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Tight Presidential Race; Violence in Syria Continues

Aired May 24, 2012 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm John King.

Tonight: honesty about outrageous honesty from the man who leads the United Nations. At least 10,000 people already dead, and Ban Ki- Moon tells CNN -- quote -- "There's no plan B to stop the killing in Syria."

Plus, the battle for the battlegrounds, President Obama in Iowa, Mitt Romney in Pennsylvania, and a half-dozen new state polls that give us a new glimpse at the tight Electoral College tug of war.

And Governor Romney promises to cut unemployment to 6 percent -- the "Truth" about that's a promise he can keep or whether it's his version of "Read my lips" or "I will close Gitmo."

We begin this evening with presidential politic, and a sharpening focus on key battleground states. President Obama is in Iowa tonight, just six electoral votes, but a hotly contested tossup state. At a wind turbine plant in Newton, Iowa, the president just moments ago said he understood times are tough, but he argues the Republican agenda isn't the answer.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you hear somebody say, we should cut more taxes, especially for the wealthiest Americans, well, Newton, you have been there and you have done that.

We did that 2000, 2001, 2003. When you hear people say that we should cut back more on the rules we put in place for banks and financial institutions to avoid another taxpayer bailout, well, we tried that.


KING: That's the president in Iowa just moments ago.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney, he has his eyes today on Pennsylvania's 20 Electoral College votes, encountering some Democratic protests as he made his case on education.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Education and the gap in the educational opportunity and achievement of people of color in this society, I believe, is the civil rights issue of our time. And you will have a better perspective of that than I do, but from my perspective, our failure to provide kids with the skills they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow is a crisis.


KING: A bit later, we will take a closer look at a dust-up between Governor Romney and some of those teachers over class size.

But, first, the changing lay of the land in the state-by-state race to 270 electoral votes. Several new polls out today, we could lump them together under this headline, remarkably close race, but advantage at the moment to President Obama.

Let's take a closer look. Some of those polling come from battleground state of Wisconsin. This is a state, President Obama won it last time. Governor Romney wants to take it this time. The new poll, you see it here, shows a slight advantage to the president, 49/43, in the battleground state, a key Midwestern battleground state of Wisconsin. Let's move that over.

Another new poll today in a huge battleground state, always a battleground state of Ohio, and again what do you get? Pretty similar numbers there, advantage President Obama, 48 percent to Governor Romney's 42 percent, this an NBC News/Marist poll, again, President Obama with a slight advantage in the state of Ohio.

Now let's move to the east, Virginia, one of the states the president turned from red to blue four years ago, a huge battleground, this time a tossup state at the moment, and look at that, a more narrow lead, but at the moment advantage Obama, within the margin of error, but the president on top in the state of Virginia.

And now let's move south along the East Coast down to the state of Florida, again, always a huge battleground state in presidential politics. We have had two polls in two days. And they give us slightly different results. This is the new one out today, shows the president up four points. Again, that's margin of error, dead heat, but the president with the slight momentum perhaps in Florida. That's today's poll.

Just yesterday, we had a different poll from Quinnipiac University that showed Governor Romney up closely. So you take the two polls, you say what? A very tight, competitive race in the state of Florida. So, the big question is, how does that impact the race to 270?

Let's switch maps and take a look. Here's my map, as we call it right now. I would say at the moment -- you need 270 to win. President Obama has about 217 electoral votes. Those are the blue states. They're solid Democratic or leaning Democratic.

Governor Romney starts with about 206 electoral votes. Again, if they're red on the map right now, solid Republican or leaning Republican. Look at the states I just mentioned. First, one footnote. I have Pennsylvania at the moment a tossup. Many people would lean that Democrat right now. We could call that one either way.

But let's go through the states we just mentioned. Remember, the president now at about 217. If that Wisconsin poll were right and he were to win Wisconsin, that moves him up. If that Ohio poll were right and the election were today and he were to win Ohio, if that Virginia poll were right and he were to win Virginia, bang, look at that. That gets him to 258. He only needs 270.

So then we have Florida as a tossup. If the president could win that, he's over the line. Let's assume Florida is not in play, and we will take that back off. Then Pennsylvania would put the president over the line.

So let's bring in, as we look at this very close Electoral College battleground, but advantage Obama at the moment -- his deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, is with us back from Chicago.

Stephanie, when you look at the map like this and you realize three or four states could decide it, let me ask this question. Why would you spend money anywhere else except for five or six states like Wisconsin, Iowa, Virginia, Florida?

STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA 2012 DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, John, I can't see your maps, but I can imagine what you're doing on the magic wall.

