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President Barack Obama Leading in the Hispanic Poll; Muslim Outrage Boiling over the Fresh Wave of Protests; A Scrap of Ancient Text Revives an Ancient Debate; Mitt Romney Reboots his Campaign; A French Magazine Published Cartoons Mocking the Prophet Muhammed

Aired September 22, 2012 - 18:00   ET



Under fire. Mitt Romney reboots his campaign as he and President Obama court an important voting bloc.

Dozens of people killed and injured. Muslim outrage boiling over the fresh wave of protests.

Also, Jesus talking about his wife? A scrap of ancient text revives an ancient debate.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

Mitt Romney is getting ready to climb back aboard his campaign bus and hit the road with a retooled strategy. Between now and next month, presidential debates, he will be making more frequent public appearances, highlighting his proposals to try to revive the U.S. economy.

However, many Republicans are grumbling that Romney's campaign itself is in dire need of a revival, especially after a secretly recorded complaints that the 47 percent of voters who support the president are dependent on the government.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you express an attitude that half the country considers itself victims, that somehow they want to be dependent on government, my thinking is, maybe you haven't gotten around a lot.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a campaign about the 100 percent. I have demonstrated my capacity to help the 100 percent.


BLITZER: After listening to a week's worth of criticism of her husband, especially from other Republicans, Romney's wife, Ann, has had enough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: Stop it. This is hard. You want to try it? Get in the ring. It is time for all Americans to realize how significant this election is and how lucky we have to have someone with Mitt's qualifications and experience and know-how to be able to have the opportunity to run this country.


BLITZER: Joining us now, CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our senior political analyst, Ron Bronstein. He is the editorial director of "the National Journal."

And both of you have written excellent columns. Gloria, let me read a line from your piece that went out on "There is a real sense from those inside and Republicans outside the campaign that waiting for Romney to rescue himself at the first debate, set for October 3rd s a bad idea." Explain what you mean there.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, in talking to people inside the campaign, there's a real sense that they have to start shaping the political environment rather than just reacting to the political environment, which is, Wolf, what they have been doing. And what they are trying to do is appeal to the increasing number of voters who believe that Mitt Romney doesn't understand or care about their problems.

I mean, when you look at the polls, by about a 3-to-1 margin, people think that President Obama better understands their problems. And that kind of a number is unsustainable if you are going to win the presidency. So, what they are trying to do, according to these sources, is personalize, as they put it, Mitt Romney's economic message, which is try to be more specific about how his economic policies would fix the economy and how the president's wouldn't. And they haven't ruled out giving a major domestic policy speech, even before the first debate.

BLITZER: In the "National Journal," you wrote this, Ron. I will read. I will put it up on the screen. "His fate isn't sealed but the choices he made in the primaries have left him with a path to victory so narrow that it might daunt Indiana Jones." What choices are you talking about?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well look, I think the fundamental problem Mitt Romney faces in the fall is that in the spring, he lacked the confidence that he could beat a field no more formidable than Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum without moving sharply to the right on a number of issues that have narrowed his appeal in the general election. The two really jump out.

The biggest thing, I think, he did in the spring was use immigration at his cudgel to try to argue that First, Perry and Gingrich were insufficiently conservative. And you can see the impact of that. In polling showing President Obama now routinely exceeding the 67 percent among Hispanic that is he won in 2008, even though, Wolf, unemployment among Hispanics has been in double digits every single month of his presidency. The other critical thing, I think, is really critical here is that in the spring, Romney did not disassociate, in fact joined in a significant movement to the right on social issues. And again, you can see the result of that in polling showing that while Obama's support among most whites have declined, he is still running right at or even above the 52 percent he won among college-educated white women in 2008. And that has left Mitt Romney with a very narrow path to the presidency. Because if he can -- if Obama can hold the 80 percent among minorities he won in '08, the 52 percent among college, women, that we won in '08.

Mitt Romney has to win two-thirds of everybody else which can be done, but it obviously a very tall order.

BLITZER: As you know, Gloria, Republicans traditionally in primaries, presidential primaries, they run to the right. Then if they win they become the nominee, they head right back to the center. Some have described that as an etch-a-sketch moment, if you will. Have we been seeing that from Romney?

