
And just to tell you where we are right now, we're in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Just over my shoulder, Wolf, are some drilling rigs, some offshore drilling rigs that are going to be staged right behind Mitt Romney when he talks to voters here in Mississippi in just about an hour from now. So you'll expect Mitt Romney to go after the president, go after Democrats on this issue of the Keystone Pipeline. He's going to be talking about developing domestic sources of energy with those drilling rigs behind him in just about an hour from now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Any mention of Pascagoula, I always think of Trent Lott, the former senator from Mississippi. Is he expected to show up?
ACOSTA: That's right. He is not expected at this event later on this evening, Wolf. But he is expected to be campaigning with Mitt Romney tomorrow morning in Jackson. And as you know, former Senator Lott is a supporter of Mitt Romney. It is a big -- a big endorsement for Mitt Romney in this state as you know -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's his hometown, Trent Lott, Pascagoula, Mississippi. All right. Thanks very much.
We're going to get more on Romney's challenge in the south. Part two of our "Strategy Session" coming up. Mary Matalin and former Democratic congressman Robert Wexler, they're both standing by.
And coming up in our next hour, an African warlord in the global spotlight thanks to a viral video. It's now under scrutiny. Stand by for that as well.
BLITZER: We're back with former Democratic congressman, Robert Wexler of Florida, also our CNN political contributor, Republican strategist, Mary Matalin.
And Mary, why is it an away game, as Romney himself calls it, for the competition in Alabama and Mississippi, an away game for him. He's from Michigan and Massachusetts, but it's not necessarily an away game for Rick Santorum. I believe he's from Pennsylvania.
MATALIN: It's obviously a figure of speech. Mitt Romney -- we take a step back, take a deep breath. He's won the most states, he's won the most delegates. He has the best organization, he has the most money. These are -- some of these states coming up are proportional. He has big endorsements as you've just reported. Trent Lott, Henry Barbour in Mississippi is for him. He has a lot of support in Alabama. And he'll continue to accrue delegates. And that's what he's trying to do. He's trying to win the nomination.
And I think that -- I don't -- I happen to be one of those Republicans that think a long process is just fine because -- so long as they stay on message and they contrast our message with a failed report of this president. I think it's fine and we just -- we march through the south.
I'm in Louisiana. We're in the south. Let me tell you, it's still going to be a contest here.
BLITZER: Robert Wexler, I love asking Democrats, and you're a good Democrat, who is a more formidable challenger to the president's reelection? Would it be Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney?
WEXLER: They're both formidable in certain ways. But I am struck actually by Governor Romney's moment of honesty in terms of how he feels about the south, that it's an away game. And President Obama is from Chicago. Illinois is his home state, of course, with Hawaii. But he won North Carolina and he won Virginia in the 2008 general elections. They weren't away games for him, and of course he won in Florida as well, which is not a Deep South state.
And if a Republican nominee is going to compete effectively with the president in November, then certainly North Carolina and Virginia and Florida are going to have to be areas where they can extract, for instance, in Florida and the Panhandle, and certainly in the Republican and deep Republican areas in Virginia, a very heavy vote and Governor Romney doesn't seem to be able to do that. At least not yet.
BLITZER: How can he do that, Mary?
MATALIN: Well, I can guarantee you, and I'll bet Congressman Wexler a great Jambalaya dinner right now, that Mitt Romney, or whoever is the Republican nominee, I believe it's going to be Mitt Romney, is going to win Virginia and is going to win North Carolina, and that's why you see the president and his team freaking out and making so many trips to both of those states.
Barack Obama is weakest in every one of the swing states. And I would make another bet. There is not going to be a state in the south that isn't going to go for Mitt Romney. So we're talking about accruing delegates now, but if you want to talk about the general election, the president would not have been putting out that glossy, skuzzy (ph) Hollywood hoax film if he wasn't concerned about not only his base but of swing voters for the general election.
BLITZER: Now, very quickly, Robert.
WEXLER: I'd be happy to bet my friend Mary that at the end of the day Barack Obama is going to have the necessary electoral votes to win reelection. Florida, North Carolina and Virginia will be among them.
BLITZER: All right, guys. We'll see who wins that dinner, whether it'll be in Florida or in Louisiana or some place. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
A deadly shooting inside a Pittsburgh hospital. The situation unfolding right now. And new information is coming in.