We're not taking anything for granted. And we're playing in all of the different battleground states. We're focusing on grassroots organizing, voter registration, and we're not taking a single vote for granted.

And, you know, the president is in Iowa today, a state that is incredibly important to us. And, you know, the bottom line is, you know, the organization that the president had in 2008 never went away. And we have been steadily building on it.

And, as a result, there are many different pathways to victory to get to 270. We're not relying on any single one state.

KING: And so let's test this theory a little bit.

Wisconsin is a key battleground state. You won it last time. It's a huge laboratory in American politics right now. You have the recall election with the Republican governor. He's -- Scott Walker, excuse me -- he's being recalled right now.

Why isn't the president going out there? I know there have been statements from the Obama campaign supporting the Milwaukee mayor, Tom Barrett. Why isn't the president going out there, number one, to help the Democrat, but, number two, to test the turnout organization?

CUTTER: Well, we test the turnout organization all the time. And we're about to test it again.

You know the commitments that we have made to turn out the vote against Walker for the Democrat. You know the commitments that we have made both financially and in items of on-the-ground resources.


KING: Is the president not welcome, though? Why wouldn't he get involved in the final days out there?

CUTTER: Well, I think that the president has a lot on his plate right now. And it's not to say that, you know, he won't lend his efforts at some point for that race. Wisconsin is very important to us. We have spent a lot of time in that state, as you know.

But, right now, we're focused on getting out the vote. We're focusing on ensuring that they have all the tools and resources that they need. And we're sending surrogates to the state.

KING: I want to you listen. Governor Romney gave an interview to "TIME" magazine yesterday. It was an extensive interview. He talked a bit about his record at Bain Capital, but I want you to listen right here where Governor Romney essentially sums up how there will be a lot of back and forth about details and policy proposals and particulars, but here essentially in a sentence or two is his case against your boss, the president.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a president who spends his time blaming other people for the fact that he has been unsuccessful in turning around this economy. And I think the reason you are seeing across the country people saying they would like to try someone new is because they believe this president, while he may be a nice guy, is simply not up to the task of helping guide an economy.


KING: Answer that, Stephanie Cutter, nice guy, but not up to the task. That's what Governor Romney says.

CUTTER: Well, I think he has a fundamental misreading of where the American people are.

The American people understand that, when the president took office, he was handed a mess. And he has been working since day one to fix that mess. You know, our policies are now in place. We have now created more than four million private sector jobs.

The economy is steadily growing. We're putting the building blocks in place so that we're building an economy meant to last, not one based on risky financial deals, outsourcing, tax cuts for the wealthy, all these policies that Mitt Romney supports, which are precisely the policies that got us into this economic mess in the first place.

So I think Mitt Romney, which shouldn't shock anybody, has a fundamental misreading of where the American people are. Let's remember, Mitt Romney is the one -- you know, the president's going to the Iowa State Fairgrounds tonight to talk to grassroot supporters. You know, just a few months ago, Mitt Romney was at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, and his answer to a voter question was, hey, corporations are people, too, human beings. Corporations are human beings.

So, it shouldn't shock anybody that Mitt Romney has a fundamental misunderstanding of where the American people are in this race.

KING: And the battle is joined.

And, Stephanie Cutter, as we thank you for your time tonight, we will touch base in the days ahead.

CUTTER: Thank you, John.

KING: I want to tell everybody to look at all that activity -- look at all that activity behind Stephanie Cutter in the Chicago headquarters. It's only May, ladies and gentlemen, but all that activity tells you both campaigns view this as a hotly contested election. They're working like it's September already.

Stephanie, appreciate your time.

CUTTER: Thanks, John.

KING: And tonight, for the first time, the Chinese human rights activist, Chen Guangcheng, is speaking out in depth about his escape from captivity and his new life here in the United States.

In an exclusive conversation today with my colleague Anderson Cooper, Chen describes his life in China as suffering -- quote -- "beyond imagination."

Anderson is with us now live from New York.

Anderson, tell us more about this fascinating conversation.


You know, he just arrived here this weekend. He's now going to be studying at NYU, hoping to learn English, study law, because he's -- though he's a lawyer, working as a lawyer in China, he actually has no formal legal training. He never went to law school.

He's speaking out, John, for the first time. And what he says is that he is very afraid and very concerned about his relatives who are still in China, his mother, his brother, his nephew who's been charged with intentional homicide because a security agents, Chinese government security agents burst into his home and they were searching for Mr. Chen, and he apparently brandished a knife against them.

And he has now been arrested and is still in custody. So, there's a lot of questions about what is going to happen, not only to his family members who are still in China, but also those who helped him take part in that daring escape from his home village that ultimately wound up with him seeking safety inside the U.S. Embassy.