BORGER: Well, that's why the 47 percent was so damaging, that tape because he was effectively writing off half the electorate. Not only that, he was writing off people who were for him, say in 2010, who were for the Republicans, senior citizens went for Republicans in 2010. They are on Social Security. Veterans are on Social Security. People who pay payroll taxes pay taxes and might get some tax benefits for their kids.

So, he was essentially writing off the very people that he needs to attract right now. And that is why he had to come out in the Univision thing and say, this is about the 100 percent, it's not about the 47 percent because he doesn't need to narrow his base, he needs to enlarge his base, as Ron was saying.


BLITZER: He's got some problems. But look at this, our poll of polls. This is an average, Ron, of the major polls, likely voters are out there right now. Right now, we have nationally Obama, 49 percent, Romney, 44 percent. That is a significant advantage nationally. Does that similarly translate into the state poll that is you're seeing in the battleground states?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, absolutely. It is enormous demographic consistency from state to state. You know, we have our all state "National Journal" wonderful poll out this week, 53 to 43. Very similar to that. And the story, Wolf, is that Obama is re-assembling in all of those polls, at least for now, the Democrats probably going to hold the election on Tuesday instead of - in six or seven weeks. But, he is re-assembling what I call the coalition (INAUDIBLE) from 2008. I mean, he did best in 2008 among groups that are themselves growing in society. And you can see in this polling his numbers are returning to his '08 levels among those three key groups, young people, minorities, and white collar whites, especially women. They are all coming back to his '08 levels. And again, that leaves Romney with a very, very narrow pathway. BORGER: You know, and if you look at Hispanic voters, for example, Mitt Romney is even behind where John McCain was at this point in 2008. So that is a real problem for him.

Also catholic voters, something he might want to try and appeal to, given the importance of the state of Ohio for him. He is really behind with catholic voters. So, again, it is a very difficult job for him right now to get those people to come to on board and give him a fresh look. I mean, they will obviously try and do at the debate. That is very important. That is why there is a feeling though, that you have to do something a little sooner.

BROWNSTEIN: Can I have one quick point? The most significant divergence between the national polls and the state polls is that in the Midwestern battlegrounds of Michigan, Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin, Obama is running better than he is nationally belong the blue collar whites (INAUDIBLE). That's the most significant divergence and it's working in his favor.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, Gloria Borger. Guys, thanks very much.

The critical battleground state of Florida was back in the spotlight this week with both candidates fighting for a voting bloc so powerful it could hand the election in November. First Mitt Romney made his case to a forum of Latino voters. Then it was President Obama's turn.

CNN's White House correspondent Brianna Keilar is joining us now. She has got the latest details -- Brianna.


No surprise immigration was a top topic during this forum. President Obama saying his biggest failure as president was not getting comprehensive immigration reform done. But he said it wasn't for a lack of trying or desire and he blamed congressional Republicans.


KEILAR (voice-over): As President Obama courted the Hispanic vote in a forum on the Spanish language Univision network.


KEILAR: He got some tough questions, co-host Jorge Ramos asked about his 2008 pledge to tackle immigration reform in his first term.

JORGE RAMOS, HOST, UNIVISION NETWORK: This is very important. I don't want it to get lost in translation. You promised them and a promise is a promise. And with all due respect, but you didn't keep that promise.

OBAMA: I did not make a promise that I would get everything done 100 percent when I was elected as president. What I promised was that I would work every single day as hard as I can to make sure that everybody in this country, regardless of who they are, what they look like, where they come from, that they would have a fair shot at the American dream. And I have -- that promise I've kept.

KEILAR: The president touted his recent executive order to buy time from deportation for so-called dreamers, young undocumented immigrants.

OBAMA: If you heard their stories, there's no way that you would think it was fair or just for us to have them suffering under a cloud of deportation.

KEILAR: But Max Sevillia of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials says voters still have concerns.

MAX SEVILLIA, DIRECTOR OF POLICY AND LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF LATINO ELECTED AND APPOINTED OFFICIALS: President Obama still has some explaining to do. There are some more that needs to be done. The Latino community is suffering because of the downturn in the economy. There have been more deportations under this administration than any prior administration.

