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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Illinois Primary; Interview With Paul Ryan

Aired March 20, 2012 - 19:00   ET

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


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: It is a big night, the Illinois primary. Will Mitt Romney finally get it done? If he wins big, what's next for Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich?

And Republican budget man Paul Ryan "OUT FRONT." He says he's open to a trillion dollars on new revenue. Partisan politics aside that is one heck of a headline.

Let's go "OUT FRONT."

Good evening everyone. I'm Erin Burnett.

"OUT FRONT" tonight, the pressure is on. Polls in Illinois close in less than an hour. We are in countdown mode after a couple of bruising weeks on the campaign trail and two major losses to Rick Santorum, of course in Alabama and Mississippi.

Mitt Romney has to prove he can seal the deal tonight. Sixty nine delegates in the state. It is the second-largest delegate grab to date. And to get to the magic number of 1,144 needed to clinch the nomination, Mitt Romney needs every win he can get. And we are going to go through the delegate map in just a minute because it's a little bit more complicated than 69, obviously. But we have four crucial questions tonight here at OUT FRONT.

Number one, will Mitt Romney win big, not by the skin of his teeth like an Ohio a few weeks ago but really beat Santorum by double digits? Can he goes beyond hid usual voting base and makes him in rows with the traditional Santorum voters, evangelicals, tea party, tea party supporters and people who make under a $100,000? We are going to get all that information tonight from our exit poll.

Number two, will Santorum surprise? The latest poll that we have actually shows Rick Santorum down by about 14 percent. Even if he wins a close second he could spin it as a win because he was so far behind when you looked at the actual poll data and he was outspent by Romney 7-1 in the state.

Number three -- how low can you go? Now, this is the math for Newt Gingrich. He's loss 28 of the last 30 contests. His campaign is on financial life support. New numbers that we got today actually show that Newt Gingrich spend about $200,000 more last month than he brought in. And he carries just as much debt if he does cash. He is registering in the teens in the latest Illinois poll. So, this is really a cash question for him? How low will his cash go? Could it force him out of the race?

And, who wins the women voters. It has become a crucial question as we are all aware. It's a big push by all of the candidates to get women voters and Romney on the campaign trail, Karen Santorum, doing an interview with Piers Morgan on this network, plus the candidates themselves, trying to woo women.

Romney has traditionally had more support in that group, but will that happen tonight? And we are going to answer all those questions tonight because we have a real breakdown of everybody going to the polls and what they think. We are less than an hour from the polls closing and we'll be here for it until midnight tonight.

And now, let's go John King, who, knows everything there is to know about who's voting, why they are voting, what they like, don't like, what they earn and all that sort of stuff.

And John, what are you seeing right now?

JOHN KING, CNN CHEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You think just midnight?

BURNETT: Optimistic.

KING: You're an optimist. That's good. I like that. As we wait for polls to close we have of course our exit poll question, Erin. At no surprise, Erin, the economy's the number one issue. But let's take who is voting today. Illinois's a big, diverse state and where the turnout is matters.

Twenty percent of the vote today is coming from urban areas, 70 percent from suburban areas, 10 percent from rural areas, just telling you from past experience. That's encouraging to Romney in the sense that he tends to do well in urban areas and he tends to do well in the close-in suburbs. Senator Santorum starts to perform well in the exit urban areas as you move out to the rural areas.

Here like - look at that. Just in the urban areas tonight. Now, most of these votes coming in from suburbs, but in the urban areas, governor Romney is getting 45 percent of the vote, Senator Santorum second at 32 percent of the vote, Speaker Gingrich at distant 3rd at 10 percent and Congressman Paul at the bottom of the PACs,10 percent. So, a decent lead, not a huge lead, but a decent lead for Governor Romney in urban areas.

Now, this is an interesting question we asked for the first time today. And it's come up with the campaign. How is the economy doing? Governor Romney recently said he thinks it is getting a little better. Is the economy starting to recover, stay the same or getting worse?

Look at this -- 46 percent -- 46 percent of these Republicans voting today say it is getting worse. This is in the president's home state of Illinois. Granted they are Republicans but that's important, about 34 percent where they are trading water. They think it is staying the same. Twenty percent say it is starting to recover. Now, among those say the economy is starting to recover. So, among those who are probably doing a little better off, Governor Romney with a huge lead, 53 percent there to 29 percent Santorum, 10 percent to speaker Gingrich, Congressman Paul at the bottom of the PACs.

So, if more a chance to track there and what we have seen in other states, more affluent voters or votes more optimistic about their own economic circumstances tend to go for Governor Romney. Santorum's appeal is downscale. We are going to keep scrubbing the edge of polling data. It's a vague diverse, interesting state. And it could be a critical state in terms of momentum in what you well know has been a roller coaster ride.

BURNETT: And John, you were talking about the 69 delegates, second biggest haul to date. But obviously, I know not all of those are up for grabs. It is a little more complicated. How does it work on the map?

KING: Hey, it's a very interesting state. Fifty four delegates will be elected tonight. And they are literally elected. In a lot of state, if a candidate wins state wide you get "x" proportion of the vote. And then you get if you win a congressional district, you get the delegates in that congressional district.