I talked to him about what it was like after he had been released from jail -- he had been in jail for some four years -- and what it was like to be under what I termed house arrest. Here's what he said.


COOPER: When you were released, you were under house arrest. What was that like?

CHEN GUANGCHENG, CHINESE DISSIDENT (through translator): I want to correct one thing here. When we talk about my situation, in the future, let's not use the word house arrest, but instead let's use the term illegal detention.

It's hard for me to describe what it was like during that time. But let's just say that my suffering was beyond imagination.


COOPER: So, he -- as I said, his main message today is that he's very concerned about family members who he left behind and also the other activists who helped him make that daring escape, John.

KING: Anderson Cooper, appreciate your insights and your help.

And, folks, you can see much more of this conversation. You won't want to miss it, Anderson's exclusive conversation with Chen Guangcheng. That's tonight at 8:00 Eastern on CNN's "ANDERSON COOPER 360."

Thanks again to Anderson for helping us out tonight.

And next, a world leader's startling moment of truth: There's no backup plan to stop the slaughter in Syria.

And later, we will ask nationally known education reform advocate Michelle Rhee about Mitt Romney's assertion that smaller class size doesn't necessarily mean better learning.


KING: It's been over a month now since Syria and its opposition groups agreed to a cease-fire brokered by the former United Nations chief Kofi Annan. And even with over 200 monitors in the country, as you can see from those recent images, the violence rages on, at least 33 people killed today alone, 10,000 over the past 14 months.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour interviewed the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, today, and asked him a pretty simple question: If your diplomacy fails -- and it sure looks like it is failing -- what's the backup plan?


BAN KI-MOON, UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL: We don't have any plan B. The joint special envoy, Kofi Annan, has proposed six peace proposals, among which the complete cessation of violence is number one. Unfortunately, this has not been implemented, while, with the deployment of monitoring missions, we have seen some dampening effect. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If there's no plan B, then what will stop the violence in Syria?

Joining me now if Fouad Ajami, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of the book "The Syrian Rebellion."

Fouad, this would be funny, except people are dying every day. They say there's no plan B. Kofi Annan is going to brief the Security Council next week , but he hasn't been to Syria, even, since March. This process is a joke, except people are dying, so it's not funny.


And, as you know, a few days ago, some days ago, I went with our friend and colleague Anderson Cooper to the Syrian refugee camps. And in the refugee camp, you meet the true historians of the Syrian rebellion, the true historians of the victims of Bashar al-Assad and his regime.

At least grant Ban Ki-Moon one thing. He was an honest man. He said there is no plan B. The world has been watching this ordeal now for 15 months, and every child even in these refugee camps, victims of Bashar, will tell you they have been forsaken by the world.

KING: Well, this is raison d'etre of the United Nations. This is why the organization and the Security Council exist. If they can't fix this or stop this, and they don't have a plan B, who?

AJAMI: Well, who in fact will return to the true fact and the sobering fact. American power will have to do the rescue in Syria. I know, I know. Sometimes, the American people wonder, why us? Why must we shoulder the burden?

No one, by the way, is calling on the United States to commit boots on the ground. Senator John McCain is not asking for boots on the ground. But there's a lot that could be done. We must commit ourselves as a country to the support of the Syrian rebellion.

We must enlist the support and the help of the Turks, of the Qataris, who are more than eager to help, of the Saudis, who are eager to help, of the Libyans, who offered weapons. This should be underlined. The Libyans offered the Syrians weapons, and the United States threw its weight against that proposition.

So, there you have it. The facts are plain for all to see. If American diplomacy and American power doesn't commit itself to the rescue of the Syrian people, we see what we have been seeing for the last 15 months.

KING: As you know, some of the people saying no, including in the Obama administration, to committing American power, they're worried. They are worried that they would essentially be saying here, start a full-out civil war with pretty much no expectation of how it might end. You're saying that risk is better than what we have right now?

AJAMI: That's exactly right.

And, again, I think, John, if you listen to the Washington statements and to the Washington discourse, there is now this new argument, if you will, for this new case being made for abdication, that al Qaeda is now involved in the struggle in Syria.

And my response to this, I don't think al Qaeda is a factor in Syria. And if al Qaeda is a factor, the powers of the world, the democracies are to blame, because for a long time now, the Syrian people have been waiting for the rain of mercy, and it did not come. So, if al Qaeda jihadists, if a handful of jihadists offer the Syrian people help, well, then they will take it.

KING: Fouad Ajami, someone from who has from the very beginning been a great moral voice on this issue, Fouad, thanks you for your time tonight.

