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Romney Losing Ground in Ohio; Libya Questions

Aired September 26, 2012 - 18:00   ET


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Mitt Romney and the president battle for Ohio, as a new poll shows one with a clear and growing lead.

Congress demands the president answer some questions about terrorist attacks in Libya.

And nasty conditions on the high seas. We will take you inside a cruise ship packed with health concerns.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Joe Johns. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just moments ago, we saw the latest chapter in the all-out battle for Ohio. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney wrapped up campaign events in the all-important swing state where a new poll shows things are swinging the president's way.

National political correspondent Jim Acosta is following the Romney campaign.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe, Mitt Romney just got this crowd here in Toledo, Ohio, roaring by saying confidently he will be the next president of the United States, even though he woke up this morning with some more bad poll numbers in Ohio. He has been racing across this state with a new message that can be summed up as I can feel your pain, too.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Across the critical battleground state of Ohio, Mitt Romney has been a man on a mission to connect with voters.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My heart aches for the people I have seen.

ACOSTA: The message of the day was not only that he can fix the economy. It's that he can feel it.

ROMNEY: There are so many in our country that are hurting right now. I want to help them. I know what it takes to get an economy going again and creating jobs.

ACOSTA: The straight-from-the-heart appeal is echoed in a new ad that shows Romney looking directly into the camera. ROMNEY: President Obama and I both care about poor and middle- class families. The difference is my policies will make things better for them.

ACOSTA: Translation, pay no attention to the man in that hidden camera video.

ROMNEY: There are 47 percent who are with him who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims.

ACOSTA: But for Romney, when it rains it pours. His two-day Ohio bus tour under steady showers at times has had the feel of a race against time.

A stunning new poll from "The New York Times," CBS News and Quinnipiac finds Romney trailing the president by 10 points in Ohio, nine points in Florida and 12 in Pennsylvania. An ABC News/"Washington Post" poll may explain why; 54 percent said they had an unfavorable view of Romney's comments on voters who don't pay taxes.

Romney told CNN he's not worried about the numbers.

ROMNEY: We're taking our message to the people of Ohio and across the country. And polls go up and down. But, frankly, you're going to see the support that I need to become president on Election Day.

ACOSTA: But he's facing some strong economic headwinds in Ohio, where the governor, John Kasich, touted his state's recovery at a Romney event.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: I hope you all know Ohio's coming back from 48th in job creation to number four, number one in the Midwest.

ACOSTA: Joined by golf legend and Ohio native Jack Nicklaus, Romney said the president shouldn't get a mulligan or do-over when it comes to cutting the deficit.

ROMNEY: Now there's over $16 trillion in debt. If he were reelected, I can assure you it will be almost $20 trillion in debt.


ACOSTA: As for preparations for next week's debate with the president, a senior Romney adviser compared Mr. Obama to baseball great Cy Young, saying that Romney will need plenty of 'batting practice," Joe. You don't really set any expectations any higher for your opponent than that.

JOHNS: Jim Acosta in Toledo, Ohio. Thanks for that, Jim.

The Obama campaign seeing the latest polls as well. Call it a coincidence, but the president's stops there sound decidedly upbeat.

White House Brianna Keilar is following the president.


We're here in Ohio. This is the second of two events that President Obama has had in this state today just as these new poll numbers coming in. If you talk to Obama aides, yes, they wish that the election were today, but they know it's not. In talking to -- listening to one of the spokespeople for President Obama, Jen Psaki, she -- they will put horse blinders on their people if they have to do that several weeks out from the election.


KEILAR (voice-over): President Obama touched down in Ohio for the 13th time this year, a rainy, dreary day. But make no mistake, the sun is shining on the Obama campaign in this key battleground state.

Polls show the president is widening his lead over Mitt Romney in the Buckeye State. The latest CNN poll of polls shows Obama up by seven points. A week earlier, he led by five.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will win Ohio again. We will finish what we started.

KEILAR: In this state where one in eight jobs is tied to the auto industry, Obama's 2009 auto bailout plays well with voters.

OBAMA: When my opponent said we should just let Detroit go bankrupt, I said, no, I'm going to bet on America. I'm betting on American workers. I'm betting on American industry.

