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Will Romney Choose Female Running Mate?; Presidential Battle of Buses; Terror Scare & Arrests in Britain; $1 Million Bond Set for Zimmerman; WSJ: Romney's Letting Republicans Down; Romney Adviser Reacts To Latest Slam; Sununu: Campaign "Won't Be Won On Nuance"; Democrat Runs From Obama's Record; Emergencies On Hold To Fill Up Pool

Aired July 5, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: The battle for the White House becomes the battle of the buses. President Obama kicks off a major campaign tour in a critical battleground state, with the Romney campaign hot on his trail. We will explain.

Ann Romney weighing in on the chances her husband will pick a woman to be his running mate -- what she's now saying in a candid new interview.

And the D.C. Fire Department puts medical emergencies and reports of dangling electrical wires on hold. Guess why? To fill up a swimming pool right in the aftermath of Friday's devastating storm. What happened?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

All right. Take a look at this. This was then, President Obama's bus last August making its way through the Midwest. Look at this. This is now, President Obama's bus with a seemingly new accessory front and center. We're talking about a presidential seal.

It's a bold reminder as he kicks his campaign into full gear in Ohio, a major battleground state, to be sure, that he and his rival, Mitt Romney, they are both trying to win in order to become president, at least in his part to remain president of the United States, Romney's part to become president of the United States.

The Romney campaign, though, is trying to steal a bit of the thunder in the area. The president certainly didn't shy away from mixing policy with politics, taking key action just hours before his speech to help bolster the economy.

Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is traveling with the president in Ohio right now. Dan is joining us with the very latest.

What is the very latest, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're here in Sandusky. This is the president's second official stop.

But the reason this event has not gotten under way yet is because the president made two unscheduled stops, one at a farmers market and another one at a diner on the way here. This is a state that the president is leading his opponent, Mitt Romney, in by nine points. But it remains a very competitive race.

So the president getting out there, meeting voters face-to-face hoping he can hang onto this state come November.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): It's a more retail-style approach. But unlike the president's other official bus trips last year, this one has campaign written all over it. There's a big presidential seal on the door. And the venue in the small city in Maumee, Ohio, has been carefully staged, white picket fences, a large American flag and a soft story about his daughter.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And then it was Malia's birthday yesterday. See, when she was small, I could say all these fireworks I had arranged for her birthday. But she doesn't believe me anymore.


LOTHIAN: But his speech turned tough when the president took on his opponent's business experience.

OBAMA: Governor Romney's experience has been owning companies that were called pioneers of outsourcing. That's not my phrase. Pioneers of outsourcing.

LOTHIAN: It's a message that resonates with this crowd. Unemployment in Ohio is below the national average of 8.2 percent, but the people in this city have experienced the highs and lows of the manufacturing industry, from GM and Chrysler on life support to a recovery and new investments in the region that the president said were possible because of his administration's auto bailout.

OBAMA: Governor Romney said we should just let Detroit go bankrupt. I refuse to turn my back on communities like this one.

LOTHIAN: And, as if on cue, although the campaign denies political motivation, the administration is filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization against China for alleged unfair tariffs on some American-made autos.

OBAMA: We're going to make sure that competition is fair. That's what I believe.

LOTHIAN: While the president was making that case and defending his economic policies, not far away, Romney surrogates were knocking down what Mr. Obama was playing up. Former presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal are on their own bus tour shadowing the president.

TIM PAWLENTY (R), FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR: His presidency has been a losing hand for Ohio and for America. GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: We know that we are not better off than we were four years ago.

LOTHIAN: The president says the Republicans don't have real solutions and that a full recovery will take time. The president will make a total of six scheduled stops in two key battleground states, and following a final event in Parma, near Cleveland, the president will visit Poland, Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh on Friday.


LOTHIAN: Now, in addition to those Romney surrogates, we noticed something else this morning at that first stop before the president arrived. There was a small plane towing a large banner around the venue there. And on that banner, it said Romney 2012.

Wolf, one other matter on the China filing by the administration, this complaint. At the briefing or at the gaggle on Air Force One this morning, reporters peppered Jay Carney, White House spokesman, with questions about the timing saying that this has to be more than just a coincidence. But he pushed back hard, saying that this was something that was in the works for months.

BLITZER: I'm sure he did. All right. Thanks very much, Dan Lothian, on the scene for us in Ohio.

This just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM right now, record fund- raising for the Romney campaign. We're learning the campaign and the Republican National Committee raised at least, get this, at least $100 million in the month of June alone.

Our political editor, Paul Steinhauser, is joining us now with more on what's going on.

Big numbers for the Romney campaign. What's the latest, Paul?