AJAMI: Thank you, John.

KING: Thank you.

When we come back, tonight's "Truth" concerns Mitt Romney's new and a very memorable campaign promise -- and still ahead, why he may regret making it.

But, next, the Unabomber may be in the country's most secure prison, but he just managed to embarrass his old school.


KING: Welcome back.


KING: Mitt Romney says smaller class sizes don't mean better learning. We will ask the education reformer Michelle Rhee if that's what she found when she was in charge of schools here in Washington, D.C.

Also, our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, joins us to fact-check Mitt Romney's promise to cut the unemployment rate to 6 percent.


KING: In this half-hour of JOHN KING, USA: A man claims he killed the first missing child to appear on a milk carton 33 years ago. We're standing by for a police briefing.

Mitt Romney says smaller class sizes don't mean students get a better education. We will ask a national education reformer who ran Washington, D.C., schools if that's what she found. And wait until you hear what some of the women in this picture there with former President Bill Clinton actually do for a living.

Mitt Romney visited a classroom in Philadelphia today, but before he even left the school, he was in hot water with some of the teachers and parents for his thoughts on classroom sizes, using his experience as Massachusetts governor as an example.


ROMNEY: As a matter of fact, the school district with the smallest classrooms, Cambridge, had students performing in the bottom 10 percent. So just getting smaller classrooms didn't seem to be the key.

STEVE MORRIS, TEACHER: I can't think of any teacher in the whole time I have been teaching, over 10 years, 13 years, who would say that they would -- more students would benefit them.

ROMNEY: Right. Right.


KING: Let's talk this over.

Joining me from Sacramento now is Michelle Rhee. She is the founder and CEO of StudentsFirst. She was chancellor of course of the Washington, D.C., Public Schools.

Chancellor Rhee -- I will call you Chancellor Rhee still -- is Mitt Romney right or wrong? He says smaller class size doesn't necessarily translate into higher achievement.

MICHELLE RHEE, FOUNDER AND CEO, STUDENTSFIRST: It's actually right that it doesn't necessarily mean better outcomes for kids.

For decades in this country , we were really focused on this notion that smaller class sizes meant that kids were going to get more attention and, therefore, we would have better outcomes. But if you look at the research, it's very clear that that's actually not the case, and that really what we need to be focusing in on is the quality of the teacher in front of the children, that that's much more important than class sizes.

And I actually think intuitively parents know this, as well. If you have -- you know, if you're sending your kid to school and there's two teachers -- one who's an outstanding teacher, the other one not as much -- you're going to fight as a parent to make sure that your kid gets in the classroom of that great teacher.

And if the principal said to you, "Well, there's already 25 kids in that classroom, and you'd be the 26th kid, but this classroom over here only has 20 kids," you would still want your child to be in the classroom with the most effective teacher.

KING: Where is the line? I assume you would agree that it's a combination, though, that even if you have an exceptional teacher, you don't want 35 kids in the classroom. Is there a balance that, yes, if you get better teachers or also, still, is it a combination?

RHEE: You know, it's interesting, because I think that one thing that could absolutely change the game on this is technology. We are seeing that through blended and hybrid models. People are really trying to think about whether -- if you have an unbelievable teacher, whether you can have them teach lots and lots of kids via the use of technology, and have those kids learn a lot more.

And in some of these what we call hybrid models, which is where you're using technology a lot more in the classroom, we're beginning to see some really, really interesting and positive early results.

KING: Let me ask you more of a political question. You mentioned your experience, what you think, that the teacher quality is more important than the number of students in the room.

Politically for Governor Romney, you say parents get it intuitively. Has a parent ever come to you and said, "Yes, I want larger classes"? Or politically, is this kind of risky if he doesn't explain what he means a little more?

RHEE: Well, he definitely has to explain what he means, because, you know, as parents, we -- we have these conceptions in our heads. And I can say this because I have two daughters. And when I first sent my daughter to school, I thought, oh, I want a sort of very nurturing grandmotherly teacher who's going to lift my daughter into her lap and read with her. And that was what I had in my head of a great classroom.

And obviously, I thought, well, if there's only 14 or 15 in the class, my child is going to get more attention. That's a good thing.

And so part of what has to happen in America is we have to -- we have to change our cultural beliefs and sort of visions about what great schools look like. Because again, through technology, we can actually begin to see a much, much different paradigm.

In fact, some schools are doing what they call flipping, which is kids are going home, and they are watching videos of teachers teaching the lesson. And so the teaching part of that is actually happening at home, and when they get to school, they're doing more of the practicing, and they're having teachers serve in a wildly different role.