And today, the American auto industry has come roaring back with nearly 250,000 new jobs.


KEILAR: But perhaps the biggest plus for the president is that more Ohioans are working than they were four years ago.

Melissa Miller teaches political science at Bowling Green State University, where the president rallied supporters.

MELISSA MILLER, BOWLING GREEN STATE UNIVERSITY: Unemployment was 8.6 percent when Obama took office. It's down to 7.2 percent. So this is one of the places where Obama can really say you are better off than you were before. Having said that, the jobs numbers have stalled a bit.

KEILAR: The president is vulnerable to recent attacks by Romney that he hasn't been tough enough on China's trade practices, a claim that resonates with voters in this manufacturing state. Wednesday, Obama unveiled a new counterattack.

OBAMA: He's been talking tough on China. He says he's going to take the fight to them. It sounds better than talking about all the years he spent profiting from companies that sent our jobs to China. It feels a lot like that fox saying, you know, we need more secure chicken coops.



KEILAR: Now, President Obama also hit Mitt Romney today on those 47 percent comments that he made in that fund-raiser tape that unbeknownst to him had been taped and was released recently. He said when he comes to Ohio, he doesn't see a lot of victims, Joe. And tomorrow President Obama heads to another battleground state, Virginia.

JOHNS: This has certainly been an interesting juxtaposition we have been watching here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Brianna, the president of the United States and Mitt Romney battling it out, and not very far apart in the state of Ohio.

Thanks so much for that.

We hear it over and over. No Republicans won the White House without winning Ohio. Here to talk about this year's battle for the state is CNN senior political analyst David Gergen.

David, you look at these two men running for the White House just about 138 miles apart in the all-important state of Ohio. One thing our viewers would like to know, I think, is who needs Ohio more, the president or Mitt Romney, in this quest for the White House?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There's no question about it that Mitt Romney needs Ohio. He cannot -- it's very, very hard to see how he gets to the White House without it, Joe.

The road to the White House has always been through Ohio for Republicans. As you say, you don't win unless you get there. But what Mitt Romney has seen is the Upper Midwest, Michigan and Wisconsin, have been moving steadily toward Obama. Now Ohio goes.

And if Mitt Romney were to lose Ohio, he has to essentially run the tables on the remaining states. There are eight other battleground states. He'd have to win every one of them. And, by the way, he's behind in almost every one of them.

JOHNS: We have seen the president with what seems like a strengthening lead there in the Buckeye State.


GERGEN: It's a stunning 10 points. I couldn't believe that when I read about that.

JOHNS: Right. Yes. I know. I'm from Ohio and always skeptical about big leads because it always seems to tighten. The Romney people are actually saying their internals show it's a much closer race. What do you think? GERGEN: I imagine it is closer. I think it's closer somewhat and it's going to tighten somewhat. But if it's 10 points, that's a lot to make up in such a short time.

And the critical thing, Joe, of course, is that Mitt Romney at the moment has negative momentum. He's going backwards. It's not that Obama's moving up so much as that Mitt Romney is moving backwards.

As somebody said to me after that 47 percent, a Republican strategist after that 47 percent remark, it's bad enough when you don't like the candidate who's running for president. But it's even worse when you learn that the candidate doesn't like you.

JOHNS: Right. And I think the other thing that's kind of interesting is when you look at some of this polling, it suggests that people in Ohio are a little bit more optimistic about the economy than they were just a few weeks ago.

The flip side of that is speaking with Newt Gingrich just a little while ago, he said Mitt Romney's got a problem, that his message is muddled. Which one do you think it is? Or how much of both?

GERGEN: Oh, I think that the fact that consumer confidence is rising around the country. We see consumer spending is up. Home prices are up. Things are looking a little brighter.

You're seeing that effect everywhere in the country. But I also think it's true that the Romney campaign has had a muddled message. In Ohio, Joe, there's been something else that's been going on. It's the automobile bailout which makes a major difference in Ohio. You got a lot of suppliers as you know for the automobile industry in Ohio. And that made a big difference.

But the other thing is, frankly, the Obama team has just outplayed the Romney team. They have swamped the Romney team in advertising. The Obama team essentially has had more than twice as many ads on television in the major metropolitan markets there in Ohio. And they started early pinging Mitt Romney back in the summer while he was still coming out of his primaries and trying to get ready for the general election.