Yes, a Republican source confirming that number to me. Remember in June Mitt Romney had some top-dollar fund-raising swings through California, through Michigan, through Texas and some other states. If you go back to May, remember, in May, Mitt Romney and the RNC raised $77 million and they outraised the Democratic National Committee.

I was at a briefing with Obama campaign officials about two weeks ago with our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin. At that briefing, Obama campaign officials said, guess what, we will get outraised again in June. And they predicted that Romney would raise $100 million.

Remember, Wolf, the campaign money is only part of the story because the independent groups, the so-called super PACs, well, guess what? On the Republican side, they're outraising the Democrats, they're outraising them and outspending them. So, that's a big story here. Wolf, remember, campaign cash pays for commercials, get-out-the-vote efforts among other things -- Wolf. BLITZER: Super PACs, they are outraising the Democratic by maybe five or 10 or even more to one. Looks like the money factor will be a huge advantage potentially for Romney as of right now.

You're also taking a closer look at some potential Romney vice presidential picks, Paul. What are you seeing?

STEINHAUSER: It's interesting. While Mitt Romney is pretty much laying low this week on vacation, some of the people he may be considering as running mates are up front and center picking up the slack.


PAWLENTY: He is dubbing his tour the betting on America tour. Well, of course, we should all bet on America. But we shouldn't double down on Barack Obama.

STEINHAUSER (voice-over): Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal teaming up on the Romney campaign bus tour to shadow President Barack Obama's swing through Ohio and Pennsylvania.

JINDAL: This president can't run on his record. So he's going to do everything he can to distract our attention to try to attack Mitt Romney.

STEINHAUSER: It's another example of the campaigns trying to follow each other out on the campaign trail. But what's eye-opening about the Jindal/Pawlenty tour is that Romney may seriously be considering both men as possible running mates, along with Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who has also been very visible lately as a Romney surrogate.

What about a woman as the vice presidential nominee? Ann Romney tells CBS News she's been speaking to her husband about that possibility.

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: We have been looking at that. And I would love that option as well.

STEINHAUSER: Her comments came as her husband marched in a July 4 parade in New Hampshire with the state's junior senator, Kelly Ayotte, whose name also been mentioned as a possible running mate. Is Romney giving any hints?


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have an idea in mind, but that's something I'm keeping close with my team.


STEINHAUSER: One thing we know for sure, Wolf, Mitt Romney has to reveal his cards by the time of the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

And you know what? That starts just seven-and-a-half weeks from now. One more thing, it's no surprise, but these guys, these possible running mates aren't well-known nationally. Check this out. Our brand-new CNN/ORC poll released this hour it indicates nearly two- thirds of Americans say they're unfamiliar with Portman. And more than four in 10 saying the same thing about Jindal and Pawlenty, who briefly ran for president last year.

And even among Republican voters, our poll indicates the unfamiliar factor remains pretty high. Keating Holland, our polling director, tells me this is no surprise because presidential nominees rarely want to get overshadowed by their running mates -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect they're not going to get overshadowed by these individuals if one of them becomes the actual running mate. Paul, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper into politics right now. Our political director, Mark Preston, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

You just heard, Mark, Ann Romney saying they're looking at maybe a woman as a vice presidential running mate. How close is Ann Romney in this whole process in making this really important decision?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: We talked about Mitt Romney's inner circle who has been criticized over the past couple of days by the likes of Rupert Murdoch and Jack Welch.

Really his closer adviser is Ann Romney. This is a woman that he's been chasing since his high school years. And in fact when he was supposed to go on his Mormon mission over to France, he almost didn't go. Part of the reason was because he did not want to leave Ann Romney.

What was very telling in that CBS interview yesterday is that she said, we're looking at women at this point. So she is very much a part of the process. It will be a small group of people right now who will help him decide to choose for -- who's going to be his running mate. She will be part of that.

BLITZER: Not surprised. She's his life partner and she's very important in his life. I'm sure she will be very much involved in this decision.

It's a gut decision every candidate in the end has to make, a very important decision, obviously. Now, they're going through Ohio, Pennsylvania. These are all important states right now. Buses are important, but you know what's also important? The airwaves. The commercials, the advertising. That's pretty important as well.

PRESTON: That's pretty important because while President Obama right now will be in Ohio for two days, he won't be there come Sunday. He will not be there on Saturday.

What does he do? He turns to the airwaves, as does Mitt Romney. Let's look at these new numbers from Kantar Media, which is our consultant on television advertising spending. Since January 1, Wolf, right there Barack Obama has spent $9.2 million on television commercials, while Mitt Romney has spent $3.1 million.