KEILAR: If President Obama has some explaining to do to this growing voter bloc, Mitt Romney has much more.

SEVILLIA: Candidate Romney has taken some positions that really clash with the priorities of the community.

KEILAR: Romney tried to soften his language on immigration while at the Univision forum, Wednesday. He said in the Republican primary that he would veto the dream act, calling instead for a more permanent immigration solution.

He also called for making it so difficult for illegal immigrants to find work that they would, quote, "self-deport." And he called Arizona's controversial citizenship verification law a model for the nation.

The latest Gallup poll shows President Obama with a 40-point lead among Hispanic voters, that's roughly equivalent to the margin then senator Obama had over John McCain in 2008 when Hispanic voters helped propel him to victory. Hispanic voters are increasing in number and could be crucial in key battleground states like Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada.


KEILAR: It is a must for President Obama to energize Hispanic voters, inspire them to go out to the polls so that he can maintain that lead that he has in the polls over Mitt Romney, Wolf. As you know, back in 2004, George W. Bush, then the incumbent, did uncharacteristically well with Hispanics for a Republican and that was key to keeping him in the White House.

BLITZER: Certainly was. Thanks very much, Brianna Keilar, over at the White House.

Serious deadly civil war, up close, rare reporting from inside the capital of Damascus. Our own Nic Robertson was there. Plus, disturbing new details of the deadly attack that killed the United States Ambassador. We are going to get them straight. The new information coming in from Libya's prime minister.


BLITZER: It's hard to believe but in Syria, the civil war is intensifying. Activists say more than 26,000 people have been killed.

Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson got rare access inside the capital of Damascus. He's joining us now from Beirut.

Nic, thanks very much. So, what did you see there? How did it go? What surprised you?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the complexity surprises me, Wolf. We know Syria is a very complex country with a lot of different sort of sectarian groups there. But also, you realize, and Damascus is an exact example of it as the conflict is reaching the capital, it is the poorer neighborhoods that have been bearing the brunt of the violence of the government shelling and bombing campaigns. Why? Because it's in those neighborhoods where the feeling to overthrow Bashar al-Assad was stronger. So, that's where people rose up.

So, you have this cycle now of rebellion, then repression, then reprisal reprisals. And we went into a neighborhood where the government had just been bombing it for about two weeks, bombing, shelling it for about two weeks. We went back through government checkpoints. Yes, pretty much as soon as we got in, we found the free Syrian army were still there. So, there's no decisive battle being fought. And that is the picture that emerges. The shelling and smoke rising just a couple of miles from the center of Damascus. Bu this is going to be a very, very long and slow war as it looks at this day, Wolf.

BLITZER: How strong did the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, seem to be based on the limited access that you had in Damascus?

ROBERTSON: Yes. We really have to stress the limited access, Wolf, because we were really given very, very limited permission for shooting and filming. And even, we weren't able to talk to any soldiers. You don't really get inside the people that are fighting for the regime to know their sort of inner feelings and thoughts.

But we did talk to the population there. Part of them, they definitely support Bashar al-Assad. They agree with his view that the operation terrorists. They are fearful and buy into the government message. Many of them are foreign Islamic radicals that are coming into the country. Then there is this middle ground that don't like the president's killing but are equally afraid this opposition that doesn't have a clear political view that has many different groups fighting in it could, not come to power but could just sort of create a power vacuum in the country. They are very afraid of that.

There is a large segment of the population caught in the middle. Of course, there are those living in these communities that have being shelled that hate and despise the government. I'm not sure they want the free Syrian army as well. But want a change.

So it is very, very complex. It is a very uneasy feeling. And to try and sort of determine how strong is Assad, he is got his machine there, the military machine, the police machine, the intelligence machine, this militia force, they are all there. It all appears to be strong from the outside. And the opposition doesn't really have the numbers to go against it. But neither does the government with all its tanks and artillery, have the capability to deliver a knockout blow. It's turning into a sort of urban guerrilla warfare in some cases.

BLITZER: Well, I'm glad you got in. But, I'm even happier that you got out safe and sound. Nic, doing great reporting for us as he always does. Thank you.