In Illinois, if the voters go in, they are not only seeing a ballot that says Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, Paul. They are seeing, John Doe and Susie Doe. Each candidate has delegate and you have to vote for each delegate.

And it says in parenthesis after, there Romney delegate or there Santorum delegate. So, you have to vote not only for your candidate but then you have to vote for your delegates. And this is the key point. Remember, in Ohio, in Tennessee, Senator Santorum couldn't get all the delegates because he had some organizational shortcomings. There are several places, about ten delegates he's essentially leaving on the table in Illinois because he didn't file delegate slates. So, that's an advantage for Governor Romney as we wait. It's a very complicated process so; we'll know the popular vote winner pretty quickly but take a while to count out the delegates.

BURNETT: All right. Obviously, whether you think spreadsheets matter or not, delegates count. Like it or not.

All right. Well, John King, of course is going to be with us and here throughout entire night as we cover this wall to wall. We'll see when we really find out, who wins in Illinois.

Mitt Romney is getting ready to hold his election party in Schaumburg, Illinois. Candy Crowley is there.

And Candy, how is the Romney camp feeling about his chances tonight?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Listen, they feel pretty good. But as always, when you hear the expectations that are out there, he's leading by double digits. That's when their ears begin to perk up because so far, what is happening in a lot of these states, let's say Ohio or even Michigan where Romney's won, the complaint has been really he hasn't won by enough.

Look. They want a very big win here. They think a big win here in Illinois and certainly it looks like a state where Romney can pull that off, at least on the face of it would begin to send that signal that the Romney camp has been trying to send for past couple of weeks, which is time for us all to get together.

Now, what they would like is to hear from some of those mainstream Republicans, some of those folks out there with sway going, you know what? It's time for us Republicans to all gather around, find our nominee, and then move into where it really counts which is the fall election. So, they would like a big enough vote that would begin to send that signal and that would also a little bit immunize them from what may be a loss in Louisiana on Saturday, one of those deep south states where Santorum and Gingrich tend to do very well.

So, they want to brush off Alabama and Mississippi and they want to inoculate themselves against Louisiana and have a really big vote here around try to bring this thing kind of to a close. Won't happen tomorrow but they hope it will add to it -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Candy.

And of course, we will be checking again with Candy at those headquarters. But when you think about, talking about what's going to happen in Louisiana, Rick Santorum is actually in his home state of Pennsylvania for this election night. Jim Acosta is with him in Gettysburg.

And Jim, Santorum not even being in Illinois seems to be a concession. He's looking forward, but to where?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They are looking forward, Erin. And you're right. I mean, the fact that they are in Pennsylvania tonight is probably a pretty good indication they don't expect to win the Illinois primary tonight.

But I had the chance to talk to somebody inside the Santorum campaign early this afternoon and they were saying, look, you know we hear all this talk about Illinois being vitally important to the direction of this campaign. But keep in mind, there's a primary in Louisiana on Saturday. So yes, Romney may win tonight but we may win in Louisiana and then we start all over again with talk where this campaign is headed.

And I think one thing you will see tonight is Rick Santorum talk a lot about where we are this evening. We are in Gettysburg. Civil war battlefield is just down the road. He's been really talking lately about the heart and soul of the Republican Party. I think we'll see his speech tonight steeped in that kind of language, that same source inside the Santorum campaign told me look for Rick Santorum tonight to go after Mitt Romney on the anniversary that's coming up for the president's signing of Obama care, the health care law that was modeled very much after what Mitt Romney passed in Massachusetts.

So, the message from the Santorum campaign, once again to the Republican party is, hey, wait a minute, here's another stop sign, here's another road sign on the way to Tampa. If you nominate this guy we can't go after President Obama on Obama care -- Erin.

BURNETT: Thank you very much, Jim.

And Newt Gingrich, obviously, also setting his sights on Louisiana. Could be make or break? And Joe Johns joins us now from New Orleans.

So Joe, what is Gingrich's strategy there and is it fair to say that really could be his last stand? That is a must-win.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it is funny, every time we say last stand, Newt Gingrich does something else. So, I wouldn't venture to guess whether this is his last stand or not but I tell you this. He's in Louisiana because it is pretty clear he didn't have a lot of traction in a state like Illinois.

And here in this state, Newt Gingrich sort of made some waves today when he jumped all over a statement that was made by the actor, Robert de Niro, at an Obama fund-raiser in New York. De Niro made a joke. He said America isn't ready for a white first lady.

Newt Gingrich took that and ran with it as a serious thing, said he didn't think it was funny. Said President Obama actually needed to apologize because it was at an Obama fund-raiser. The president didn't apologize, but Mrs. Obama issued a very short statement saying it was an inappropriate assertion. And that's where we stand.

What does all that mean here in Louisiana? Well, there are some people who think Newt Gingrich might be able to get some political traction in Louisiana simply because that's the kind of language people want to hear, more going after the president of the United States, less going after Republicans.

Still, the bottom line is, Newt Gingrich is in Louisiana because he really wasn't expected to compete in Illinois. This is all part of his southern strategy. He certainly is not a lock in all southern states. We saw that in the last set of primaries, Alabama, Mississippi, where he didn't win even though a lot of people said he might have to. So that's why we're here, and we'll get back to you if we have any other news -- Erin.