Now, what we're not showing here is all the super PAC money, which adds up even more. So, while we talk a lot about Ohio, while President Obama has been there 22 times since he was elected president back in 2008, he's going to have to rely on TV as will Mitt Romney to be there when he's not.

BLITZER: Usually, Pennsylvania goes for the Democratic presidential candidate, but this campaign, the Obama campaign, they're spending a lot of time there in Pennsylvania. Are they really worried about potentially losing Pennsylvania?

PRESTON: They are, because if they lose Pennsylvania, they lose the race. I think we can say that confidently.

Look, Republicans have not won Pennsylvania since 1988, when George H.W. Bush carried it that year. But, look, we see the likes of Joe Biden now spending a lot of time in Pennsylvania. Let's not forget, let's go back to 2008, Wolf, when President Obama back in 2008 said that very ill-fated phrase. He said people are clinging to their guns and their religion.

That is something that will not play very well in Pennsylvania, certainly in the western part of Pennsylvania, in the central part of Pennsylvania, but also in Pennsylvania it also shows that in fact when you look at these numbers right here as far as television advertising right now, we have seen Barack Obama is spending money right now.


PRESTON: More than $3 million right now, Wolf, he is spending on TV advertising so far to carry his message.

BLITZER: Yes. He doesn't want to take any chances. By the way, he said those less than artful words out in San Francisco.

PRESTON: He did. But it carried back.


BLITZER: Everybody heard it immediately all over the place. Thanks very much.

Take a look at this. I have got some live pictures of the president of the United States in Sandusky, Ohio. There he is at the top of your screen in the middle there. He's shaking hands, and he's meeting with some folks, the president working the crowd in Sandusky, Ohio.

One of the most influential conservative newspapers in the country, the editorial page, to be sure, publishing a blistering editorial accusing Mitt Romney of letting Republicans down. Ahead, I will speak with a key adviser, the former governor of New Hampshire, John Sununu. He will respond to this editorial in "The Wall Street Journal."

And a major London terror scare only weeks before the Summer Olympics -- the latest on a string of arrests and just how concerned authorities are.

And George Zimmerman, yes, George Zimmerman, he could soon be a free man once again out on bail. It will only take $1 million in bail to get him out of jail.


BLITZER: New proof today there's a very, very real fear of terror attacks connected with the upcoming London Olympics. British police shut down an important highway after a bus passenger reported suspicious activity. It turned out to be a false alarm.

But in a second incident, London police arrested six people on terrorism charges, then searched several homes and businesses around the city.


BLITZER: Nic Robertson is joining us from London.

Nic, what do you hear about all these counter-terror preparations in advance of the Olympic Games?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know these latest arrests, for example, were treated by an ongoing intelligence investigation and that the police decided this was the right time to activate it. But the broader picture is the police appear to be taking no chances with any terror groups that they're coming across right now.

Although the threat level is at substantial, that's third below the top level, it hasn't changed and it hasn't gone up, there's a very real acceptance that al Qaeda or another organization will want to target the Olympics. And inside Britain, they have perhaps some of the operatives who could make that possible.

So the concern and threat is very real. And that's what we're seeing happening on the ground, Wolf.

BLITZER: And I take it, Nic, they're more concerned about what they call these home-grown, sort of lone-wolf kind of terrorists as opposed to terrorists coming in from Afghanistan or Pakistan or some place else?

ROBERTSON: There's a very big concern about that. What you have in Britain are about 8,000 Muslims in jail here. The probation service, the prison service, believed that one in ten at least of those being radicalized in jail. When they come out, they are there for potentially attractive to what they call clean skins, the lone wolf type operative who will be attracted to some radical who's been in jail, served time for the cause, if you will.

We've also seen in Britain add to that that over the past 18 months between 50 and 80 terror convicts, people convicted of terrorist offenses, have been released for time served. Some of them are out on license still considered dangerous. These are the people who may not take part in a terrorist act themselves but would certainly gather around them or attract at least people who would, these clean skins, lone wolfs, who would be inspired to attack.

And the early indications are the arrests in the U.K. that have taken place in the last 24 hours may involve some people who have been drawn to radical extremists, themselves not terrorists, but they've been drawn in by those angry voices, Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect we're going to be doing a lot more discussion on this subject in the days to come. Nic, thanks very much.


BLITZER: Closer to home right here in the United States -- the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin has been granted a $1 million bond. George Zimmerman's bail was revoked last month over allegations he misled the court about his finances.

CNN's David Mattingly is in Florida. He's joining now with the latest.

David, the judge set bail for Zimmerman at $1 million but still has strong words for him. What's the latest?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the cost to Zimmerman may go far beyond the $100,000 cash in collateral he has to put up to make that bond. There is a tremendous loss to his credibility throughout this entire process.