To Libya now. We are learning more about the attack on the U.S. consulate which took the life of the United States ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, sat down with the new Libyan prime minister.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's been nearly ten days since this attack took place. How much closer are you to bringing the perpetrators to justice?

MUSTAFA ABUSHAGUR, LIBYAN PRIME MINISTER: So far, we have detained about eight people who have been part of the attack on that night. And we have identified some of the leaders who right now we're pursuing.

DAMON: These individuals, which group are they affiliated with?

ABUSHAGUR: The ones which we are looking for, if we think most of them are from sprinter groups, holding west part of (INAUDIBLE). But they are really, they are far extremists in their won.

DAMON: Were there any foreigners amongst them ties to groups like Al Qaeda?

ABUSHAGUR: No, They're all Libyans.

DAMON: Have you then determine this had attack was preplanned?

ABUSHAGUR: I think it is. I think it is. Because the way it has taken place, the way they have done it, it's clear this group planned it. It is not a spontaneous thing that took place that night, no.

DAMON: These groups have existed for quite some time now. The U.S. itself has been monitoring some of their activities in the east. Why have they not been pursued before they could pose such a significant and devastating threat? ABUSHAGUR: We are working in such a way that we avoid any bloodshed taken between Libyans themselves. I mean, we are not go tomorrow and confront them - and confront these groups because they haven't -- unless they do as a group, they will do something which is, again, committed something which is not right, and clearly we go after them.

But I'm saying, as our plan, as we go on, we have to win all of the people around them, to bring them back to the community, to the society. And then those who will stay as extremists, then, we will have options at the right time and the right moment.

DAMON: In your meetings with the deputy secretary of state, William Burns, what did you discuss and did you ask the U.S. for help?

ABUSHAGUR: It is technical. It is intelligence. And also at the same time, clearly we want to train our new army, our police force, equipment for them, these are types of assistance and also planning of strategy.

DAMON: Since this attack took place, there has been an increase in drone activity, the U.S. has moved its naval warships. Has there been any discussion about a possible U.S. military strike? And what is your position on that?

ABUSHAGUR: We are against any (INAUDIBLE) by any foreign country in Libya because this will cross out certainty. And we are prepared to really to handle this situation. And I think the administration know very well what we can do and our effort. And they're very grateful, I think, for what we have done so far. And so, I think we might need help in the investigation itself. But clearly for having a strike in Libya, it would really would throw this country into chaos if that ever happened.


BLITZER: Arwa Damon speaking with the Libyan prime minister in Libya.

One of the Republicans' most controversial proposals involves changing Medicaid. Just ahead, we have an in-depth look at how a change could affect one family.


BLITZER: In an op-ed article in "USA Today," Mitt Romney blames President Obama for, quote, "a stagnant economy that fosters government dependency." One of the Republicans' most controversial proposal to reduce the federal government's role in people's lives involves changing Medicaid, the program that provides Medical coverage to poor people and also pays for the coverage of millions of children as well as the elderly.

CNN's Lisa Sylvester is taking an in-depth look into this situation. What are you finding out, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, while the way Medicaid works today is if you qualify, your coverage is guaranteed. Mitt Romney, like his running mate Paul Ryan, supports changing the current Medicaid system to a form of state lock branch which would give a limited amount of money to each state to distribute how they see fit.

Conservatives say entitlement program spending is out of control and at some point, Medicaid reform will have to be taken up. But Democrats argue it could hurt a lot of families like this one from Iowa.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Evan, Jacob and Braden, playing like any other boys in Ames, Iowa. They are the sons of Amanda and Adam Byersdorfer. If you look closely though, you'll see a difference between two and a half year old Braden and his twin, Jacob. Braden is on a ventilator, the one he has been on since birth.

AMANDA BYERSDORFER, BRADEN'S MOTHER: The type of condition he has is called (INAUDIBLE). It is a pretty rare form of dwarfism that affects cartilage and bone development.

SYLVESTER: When the Braden and Jacob were born, Jacob was fine. But Braden was so severe. He spent 291 days in the neonatal intensive care. Their insurance company will continue pay the bills as long as Braden was in the hospital, but wouldn't cover home health care. The family was told Braden might have to be hospitalized for life.

AMANDA BYERSDORFER: Hearing that he would possibly be institutionalized, that broke my heart.