So I think part of what happened, and I'm sure that Mr. Romney understands this, is that you have to engage with people in a really in-depth conversation about this. You can't just say, well, classroom size doesn't matter at all, because it doesn't really jibe with what people believe.

KING: Michelle, we appreciate your insights tonight.

RHEE: Absolutely.

KING: Thank you.

Mitt Romney today went a bit far in explaining how he would keep his new process to bring the unemployment rate down to six percent by the end of his first term. To quote FOX News, there are three big steps.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you start out by saying let's stop something that's hurting small business from creating jobs, and that's Obama care, get rid of it.

No. 2, have an energy strategy that takes advantage of our natural gas and oil and coal, as well as our renewables.

And finally, get a handle on the deficit so that people understand that if they invest in America, their dollars are going to be worth something in the future.


KING: Let's check in with our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi.

Ali, you heard the three points there. How much can any president do about the unemployment rate?

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: John, I tweeted out that that claim should just be ignored. And someone said to me, "Don't you mean debated? Shouldn't all these claims be debated?" No. Some of them should just entirely be ignored. We have to get people off the idea that the president can have a meaningful impact on unemployment rate.

External matters are much more serious. China slowing down, Iran and oil prices, another problem in Europe.

We talk about two things. One is getting rid of Obama care. There's no Obama care right now. All of this unemployment existed without any kind of national healthcare reform. That's just not a sensible piece of the puzzle. And the third one is, for all of the debt and deficit talk, America has never been able to borrow money for less, you know, for 10-year notes and 30-year notes.

So again, no material effect on a single job or investment in America. So A, he's starting from the wrong place. But B, even if he weren't, even if his ideas were really good, John, he can't really have that much impact on the unemployment rate.

KING: So if you say no president could have that much impact, what is -- what's -- why six percent? What's the magic of six percent? Why is it worth bragging?

VELSHI: It's better than 8. Six percent is better than 8. Look, there's -- there's like kind of a theory. I don't really believe it all that much, but a lot of people say because of the natural churn in the economy -- there are people who go back to school or they feel like they've made enough money so they don't work for a while or they -- they take a sabbatical or, you know, something like that -- that 5 percent should really be considered something close to full unemployment [SIC].

When you start to get below 5, when you get down to 3, when you get wage pressures, companies stop hiring because wages get too high. So between 3 and 5 is what we think of as actually being pretty good.

I guess 6 sounds, like I say, better than 8 and probably -- possibly -- achievable.

Now not -- John, none of this is to say that the unemployment rate won't be 6 percent under Romney. It may also be 6 percent under Obama. It may be 6 percent under neither. That is -- it's coincident to someone being president, not because of them being president.

KING: Our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi. Ali, thanks.


KING: Fascinating new developments tonight in a 33-year-old cold case. A law-enforcement source tells CNN a 75-year-old man picked up this week in New Jersey told authorities he strangled Etan Patz. The 6-year-old boy disappeared in 1979. He's the first missing child whose face appeared on the side of a milk carton in hopes someone in the country had seen him.

CNN's national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, is at the district attorney's office in New York City and joins us, along with CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Susan, let's start with you. We're waiting. Moments away, we're told, from a police briefing. What are you told we're likely to hear?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, about the latest developments in the case. And what's really curious about this, John, as you pointed out, is that, you know, we are now hearing about a man, they announced earlier this day, who is now implicating himself in this case, claiming that he strangled Etan Patz.

But we are also hearing that years ago, they interviewed this very same man. So the question, of course, is what has changed? Well, we know that because of publicity surrounding that basement search in Etan Patz's neighborhood that happened just a month ago, that people connected to this man contacted the authorities and said, "You have to talk to him again." This is according to sources.

They went back. They're talking to him again, and now we are hearing that he's making this claim. Again, he was dismissed one time before. Now, apparently, something has changed. And so they are considering whether to announce -- to announce charges against him at this time. Well, now we'll see whether that's about to happen.

KING: And so, Jeff Toobin, help us out here. Thirty-three years. He was interviewed at least briefly back at the time. He's now coming forward and saying, "It was me," apparently, according to our sources. What is the credibility challenge, the credibility test here?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this story is even more bizarre, because as Michael Daly, who covered this case for "The Daily Beast," wrote today Pedro Hernandez -- which is this guy's name -- apparently confessed right after the crime, and they dismissed him as a lunatic. And it is true that lunatics confess to crimes all the time. I'm sure you remember a couple years ago, that crazy guy that confessed to the JonBenet Ramsey murder. And he, of course, had nothing to do with it.