They were ready and they have pounced on him and turned him into a corporate elitist, doesn't care, and he played right into it with that 47 percent remark.

JOHNS: The story in a lot of these battleground states is that there have been demographic changes over the past 20 or 30 years. Do you think that's true in Ohio as well?

GERGEN: Right.

It remains a very predominantly white state, whiter than the rest of the country for the most part in terms of electoral sort of demographics. But the big change there, Joe, has been -- there's a growth in the minority population over the last decade of about 300,000. And about 100,000 whites have left.

So that has changed the contours. And in this last time out, President Obama won the black vote there in Ohio by 95 percent. The margin was 95 percent. And he won the Hispanic, which is the fastest- growing group minority group in Ohio, he won that going away as well.

So, yes, the demographics do matter. But I really think it's been a better campaign by the president and the automobile bailout, which they have exploited to the hilt. The president was talking about it today in Ohio in that clip we just saw.

JOHNS: CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, thanks so much. Always good to see you.

GERGEN: Thank you, Joe. It's always good to talk to you.

At 28 minutes past the hour, we will debate whether Mitt Romney can make a comeback in Ohio. We will be joined by a couple of Ohio insiders who know the levers of political power in the state.

But, next, a new demand for the president to tell Congress what went wrong in Libya.


JOHNS: Congressional Republicans are demanding more information about the attack in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three diplomatic aides.

Eight lawmakers sent a letter to President Obama calling for a briefing as soon as possible.

Joining us now to talk about the investigation is former FBI Assistant Director and CNN contributor Tom Fuentes.

Tom, I want to read you just part of this letter. Part of it says: "Decades after al Qaeda attacked our embassies in East Africa which catalyzed a series of events which led to the attacks on 9/11, it appears they executed a highly coordinated and well-planned attack against us again. Clearly, the threat from al Qaeda and affiliated groups has metastasized, yet we do not appear to be learning from the past."

Now, you were at the FBI in 1998. What do you make of that? Are we not learning the lesson from the past?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No. Frankly, I think that's ridiculous. We have learned a lot from those lessons. But there's a much different situation here in Libya than there was in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

JOHNS: How so?

FUENTES: Well, you don't have a developed government for one thing.

JOHNS: The Libyan government.

FUENTES: You have a brand-new government, the Libyan government, that doesn't have the robust law enforcement, intelligence, military forces to be able to -- they have just come into power. They're trying to deal with a few number of insurgents that are going to cause trouble no matter what.

JOHNS: Well, the people will ask, what can they do? Because frankly it was the United States Embassy we're talking about, which supposedly is United States territory, at least the inside of it.


But, internationally, the host country always provides the outer perimeter security. So if they failed to do that, then if there's enough people causing an attack, it's going to be like the Alamo. They're going to be able to overwhelm an embassy or a consulate.

JOHNS: So you need host country help.

FUENTES: You need host country and along with adequate security on your part. But definitely the host country has to keep them out of the perimeter in the first place.


Another part this letter: "It seems like a pre-9/11 mind-set treating act of war solely as a criminal matter, rather than also prioritizing the gathering of intelligence to prevent future attacks."

A pre-9/11 mind-set?

FUENTES: That's also absurd. The government, the FBI, the CIA, the military, all of the intelligence assets of the United States have completely been transformed since 9/11.

There's a much different level of cooperation and aggressive efforts overseas to try to get to the bottom of some of these plots to interrupt them before they actually happen. So there's no -- whatever pre-9/11 mind-set they're talking about, it doesn't exist now. And I can assure you that's just not true.

JOHNS: Let's talk a little bit more about the new government. What kind of problems does that pose for trying to do an investigation?

FUENTES: The problem is that the host country has to be able to provide an adequate security for the people that they allow to come in, in this case, the FBI, because we have Americans who have been killed, American facility that has been attacked. So the FBI does have investigative jurisdiction if the host country allows them to deploy the necessary number of agents and technicians to come conduct the investigation.

But it also requires that some level of security be assured. We don't know that that government -- to what level they can guarantee the safety of the investigators as they come. So that's an enormous issue.

