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New Energy for Romney Campaign?; Violence in Syria Continues; Perilous Life in a City Under Siege; Three Presidential Debates Set; Comparing Palin And Ryan; Romney Rallying Supporters In Florida

Aired August 13, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a new wave of enthusiasm and passion in this presidential race, Mitt Romney's crowds growing bigger as Paul Ryan attracts a few hecklers in his first solo appearance. Stand by.

Also, a powerful look at the perilous conditions in a city under siege. Merely crossing the street is a life-or-death decision.

And take a good look at this. Chance are you will never be able to afford an apartment with this view or this price tag, $100 million. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with the suddenly rejuvenated race for president and the all-important race to define Mitt Romney's new running mate, the Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. From the president on down today, Democrats are pounding Ryan and his ideas.

The Republican candidates are fighting back even as they campaign separately. We're standing by to bring you a question and answer session with Romney and reporters. We will have that for you.

Also, our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is following the Romney campaign. He's following the campaign in Florida.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mitt Romney didn't have Paul Ryan by his side today, but the GOP contender's new running mate was not far from his thoughts.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm delighted to have picked as my running mate Paul Ryan, a great leader.

ACOSTA: It's the Paul Ryan effect. The crowds are getting bigger, maybe too big, as Mitt Romney noted for his own security measures.

ROMNEY: It looks like we just didn't have enough of those mags to get everybody in, in time.

ACOSTA: But Romney is finding exciting the Republican base comes at a price. The GOP contender must also defend Ryan from the attacks on the Wisconsin congressman's controversial budget plan, which calls for a partial privatization of Medicare for future seniors, a tough sell for retirees in Florida.

ROMNEY: The president's idea, for instance, for Medicare was to cut it by $700 billion. That's not the right answer. We want to make sure that we preserve and protect Medicare.

ACOSTA: It was Romney's first solo event since the two running mates went their separate ways late Sunday, Ryan to Iowa and Romney to Florida, so they can cover more ground. their last event today, an emotional homecoming for Ryan in Wisconsin.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My veins run with cheese, bratwurst, and a little Spotted Cow, Leiney's, and some Miller.


ACOSTA: But the Obama campaign offensive to define Ryan has already begun.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am told that Governor Romney's new running mate, Paul Ryan, might be around Iowa the next few days. He is one of the leaders of Congress standing in the way.

ACOSTA: The president's reelection team unleashed a new Web video featuring seniors in Florida raising questions about the Ryan plan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just doesn't make sense to cut Medicare. It will be a voucher plan.

ACOSTA: The Romney campaign first responded by pointing to the name at the top of the ticket, only to later concede a President Romney would make the Ryan plan the law of the land.

ED GILLESPIE, FORMER REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: If the Ryan budget had come to his desk as president, he would have signed it.

ACOSTA: A new "USA Today"/Gallup poll found Americans are split over the Ryan pick, slightly lower than the numbers for Sarah Palin four years ago. And Ryan's past statements are only now coming to light, whether it's his thoughts on Romney's Massachusetts health care plan.

RYAN: What happens then? Only six people actually have the insurance, and actuaries call this is the death spiral.

ACOSTA: Or his comments praising the controversial author Ayn Rand, a fierce critic of social welfare programs.

RYAN: And I think a lot of people would observe that right now we're living in an Ayn Rand novel, metaphorically speaking.

ACOSTA: Romney warned Republicans of what team Obama has in store. ROMNEY: It's dirt. It's distortion. It's deception. It's dishonesty.

ACOSTA (on camera): Romney aides are pushing back on the notion that they're hiding Ryan from Florida, so they're sending their vice presidential candidate to the Orlando area on Saturday. But it's expected the two running mates will continue to campaign separately all the way to the convention -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Jim Acosta covering Mitt Romney down in Florida.

Remember we're standing by, Mitt Romney getting ready to take questions from reporters. We will have live coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM this hour.