SYLVESTER: Then the family found out Braden's disability qualified him for Medicaid. Braden is one of 62 million people on the federal health insurance program for people who are low income, disabled or an eligible senior.

ADAM BYERSDORFER, BRADEN'S FATHER: The Medicaid program was our only option to get that coverage that we needed right away covered. So it was night and day between the ability to bring Braden home or whether he prolongs his stay in a hospital or any sort of institution.

SYLVESTER: But the Medicaid program could undergo a major overhaul. Families like the Byersdorfer first worry they will lose coverage. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have proposed changing the existing open- ended program into fixed allotments for each state known as block grants.

Currently as long as people qualify, they will receive coverage. Under the GOP plan, states would have the flexibility of redefining who is covered. Democrats say that would translate into major future cuts.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They also want to block grant Medicaid and cut it by a third over the coming ten years.

SYLVESTER: According to the central on budget and policy priority, what's known as the Ryan plan would curb Medicaid spending by $810 billion over ten years. Federal funding could be cut by 34 percent over the same period. But fiscal conservatives say that is precisely the point, to rein in federal Medicaid spending that will only continue to go up under the Obama health care plan, placing more of a burden on taxpayers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the first step is to kind of set a budget and then from there, let's start talking about what policy changes, working with the states to say, how can you run your program better?

SYLVESTER: And the Romney campaign in a statement saying, quote, "as a former governor, Mitt Romney understands that states, not the federal government, are best positioned to help their residents in need. Under the Romney proposal, states will have the flexibility to use federal funding to develop innovative solutions that better serve their Medicaid populations, including children like Braden."

With the nation's debt crisis, lawmakers are facing pressure to cut spending. But talk of cuts to the Medicaid program could have political repercussions. The liberal group families USA says the changes could hurt one group in a big way.

RON POLLACK, FAMILIES USA: You're going to have seniors who need long-term care who may have dementia or some other significant long- term set of disabilities, they are not going to get the care that they need.

SYLVESTER: Back at this Byersdorfer first, Braden has been thriving since coming home.

AMANDA BYERSDORFER: Wow. Look at you, big boy.

SYLVESTER: Reunited with his twin and his 4-year-old brother, the family says what made all the difference, the Medicaid program.


SYLVESTER: And in many ways, it's a philosophical question. Who should make the final decisions about Medicaid, states or the federal government? And what is more of a priority? Curbing the deficit or expanding health coverage - Wolf.

BLITZER: Good report, thanks very much for that, Lisa.

The Arab world is awash in fresh anger right now. Deadly violence and anti-American sentiment. It' is essential -- especially true in Pakistan. What's going on? When we come back, the message of the eruption and how the United States should respond.


BLITZER: A new insult to Islam. A French magazine published cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad. They may fuel the furry of a new run of Anti-American protests over that controversial anti-Muslim video. And these demonstrations were some of the deadliest with more than a dozen people killed in Pakistan alone. Let's get some analysis from CNN's national security analyst, Peter Bergen.

Peter, thanks very much for coming in. What should all of these demonstrations -- what should they be signaling the U.S. about these protests? What's going on here?

PETER BERGEN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think lots of things are going on, Wolf. As you know, much of the initial impetus of this was media reporting in the Arab world, drawing attention to a very obscure film which was designed to provoke and did provoke clearly the publication of the French cartoons. These people did so knowing that it was likely to provoke a response. And, yes, it has.

At the same time, people in the extremist and Muslim world are using this for their own purposes. And not just extremists, by the way. President Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, drew attention to the film mocking the prophet Muhammad many days before he made any mention of the fact publicly that he was sorry to see American diplomats being killed in Libya. So even mainstream Muslim leaders are sort of, I think, adding to the furor that's going on.

BLITZER: As you know, Peter, the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, they have released these PSA, this Public Service Announcements, with statements from both President Obama, secretary of state Hillary Clinton, condemning that anti-Muslim video. Do you think stuff like that really has an impact on the streets of the Arab and Muslim world?