And the other factor here to keep in mind is, here's a country where by all accounts the majority of the population are very pro-U.S. They are very grateful to the United States. But an attack like this, we have seen it in our country, we have seen it all around the world. It only takes a couple dozen people with RPGs and assault rifles and a couple of pickup trucks to cause an attack.

We saw that in Mumbai with a dozen teenagers, basically, with grenades and assault rifles. We have seen that in other attacks. So this is not some sophisticated special forces attack that occurred. It doesn't take much, frankly.

And I don't think -- I think in some ways we give them more credit for a level of sophistication and a level of coordination that may not have been there.

JOHNS: Tom Fuentes, thanks. Always good to see you.

FUENTES: Thanks, Joe.

We're following several other stories this hour, including good news for homeowners.

And Madonna explains the controversial comments she made about President Obama during a concert just nine blocks from the White House.



JOHNS: Coming up right at 6:30 Eastern, two of Ohio's top politicians join me for a heated debate, we hope, on President Obama and Governor Romney's battle for the Buckeye State.

And a little later: turning frustration into laughs when it comes to the NFL's replacement refs.


JOHNS: Happening now: A new poll shows a clear leader in Ohio. Now two of the state's top politicians debate the Buckeye State battle.

A double standard in Israel? We look into that country's nuclear program.

And we take you inside a cruise ship where inspectors found some pretty nasty conditions.

Wolf Blitzer's off today. I'm Joe Johns. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

An eye-opening new poll in Ohio has President Obama a full 10 points ahead of Mitt Romney in Ohio, 53 percent to 43 percent. It isn't quite that big in the latest CNN poll of polls, which averages four recent polls in Ohio. Doing it this way, the president is seven points ahead, 51-44 percent.

And there's a very telling number in the new Quinnipiac/CBS/"New York Times" poll -- 51 percent say President Obama would do a better job of handling the economy. Only 45 percent say Romney.

For some insight on what's going on and whether Romney can turn things around we're joined by Ohio's former governor, Ted Strickland, and Ken Blackwell, a Republican who used to be Ohio secretary of state. And thanks to you both for coming in.

Ken, I want to start out by quoting our own Peter Hamby, who interviewed a lot of Ohio Republicans today. And there's a quote in here from Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine, who used to be a member of the Senate. The question, of course, is why isn't Romney connecting. Generally when you talk to people there's a feeling that Obama hasn't done that great a job, but Romney hasn't made the sale. He still can. But he hasn't made the sale yet. What's he got to do to make the sale?

KEN BLACKWELL, FORMER OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, he has to show how he has a plan that will put more Ohioans back to work, attract more capital investment, drop utility prices by exploiting our natural resource in Ohio. And that's coal, as well as natural gas.

But more importantly, what -- what he's trying to overcome now was a strategy that was used by us in 2004. And that was that we decided to spend a lot of money defining Kerry in June and July and August. And it made it very difficult for him in September and October. That's what Team Obama has done. They've defined Mitt Romney, and they've raised the bar on him in terms of defining himself. If this is a choice election, Mitt Romney has to define the choice.

JOHNS: Ted Strickland, do you buy this idea that President Obama hasn't done that good a job? And if so, what do you account for with his, by some poll estimates, 10-point lead?

TED STRICKLAND, FORMER OHIO GOVERNOR: Well, I think he's done a good job, especially as far as Ohio is concerned. I think Ohio's economy is improving. People feel that; they recognize that. And it's due, I believe, in large part to the recovery act, which enabled Ohio not to fall ever deeper into a deep depression.

And then the auto industry is a big deal in Ohio. We believe one out of every eight jobs is related to the auto industry in Ohio. The president took action in the face of criticism. He took courageous action. He saved that industry. And if there's one issue that I think is -- is paramount in Ohio in helping Ohioans decide who they're going to vote for, one single issue, I think the auto industry and the saving of the auto industry would be at the top of that list.

JOHNS: Ken Blackwell, do you buy that? There's been so much said about the auto industry. Does it apply in Ohio the way it applies in Michigan? And is there any way Mitt Romney can get out from under that?

BLACKWELL: Oh, yes. Yes, there is. Look. Governor Strickland knows that they could have done this a much cheaper way and saved the same number of jobs through structured bankruptcy. Many of America's businesses have done this. They've preserved jobs, and they've moved forward in a much more efficient manner.