BURNETT: Thank you. Obviously everywhere there is a headquarters and whole lot polling stations and CNN is in most of them.

OUT FRONT next, Representative Paul Ryan came out front with a look at the Republicans 2013 budget proposal. So, is a trillion dollars in revenue really possible?

And speaking of money, the GOP candidates continue to spend insane amounts of money on this campaign. We crunch the numbers and some of those totals shocked even a number hungry show like ours.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Representative Paul Ryan is chairman of the House budget committee and he released what he calls his path to prosperity plan this morning. It is a 98-page budget which calls for spending cuts, two tax brackets of 10 percent and 25 percent. And this is interesting because it wasn't clear actually in the 98 pages as to whether he would eliminate loopholes even though he was angry about them.

But as you will see, he would. And that means somebody will pay a lot more money. There are also Medicare changes in there and a lot of other things. And GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney called the plan "a bold step," actually the same three words he used last year when Paul Ryan put out his plan and Romney created - I don't know.

All right. Earlier I had the chance to ask the congressman if he considers Mitt Romney's comment an endorsement.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: Well, I don't know if it is an endorsement or not. I talked to Newt, Mitt and Rick about this budget. Just wanted to make sure they knew it was coming, how that it jives with the kind of things they have been saying in their campaigns.

But, what's important we think is, we owe the country a choice of two futures. If we don't like the direction of country's taken our country, which we don't, then it is not enough to criticize. We owe solutions. We also have a law that says you have to pass a budget by April 15th. That we are going to follow the law. The senate unfortunately for the third year in a row has chosen to ignore this law.

BURNETT: So, when the plan came out this morning, my mail box was really blowing out right? Everyone on the left and the right was e-mailing with the headline that they felt captured your plan.

On the left White House press secretary Jay Carney said quote, "this is a transfer of money to the wealthiest Americans."

On the other side of things, Grover Norquist, the tax policeman said your tax plan is pro-growth and common sense.

Your plan itself does use words like failed leadership and punting to describe the president. And I'm just wondering whether you are trying to take leadership or whether this is a really a partisan political document.

RYAN: Well, I wouldn't say its political document. It is a plan for future because we don't think the president's led on this issue by virtue of the fact that he's given us four budgets with $4 trillion deficits and literally no proposal to prevent a debt crisis to get this debt under control. BURNETT: And let me ask you. When you talk about two tax brackets, the 10 percent and 25 percent, obviously on an absolute basis, assuming that anyone in the current 25 percent bracket or lower goes to the 10 percent and everybody else goes to the 25 percent which I know - I know it wasn't clear in your plan. I'm assuming that's what it is. But the wealthy would get the bigger cut on an absolute basis, clearly.

RYAN: We're also saying take away their tax shelters. Don't forget, Erin, there are effective tax rates. And the people in the top two tax brackets the ones to get almost all of the write-office, almost all of the tax shelters. So, if you're a wealthy person and you park your money in a tax shelter, it is taxed at zero. If we take away the tax shelters, and had a broader based, lower rates system, and then that money is taxed at 25 percent.

BURNETT: So, I'm curious, maybe Governor Norquist didn't read the whole plan. On page 60 you say and you are talking about the unfairness of the current tax code. You say, quote, "The sum of all the special credits, deductions a loopholes amounts to over a trillion dollars a year."

RYAN: That's right.

BURNETT: That's roughly the same amount of U.S. government collects in individual income taxes each year. So in other words, these tax preferences end up narrowing the tax base by 50 percent. So, it sounds to me like are you opening the increase in revenue by doubling revenue a trillion dollars by getting rid of loopholes.

RYAN: Well, and lowering tax rates. So don't forget the second part of the sentence here which is broaden the tax base like you just described but lower tax rates. Here's the deal. Like I said, most of our businesses, we don't want to charge them with a 45 percent tax rate when their competitors like say in Canada are having a 15 percent tax rate or say in China, 25 percent tax rate. We want to lower these tax rates to get more economic growth.

So, we think we can get at least at much revenue in the federal government through this kind of system but we think it will be more at the end of the day because it will create jobs, it will give us certainty. It will make it easier for businesses to succeed and hire people and that brings in more revenues to the government as well.

BURNETT: All right. So, I mean, I understand that's all the logic in tax cuts. People say if you cut onerous tax rates you stimulate economic growth and that makes up for the lost revenue, you end up broadening the base. That's the argument.

RYAN: We're saying go beyond that. We are saying do this on a revenue neutral basis as well so we don't lose revenue. I would say, in addition that which are not counting in our numbers, you'll get even more on top of the trillion. It's what I'm saying.

BURNETT: OK. So, more on top of the trillion? RYAN: Yes. You'll get more -- I believe you'll get more than this tax code raises, what we're targeting is the current amount of revenues that we get through the tax code today with high rates and narrow base. Let's get the same amount of revenue with lower rates and a broader base. That's what I'm trying to say.

BURNETT: OK. Because -- one thing when you look back on the Reagan era right, you are cutting tax rates from 75 percent to 50. I mean, that's a huge change. And you can see how that would stimulate growth. But cutting rates from 33 percent to 25 percent, that seems like a much more difficult proposition to say that just rate is going to stimulate economic growth.