Romney's new running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, is turning out to be a lightning rod out there on the campaign trail. After drawing huge and enthusiastic crowds during his weekend appearances with Romney, Ryan went solo today and he attracted a few hecklers as well. Take a look at what happened just over at the Iowa State Fair.


RYAN: You know, I heard that President Obama is starting his bus tour today. And I heard he wasn't going to come to the Iowa State Fair. I think it's become --



RYAN: It's funny. It's funny, because --


RYAN: -- we like to be respectful of one another and peaceful with one another and listen to each other. These ladies must not be from Iowa or Wisconsin.



RYAN: Like I said, she must not be from Iowa.


BLITZER: And those hecklers were removed.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is in Iowa covering Ryan's campaign today.

How did that go? What was going on over there, John? JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that was what you call welcome to Iowa and welcome to the national stage. That was Paul Ryan's first solo event since being picked for the Republican ticket.

You just saw what happened there. Two women tried to rush the stage. They were screaming stop the war on the poor as they were hauled off by Iowa State Police. Another gentleman in the first or second row stood up throughout Ryan -- and he spoke about 12 or 15 minutes -- was screaming throughout the speech, restore the common good. Defend the middle class. Things like that.

Ryan soldiered on and kept going. Only made a references to the hecklers. Made his case that President Obama has run too much of a deficit, made his case that Romney and Ryan is the ticket that can restore jobs to America.

But, Wolf, it's the Iowa State Fair. You have been here before. It's a feisty event. That was the "Des Moines Register's" soapbox.

I asked Paul Ryan as he left the stage, what did you think of the hecklers? He looked at me and he laughed and he shrugged and he said, John, I'm used to it. We have been through a lot of politics in Wisconsin the past couple of years. So he was in a pretty good mood about it even though some of his staff wasn't happy. They found it to be disrespectful.

But as he made his way through the fairgrounds, Paul Ryan very casually shaking hands with people, saying, I'm Paul. What's your name? Hey this. That's what the Romney campaign likes. They think he will appeal to blue-collar voters, especially white working-class voter who are critical here in Iowa, in his home state of Wisconsin, in the state of Ohio and across the Midwest.

And during that march through the fair -- and it was a little crowded and a little feisty -- I walked up to Ryan and I asked him, Wolf, in the crowd, I said, what do you make, sir, the Obama campaign already saying that a Romney/Ryan victory would destroy Medicare?


KING: Mr. Chairman, they are calling voters here in your state and in here Iowa saying this is proof they're going to take away your Medicare. What do you say to that?

RYAN: We will play these issues later. We will play stump the running mate later. But our job is to strengthen and protect Medicare. That's what we do. President Obama, they're raiding and ultimately rationing Medicare. We will deal with these issues later, though, OK, John?


KING: I tell you, Wolf, interesting being here and being at the big rally yesterday in Wisconsin. Both states President Obama won in 2008. Both he won pretty handily. Republican Governor Terry Branstad saying he thinks Romney had a good chance in Iowa anyway. He thinks Paul Ryan will help. In Iowa I can tell you we went by the Obama campaign headquarters. They have a small lead there. The president won by 13 points in Wisconsin four years ago. It's about four or five points before the Ryan pick. We went by the Obama campaign headquarters and trust me they know they're going to have to work a little bit harder in Wisconsin.

BLITZER: Certainly will. It's no coincidence, though, John, that his first solo event is over at the Iowa State Fair. Is it?

KING: He is here at the Iowa State Fair. If you look around here, it's a great place. It's not great if you're trying to lose any weight.

But Paul Ryan said he's been at the Wisconsin State Fair many, many times. He was very much at ease here talking to young children, goofing around with them, asking people as he went through, who do you root for in Iowa? Are you guys for the Packers or the Vikings or the Bears? He found a little bit of everything. He said, we're going to disagree about football maybe, but we're all Americans.

Very casual campaign style, again, introducing himself to everybody as Paul. Wearing a checkered shirt. He's very more at ease you might say in a crowd than Mitt Romney, although one thing -- you saw it from Jim Acosta there -- one thing a lot of people around Governor Romney says is he suddenly needs to be a bit more at ease now that he made the big choice as well.