BERGEN: I don't know. But I mean, the worst it can be, it doesn't hurt. The fact that they're in the most widely spoken language in Pakistan, the fact that they are probably saying look, the U.S. government is not behind this film, I think that as a very good message. I mean, at the end of the day, the president and his top advisers are responsible in particular for the safety of people working in our overseas facilities. And if these kinds of messages make it less likely that our embassy or embassy officials are attacked, I think that they are important that they get out there. Because right now, there seems to be no understanding in the Muslim world the U.S. government doesn't have anything to do with this cartoon or film.

BLITZER: On another matter, I had a chance to interview the Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar this week in Washington. She's visiting the United States. And we spoke about that Pakistani doctor that seems to be implicated, sentenced to 30-plus years for helping the CIA apparently locate bin Laden in Abbottabad. We had a conversation. Here's what she told me.


HINA RABBANI KHAR, PAKISTANI FOREIGN MINISTER: That how can we authorize a person who was up for hire by anyone, including (INAUDIBLE). This doctor (INAUDIBLE) who is portrayed to be a hero over here has gone in the name on Julio (INAUDIBLE) in Pakistan, has come in the way of being able to ensure that polio is no longer prevalent in Pakistan. BLITZER: But, if he is just trying to help the United States?

KHAR: He did not know, Wolf, kindly let me tell you, he did know that he was on this grand mission to get OBL.


BLITZER: This has provoked a firestorm. A lot of angry reaction in the U.S. to the Pakistani's arrest of this doctor. What do you make of this controversy?

BERGEN: Well, I think it makes a great deal of sense. The CIA would not tell anybody who didn't need to know that this is a get bin Laden operation. All this doctor knew is that he was being paid by the CIA to do something, you know. And the fact that the Pakistanis have arrested him -- he has actually been charged and convicted on a slightly different supposed crime which is he, rather than treason, they have said that he was helping the Taliban. In reality, this doctor was actually kidnapped by the Taliban and actually gave them Medical services, is my understanding, as a result of his kidnapping.

Be that as it may, you know, Jonathan Pollard is still in an American prison spying for a foreign power, even a friendly or anomaly friendly one is a crime in this country. And Jonathan Pollard was spying for Israel. That was not a sufficient defense. And he has been in prison now for something like 25 years. So, I think the Pakistanis are quite within their rights to arrest somebody who is spying for a foreign power, even if it's somebody who is a nominal ally.

BLITZER: Peter Bergen, thanks very much for coming in.

BERGEN: Thank you. "Saturday Night Live" is having some fun at Mitt Romney's expense. Just ahead, this week's media coverage of the GOP presidential nominee, is it going too far?

Stand by.


BLITZER: "Saturday Night Live" is having a little fun at Mitt Romney's expense. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People think I'm fancy, but I like nothing more than to end the day with one of these fine hamburger sandwiches from the good people at the McDonald's.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, oh, boy, that's disgusting. How do you people eat this garbage? Oh, my goodness, I'd complain to the chef but he doesn't speak English, right?

(LAUGHTER) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need to get this taste out of my mouth. Do you mind? Oh, my God, that was soda pop. Oh, here comes the sugar blindness.


BLITZER: Funny stuff. Let's talk a little bit about the media's coverage of Mitt Romney, what's been going on this past week.

Joining us, two journalists from the Web site Lauren Ashburn is the site's founder and editor chief. He is also former managing editor over at "USA Today," Howard Kurtz is now the CNN's reliable source and a Washing bureau chief of "Newsweek" magazine and "the Daily Beast."

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

A lot of fun in that "Saturday Night Live" skit. But talk about the media, Lauren, first of all. What do you think of the media's coverage this past week, as far as Romney is concerned?

LAUREN ASHBURN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, DAILY-DOWNLOAD.COM: The media are acting like high school bullies and kicking a man when he's down. Not only are liberal columnists like Maureen Dowd who you would expect to kick Romney beating up on him, but you have Peggy Noonan, former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan calling him weak. And like Richard Nixon, you have David Brooks, conservative columnist for "The New York Times" saying that his campaign is inept.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, CNN'S RELIABLE SOURCE: I would say, Lauren, that Romney's got unrelentingly bad press for the last two month but much of is in response to self-inflicted wounds and mis-steps going back to the gaffe at the London Olympics, the quick trigger response in the attack in Libya. And of course, the 47 percent video.