RYAN: You have to remember, we're in international competition now. So, in the '80s, and Reagan went down to 28 percent in his last tax reform. We were the undisputed economic super power of the world. We are not anymore. Globalization is here. The Internet is here. We're competing with China, India, Japan, all over the world, Canada. And they are lowering their tax rates on their businesses while we are raising ours. That's going to make it harder for us to create jobs.

BURNETT: Right. So, it is more of a competitive argument you are making as opposed to a stimulating economic growth argument.

RYAN: Both, I would say. I'd say, in this competitive international environment where you have countries lowering their tax rates, we need to make America more competitive. If we make America more competitive, we'll get faster economic growth and more jobs.

BURNETT: And the bottom line, make sure I'm clear on this loophole, when you close loopholes that means the wealthier Americans could end up paying more than they're paying right now. Right under the Paul Ryan plan, that is possible.

RYAN: Yes. Yes. Their effective tax rates will be higher because they can't shelter their income from taxation anymore.

BURNETT: OK. Good. I just want to be sure we're very clear. That's a big issue for a lot of people as to wealthy Americans paying their fair share. Want to just ask you a couple questions about what's going on tonight.

First of all, social issues. They have become dominant in this Republican primary cycle. This whole war on women thing that is being discussed on the left about the right and the right about the left, are you frustrated with the dominance of social issues in this primary given you have avenue spend time drawing up a 98-page budget propose and for this economy?

RYAN: We were doing great until now, Erin. No, I'm just kidding.

Look. No, we're not frustrated. I think the country knows that real issue here is we're coming to a fiscal cliff. Our economy is in peril. And I think that's the issue that's really going to dominate this fall campaign. This so-called war on women, no one -- no one is talking about denying people the ability to have contraception. That's an issue about whether the federal government can mandate that people violate their conscience and do things against their church teachings. Mandate that institutions violate their first amendment constitutional rights of religious liberty and conscience. So, that's really a constitutional individual right issue. Anybody can have contraception. Nobody is talking about that. I think it a distortion of the issue to suggest that.

BURNETT: There are some states that are. But you're saying that's separate from the national platform. It's that what you're saying, right?

RYAN: Yes. And also, look. I think this issue is going to sorts themselves out. At the end of the day, what we think we owe the country - because we don't like the direction of president's taking the countries. We want to give them a choice of two futures so they can decide what kind of America they want us to be. If we don't get this debt under control, with this economy growing, we are going to have some problems. And we need to be honest with people about that and show them how we would fix this problem.

BURNETT: And, has anybody directly broached you, any of the three fronts - the three leaders right now about the VP?

RYAN: No. No. They're not -- they got to win this primary first before they can start thinking about that stuff.

BURNETT: No, they don't, but that's OK.

RYAN: All right.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Tonight at 11:00, Ryan's response that to accusations that his plan hurts seniors. He'll talk about his Medicare and his interest on the mortgage interest deduction. If you are getting rid of loophole, that's the big (INAUDIBLE), and whether he regrets not voting for Simpson bowls, which frankly as I look at it, does seem to overlap with his plan rather, significantly.

So, let bring in Paul Begala, John Avlon and Reihan Salam, for their take on the Ryan budget plan.

Let me start with you, Reihan, someone who's coming from more of the right side of this. Do you think that he made a convincing case?

REIHAN SALAM, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY: I think fundamentally you have to think about this as a way to draw a contrast. The truth is that it would be very hard to make this budget proposal work and I think Ryan recognizes that you're ultimately going to have to come to a negotiated settlement. But you draw contrast. That's the part of the politics is about.

BURNETT: Right. He knows this won't pass. Paul Begala, one thing that was interesting when I was reading it though, that was shift from even the way he had talked a year ago was using the word of an unfair tax system, talking about the wealthy paying their fair share, getting rid of loopholes on the wealthy that a lot of American -- American opinion is seeping through into the Republican party.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: But not into the plan, Erin. As you pointed out, committing journalism, asking him to talk questions, Mr. Ryan couldn't answer it. He didn't have anything in there. He says trust me.

Now, he wrote 98 pages that he released today. Nowhere in there does he specify where rich people would pay more but everywhere does he say where middle class people get hammered. Now, I say this one -- let me utter a sentence of Paul Ryan, if he lives to be 100 will never utter -- I helped balance the budget. I work in the White House. I put together a federal budget that was balanced. And it created the greatest boom in American history and global history. We did it in part by raising taxes mostly on the rich, cutting spending where it wasn't working and investing in things that make us stronger and safer and smarter.

Congressman Ryan's plan does none of the above. None. Massive tax breaks for the rich, it would cause, in the words of center for budget and policy priorities, a non-partisan group, it would cause the gradual demise of traditional Medicare. He does that in order to pay for tax breaks for the rich while increasing the debt. It is really a remarkable political document but it is not a serious debt reduction.

SALAM: There is one small issue however, which is that Paul Ryan is chairman of the house budget committee and there is another committee called the house ways and means committee which is in charge of writing rules regarding the tax code.

So, unfortunately, from his perspective I imagine, Paul Ryan isn't the czar of everything that happens in congress. Rather, he is there to draw a broad outline about where policy should go and it is the job of the wanes and means committee, including Democrats on that committee, to work towards a negotiated compromise. He's offering a broad contour of where policy should go.