BLITZER: I assume he's already getting Secret Service protection, is that right?

KING: It's a great question. You and I have been around the Secret Service for many, many years. Yes, he did have a relatively small, smaller than Governor Romney Secret Service detail with him today. That will all be fleshed out as they go forward. They will decide how many people does he need?

There's a standard level that any vice presidential candidate gets. Then they adjust it if necessary. What was interesting here is the Secret Service, because we're at the Iowa State Fair, when people tried to make their way on the stage, when that one gentleman kept heckling throughout, the Secret Service turned to the Iowa state police officer in charge on the scene, said, you guys deal with it.

So the Secret Service stayed back and let Iowa State Police deal with what we shall call a little feisty display of the First Amendment.

BLITZER: That's a good way of calling it. Thanks very much, John King. We will have you back later. Stand by.

Meanwhile, Democrats claim Paul Ryan wants to end Medicare as we know it. We're going to take a closer look at what he's proposing and why. The best person to explain it is the congressman himself. CNN had exclusive access to one of Ryan's closed-door briefings to his fellow lawmakers after Republicans took control of Congress last year.

Here's our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.


RYAN: If we just got rid of all the discretionary spending --

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In this small conference room deep inside the Capitol, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan could be mistaken for a traveling salesman at a business meeting.

RYAN: Government is on a reckless spending spree right now.

BASH: CNN was given exclusive access to Ryan's session last year, one of about 15 closed-door meetings he held with fellow House Republicans. Tutorials for them on how to explain Ryan's controversial plan to overhaul Medicare and Medicaid.

RYAN: By the time my kids are my age, just those three programs, Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, consume all federal revenues, no room for anything else in the federal budget.

BASH: He laid out the need for significant changes to entitlement programs, the third rail of politics, by describing a tidal wave of debt in stark terms.

RYAN: The Congressional Budget Office has an economic model where they measure the economy going forward, and they are now telling us that the entire economy crashes in the year 2037 because their computer simulation can't conceive of any way in which the U.S. economy can continue.

BASH: Not long after the session, Ryan formally unveiled his budget. The highlights, for Medicare, health care for seniors, no longer would the government pay doctor's bills directly. Instead, lump sum payments would subsidize private coverage. But anyone 55 years and older would not be affected.

Federal spending for Medicaid, the health program for low-income Americans, would be sent to states to manage.

RYAN: Every year we delay fixing this debt problem, we go about $10 trillion deeper in the hole in adding to the unfunded promises that we are making to Americans.

BASH: Ryan held these meetings organized by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy to encourage rank-and-file Republicans to give the same talk to their constituents and sell the plan.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: We think the Republican budget is the wrong choice for America.

BASH: But Democrats quickly blasted Republicans, warning seniors would lose Medicare as they know it, which for the record would not be true for anyone over 55. Still, it's no secret making any changes to Medicare and Medicaid is a dicey political proposition. And Republican leaders quickly realized the most convincing messenger for the Ryan budget is Ryan himself.

RYAN: We have got to break the cycle of politicians making empty promises to people. And this is why we have to go and explain to our constituents the seriousness of our situation and the need to address these problems.

(on camera): A senior congressional Democrat tells me according to their internal polling, most of the gains for Democratic House candidates come from running against the Ryan plan, especially when they describe the proposed changes to Medicare.

The challenge for team Romney will be whether they can overcome that and sell Ryan as a 40-something politician willing to take political chances to help solve a huge fiscal problem.

Dana Bash, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: Ryan, by the way, he modified the plan subsequently to that briefing he gave, the briefing you saw in Dana's report there. He worked with Ron Wyden to come up with some more changes. We will have a lot more explanation of that and that's coming later here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Lots more coming up on that.

We're also waiting for Mitt Romney to take questions in Miami any moment now.

Plus, we at CNN got some excellent, excellent news today. Our own Candy Crowley, she has been chosen to moderate one of the upcoming presidential debates in October, full coverage of that. Also coming up, our new poll. It shows how important debates have become in helping voters make up their minds.