The judge having some very strong words for him in the ruling, and they run like this: saying that George Zimmerman flaunted the system, tried to manipulate the system, and had no justification for his deception when he tried to tell the court that he didn't have any money and didn't have any means to live when in fact he had $100,000 in donated cash and a passport on him.

The judge also went on -- and this was a real surprise -- that George Zimmerman he believed was preparing to flee to avoid prosecution but plans were thwarted. The judge doesn't go into detail about how those plans were or how they came undone, but he believes that George Zimmerman was a flight risk. Now, we see him with a $1 million bond. That's the price now for his freedom, Wolf.

BLITZER: Now, to get that -- to be able to get out on that $1 million bond, you don't necessarily have to put up a whole -- that whole number, $1 million. You put up a percentage of that million dollars. Do we know how much he needs to put up in order to get out of jail?

MATTINGLY: Well, $100,000 cash. We know he's got that. His attorney said there was about $200,000 in donations raised for his account, but he's going to have to come up with some kind of collateral to cover the rest just to make sure that he doesn't jump bail.

But on top of that, they're looking at the possibility that he might be a flight risk. So there were some other conditions placed on this. He's not allowed to go to an airport. He's not allowed to have a bank account. And he's not allowed to leave the county.

Now, before, George Zimmerman was free to leave the state of Florida if he wanted to because they felt that his safety was in danger. Now he can't do that. He has to stay right there in Seminole County. If he wants to go outside the county, he's going to have to get the court's permission.

BLITZER: What's the reaction from the Trayvon Martin family?

MATTINGLY: Well, we've asked for reaction from both sides. So far we have not heard from George Zimmerman side.

But the reaction from Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing the parents of Trayvon Martin, he said that "Trayvon's parents would rather that the killer of their unarmed child remain in jail until the trial, however they respect the ruling of the judge and the strong message that the judge sent," and the strong message that judge sending today was that George Zimmerman's credibility is in danger throughout this process.

BLITZER: David Mattingly on the scene for us -- thank you very much for that update.

One of Mitt Romney's senior advisors is in THE SITUATION ROOM today. I'll ask the former governor of New Hampshire, John Sununu, about today's rather stinging editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" which says Romney's letting Republicans down.

And another look at the Fourth of July's most intense fireworks show, but it wasn't supposed to be this way.


BLITZER: After nearly six months of house arrest, the captain of the cruise ship that capsized off Italy has a little more freedom. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what's going on?

LISA SLYVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, thanks to an Italian court, the Costa Concordia's captain now can leave his house but isn't supposed to leave his home town. People died when that cruise ship hit -- 32 people rather died when that cruise ship hits some rocks and capsized in January. The captain now faces charges of multiple manslaughter causing the accident and abandoning ship prematurely.

And check out this map that recently turned up inside an old book at a German university. It turns out to be a copy of the first map to label the new world as America. Look on the right side. It kind of looks a little bit there like Florida. The map's in segments that can be folded over a globe. The original map dates from 1507. This is only the fifth copy we know of. No one's sure when it was made.

And stocks closed mixed this afternoon, but there was plenty of drama earlier. The day started with a sizable drop fueled by pessimism about Europe's economy. But investors turned hopeful after three reports came out suggesting a pickup in the U.S. labor market.

Oh, for what it's worth, San Diego's fireworks show last night was really spectacular for about 30 seconds. Because of a technical glitch, everything prepared for what was supposed to be a 20-minute show launched from four separate barges, it all went of at once. They're still trying to figure out what went wrong.

Oh, boy. Yes, the noise really scared people who were close to the barges. In the end though, nobody was hurt. Everybody was a little disappointed.

But what can you say, Wolf? It was great while it lasted, a whole 30 seconds. That was the length of their show, Wolf.

BLITZER: Barely 30 seconds. I think some people timed it at 27 or something like that. Sad. It could have been spectacular.

I feel bad for the young kids who didn't get to see 20 minutes of what would have been an excellent fireworks demonstration.

SYLVESTER: I'm sure they're going to have to figure out -- deconstruct and figure out what went wrong there. Obviously -- fortunately no one was hurt because it could have been serious, Wolf.

BLITZER: It could have been a lot worse. Thank you.

"The Wall Street Journal" slamming Mitt Romney's campaign today, calling his campaign confusing and politically dumb. Romney's senior advisor, John Sununu, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He'll answer the criticism. Standby.

Later, outraged questions about why a fire department in a major American city was filling someone's swimming pool instead of helping people cope with a killer storm.


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Here are some of the stories we're working on for our next hour.

We're checking into reports that an important general close to Syria's inner circle has just defected to Syria. Standby.