Also what do Jerry Seinfeld, toddlers, people with high cholesterol, Mitt Romney all have in common? Guess what, you will find out right here in the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Mary Snow is monitoring some of the top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including a tragedy unfolding over at the University of Pittsburgh.
Mary, what's going on?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here's the latest information we have, Wolf. Two people are dead and another seven wounded after shooting at a psychiatric hospital at the University of Pittsburgh. Police said one of the confirmed dead may be the shooter. The hospital had been on lockdown, but it now says measures have been put in place to secure the hospital and keep patients and staff safe. More details as we get them.
Pakistan is beginning legal proceedings against the wives of Osama bin Laden. The widows will be charged with entering Pakistan illegally as well as forgery. Bin laden's children will not be charged.
And a few minutes ago we asked you what do Jerry Seinfeld, toddlers, people with high cholesterol and Mitt Romney all have in common? The answer, they all ate Cheerios. Romney spoke about his love for the cereal to an Alabama radio station.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: They're keeping me up at night. Not much that keeps me up at night. And I must admit by the end of the day --
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Pretty tired?
ROMNEY: I am tired. And I always -- I always eat something at the end of the day. My favorite is cold cereal. So I try to eat some cold cereal at the end of the day and a full tummy and a long day puts me right to bed.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: All right. What kind of cereal do you like? We're big cereal fans around here. What's your cereal?
ROMNEY: Well, you know, I like Honey Nut Cheerios.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: There you go. ROMNEY: I like -- and I like honey nut Chex, and let's see, I like Crispix. I mean I like of course -- I love anything with sugar in it. I like the most, you know. Sugar Pops and Honey Smacks, and all that. But I don't eat as much of that as the Honey Nut Cheerios.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Yes. Get some Cocoa Pebbles if it's a really rough day. That's how you handle it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: It's a slice on the campaign trail. I guess if those Cocoa Pebbles come out, Wolf, we'll know it's a rough day.
BLITZER: You know, I know that he also likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because when I was on his campaign bus in Iowa with him, he had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, too.
All right, Mary, thank you.
Coming up, the controversy over a viral video about an African warlord.
And concern over a nightmare scenario unfolding right now in Syria.
BLITZER: Jack's back with "The Cafferty File."
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The question this hour is, would you want to be a member of Congress? A lot of them are saying the job sucks, and a lot of them are leaving, actually this year saying it's just become untenable.
Craig in Florida writes, "The lowest I ever sank was selling furniture and car insurance. I've never been a car salesman or a member of Congress, since I like to look at myself when I shave in the morning being jobless or homeless would be preferable to me."
Ken in New Jersey, "Yes, I'd love to work 120 days, make $174,000. If they think that sucks, then let them take one of those newly created Obama jobs at McDonald's or Wal-Mart."
Terry in Virginia writes, "Yes, but only if Congress started fresh with no incumbents when I took office. We need to get rid of the career politicians in D.C., they aren't part of the people, they are the problem. Boot them all out. We the people deserve better."
Dave in Massachusetts, "I'd love to be in Congress. I'd get a 400 percent pay increase."
Kyle in Denver, "Whaa, whaa, whaa. I've never seen such a bunch of high-paid, overly self-important employees do so little on the job. What a bunch of complainers. Their situation was mostly brought about by their only intransigence and flat-out unwillingness to do their jobs."
Mark in Florida, "No, ultimately the position corrupts. The party will isolate you if you go against the agenda, there's no prestige in it anymore. Life is lived in a fishbowl. Every vote cast makes enemies. There are a lot of ways to survive financially. A life bowing and scraping for money and making promises and supporting the unsupportable triggered sending underwear pictures of yourself to the Internet. This is not a career I would enjoy."
And Robert in North Carolina, "Absolutely. I think I'd be perfect. I'm not very smart, but I can spin a yarn with the best of them. I have a lot of ambition, but I'm not willing to work very hard. And then there's that nice retirement and all those lobbyists who just love you. Jack, I think I can do this. Send me a donation and I'll get started on the campaign. Make the check out to cash. Thanks."
If you'd like to read more about this -- we got some hysterical stuff -- go to the blog, CNN.com/Caffertyfile or through our post in THE SITUATION ROOM's FaceBook page. Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, good stuff. Thank you.