Yes, there is some kind - kind it feeds on itself. And now, the narrative is Mitt is a terrible candidate, whether that's fair or not. And the implication, I think, is that he is not going to win this election.

BLITZER: Was there, Howie though, you know at some journalists say are already sensing a fatal mistake that Romney may have made, more than one mistake over the past couple of weeks?

KURTZ: Yes, and I think what he said about nearly half the country, suggesting their freeloaders and addicted to government aid in this fund-raising video that was surreptiously (ph) recorded, I think that that's an important and legitimate news story that has been hard to the Romney campaigns to come back. But, you look at the coverage, I believe it tends to be very poll driven. And with President Obama now leading by anywhere, five, six, seven points in most of the swing states --

ASHBURN: Come on, Howie.

(CROSSTALK) ASHBURN: Yes, he's falling down in the polls. But I also think that when a campaign is falling down in the polls that they kick him, even internally, there was a story in "Politico" earlier this week that talked about the infighting in the campaign. And when people think they are going to lose an election, that's what happens. History has proven it.

KURTZ: And "Saturday Night Live" piling on as well.

BLITZER: I was struck, Howie, this little exchange -- it's just part of the interview that Fareed Zakaria had with former president Bill Clinton on this very subject. Listen to this little clip.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: If you look at the numbers, Obama is now leading in pretty much all the swing states. And if seen these polls are reasonably accurate, it could translate into an electoral landslide. Do you think that's possible?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's possible. But we still don't know who's going to vote.


BLITZER: You know, there are some journalists out there are looking at the numbers, here's the question, Howie. In the full interview with the president is going to be on "Fareed Zakaria GPS" Sunday. But the question is, are we overly driven by these poll number, especially in these swing states?

KURTZ: Wolf, journalists are addicted, obsessed with poll numbers and tend to forget that poll numbers can fluctuate very quickly. We're 45, 46 days out. We have three debates coming up. Mitt Romney, for all of his problems, and, yes, media piling on to a certain degree, is still within strike distance against an incumbent president. And we are going to look silly if come mid October this race is even or, you know, or Romney takes the lead.

ASHBURN: Just like it was with Reagan and Carter, right up until the very end.

BLITZER: In the end, it did not worked out so well because the incumbent president at that time.

So, what I hear you say, Lauren, and I think Howie you agree, and agree as well, is there are still three presidential debate, one vice presidential debate. The Republicans have a ton of money. The polls go up and go down. There's still an opportunity for Mitt Romney to come back, right, Lauren?

ASHBURN: I agree that there is the opportunity for Mitt Romney to come back. But the media won't leave him alone. They won't let go of what they are calling gaffes. And no one is really focusing on policy issues. I mean, that is the problem.

KURTZ: But the 47 percent is a policy issue. And you have to be able to hit major league pitching if you're a presidential candidate.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks as usual for coming in.

KURTZ: Thank you.

ASHBURN: Thank you,

BLITZER: So, here's a question was Jesus married? An ancient scrapbook of the papyrus re-ignites one of history's biggest debates.


BLITZER: An ancient scrap of papyrus is reviving an equally ancient debate, was Jesus married?

CNN's Lisa Sylvester, once again, joining us with more. What are you finding out, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Wolf, this is something that is going to keep scholars busy for quite a while. Expert who have examined it say papyrus doesn't appear to be a forgery. But there are still a lot, more test that need to be done in academic scrutiny. But nonetheless, it is adding to the intrigue, did Jesus have a wife?


SYLVESTER (voice-over): It is a fragment, a faded piece of papyrus with this phrase "Jesus said to them my wife." It was written in the ancient Egyptian Coptic language. Harvard divinity school professor Karen King did the translation.

KAREN KING, HARVARD DIVINITY SCHOOL: When I first saw this fragment, it was actually through a photograph. And I couldn't believe it. Once we finally came to the decision that it said "Jesus said to them my wife," it was really an astonishing moment. This new fragment actually has Jesus saying "my wife."

SYLVESTER: Findings are being presented on a new documentary on the Smithsonian channel, what is being called "the gospel of Jesus' wife". The fragment is an intriguing element to a question that has been debated for centuries. Was Jesus in fact married? If so, was his wife Mary Magdalene?