We know from Ohio that Honda, the largest auto industry -- manufacturer, is a non-union shop.

So the reality is that there has been as much done by Governor Kasich in creating a friendly tax environment, friendly investment environment, cut regulations that has helped to make businesses grow and employment drop -- unemployment drop in Ohio.

So look, there's going to be an arm-wrestling contest over who should claim credit. I think that this is going to mean that other issues will creep into the equation. And I think the president has made a fundamental mistake in taking on the Catholic Church and religious liberty across a lot of faith groups in the state.

JOHNS: Now Governor Strickland, you know what it's like to go down to defeat in Ohio. It, of course, happened to you in 2010 with John Kasich. What kinds of messages and lessons do you think the Obama campaign needs in order to win in the Buckeye State?

STRICKLAND: Well, I think people trust President Barack Obama. I don't think they trust Mitt Romney.

I mean, this is a guy who had a Swiss bank account, investments in the Cayman Islands, said he enjoyed firing people, talked about his wife's two Cadillacs. And then we saw this videotape where he really talks in the most disparaging way about 47 percent of Americans -- and many of them are veterans and retired folks and poor people who are working really hard but not making, you know, enough money to pay federal income tax.

He pays 14.1 percent in his taxes. The average Ohioan pays over 20 percent in their taxes. He still refuses to release his tax returns.

All of these things in combination, I believe, have created an accurate picture of Mitt Romney in the minds of Ohioans and Americans. And I think that's why he's not doing so well. And I don't think he's going to be able to turn this around in the next 40 or so days.

JOHNS: So the president doesn't...

BLACKWELL: On that we disagree. This president is sitting now on top of a $16 trillion debt, which is a triple-headed monster. It is a moral crisis because of the intergenerational debt that's taking place from our kids and our grandkids. It's an -- it's an economic crisis because of the anemic economic growth.

Last year, last month we only created 96,000 jobs when we need to create 225,000 just to stay afloat. And it's a national security crisis on top of other national security crises, because here China holds the largest proportion of our debt in foreign hands. And we know that they don't agree with us on human rights or basic freedoms. And we also know that their motto is a motto that has run God and faith out of the public square.

JOHNS: Ted Strickland, you sound -- you sound like the Obama campaign can just sort of coast. You don't think there's anything they need to do that they're not doing?

STRICKLAND: Oh, oh, they're doing everything. I mean, the president this year, the vice-president this year were working every day, taking our message to Ohioans.

Ken complains about 96,000 jobs being created last month? I just remind him that in the month that President Obama became president this country had lost about 750,000 jobs.

We've had 30 straight months of economic job growth. And -- and, you know, that's why the people of Ohio are feeling better.

BLACKWELL: Ted -- Ted -- Ted...


STRICKLAND: ... Ohio is real.

BLACKWELL: Ted, 23 million people out of work or underemployed in this country. We, in fact, are now facing a situation where, you know, we are going hand in -- hat in hand to countries that have put us in the crosshairs of their -- of their attacks. This is a real problem.

STRICKLAND: We've been doing that -- we've been going to China borrowing money long before President Barack Obama became president.

And you talk about the deficit? The Paul Ryan budget that Mr. Romney says is a marvelous budget won't achieve balance until 30 years from now? Romney-Ryan aren't even fiscally responsible in their plans. All they want to do...

JOHNS: Let me jump in.

STRICKLAND: ... is to go back to the Bush policies.

BLACKWELL: The debt just went up astronomically under this -- under this president. He's moving in the wrong direction.

JOHNS: All right. Thank you both. Ted Strickland, Ken Blackwell, appreciate the discussion. Thank you.

The world is focusing on Iran's nuclear program, thanks in part to Israel's attention to the issue. But what about Israel's nukes? We investigate next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) JOHNS: At the United Nations today, Iran's president complained his country is under threat because of what he calls an arms race and intimidation by nuclear weapons.