But if, in fact, they now believe that he is the killer, and they had him just months or even days after the crime, there are going to be some very hard questions asked of the NYPD, how they handled this.

KING: When you say "very hard questions," how do you -- Susan, to you first. Is anybody saying there's new evidence or just that he'd come forward?

CANDIOTTI: Well, I specifically, have been asking throughout the day, is it more than just this man making claims, or is there more? And I'm told that there is more, but no one would tell me exactly what that "more" is.

You know, he did own a convenience store, what they call a bodega, here years ago in the same -- very same neighborhood. And an author who wrote a book about that case, Lisa Cohen (ph), wrote that on the day that the boy disappeared, that he told his parents that he was going to take a dollar with him on the way when he was walking to the school bus and stop at the store to buy a soda. Is it that very same bodega that used to be owned by this man? We'll find out.

KING: And Jeff, I assume one of the key questions is they were searching the basement of a nearby building not long ago. If he comes forward and says it was him, where's the body?

TOOBIN: I'm sorry. I lost you there. What -- what are you saying?

KING: I assume the key question to test the credibility of this confession, if you have one, is where's the body?

TOOBIN: Well, of course, and just the general issue of corroboration. It's one thing to confess. There has to be physical evidence to corroborate a confession. And all these years later, it is not a simple thing to -- to get corroboration. Although, with DNA technology, it's a lot easier and it's a lot more certain than it used to be.

KING: Jeff Toobin, Susan Candiotti. Striking, dramatic development. We're waiting for a police briefing in New York. We're told that will come up about the top of the hour. Stay with CNN. We'll bring you the latest.

Jeff, Susan, thanks so much. Coming up here, will Governor Romney's promise bring the unemployment down to 6 percent be a pledge he can keep or maybe 2012's version of "read my lips; no new taxes"?


KING: Every candidate makes promises. Just that some are more memorable than others.




KING: Broken. I mean, as they say, the rest is history. Here's another memorable promise from the other president named Bush.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called nation building. I think our troops ought to be used to fight in a war.


KING: His Iraq war lasted eight and a half years, ended by President Obama. And U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan more than a decade now. It's hard to argue they are not involved in nation building.

Now, in this campaign, Mitt Romney is being scrutinized for this.


ROMNEY: I can't possibly predict precisely what the economy will be at the end of one year. I can tell you that over three to four years, by virtue of the policies that we've put in place, we'll bring the unemployment rate down to 6 percent, perhaps a little lower.


KING: Now, if he loses, that will quickly be forgotten. But if Governor Romney wins, that 6 percent pledge will be instantly a benchmark for his first term. President Obama knows that pressure well.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to lead by closing Guantanamo and restoring habeas corpus and restoring our civil liberties, because we're not a nation that locks people up without charging them, and we're not a nation that ships people off to be tortured in the dead of night in other countries.


KING: GITMO is still open.

And here's another one that haunts the president from time to time. This is a graphic by his first economic team, suggesting a healthy stimulus package would keep the unemployment rate below 8 percent. Well, we all know it didn't.

"Truth" is, every first-termer quickly learns that running for president is a lot easier than being president and that some promises are hard, if not impossible, to keep. But trust me: that won't keep future would-be presidents from making those promises.

Here tonight to talk truth, Michael Crowley. He's the deputy Washington bureau chief for "TIME" magazine. The new issue has this cover right here, "Raising Romney," on the newsstands tomorrow. Also with us, CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and the former Republican congressman, J.C. Watts.

J.C., let me start with you. On the one hand, 6 percent unemployment is not a terribly bold pledge. Most economists think the unemployment rate will be down that way, about four years. Even the president's budget says 6.1 percent in 2016. So it's in line with what people think the economy is going.

And yes, after "read my lips," after "I'll close GITMO," should candidates be a little bit more reluctant to give real numbers?

J.C. WATTS, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN: Well, John, 10 years ago, we're in deeper debts -- we're in deeper debt than we were 10 years ago, deeper deficits than we were 10 years ago. Our (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is more threatened than it was 10 years ago, and that's with Republican and Democrat administrations. Obviously, it is determined by the policy.

Now, it -- presidents aren't kings. So they -- no pun intended. They're not kings, but they need Republican and Democrat members of Congress to assist them in that effort. And so, as President Obama has seen, we can make promises and some he knew he couldn't keep.

But nevertheless, you make promises. Don't pay attention to what they say. Look at how they governed and what they do.

KING: Yes. Six percent, is that bold, or is that -- so what?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST/CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I don't -- first of all, I would like to see the details, like everything else Mitt Romney says. He talks in broad brushes. But you rarely get to see the details.