Also, we're going inside Syria.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Even the simple act of crossing the street requires a strong heart and fast feet. A sniper's bullet is just a crack away.


BLITZER: Stay with us Ben Wedeman's report from a city inside Syria. You're going to see what's going on.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, Mitt Romney went bold. Doing what many conservatives wanted him to do, naming Paul Ryan his running mate. A lot of people view Ryan as a game changing selection, with both Republicans and Democrats cheering the choice. It's yet to be seen if Ryan will make voters more or less likely to vote for Mitt Romney.

Ryan's weaknesses are pretty evident. His budget plan of drastic spending cuts include significant changes to Social Security and Medicare -- try selling that to elderly voters in Florida. It also gives Democrats ammunition to play on the same voters' fears, that the social programs they rely on could be threatened.

Plus, Ryan has virtually no experience in the private sector, just like President Obama. He has spent almost 14 years in Congress, a career politician, at a time when the public is pretty sick of Washington.

But Romney's selection of Ryan also has a lot of benefits. For starters, while voters are sick of Washington insiders, they tend to reward politicians willing to take risk and push for real change. See Barack Obama in 2008 or New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie. For Americans who grasp the critical nature of our skyrocketing national debt, now nearing $16 trillion, Ryan has a lot of appeal. And if Mitt Romney is willing to embrace even some of Ryan's ideas, President Obama won't be able to touch the GOP on government spending and deficits.

Ryan is also a clear plus for the party's base. Many of whom never liked Romney to begin with. He appeals to crucial independent voters and Catholics and women, too.

But most importantly, the choice of Paul Ryan signals a clear choice for voters in November. More government versus less government, runaway national debt versus painful fiscal responsibility.

Ryan's a big gamble for Mitt Romney, but it's a bet he almost had to make.

Here's the question: How much will Paul Ryan help Mitt Romney's chances of winning in November?

Go to and post a comment on my blog or go to a post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

Ryan really much more clearly defines the national debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, I think.

BLITZER: Absolutely. I mean, he's got a detailed, detailed budget blueprint. He spells it out with all the numbers. The only area where he's not as precise as he should be, in all the tax reform that he supports, but as chairman of the Budget Committee, he says that's the responsibility of the House Ways and Means Committee. He hasn't gone into detail that he should, which deductions and loopholes to eliminate, stuff like that.

But on everything else, you're absolutely right, Jack. He is precise in what he wants to do. And now, almost automatically Mitt Romney owns that as well.

CAFFERTY: Well, the Ways and Means Committee will get right on the tax reform as soon, as they come back from their five-week vacation.

BLITZER: And when they get back.


BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

Syrian rebels claim they shot down a government jet and captured its pilot. Take a look at this. While there are pictures of an aircraft in flames, CNN cannot verify the authenticity of the claims. The Syrian government blames the crash on a technical failure, their words.

Meanwhile, the siege of Syria's largest city, the important commercial hub of Aleppo, is getting deadlier by the day.

CNN's senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman has been there. We need to warn you, some of the images you're about to see are bloody and very disturbing.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): He wasn't a fighter or a revolutionary. He did not live by the gun. But 45-year-old Hassan (ph), a shopkeeper, died from an unseen sniper's bullet.

Neighbors and fighters had to hoist his body over walls between apartment buildings in the back streets of Aleppo's Mashad neighborhood to avoid snipers.

His wife was by his side when the bullet ripped through his head. They'd come to help relatives pinned down by the violence to escape to safer ground.

The line between life and death in Aleppo is perilously thin.

Just one block away, I met Hanadi (ph), who insists she and her family of six will not leave.


WEDEMAN: I asked her where the front line is, but she brushes off the question saying she has become accustomed to the shelling.

Her son, one and a half year-old Abdul Rani (ph), seems confused and squeezes my hand tightly.

A two-minute walk down the street, an apartment building was hit in an air strike.