BEGALA: Right. And that contour is $3 trillion in tax cuts for the rich and the gradual demise of Medicare.

SALAM: And cutting tax expenditures --

BEGALA: Massive cuts. Massive cuts in education, Veterans benefits, Medicaid, everything that makes us stronger and safer.

BURNETT: Paul, let me just ask the question. Because he did - I mean when you -- if you're going to really close loopholes and I think the question will be asked how much he's willing to do that. That does disproportionately affect the wealthy. And he did say many wealthy Americans could end up paying more. Closing loopholes in exchange for a lower rate is something lots of Democrats have also said makes sense.

BEGALA: Well yes, except for example he didn't give you any specifics. Here's one specific - hang on - he is right by the way. He a he not in charge of tax policy but his plan creeps into it where he sees it in his favor. So, he cuts taxes for corporations. He cuts taxes for the rich. He eliminates taxes for wealthy heirs, the estate tax, which almost all Americans are exempt from except about the wealthiest one or two percent. He eliminates it for the wealthiest one or two percent.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: So, she can inherit the vast fortune or in fact, Congressman Ryan who stands to stands to inherit a vast fortune wouldn't pay taxes on that.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This is a political document and it focuses disproportionately on tax policy. That's the sweet spot for Republicans. What it does though, is kicks the can when it comes to deficit reduction. And the devils, those details that end up making the case aren't there. So, when he voted against Simpson Bowles, I want to see what those contracts are because that's a heavy burden to carry if you really carry about deficit and debt.

BURNETT: Which John had pointed out earlier today, that this overlaps between the two plans. And he is going to talk about that later. You are going to see that at 11:00, how he responds to Simpson Bowles and Medicare. All of that coming up at 11:00.

In the meantime though, we are just over 30 minutes from polls closing in Illinois. And we're getting some new data on where it may be headed.

John King up next with the up to the minute information from the exit polls as they roll in. that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: All right. We are about 30 minutes away in the polls close in Illinois. It could be a huge night. Sixty-nine delegates in the state, 54 at stake to be allocated tonight. It's one of the biggest delegate grabs of the year.

John King with us, John Avlon and Romney advisor Kevin Madden joins us now as well.

What about the delegate math though from the man who knows this better than anyone in America -- John King.

Tell us what you see the delegate map.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's a set-up line if ever I've heard one, and then you have those other two guys beat me up. I know how this works.

Look, let's just look at, I read Mr. Avlon today saying Romney is not inevitable. And he is correct. The problem is it gets very improbable if you try to find who's going to stop Governor Romney.

So, let's just for the sake of argument he wins the state of Illinois tonight and gets most of the delegates. I want to take away -- I just gave Senator Santorum Louisiana. This is where it would be, If Romney wins Illinois, Santorum wins Louisiana, it would be somewhere in this ballpark, OK? Five hundred seventy-three for Romney, consider it as a ballpark number, Santorum not even half that. You got to get to 1,144.

Let's for the sake of the conversation, I'm going to fast-forward to the end of the process, Erin, OK? Let me go back and play with some of these states. Let's just say, for example, well, the Santorum people say, no, we can play here. Other Santorum people say we can play in Indiana. Now that will come up there. These will be key contests, West Virginia, I'm going to give it to Santorum, North Carolina, I'm going to give it for the sake of this hypothetical, to Santorum.

OK. We've done all that, where does it get you? It still has Romney clinching. So, where else? If you look at the map, where else? Santorum under this scenario, being generous, you give him Louisiana, you give him Texas, I'd just given him Wisconsin, Indiana, North Carolina, where else?

What has to happen for Senator Santorum is under this scenario, see that check mark? Romney would clinch by the finish line. It would be a long slog.

How does Senator Santorum stop him? Well, you have to win all of these states. We haven't had the Gingrich conversation. We could have that in a minute. Then he would have to take away one of the big winner takes all, like New Jersey, or like California or both preferably. Then you get this.

But if you look at the math right now, Erin, Governor Romney is winning a majority of the delegates. He only needs 49 percent from here to the finish line. Senator Santorum is winning about 20 percent up to today. He needs about 70 percent.

So, you can run that by the math experts. You guys tell me, who changes the map and how?

BURNETT: All right, John Avlon, who changes the map and how?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, I think the thing to remember right now is that it's not about what candidate can beat Mitt Romney. It's about whether the other candidates can block Mitt Romney from getting 1,144. That's the larger game.

The reason this year is different than all others before, is because the RNC changed the rules to proportional delegates and because of the presence of super PACs. The lack of money that would normally kick other candidates out, right now, they've got enough money they can go on. They can go on and play a long game looking to this convention. So, that's the real question.

BURNETT: So, blocked from winning, and then at the convention, you have a contested situation.

AVLON: Right. It's not about who is ahead in the delegates. That's the wrong metric. It is about whether anyone hits 1,144.

BURNETT: Kevin Madden, are you confident that Mitt Romney can get there all the way 1,144 before the convention to avoid an incident?

KEVIN MADDEN, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: Very much so. I mean, look, I disagree with John. I don't think this is about blocking anybody. I think voters are looking to support who they think should be the best nominee who can beat Barack Obama in the general election. And I think when Governor Romney goes out there and makes that case to voters, he continues to gain more and more support as we go through this contest.