Also an alarming new report pinpointing why a jet carrying 228 people plunged into the Atlantic Ocean.

And the people who fired a life guard for saving a man from drowning have now changed their minds and they're offering to rehire him. You're going to want to hear his answer. Standby. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But first, today scathing new criticism of the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney not by Democrats, but it's coming from a very different source, from the staunchly conservative editorial page of "The Wall Street Journal."

Listen to this and I'm quoting, "Mr. Romney promised Republicans he was the best man to make the case against president Obama, whom they desperately want to defeat so far Mr. Romney is letting them down."

Campaign advisor -- senior advisor I should say, the former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu is in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. He's joining us.

Governor, it's one thing for Democrats for the Obama campaign to be saying tough words about Mitt Romney. But when the editorial writers of "The Wall Street Journal" do so, you've got a problem.

JOHN SUNUNU, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Well, I think the governor took care of that issue yesterday with his very strong statement.

That even though he had hoped for the position of the dissent in the court to be the position that came out, which was based on it not being a tax, that the court has spoken.

The court supported President Obama's position as pleaded by the solicitor general for President Obama that it was a tax. That it was a tax in its own right and a tax adjacent to the income tax.

And Governor Romney says the court has spoken. It's the law of the land. It's a tax now. And I think he's moving on the issue that "The Journal" had some concern about.

BLITZER: Yes, but the journal writes about that switch from Monday to Wednesday from what Eric Fehrnstrom said on Monday to what Mitt Romney said yesterday.

And he said it underlines a bigger problem for Romney right now that his staff is simply not up to it. They need some better staff work.

And you've heard the same criticism from Rupert Murdoch. You've heard it from Jack Welch. You've heard from Bill Crystal of the "The Weekly Standard." You're a pro on this. Is the Romney campaign staff weak?

SUNUNU: No. I think it's a good staff and I think they've demonstrated that in the primaries. They not only can get a message across, but they're pretty tough when they have to respond.

And they are going to have to respond. In the last day or two, President Obama and his surrogates have been all over the place trying to claim that this is not a tax and that they want to go back to their original dishonest claim that it's not a tax.

And you have them out there trying to confuse the American public and I think the Romney campaign understands this. They're going to make sure people understand how dishonest that is.

And they're going to emphasize the fact that this is a pattern of dishonesty. You have it in the ads. Governor Obama's running an ad claiming the governor outsourced jobs and yet independent fact- checkers have made it very clear that that is not true.

And so I suggest to folks that when President Obama affirms that ad by saying I'm Barack Obama and I approve this message or when Mr. Labolt comes on for the campaign and says this is not a tax referring to the health care issue.

Or when Jay Carney comes out and says this is not a tax, or when the White House itself says it's not a tax, the first thing that ought to come to mind when you hear that dishonesty is a phrase "liar, liar, pants on fire".

BLITZER: Here's what the editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" among other things said referring to this confusion, the reaction coming from the Romney campaign to the Supreme Court decision.

This latest mistake is of a piece of the campaign's insular staff and strategy that are slowly squandering an historic opportunity. Mr. Obama is being hurt by an economic recovery that is weakening for the third time in three years, but Mr. Romney hasn't been able to take advantage and if anything, he is losing ground.

Now In the scheme of things, you know the editorial writers of "The Wall Street Journal," you know the influence that this newspaper has among Republicans, the conservative base.

When they say these things about the Romney campaign, about the Romney staff, how significant in your historic assessment is it?

SUNUNU: Look, everybody in the campaign pays attention to what their friends say. And "The Wall Street Journal" is a friend of free enterprise. And Mitt Romney is the free enterprise candidate in this campaign.

So they're going to pay attention to what they hear from "The Wall Street Journal." But I can assure my friends at "The Wall Street Journal" that the campaign understands where it is in terms of the pattern of the campaign, the cycle of the campaign.

The focus the campaign has to take on the failure of the president's record and the focus the campaign has to take on what is really a character defect in this presidency, a tendency to exaggerate aggressively and be slightly dishonest, if not aggressively dishonest.

BLITZER: So what is -- give the Romney campaign now -- and you've got four months before the election, some advice, on national television. What's the most important thing they need to fix in order to get going?

You know, when Bill Crystal and these others are saying there are some serious problems there. That Romney is at risk right now squandering this opportunity, "The Wall Street Journal," Rupert Murdoch, all these others saying it, what's the most important thing they need to do to fix?

SUNUNU: I think they have to recognize that we're in a campaign mode where simple, tough declarative sentences are required that this is not a campaign to be won on nuance.

But to be won on making sharp distinctions with the failure of the Obama administration economically, the loss of jobs and pain that Americans across the country are feeling.