(on camera): This building, or rather what's left of this building, which really isn't much, is in an area where the civilians are still living. And, of course, among the ruins we found a French book, and somebody's studying English -- the life of William Shakespeare.

(voice-over): Residents say that two bodies remain buried inside.

Rahi (ph), the self-described unarmed activist, says regime forces don't care if they kill 100 or 200 or 1,000 or 2,000 civilians if they destroy two or three or four buildings.

A rocket slammed into another building in the nearby Sikari district, wounding two, raining rubble into the street.

All the while, government helicopters hover menacingly overhead and jets drop bombs on rebel-controlled neighborhoods.

The trappings of daily life in this city under siege have disappeared. Even the simple act of crossing the street requires a strong heart and fast feet. The sniper's bullet is a crack away.


BLITZER: And Ben is joining us now from outside that city of Aleppo.

Ben, is there any end in sight to the bloodshed in Aleppo?

WEDEMAN: No. It seems that there's a stalemate at the moment. We see that the army, the government army, is advancing, it appears, into some of those areas we were in yesterday.

But the rebels still had numbers and a lot of will power to resist. So it seems that this fight could go on for quite some time. The army is clearly hesitant to go into the very crowded neighborhoods where the rebels say they've planted IEDs are and are ready for a street fight if the tanks enter the city -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman on the ground for us in Syria. Appreciate it, Ben, very much.

We're also getting a medical update right now on in Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. He's being treated for depression. Standby. We'll have the latest from his doctors.


BLITZER: Evangelist Billy Graham is in the hospital.

Kate Bolduan is monitoring that and some of other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on, Kate?


Well, doctors say they're hopeful the Reverend Billy Graham can return home soon after being hospitalized yesterday for bronchitis yesterday. The statement released this morning did not say when the famed 93-year-old evangelist might go home. Graham is being treated at Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. A Graham spokesman posted on Twitter that he is receiving antibiotics and is improving. Of course, wish him very well.

A year almost to the day after Google announced its acquisition of cell phones for Motorola Mobility, the company is hinting at the grand plan to take on the likes of Apple iPhone. Google tells CNN Money, Motorola will cut staff by one-fifth but it will also start a new division to develop groundbreaking technologies and quickly. The military-style approach developed comes with the twist -- to encourage speedy completion of the projects, engineers will be hired on for only two years and then disbanded.

And now an update today on Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. The Mayo clinic in Rochester Minnesota says the Democratic congressman from Illinois is responding well to treatment for bipolar depression. It says he's regaining hi strength but gave no other information on his condition. The son of the civil rights leader has not been seen on Capitol Hill since late May, a story we've all been following.

Finally, a sailor who saw it called it the weirdest thing he's seen in 18 years at sea. Just take a look at this. NASA scientists think a giant mass of pumice floating in the south Pacific Ocean came from an eruption of a little known volcano in an arc of island north of New Zealand.

They used satellite images of eruptions and the so-called pumice raft. To reach that conclusion, pumice is a porous, lightweight by product of lava used to in scrubbing soaps and to buff skin.

The map measures, get this, almost 10,000 square miles roughly nine times the size of Rhode Island. That's a lot of pumice -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I have never even heard of -- have you heard of pumice? I never heard of pumice.

BOLDUAN: Any woman who goes to get a manicure/pedicure knows what pumice is.

BLITZER: I know hummus like a little hummus --

BOLDUAN: Very, very gentle.

BLITZER: Pumice, not too familiar with that, thanks.

BOLDUAN: Very different, yes.

BLITZER: The presidential race is shifting to higher gear. We have nominating conventions coming up in the next few weeks. We also have known for some time when President Obama and Mitt Romney will go head to head in the increasingly important presidential debates.

Those debates in October, but now a little history is being made by one of CNN's own political correspondents. Our own Candy Crowley standing by. We'll update you on what happened today.


BLITZER: President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are no doubt working on the game plans already. The schedule of presidential debates, that's been set for a while. But there was a major announcement today.

There will be three, by the way, presidential debates. One vice presidential debate all in October and they certainly are important with American voters.