So I think that a lot of these scenarios that the two other campaigns are looking at are fantasy scenarios. Their path continues to get more narrow and more narrow as we go through these contests. Voters continue to look behind Governor Romney. And I think as we've seen throughout each contest, a lot of voters now are starting to begin to coalesce around Governor Romney. They very much want to see this process come to an end, or at least they are starting to see this process come to an end.

BURNETT: OK.

MADDEN: And they do want to turn their attention to our common opponent as Republicans, which is President Obama, beating him in November.

BURNETT: And, obviously, tonight is going to be a very big night to see what sort of margin of victory Mitt Romney can get if indeed he gets the win. I know there was a conference call today, John King, Rick Santorum's team trying to fight back, come up with -- here is a way we can get to 1,144 before the convention.

You've looked at the numbers. Did that call make sense? Is there -- what are the chances that they could achieve that?

KING: Well, they're not only -- Erin, let me switch this scenario for you and show you -- I'm going to show you a Santorum strength scenario and get you all the way to the end. Come back to today and then go to the end.

This still has Romney winning even if Santorum wins almost everywhere. But, again, if you take this away, give it to Santorum, I can block Romney. I can give you a reasonable -- if Santorum suddenly starts winning everywhere, he just gambled in Puerto Rico and he lost. It looks like he's not going to do it in Illinois.

At some point for the Santorum scenario to work, they have to start beating Romney in places where he's favored and not just beating him 52 to 48. He needs to beat him hugely to get the delegates in the proportional states. They're also counting on states to go back at Arizona, for example, in Florida, to rewrite rules for the convention to allow more delegates. They're expecting to pick up, change the math later. Essentially, under their scenario, my Red Sox won the World Series last year. My Red Sox didn't even make the playoffs.

You can't -- they want -- there's too many ifs, ands and buts. Is it conceivable they block Governor Romney? Yes, very hard. To get Santorum to 1,144, they're asking a handful of states to change the rules. Then they're going to going in and do better than they did in election day in some of these state and county conventions. Sure. But it's never been done before.

If I were a campaign advisor and I'm not, I would focus on blocking Governor Romney, not trying to get to 1,144. That is conceivable, still a long stretch but conceivable.

AVLON: Even the Romney camp acknowledges now it's looking like June.

KING: Right.

AVLON: And the big question for them, the challenge for them is can they start really unifying the party behind them? Because to date, still 60 percent of Republicans have voted for somebody else. And for a candidate with such huge organizational money advantage, that's a real weakness.

BURNETT: Right. Thanks very much to all three of you. We appreciate it.

And results from Illinois's primary today are continuing to come in. Did Mitt Romney get that big double-digit slam that he needed or not? We're just 25 minutes away from those polls closing in Illinois. We're going to talk about what a big win for Mitt Romney would mean for Rick Santorum, for Newt Gingrich, and for Ron Paul, with his incredibly passionate supporters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Mitt Romney has outspent Rick Santorum by a margin of about 5-1 in Illinois, shelling about $1.1 million to Santorum's $200,000. And that's just the spending from the actual campaign. It doesn't take into account money from where the real money is: super PAC land.

If you include super PAC spending, it widens the spending margin to 7-1 in Mitt's favor. In the Chicago market alone, the margin of spending is 21-1. That's one hell of a margin.

Mitt is already ahead in Illinois in terms of votes, so why all the spending? Well, if he wins big, it could be the psychological knockout, of course, that he needs to finally clinch this nomination, which brings us to tonight's number -- 2.7 million. That's the dollar amount Mitt Romney's super PAC spent on March 6th which was Super Tuesday. That's the last time Romney was looking for a big knockout. That's right. Mitt Romney's super friends dropped almost $3 million in a day. Why is that number so scary? Well, it's $200,000 more than what the other candidate super PACs spent in the entire month of March. Wow.

All right. The Illinois primary results are just moments away. We are about 19 moments away. The big question remains as to whether Rick Santorum's tough week cost him delegates.

Mitt Romney and his super PAC, as we said, has significantly outspent in Illinois. It's a state that has 9.4 percent unemployment. And Mr. Santorum was criticized for saying this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't care what the unemployment rate's going to be. It doesn't matter to me. My campaign doesn't hinge on unemployment rates and growth rates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: All right. And I think it's only fair to say that Rick Santorum was trying to talk about his campaign being linked to, well, his morals and his belief about where the country stands and it wasn't just solely an economic campaign. But obviously it comes after many are wondering why he spent a couple of days in Puerto Rico where he got no votes.

I mean, I'm -- I got to say, I forgive him for this picture. You got to take a break.

I mean -- anyway, let's bring in political contributors John Avlon and David Frum.

David Frum, the problem remains is that a vacation may be well- deserved but going and spending two days in Puerto Rico when you knew you weren't going to do well, then you got no delegates, that does not help.

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think what it's like to be Rick Santorum. He's probably getting by on four or five hours of sleep a night. When he's awake, he's probably spending four or five hours on the phone begging for money. He doesn't have much of a campaign at all.