I think you're going to see that enunciated very clearly by Governor Romney and his campaign who frankly, I think has a great asset because it is in the political sense quite ruthless in the long run.

BLITZER: Now you know why John Sununu was a co-host of "Crossfire" here on CNN for several, several years. Governor, thanks very much for coming back.

SUNUNU: Thanks. Nice to see you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Ann Romney slams the Obama campaign strategy. A head, why she claims the president's message is, quote, "let's kill this guy".

And President Obama declares his controversial health care law is here to stay, but is he going too far? We're going to talk about that and more in our "Strategy Session."


BLITZER: Let's get straight to our "Strategy Session." Joining us our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile and also the Republican strategist, the former Newt Gingrich press secretary, Rich Galen.

That's a pretty good advice I thought from Governor Sununu to the Romney campaign speak in short, simple, declarative statements. Don't get confused by a lot of rhetoric, pretty good advice.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the problem is, is that Mitt Romney is the one that has a problem with consistency. He consistently call the mandate a penalty.

And now that the Republicans -- now that he's the Republican nominee and the Republican Congressional leaders would like to call it a tax, he's trying to now back away from what he said originally.

Originally, his senior advisor said he agreed with President Obama that it's a penalty. So the problem is Mitt Romney, his consistency.

BLITZER: Well, that's why the advice from Sununu is good. Don't do all this confusing stuff. Just give us a bold declarative statement.

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: And I say this with all understanding, they were out there after about an hour, it was 193- page decision from the Supreme Court.

And it wouldn't cost them a thing to say, you know, we're going to do this at 3:00 in the afternoon when we've settled down. We've talked to everybody. We've worked it out for the staff. We decided what it was in Massachusetts. Is that different? Which as we talked about yesterday, it is then a federal case and they could have gotten --

BLITZER: That's staff work.

GALEN: Exactly.

BLITZER: If you're not ready to make a statement, you haven't read the entire thing, don't say anything. Just say we're reviewing it and we'll get back to you.

GALEN: Just say the court had six months to consider it.


GALEN: They gave themselves like an hour and a half. They just don't have to do that.

BRAZILE: Rich, first of all, Eric made the comment on Monday.

GALEN: No, I was talking about the speech.

BRAZILE: -- 72 hours.

GALEN: The speech that Romney gave like an hour and a half later.

BRAZILE: That's because Mitt Romney has said this over and over again. A "USA Today" article in 2009, clips that we have on YouTube and other places, "Meet The Press," where he's called the individual responsibility mandate a penalty.

But look, Mitt Romney is a person that has a problem with consistency. President Obama said it's a penalty and not a tax although it was upheld by the Supreme Court as a tax.

GALEN: His solicitor general called it a tax.

BRAZILE: If you read the transcripts, you could see that --

GALEN: His solicitor general called it a tax.

BRAZILE: Until that conversation started with four of the justices and Justice Roberts because I went back and looked at the transcripts. It was on the third day.

GALEN: Still did it.

BRAZILE: It's a penalty.

BLITZER: It's both, but that's another --

BRAZILE: It impacts less than 1 percent of the American people.

BLITZER: People care because there's a reconciliation issue.

GALEN: That is right. If it's a tax it's 51 votes.

BLITZER: It's not just rhetoric. It's not a rhetorical thing. It's an important issue that will have to be adjudicated down the road. But we're not going to do that right now.

What we are going to do is listen to a little clip. Jan Crawford of CBS News interviewed Mitt and Ann Romney, and listen to this little exchange that she had.


ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: I feel like what he's doing is saying, let's kill this guy. And I feel like that's not really a very good campaign policy.


BLITZER: She's talking about the president of the United States and she's suggesting saying all he's saying is let's kill this guy, referring to her husband, Mitt Romney. Now she doesn't mean obviously physically kill this guy, but she's meaning make him look as bad as possible.

BRAZILE: Look, poor choice of words because she went onto say something -- but look, poor choice of words. When there was a Democratic strategist, and I don't know who this person was because I would personally speak to this person, who last year said we are going to have to, quote/unquote, "kill" him referring to his policy --

BLITZER: Anonymous strategist quoted in "Politico," right?

BRAZILE: Yes. And David Axelrod came down hard. He said that if anyone inside or outside I know about, we will fire them.

BLITZER: Here's the unanimous quote. "Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney, set a prominent Democratic strategist aligned with the White House." That's what she was, Ann Romney was referring to that quote.

BRAZILE: Yes, poor choice of words and no one believes that. And, look, I don't like to even put any of that kind of stuff out there in the public relations. It's just terrible. I hate it.