Our brand new CNN/ORC poll found that the presidential debates were very important when deciding how to vote to 57 percent of those surveyed. That's well ahead of choice of running mate, campaign ads, convention speeches, vice presidential debates.

This year's debates will also make a bit of history. CNN's own Candy Crowley will be the first woman in 20 years to moderate a presidential debate. We're very proud of Candy. We know she will do a fabulous, fabulous job in that presidential debate.

Let's talk about what's going on in our "Strategy Session." Joining us right now, two CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile and the Republican strategist, Alex Castellanos.

Alex, let me start with you. These debates, you can see how important they are. You've worked in these campaigns, Donna. Do they already start preparing? Are they already practicing, or do they wait until after the conventions?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTORS: No, they should be already prepping now. If not, they're missing, I think, spending the time they need to prepare for one of the most decisive moments of the campaign.

If you're in a campaign and you know a debate is coming, you're looking for moments of strength. We call them MOSs. Because the voters look at you, OK, you're going to be president of the United States.

They don't know if you're up to the job. They know you're going to get hit with all kinds of things that you can't prepare for. They want to see how you are on your feet.

How do you respond to the unexpected? So these are almost gladiatorial contests. The stronger guy wins.

BLITZER: Donna, you are Al Gore's campaign manager in 2000. When did he start preparing for the debate back against George W. Bush?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, soon after Labor Day. The debate team pulls together all the material. It's already been pulled together, I'm sure. Then they provide it to the senior advisers, to the candidate and then you again to look at all of the issues, the topics. You have to know exactly what you're candidate has been saying on the stump, the policy proposals, but also know the opposition. Of course, you identify someone, in our case, we have Paul Begala who play George Bush.

I still get a chuckle out of that. That was agreement moment and then you go through exhaustive debate prepping sessions.

BLITZER: You know, as exciting as the presidential debates will be, and they will be very exciting. All of us on the Biden and Ryan debate, that's going to be pretty lively as well. If you know Joe Biden and you know Paul Ryan. That could be a pretty exciting debate.

CASTELLANOS: Well, they're going to be talking about the Ryan budget and there's one guy who knows a lot about it, Paul Ryan.

BLITZER: Biden will know, by then he'll a lot about it, too.

CASTELLANOS: He certainly needs to. Fifty two million people watch --Americans in one night watch that McCain/Obama debate. This one could be even higher. These are going to be decisive moments.

The country is in a moment of crisis. They want to know who the stronger leader is. These debates are going to be the forum for that.

BLITZER: When he released, Paul Ryan, that controversial Medicare proposal back in 2011, a year or so ago, spring of 2011, a pro Democratic advocacy group released that very controversial ad.

I'm going to play a little bit of it for you, Donna. And we'll show our viewers what we're talking about.

Yes. That ad goes on. We cut it off a little bit too short. It goes on to specifically mention Paul Ryan. And it looked like from the back, a Paul Ryan. Is that going above and beyond the call of duty, that kind of vicious attack ad?

BRAZILE: You know, I'm not an ad maker. So I don't understand how they craft these ads. Alex is more an ad maker, but here's what I know.

In 2011, Paul Ryan's budget proposal did call to basically alter Medicare as we know it. He's made some modifications in the playing. In fact, Ron Widen wrote a paper with him, gave him more options --

BLITZER: The Democratic senator from Oregon.

BRAZILE: Absolutely. One person said here's the policy paper. Here are some options. Ron Widen voted against the so-called Ryan budget when it came to the floor of the Senate. But, you know, this is a serious discussion we need to have about Medicare.

BLITZER: When you show somebody throwing an elderly woman in a wheelchair and push her over the cliff, and then the words Paul Ryan come up on the screen. That gives me the impression that it's over the top.

BRAZILE: You know, graphically, again, I don't make ads. So I don't know how people come up with these. Alex knows better. But, Wolf, there are so many distasteful, nasty, negative ads out there. If I start condemning ads, I will be here all night with you.