I mean, this is like you're taking your, you know, high school pick-up softball team out to play the New York Yankees in front of Yankee Stadium and a jeering hostile crowd. It gets to you and you make mistakes. He doesn't have proper speechwriters, he doesn't have pollsters, he's rattled, he makes mistakes all the time. And, of course, once you make one mistake, then you make even more because you now begin to second-guess yourself.

AVLON: Well, to extend David's metaphor, no, I think that's one of the reasons it's been tough to put Rick Santorum away. If that high school baseball team were putting up a serious fight against the New York Yankees? That starts to get some sentimental favor on your side.

BURNETT: The whole country would be rooting for that, yes.

AVLON: That becomes a real problem. It is those dynamics exactly.

But objectively, Rick Santorum has had a bad week. Strategically, he got some sun and maybe he's got a tan, you know, running around the states right now, but he lost two or three days when he could have campaigned harder directly in Illinois. That's an unforced error.

You know, that gaffe he made may have been a gaffe. But in a state with 9.4 unemployment, that can hurt him with part of his base, which is people make under $100,000.

So, Rick Santorum has not had a great week and you may see that in these results tonight.

BURNETT: David Frum, I'm just curious here, because, you know, momentum mattered, you know, it's been a yo-yo, this race, right? Where it polls this way, but then if someone else wins that week, then all of a sudden, they surge in the polls.

It looked like Santorum had a real opportunity. It was almost neck-and-neck within the margin of error in Illinois. It doesn't seem that way right now.

So, did he have an opportunity to win or at least come close to tying in Illinois?

FRUM: I don't think so. I mean, when you look at where the Republican votes are in these suburban counties around Chicago -- the other thing you have to say, what does momentum mean? If it means a little blip in the polls, that's not so important.

In the past, what momentum is meant you do well and suddenly you begin to raise money, you become more competitive. John McCain after he won New Hampshire in 2008, he raised money. It wasn't just momentum like a dot on a chart, it was actually something you could use.

Rick Santorum has not been able to translate success into money because he's so massively rejected by the Republican donor class.

BURNETT: Well, that's been true. The big money has been behind Mitt Romney from the beginning, whether they like him or not, that's the bet they made.

AVLON: Absolutely. So, the other candidates are looking for small dollar donors. But here's the big thing is that Rick Santorum, when he's had the opportunity for these big upsets in Michigan, Ohio, hasn't been able to seal the deal himself. So, he hasn't had the serious momentum changer that could help draw in more money. And so now, we're at tonight, Illinois. BURNETT: And we are tonight, and we are 15 minutes away from the polls closing. More data coming in from the exit polls. John King and Wolf Blitzer, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: All right. We are just a few minutes away from the first results out of Illinois. Polls are closing at the top of the hour. Exit polls give us a little bit of perspective on who turned out to vote and why.

John King and Wolf Blitzer are here right now, and John is at the magic wall, and there, of course, is wolf, also liking like he is at a magic wall. There he is, like what he's looking at. OK, maybe at the same magic poll.

So, John, what are the polls saying?

KING: Well, right here, Erin, we've got to take a look. We got very interesting how -- who in the state voted?

There's an interesting one for you here. We know collar counties right around Chicago are critical to Governor Romney, about 36 percent of the vote came from that area. So, let's see how Governor Romney did -- 51 percent to 31 percent. That's pretty start for Governor Romney in a part of the state that is critical. These are the collar counties just around Chicago, suburban collar in northern Illinois.

What about the rest of northern Illinois? If you outside of Chicago suburbs and then go west, look at this -- Senator Santorum carries those areas, not by much but he's beating Governor Romney across the rest of northern Illinois. This is encouraging to the Santorum campaign, which knows we'll have good support in the rural south. The question is, can they hold their own in the northern part of the state. That's one thing to look at.

This has been a statistic we've looked at in every exit poll in every state. If you make less than 50 grand, 100 grand or more, 50 grand to 100 grand, if you look at this, let's just look here and see. Senator Santorum tends to do best here, Governor Romney has always done best here.

So, what about this chunk of the electorate? Thirty-four percent of the Republican voters today make between $50,000 and $100,000 a year. And look at this -- Romney winning but just narrowly, just narrowly over Senator Santorum. It will be interesting to see how the other blocs turn out and where the turnout is across this election.

Let's go here. It's another one we're looking at. This one I found interesting. Among Catholics who attend church weekly -- Senator Santorum is a Catholic -- 22 percent of the electorate identify themselves as Catholics who attends church weekly.

Let's look what happened here. Governor Romney actually with a slight lead over Senator Santorum. This is regular church-going Catholics. Now, what about regular church-going Protestants? About 21 percent of the electorate. Look at that. Senator Santorum leads among Protestants who go to church regularly.

So, Wolf, as you watch this play out, it's fascinating in a diverse state. This is no surprise. The economy has been the number one issue in every state so far in the Republican primaries. And guess what? The budget deficit has been the number two issue in everyone so far.

This is the first time we asked this question. Remember Governor Romney said the economy's getting better. And some Republicans said, should he be saying that? This is going to be your case against President Obama.

Thirty-four percent say things are about the same. In the president's home state, these are Republicans, mind you, but in the president's home state, almost half of the voters today say the economy is getting worse. If you're the incumbent president, you have to be worried that any voter, Democrat or Republican, would think that.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But realistically, John, Illinois in November, the home state of the president of the United States, a state that almost always in the general election goes Democratic, this is not a state that the Democrats at this point should even be concerned about.