GALEN: I absolutely agree with what Donna just said. The issue I think for the campaign -- the Obama campaign, is that they had to use a big arrow in their quiver in this outsource -- the Bane outsourcing stuff in June and July.

I think if we'd been running the campaign we would have wanted to extort that about a week before the Republican convention and throw them of their game.

But Obama can't separate himself. That's why we were laughing about this, these calls for a new there's something wrong with the Romney campaign. He's like 2 points, 6 points behind in the real clear politics average. Obama can't separate himself. So they've got to keep throwing more and more --

BLITZER: It's a very, very close race. Four months to go. It's not going to be easy for either of these guys.

GALEN: Which I think by the way is OK for the country.

BLITZER: Are you surprised, by the way, that Romney raised with the Republican Party $100 million last month? It's going to be a lot more than the Democrats.

BRAZILE: As long as I've been involved in politics with one exception, Republicans have always outraised us. I'm not surprised that the big money, these secret donors are contributing a lot of money to help Mitt Romney.

GALEN: What does that tell us about the intensity on the Obama side?

BRAZILE: It means that we are going to step up our game and we will welcome a contribution from you if you so choose.

BLITZER: Donna, the $100 million is not from the secret donors. This is the real money. This isn't the "Super PAC" money. That's going to be a lot more.

BRAZILE: Absolutely. But Wolf, look, Mitt Romney, he is now the nominee. Republicans have a lot of money. They want to try to defeat this president. We're going to have to work twice as hard to get as many votes out.

GALEN: So the president has to make fundraising calls from Air Force One.

BRAZILE: But he did it on the campaign phone.

GALEN: I just think it looks bad.

BLITZER: Did you know that George Bush made fundraising phone calls or George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan?

GALEN: I don't know and I know you -- I know that's why --

BRAZILE: I will give him my cell phone next time.

GALEN: I do know Obama did it. I didn't say it was illegal. I'm just saying that I think it looks bad.

BRAZILE: President Obama, Vice President Biden, everyone is out there raising as much money and we would love a contribution from Rich and everyone else.

BLITZER: If he's in the White House, can he make a fundraising call from the White House?

GALEN: Yes. They have separate phones.

BRAZILE: Yes, they're separate phones. Separate phones in Air Force One --

GALEN: Members of the House and Senate can't do that. They have to physically leave.

BRAZILE: I remember about Air Force too because I often had to make sure the bills were paid.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

GALEN: You bet.

BLITZER: If the Democrats want to keep control of the U.S. Senate, North Dakota is certainly a must-win. Yet the Democratic candidate is now running away from President Obama as fast as she can.

And a brand new report blames both the equipment and the pilots for an airliner crash that killed 228 people. Standby for the very latest on what went wrong.


BLITZER: A huge question in this year's election is whether Democrats can hang onto control of the United States Senate. One Democrat figures her only chance to get elected is to run away from President Obama's record and his policies.

CNN's Dan Lothian takes us inside a fascinating race.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are you doing, buddy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm doing well.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Heidi Heitkamp is a Democrat running to fill some big shoes in North Dakota's heated Senate race.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is going to take a lot of old friends to win this campaign.

LOTHIAN: But she's also stepping on some important toes along the way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let me tell you, I believe everything I say. What? Is he on a diet? I guess. There really isn't much of a filter on me.

LOTHIAN: Not even when it comes to what she says about President Obama.

(on camera): You seem to be going after him sort of as a leader saying he's failed. HEIDI HEITKAMP (D), NORTH DAKOTA SENATE CANDIDATE: What was the single task that the president, you know, was given? I think what the great hope was is that we would see partisanship decline.

It hasn't. And when you're the leader, you share responsibility for that. It's essential that we get this taken care of for rural areas.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): Heitkamp is a former state attorney general is running because long-time Democratic Senator Kent Conrad is retiring. Democrats had all been conceded this contest.

Conventional wisdom said would flip to the GOP in this red leaning state, right time, right place and right message for Republican opponent, Representative Rick Berg.

REPRESENTATIVE RICK BERG (R), NORTH DAKOA SENATE CANDIDATE: North's voice heard in Washington. You know, a voice that says government doesn't create jobs. The private sector creates jobs.

LOTHIAN: But Berg's opponent fiercely independent with strong ties to the state's booming energy industry.

HEITKAMP: We'll provide you power.

LOTHIAN: Has made significant strides by walking away from the president. She's publicly criticized him for rejecting the Keystone Excel pipeline something that plays well here.

(on camera): So the president was wrong?

HEITKAMP: I think he was. Keystone is part of that overall solution for energy independence that I see so vital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, in North Dakota at the size of our newspapers, you pretty much have to cover everything.