When he didn't talk about suspicions Iran is working on such weapons, CNN senior international correspondent Sara Sidner looks at something else that's usually left unsaid: suspicions that Israel already has them.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The prospect of Iran and the bomb is concern No. 1 for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His recent U.S. media blitz firmly planted the issue in the U.S. presidential election. Even a new political ad by an American interest group now running in Florida uses this Netanyahu speech as its centerpiece.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: The fact is that every day that passes Iran gets closer and closer to nuclear bombs. The world tells Israel, "Wait. There's still time."

And I say, "Wait for what? Wait until when?"

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The world needs American strength, not apologies.

SIDNER: While Netanyahu jabs at the U.S. and the rest of the world for not doing enough to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, Iran complains that the world has allowed Israel's secret nuclear program to go unchecked and unchallenged.

Anti-war activists in Israel say their nation is employing a double standard when it comes to nuclear policy, and that Israel's refusal to hold disarmament talks with its neighbors is a barrier to peace.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have something that they can't have. Israel is a country that has nuclear weapons and says no to peace initiatives. I think that might seem threatening to others.

SIDNER: Israeli political scientist Gerald Steinberg disagrees.

GERALD STEINBERG, ISRAELI POLITICAL SCIENTIST: There's no testing. There's nothing there to say this is a threat to the other countries in the region. Iran is exactly the opposite.

Israel has defined itself as an exception and is recognized around the world as an exception. It is literally a small country surrounded by enemies that can be overrun in a few hours.

SIDNER (on camera): So what are some of the contrasts between Iran and Israel's nuclear programs? Iran says its program is solely for peaceful purposes and denies trying to create a bomb. Israel will neither confirm nor deny whether it has nuclear weapons. (voice-over) Iran allows inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency but has denied the IAEA access to its Parchen (ph) military site where the agency believes Iran is developing nuclear triggers.

Israel has never allowed the IAEA to inspect its nuclear facility in the Negev Desert. That facility near a town called Dimona came under suspicion more than 25 years ago when a nuclear technician there leaked photos and inside information to "The Sunday Times." That information prompted analysts back then to estimate Israel had already amassed 200 nuclear warheads.

Iran has signed a nuclear nonproliferation treaty but has been censured for failing to curb its uranium enrichment. Israel, for its part, has refused to sign the treaty.

Israel's leaders say one of the most glaring differences between Israel and Iran on the nuclear issue is the language their leaders use.

NETANYAHU: We don't call for anyone's annihilation. We don't foster terrorism. We don't threaten to obliterate countries with nuclear weapons. But we are threatened with all these threats.

SIDNER: Iran has never threatened nuclear annihilation. In an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a measured answer when asked about the threat of a strike by Israel.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The response of Iran is quite clear. I don't even need to explain that. Any question and any nation has the right and willingly defense herself.

SIDNER: But this month a general who heads Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard's Corps took it a step further. He said if Israel attacks Iran, quote, "There will be nothing left of Israel."

The war of words is creating fear of a regional conflict. In Israel people are getting their gas masks and learning how to use them, preparing for the worst.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Tel Aviv.


JOHNS: Now, we mentioned earlier what Iran's president said at the United Nations. Tomorrow Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will get his chance when he addresses the General Assembly.

For many going on a cruise is a vacation dream come true. But at least on one cruise ship passengers need to listen up. The nasty conditions found on board coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) JOHNS: A scary report card for a Holland America cruise ship. Nasty conditions found inside. CNN's Sandra Endo is here with a list of what they found, and it's pretty gross.

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very gross, Joe, really. You know, we're used to so many restaurants having their public health inspection grade posted right there when you walk in, but it's not the same for cruise ships, where cleanliness is paramount to avoid illness. And what inspectors found on one Holland America ship was surprising.


ENDO (voice-over): These pictures show what appeared to be a pristine kitchen in January on board this Holland America cruise ship, but last month, this same ship failed a surprise inspection by the Centers for Disease Control.

CAROLYN SPENCER BROWN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CRUISECRITIC.COM: It failed and it was sloppy and there is no question that they need to do a better job with that ship.

ENDO: In a report, CDC inspectors uncovered numerous sanitation violations. Flies during food preparation in the pantry and near the buffet. Roach traps in a food cabinet. Brown residue inside the water and ice machine. Inspectors also took issue with a cook who had an uncovered goatee, another violation.