Because last week, you gave a homework assignment, you said go home and watch the ads. Because I didn't have cable last week, I couldn't watch it until this weekend. I had to get myself a cold one afterwards.

BLITZER: Did you finally watch that ad?


BLITZER: What did you think?

BRAZILE: It was not my kind of ad. But you know, once, it tells a story about Mitt Romney's term at Bain.

BLITZER: That was one that suggested that Mitt Romney was at least incorrectly responsible for the death of that woman. You think that ad was over the top or you think it was OK?

CASTELLANOS: I think most Americans look at an ad like that and say, you know, no one really pushed a grandma over the cliff, a real grandma like that. But the message this year, you're going to see a lot more ads like that.

Grandma better put on her seat belt. The Democrats are going to shove her over again. Republicans are going to say, no, wait a minute. It's too late.

Poor old grandma is at the bottom of the cliff already because President Obama cut $700 billion from Medicare. We're going to have a Medicare war. It's going to start in Florida would be my guess, over who is going to save Medicare.

BLITZER: We're going to have a fact check on that. Medicare, who is cutting, who is not cutting, that's coming up later in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Guys, don't go far away there. I want to continue this conversation. Conventions bring out who is who of U.S. politics. But one face will be conspicuously absent from the Republican convention in Tampa. More on Sarah Palin as our "Strategy Session" continues.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw that kind of excitement four years ago, Anthony, when John McCain appointed Sarah Palin as well. There were huge crowds, much of the same kind of reaction. I don't think it worked very well. I think when the reality catches up with the moment. It's not going to be a plus for Governor Romney. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was David Axelrod, the president's campaigned adviser. Let's talk about that with Donna Brazile and Alex Castellanos. Does David Axelrod, Alex, have a good point considering Ryan and Palin?

CASTELLANOS: Well, I think it's two completely different animals. You're talking about one of the brightest, most well prepared guys in government in Paul Ryan who is certainly up to the job he's got now and any job he wants involving the U.S. government.

But you can certainly see where David and the Democrats want to go with this thing. They want to make sure October is --

BLITZER: Hold on a second. Mitt Romney is speaking and taking some questions from reporters in Florida. I just want to listen and hear what he says.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- how it is these tragedies can be prevented. I don't have the answer for you today, but it's something I'm going to give thought to it. I'm sure a lot of other people in the country will do the same.

I'm happy to be joined today by Senator Marco Rubio and also Attorney General Pam Bondi. These are two members of my comeback for America's promise team. We as you know started off this morning in St. Augustine with a very overflowed crowd.

It was an exciting -- a chance to meet with a lot of people, very enthusiastic audience. I have to tell you, I was warm and excited to be with them. And the message that I keep hearing as I talk to people here in Florida and across the country is they want to know who will be able to give back good jobs and more take home pay.

I have a plan to do that. The current incumbent has not been able to accomplish those objectives. He has no plan to do so. We expect by virtue of our plan to get this country back on track. That we're going to be successful here in Florida and across the country. I'm going to turn to the people with me and take some questions.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Thank you for coming to Florida again, Governor. Look forward to seeing you much, come back here many more times. And we're just excited. I think this last 72 hours have been an exciting time.

The selection of Paul Ryan is a fantastic selection and it really crystallizes with the selection is about. This is a quite stark difference between the two choices that the American people have. The difference is that the vision that Barack Obama offers for America's future is one that would diminish us.

One that would take away all that things that makes us exceptional and different and better than the rest of the world. so I'm just excited to join them here today and to be a part of this effort.

And I look forward to November where we're going to have a new president, a new vice president and we're once again going to embrace the things that made America exceptional and great.

PAM BONDI, ATTORNEY GENERAL, FLORIDA: Again, I'm just excited to be here today. I'm a Florida girl my entire life. I can tell you we're going to take back Florida this time because we have Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

We are so excited to be here. I've been all over the state. Our base is so energized and they are so excited. As the governor said, people care about jobs and the economy.

And that's what makes Mitt Romney so special. A leader leads by example. That's what we have in Governor Romney. So I'm just so proud to be here today with him. Thank you.