Early writings from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John make no records to Jesus having a wife. What we were talking about was written on a scrap of paper no bigger than this business card. And what is missing in all of this is context.

REV. TOM REESE, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Very few words are legible on it. "Jesus," "disciples," "wife." But you know, question arises immediately, is this the same Jesus they were talking about? There were a lot of Jesus' running around in the Middle East.

HELLEN MARDAGA, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF NEW TESTAMENT: Although it is authentic, it is not canonical, which means it is not inspired words of God because it's not part of the canon, not part of the 27 books of the new testament.

SYLVESTER: Where did it come from? The papyrus belongs the a private collector who wishes to remain anonymous. A preliminary examination by experts determined it looks to be consistent with the period between the second and fourth centuries. And the rest of the supposed gospel, what happened to it?

King, based on the condition says, it may have been discarded with only this piece salvaged from a garbage heap. This fragment, mysterious as it is, doesn't offer a definitive conclusion, says King.

KING: This fragment, this new piece of papyrus evidence does not prove that he was married, nor does it prove he was not married. We have the earliest reliable historical tradition is completely silent on that. So we are in the same position we were before it was found. We don't know if he was married or not.

SYLVESTER: Perhaps a phenomenal new clue, or perhaps just a scrap of ancient text.


SYLVESTER: All of this comes as the church looks at present-day issues like should priests be allowed to marry? Should women be allowed to serve as priests? And there is a lot of fascination because we know so much about the birth, the teachings and the later life of Jesus. But there are those periods in the middle that still remain a mystery, Wolf.

BLITZER: And probably will for a long time. Thanks so, so much, Lisa.

So you may have heard of replacement referees. But what about a replacement candidate?

Stay with us.


BLITZER: With so much chaos erupting out there on the campaign trail right now, you have to wonder if the candidates could ever wish they could be replaced.

Here is CNN's John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mitt Romney is trying to move his campaign forward now, move ahead after that 47 percent comment, right the ship. Barack Obama's been there too, trying to turn things around after a campaign mishap.

One solution you never really do hear from candidates, though, why not just take a break, have someone else fill in? It is what they are doing in football right now, sort of.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BERMAN (voice-over): There is something different on America's professional football fields. League officials have locked out the regular referees and instead we have replacement refs, with varying degrees of success.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pass interference on Denver.

BERMAN: OK, the situation might not be perfect. Still, it might be attractive for certain other professions these days. Take presidential candidate.

ROMNEY: I will never convince them. They should take responsibility and care for their lives.

BERMAN: After that video surfaced from the liberal magazine "Mother Jones," maybe Mitt Romney wishes he could find a replacement every now and then, maybe one with a certain flare for language.

ROMNEY: You know, it is not elegantly stated. Let me put it that way.

BERMAN: If it's elegance he wants, how about Henry Higgins from "my Fair Lady".

HENRY HIGGINS, MY FAIR LADY: The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plane.

BERMAN: That guy drips elegance. And as for connecting with the 47 percent, that was his job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once again, where does it rain?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the plane, on the plane.

BERMAN: How about a replacement for Barack Obama? Well, there was this comment about Egypt.

OBAMA: I don't think that we would consider them an ally, but we don't consider them an enemy.

BERMAN: Maybe a good fill-in might be James Taylor.

Paul Ryan? Well, replacements could include Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, or Ben Affleck. They all played Jack Ryan in the Tom Clancy movies. And according to Bob Woodward, the president gets Paul and Jack confused anyway.

And finally, a tough one. Joe Biden. How about Meryl Streep? Honestly, she can play anyone. Plus, she swears like a sailor. Not just a big deal if you're playing Joe Biden, but.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a (bleep).


BERMAN: The problem with politics, though, is no matter how good Meryl or Alec or Ben or Henry might be, there is no real way to replace a candidate. To an extent, elections are the candidate, which is why everything they say and do matters so much. There is simply no substitute - Wolf.

BLITZER: John Berman, thanks very much.

Remember, you can always follow what is going on here in the SITUATION ROOM on twitter. Just tweet me @WolfBlitzer.

And that is it for us. Thanks so much for watching. The news continues next on CNN.