On a hundred-point scale, the ship scored a 77, but an 85 is needed to pass. Holland America said it's unacceptable, adding, "The unsatisfactory score is highly unusual and an aberration. Since 1996, Veendam has received passing scores on 32 inspections. We are confident that this will not occur again."

These surprise inspections happen twice a year. A failing grade is rare in the cruise industry. Only five ships have failed inspections since 2007.

BROWN: It's brutally important for a ship to maintain high standards. It's so important that, if a ship does fail the test and doesn't make the recommended changes, the ship may be prohibited from sailing.

ENDO: And that's because of outbreaks like the Norwalk virus that spread among passengers confined so close together on cruise ships. The CDC says many of Veendam's violations were immediately fixed within eight hours while docked in New York, and the inspectors allowed the 16-year-old ship to continue sailing.


ENDO: The CDC makes these surprise inspections on every cruise ship. And for passengers who want to know how the ships rate, the CDC has all the inspection information on their Web site at -- Joe. JOHNS: So, five since 2007, and that means this is a very rare occurrence when you get something like this. Any threat to passengers?

ENDO: It's very rare, so that's the good news for passengers. Most cruise ships they're on would be pretty clean. And luckily for passengers on board this particular ship, there were no reports of illness, so they didn't seem too affected by the conditions.

JOHNS: Sandra Endo, thanks so much for that.

For a lot of football fans, it's no laughing matter, but some people are having fun with the NFL's replacement refs.


JOHNS: OK. Here's the "Video of the Day." An amazing look at a head-on collision with a happy ending in Russia.

The video shows a tractor trailer making a sudden move, and then there you see it. The crash. The impact sends the driver of the smaller truck flying out of the windshield, but believe it or not, he walked away unharmed. Look at that. It's incredible. Wow.

Forget about lawyers, politicians or used car salesmen. The most hated professionals nowadays, maybe NFL replacement refs? Although the NFL and the referees are trying to reach a settlement.

Jeanne Moos reports that for the most part, replacements are a favorite comedy target.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Who are we going to have to kick around...

JAY LENO, HOST, NBC'S "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": These guys have blown more calls than T-Mobile. NFL refs.

MOOS: ... when the replacement refs are gone? No more "Top Ten Signs You're a Bad Ref."

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, CBS'S "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Missed last three calls because beer vendor was slow giving you change.

MOOS: Football fans on the Internet will have to find someone not wearing stripes to insult. "Three weeks ago, we worked at Foot Locker."

(on camera) Forget roughing the passer. These days, everyone's roughing the referee.

(voice-over) After the so-called failed Mary pass that had two replacement refs making opposite calls, even their hand signals were mocked on "Live with Kelly and Michael." KELLY RIPA, CO-HOST, ABC'S "LIVE WITH KELLY AND MICHAEL": It's like a Madonna show. Something like this and like that. Woo!

MOOS: "The New York Post" concocted a blind ref with a guide dog for its cover. A Lasik provider in Wisconsin offered free Lasik to the refs who officiated at the infamous Seahawks-Packers game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The referees, obviously, they had some vision issues.

MOOS: And if they couldn't see, at least they could hear the parody songs making the rounds instead of "Call Me Maybe," Minneapolis radio station KFAN introduced "Call It Maybe."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Hey I just met you. That play was crazy. What's his number? I'll call it maybe.

MOOS: And a racy rap song called "Whistle" was turned against the refs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Just bought a whistle baby, whistle baby. I'm a scab.

MOOS: They've gotten picked on like scabs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): It might take me a little longer to get every call a little wronger.

MOOS: In Green Bay, Wisconsin, the home of the Packers, who lost after the disputed call, WGBA brought in a replacement weather guy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two hundred degrees below today we're looking at. And...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out of here.

MOOS: Even President Obama piled on when a college student with a broken wrist introduced him. The president joked he was injured when fouled while playing Frisbee.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is clear replacement refs were in the game.

MOOS: Jimmy Kimmel's game was "Are You Smarter than a Replacement Ref?" They asked folks to judge the instant replay.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought both sides had their hands on the ball, as far as I could tell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are not smarter than a replacement ref. I'm sorry. You need bigger glasses, I think.

MOOS: Give her the free Lasik.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I'll call it maybe.

MOOS: ... New York.


JOHNS: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.