ROMNEY: I'm just saying this tragedy raises once again the question of what can be done to help prevent events like this from occurring. And that will take thought and consideration, but I'm not referring to any particular legislation.

I'm just saying this is something that needs to take some thoughtful consideration. We've now had apparently from the earlier reports three of these tragedies in a row.

I happen to believe this is not a matter of the weapon that is used. It's a matter of the individuals. And the choices these people make.

And we have to understand how to prevent those kinds of choices from being made. I don't think gun laws are the answer, but I do believe that this is a topic that needs to be considered.

Yes, Carl?


ROMNEY: Well, I can tell you what is radical and extreme is to spend a trillion dollars more every year then you take in. It's radical and extreme to pass on trillions of dollars of debts to our children knowing that we're never going to pay back these obligations that we have taken on.

And Representative Ryan has worked very hard to find ways to see if we can get on track towards a balanced budget. I'm sure there are places that my budget is different than his. But we're on the same page as I said before, we want to get America on track to a balanced budget. One of the places we agree, of course, is we simply can't afford Obamacare.

Another $100 billion a year of federal spending is not the right course. We also shouldn't cut Medicare to pay for Obamacare to the tune of some $700 billion. That's what the president does to Medicare, to current recipients of Medicare.

He cuts the payments that go to Medicare by $700 billion and he uses that to pay for Obamacare. Those are places where Paul Ryan and I agree.

I think we recognize people based upon their values and their capacity to get America on track. I pick the person I believe is the right individual to help me, if I become president, to be able to get America finally to work together in Washington, Republicans and Democrats to solve the extraordinary problems we have.

One of the things we've seen in Washington is a gridlock, an incapacity to deal with the real problems America faces and one of the things I like about Paul Ryan is he's demonstrated an ability to work across the aisle.

To find people with common purpose who may disagree on some issues, but find enough common ground to get some things done, and for instance, him coming together with a plan to save Medicare for future generations. No change to current Medicare beneficiaries or people near retirement.

But for future beneficiaries, he and Senator Widen have come together. This is the kind of bipartisanship we need more of, not less.

UNIDENTIFIE MALE: You said he is absolutely right on. I'm curious, is there anything -- (inaudible).

ROMNEY: Well, the items that we agree on I think outweigh any differences that may be. We haven't gone through piece by piece and said here's a place where there is a difference. I can't imagine any two people in the same party who have exactly the same positions on all issues.

But my plan for Medicare is very similar for his plan for Medicare, which is do not change the program for current retirees or near retirees. But do not do what the president has done and that is to cut $700 billion out of the current program.

Instead, look down the road and say for future young people coming along, let's make sure the promises that we're making are promises we can keep. And my plan, like his, really expands Medicare advantage.

It says let's give people more opportunity to take advantage of not just the standard Medicare, but also the policies that are available in the marketplace.


BLITZER: We're going to continue to monitor this Q&A. We'll take a quick break. We'll assess what we just heard. Go back to the news conference right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Mitt Romney is in Florida. We're back with Donna and Alex. Alex, Florida, a lot of people suspect has become a little bit more difficult for Romney to win on November 6th.

CASTELLANOS: Much tougher. It's ground zero for the Medicare debate. You're going to see Democrats say they're going to cut Medicare. You're going to see Republicans say President Obama already has.

Republicans have to say unless we grow this economy, which President Obama hasn't been able to do, we not only won't have jobs and growth. We won't have government revenue for Medicare.

BLITZER: So is Paul Ryan a gift to the Democrats, Donna?

BRAZILE: No question. Look, Mitt Romney doesn't understand that Paul Ryan's budget incorporates the $700 million in savings that the president has in his own budget for Medicare. You know what? We didn't discuss Social Security. That also matters in Florida.

BLITZER: Some other day. Guys, thanks very, very much.

New leadership and a big shift happening in Egypt ahead in our next hour. Top generals gone, the intelligence chief gone and with them, the military's grip on power. What all these means for the United States?