But what I would like to see unemployment down to 2 percent, 3 percent, because every American out there not working is not contributing to the tax base. And yet, they need help from the government. So there's a real reason why they want to get unemployment down. The truth of the matter is, is that politicians have the best of intentions. And Congressman Watts, he knows this. But it's hard to govern.

KING: Do voters even believe them anymore? I mean, if you look at the polling about trusted institutions, our business is not doing that great either. But people, do they even -- when a politician says, "I'll do this, I'll do that," do people believe them?

CROWLEY: Well, on the one hand, voters are cynical. On the other hand, I think a lot of people did believe "read my lips." You saw the outrage that happened when George Bush broke that promise. The outrage suggested people did believe in him.

Look, I think a lot of people really believe a lot of things Barack Obama said, and you see disappointment among a lot of his most passionate former supporters who thought he -- Guantanamo was a big issue for them. I think they did believe it. They probably believe it a little less each time.

Very briefly on that promise, I think it was kind of a lose-lose- lose. I mean, if you're going to promise a number that's going to come back to haunt you, be bolder. Six percent is not that impressive.

The unemployment report in July of 2001 -- I went back and looked -- healthy, strong economy, 4.6 percent, you know. So promise something bold and good. Or just budget.

It also is weird to predict -- Romney said he couldn't predict unemployment in one year, but he's willing to predict a number in four years. It's like predicting the weather a month from now when you say you can't predict the weather tomorrow. It was just not a deft answer all around, I thought.

WATTS: I think politicians, John, you know, again, they say these things knowing that they can't unilaterally do these things by themselves.

KING: He says the word "politicians" right now like he's never been one. That's good. You are reformed.

WATTS: I'll tell you what. In the fourth (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I didn't get myself out on a limb I couldn't, you know, get back off of with some integrity and with some respect. And I think when you make those type of promises, people hold you to them. And you can't do it by yourself. I can promise something that I can do by myself. He can't do that alone.

KING: Especially in today's age. Every moment that's not caught on a professional camera, it's caught on one of these.

Everybody stand by. We'll continue the conversation in a moment.

But "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour. Erin's here with a preview. Hi, there. ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, John.

Well, you know, you always hear about debt in this country being, what, about $15, $16 trillion. What if I told you you were wrong by about a factor of four? Four point two, to be a fact. What if it were more like $66 trillion? Well, that actually might be the real answer, and we're going to talk about exactly why.

Plus, two heroes in Washington. We found them. I'm serious. Two heroes today.

Plus, we're going to be joined by the former ambassador to China and, of course, presidential candidate Jon Huntsman. Among other things, obviously, we're going to talk about China and Chen Guangcheng. But John, did you know that AARP says that he's a very sexy man? He was named one of the 21 sexiest men alive over 50.

KING: I saw that. And bet he's going to tell you, boy, I wish I knew that when he was running for president. That might have helped. It came too late.

BURNETT: That's right. That's right. I thought -- I thought you would enjoy that. You know, Colin Powell only got an honorable mention. So we're going to find out exactly how it feels to be one of the sexiest.

KING: Ask him, Huntsman, 2016, what's the next line of the bumper sticker to take advantage of that one? We'll see how that one twists.

BURNETT: All right. See you in a few, John.

KING: Thanks, Erin.

Some firefighters in Maine got a very unusual call. The fire they had to put out was aboard a nuclear submarine. We'll show you what happened.

And all sorts of people want to have their picture taken with the former president bill Clinton, all sorts. Trust me. You want to see this.


KING: We're back talking politics with Michael Crowley of "TIME," Donna Brazile and J.C. Watts.

I want to focus on the battleground state polls. A half dozen of them out today. We can look at three of them.

Wisconsin's a dead heat, though Obama up a little bit. Let's look at Florida. Yesterday we had one that showed Governor Romney ahead. There you see the president ahead a little bit by four points. But that's essentially a dead heat.

You see Virginia, the president ahead, again 4 points. Essentially a dead heat. And a little bit more of a lead for the president in the state of Ohio: 48, 42.

Michael, we've got about 160 days left, and there are essentially a half dozen states that are going to decide this election. But wow, I mean, who knows? It might not be -- they break late. Sometimes they look close now; they're not close in the end. But if you look at it now, you say wow.

CROWLEY: They are really close. And I think, you know, the die has been case. We just see what the next rounds of job numbers are going to look like, see how the campaign plays out.

One thing that strikes me in some of these -- the NBC poll had Ohio, Virginia and Florida, in particular. Interesting states where the economy is doing better in those states. The trajectory is better than it is on the national level.