LOTHIAN: Mike Jacobs, editor of the "Grand Forks Herald," has been covering politics in the state for more than 25 years.

MIKE JACOBS, "GRAND FORKS HERALD": I think she senses this is an election about the president more than it is an election about Heidi Heitkamp. And she's betting that the president, at least in North Dakota, is not on the winning side.

LOTHIAN: But Republicans are trying hard to pin the president's coat tails on Heitkamp. They're reminding voters of her past enthusiastic support for his health care law.

HEITKAMP: We can make a difference in the lives of human beings. We can be a better country.

LOTHIAN: Crossroads GPS led by Republican Operative Karl Rove, is pouncing with tough ads.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But Heidi endorsed Obama care bragging --

LOTHIAN: The stakes are high in this heated race that could decide the balance of power in the Senate.

BERG: I tell you, it's exciting. I mean, across the state we have thousands of volunteers and they're fired up.

HEITKAMP: No one in the entire state of North Dakota is going to work harder than I am.

LOTHIAN: Heitkamp is fired up too stepping away from her own party and president in a neck-and-neck race. Dan Lothian, CNN, Bismarck, North Dakota.


BLITZER: The strategy, by the way, of apparently running away from President Obama may be working. "Politico" now reporting the North Dakota Senate race looks more competitive than it should be because, quoting now, because of Heidi's artful campaign.

New signs the embattled Syrian president's days may be numbered. Ahead, the latest on reports of a major military defection inside the regime.

And the D.C. Fire Department puts medical emergencies dangling electrical wires al on hold to fill up a swimming pool right in the aftermath of Friday's devastating storm.


BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots." Check them out. In India, people stand by the water side as giant waves crash against the seawall.

In China, rescue workers struggle to carry a boat through their village after massive floods. In Cambodia, a woman and corn outside her home.

And in France, a helicopter hovers over the Tour de France cyclists as they battle through the fifth leg of the race. "Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world.

The fire department here in Washington, D.C., is fighting a major fire of its own right now. Struggling to explain why units took almost an hour away from the intense fear and devastation across the city to fill up a private swimming pool in the hours after Friday's devastating storm.

How could this happen in the nation's capital? Our Lisa Sylvester has been investigating. She's getting some answers for us. A lot of outrage here on this story, Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, certainly, Wolf. Now the D.C. Fire Department does take community requests, for example, to bring a fire truck to school or to have firefighters out at a parade.

This was one of those special requests, and this one though, it should have been immediately denied, but oddly enough it was not. And now the D.C. Fire Department is in hot water.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Trees down, dangling electrical wires and medical emergencies in the aftermath of the storm. As a result, the fire department had tripled the number of normal calls.

But in the middle of it all, what was this D.C. engine fire crew tasked with? Filling this private small aboveground pool in someone's yard. The neighbor, Freda Brooks, watched it all happen.

FREDA BROOKS, NEIGHBOR: I was more in shock. I couldn't believe it. I didn't know they can come and do that.

SYLVESTER (on camera): They're not actually supposed to do that.

BROOKS: I kind of figured that.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): This fire hydrant had to be opened to help fill up the pool with a total of about 1,000 gallons of water. It took firefighters about an hour to get the job done. We knocked on the homeowner's door, but there was no answer.

(on camera): So while the fire department was filling up this one person's private pool, the neighbors here say they were suffering in the heat. They didn't have electricity for four days.

(voice-over): The firefighters' local union president says even the Engine 30 fire crews thought the request was unusual. The fire department doesn't go around filling up private pools.

ED SMITH, DC FIREFIGHTERS UNION: I did talk to some of the firefighters that were involved and had concerns they thought that, you know, they could have been out doing other work especially given the storm.

SYLVESTER: But these firefighters had their orders and they're trained to follow them. So how could this have happened? The homeowner made the request on Thursday.

Friday the storm hit and the job was done on Saturday. I asked the D.C. fire chief what in the world his people were thinking. He says the request to fill the pool was immediately denied.

CHIEF KENNETH ELLERBE, DC FIRE AND EMS: They ran it up the flag pole and they were told not to do it. But unfortunately that information was not communicated down to the company level. We found out where the breakdown is. We're going to have to take appropriate action.

SYLVESTER: A battalion chief is now being reprimanded and the fire chief is now saying to D.C. residents, sorry.

(on camera): Is this ever going to happen again where you'll fill a private pool?


SYLVESTER: The fire chief insists that there is no personal connection between that homeowner and anyone at the fire department. But it's amazing that this even got passed that initial homeowners phone call because let's face it the fire department doesn't serve as a pool company. And by the way, Wolf, when we went by that home that pool has since been emptied.

BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.