KING: The only thing we will look at in election night is, was it closer this time than the blowout last time? President Obama is going to carry the state of Illinois. I think that's pretty safe prediction. We don't get any prediction based on (INAUDIBLE).

But this is interesting, just in that part of the country, the Midwest, nearly half of the people in the home state. These are Republicans, mind you. So, they might tend to look just favorably, unfavorably on the president.

This one here, this is an interesting question we've asked a lot of these states. Is Governor Romney, is he too conservative? Not conservative enough? Or about right? Now, this is interesting if you look at them.

Among those who say he's not conservative enough, Senator Santorum obviously carries that vote by a pretty healthy margin.

Erin, that's a lot of people say, you know, Governor Romney, he's not our guy. And let's just look, guess what, this is the goldilocks test, I guess. Among those who say he's about right, Governor Romney wins big.

BLITZER: You know what I don't like about that question? About is he conservative enough, not too conservative, way too conservative? It depends on your definition of the word conservative.

KING: Right. BLITZER: Because there are conservatives out there who may really be moderates or liberals but think they're conservatives. On the other hand, there are conservatives who may think they're moderate.

KING: A very conservative voter in Illinois is not the same as a conservative voter in, say, Alabama, or Mississippi, where we're having this conversation last week. So, it's one of the fascinating things we learn about the 50-state puzzle that is our wonderful United States. If this race keeps going like this, we may touch all 50 of them, we have a nominee.

BURNETT: Yes.

BLITZER: Erin, one more point before I let you go -- it's going to be interesting to see at the top of the hour when all the polls in Illinois are closed if we will be able to make a projection or not. Stand by for that.

BURNETT: All right. Very excited to see whether we can. The polls are about to close in Illinois and our coverage continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey. Good evening, everyone. Welcome to our primary coverage tonight in Illinois.

Just about five minutes away until polls close in Illinois, a very big night for Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, a chance -- some say -- for Mitt Romney to start closing the deal, proving he can win in big Midwestern states. For Rick Santorum, down to two to one in delegates, a chance perhaps one of his last to deal the Romney forces a hard right hook.

Wolf Blitzer, of course, is joining us. John King is running the numbers. He's at the magic wall for us. Gloria Borger and David Gergen are here with in-depth analysis.

Again, we are just minutes away from our first results from Illinois.

The polls are about to close. And we will, of course, go to Wolf Blitzer as soon as the polls close to see if we're able to call this race or get a sense of how soon we may be able to call it.

Gloria, in terms of what you're looking for tonight, what are the key things that people at home should watch?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think we want to see that if Mitt Romney, first of all, can win this state by a large margin. I know in the campaign they really want to do that.

COOPER: That would really give a sense of inevitability.

BORGER: It would give a sense of momentum at least, although Louisiana's right around the corner. So Rick Santorum might be able to do well there in the South.

I'm going to look at women voters and see how they are with Mitt Romney versus Rick Santorum. The big thing we need to look at and see if Mitt Romney continues to win in the urban areas against those all- important suburban voters, because that's where the election is really going to be fought.

COOPER: And, David Gergen, Rick Santorum has really not gotten those suburban voters in the past. He's done well among rural voters, evangelicals, and very conservative voters.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he's got the most at stake here tonight. And Rick Santorum is coming off of pretty horrible week in politics, you know? He went down to Puerto Rico, wasted a lot of time and insulted people in the process, didn't spend his time in Illinois.

He's disorganized in Illinois. His message has been off. He doesn't have a consistent message on the economy. He can't seem to control himself on the social issues. He's got a lot riding on this tonight.

COOPER: Right. We take a look at Rick Santorum headquarters in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Again, we are watching the primary in Illinois. Polls close in just a few minutes.

Wolf Blitzer and John King are standing by.

Wolf, what would you recommend the viewers watch for tonight?

BLITZER: Well, I'm -- if, in fact, Romney does win Illinois, all the earlier polls are suggesting he would, is it a major win? Is it a landslide? Is it close as it was in Michigan, for example, and Ohio?

How does he do outside of Chicago and the Chicago suburbs? I'm looking down state what's going on.

I think there will be trends that we're going to be able to discern looking down the road because it looks like this is really shaping up, Anderson, as a two-man race -- Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney.

So, we're going to -- we're going to be able to hopefully get a better sense of where we're going down the road. Not only in Louisiana next weekend, but eventually in Wisconsin, Maryland. We've got some big states -- New York, California, Texas. We've got a lot of states coming up.

COOPER: And John King, this is really as close to a two-man competition that Rick Santorum has been able to have. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are really not competitive in the state of Illinois.

KING: And so, a big Romney win would undermine the Santorum argument that give me a one-on-one shot and I can do some serious here, Anderson. If Governor Romney wins again tonight after winning Puerto Rico, the question for the other people is they've been sending all these memos with math scenarios we can catch him those math scenarios, getting increasingly unlikely.

COOPER: The polls as, I said, are about to close. Let's go back to Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Anderson, thanks very much.

We're getting ready. All the polls will be closed in only a few seconds. We've got exit poll information. We're waiting for real numbers.