Virginia has a really strong economy. Ohio is below the national unemployment average, and Florida's improving faster than the national average. In all three of those states, Republican governors, who were talking up the economy.

So you have a really funny dynamic right now where people like John Kasich are saying things are getting better; we're going in the right direction.

KING: Maybe helping the president.

CROWLEY: Mitt Romney shows up two days later and says, "We're going in the wrong direction. You've got to change direction." So watch that dynamic.

KING: As the manager -- forgive me -- of Bush-Gore 2000, the closest race in any of our lifetimes, when you see it like this, what does it tell you?

BRAZILE: Well, 12 years ago we had 18 battleground states. We narrowed it down to about 12. Today you have maybe, what, six, nine truly battleground states.

So this -- this is going to be hard fought. It's going to be close. At the end of the day, the last three days after all of the debates, after all the negative ads, all the super sugar daddy money, it comes turn off, turn off. I say Democrats have an advantage.

KING: On the one hand, a lot of people are saying, wow, Mitt Romney's in better shape than we thought he would be in, because it's so competitive.

On the other hand, he's got a very small margin of error. If the president can win Florida and Ohio, that blocks Mitt Romney, essentially, unless magic happens and Pennsylvania swings back or something like that. So he's got a much tighter needle to thread.

WATTS: And we all know, John, those numbers are going to change back and forth. And I don't think President Obama nor Governor Romney are going to be encouraged or discouraged by the numbers that you just put on the screen. I think they know that there's a -- there's a lot of field left. There's a lot of runway.

But I think the net takeaway is probably, in my opinion, the fact that -- I mean, President Obama came in with a lot of excitement, a lot of energy. Three and a half years down the road, he's not up more.

But I don't think that discourages him. I think he feels like he's going to be tough to beat.

KING: The interesting thing, at the top of the show, we had the deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, on. It was amazing to see the level of activity behind her in the headquarters in May. That tells you these campaigns know not a day to waste. They're all working full time.

J.C., Donna, Michael, thanks for coming in.

And Lisa Sylvester's back with the latest news you need to know right now.

Hello again.


Well, we're told significant differences still need to be worked out at the Baghdad talks between Iran and the world's nuclear powers. But both sides want to make progress.

The U.S. is leading the call for inspections to prove Iran's claims that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Iran wants economic sanctions lifted. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says not yet.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: As we lay the ground work for these talks, we will keep up the pressure as part of our dual track approach. All of our sanctions will remain in place and continue to move forward during this period.


SYLVESTER: Also today, Secretary Clinton said the U.S. will raise the issue of what she calls Pakistan's unjust and unwarranted jail term for a doctor who helped the CIA locate Osama bin Laden. A Pakistani tribal court labeled him a U.S. spy. A Senate committee today voted to cut $33 million in aid to Pakistan, $1 million for each year of the prison sentence.

And firefighters successfully put out a fire onboard a nuclear submarine early this morning. Seven people were injured fighting the blaze overnight. The USS Miami, which is docked in Maine, had no weapons onboard, and the sub's nuclear reactor was not affected. That's according to the shipyard commander. He also says the cause of the fire is unknown, but an investigation will be conducted. And another famous newspaper has become a victim of the changing times and technology. The "New Orleans Times-Picayune," a city fixture for 175 years, is cutting back from daily production to three printed papers a week, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.

Officials say they'll devote most of their resources to digital online coverage. Other reports say they will cut a third of the staff. So big changes coming for them, John.

KING: It's tough. Technology is changing our business, but it's a legendary, legendary paper. Ouch. Ouch.

SYLVESTER: It's going to hurt for most of those folks and, you know, like they said, possibly a third of the staff cut, John.

KING: Let's hope that, as they make the transition maybe they rehire some of those folks.

Lisa, stay with me. Tonight's "Moment You May Have Missed" happened last night at a party you almost certainly missed unless you're really lucky. But the former president, Bill Clinton, didn't.

Here he is, posing like politicians always do. It's at a big gala. It's in Monte Carlo to benefit the William J. Clinton Foundation and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation.

So who's he with? Well, that's why this picture has now gone viral. They said the two women immediately around the president there, they star in films, adult films. They're porn stars, and one of them tweeted this picture. The woman on the far left, according to the Huffington Post, is quote reportedly an executive of a drug testing company.

Clinton's team has not returned CNN's request for a comment.

Kind of embarrassing. Can't blame him, I guess. But ouch.

SYLVESTER: The question is, did he know? Did they walk up to him or were they just, you know, cute girls that said, "Let's take a picture?" Who knows?

KING: Who knows? We'll see you tomorrow night right back here.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.