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Presidential Candidates Set to Debate; Interview with Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; Low Expectations, Big Opportunity; Obama Wanted Criminal Trial for Bin Laden; Turkey Retaliates for Syrian Mortar Strike; Explosion Hits Square in Aleppo, Syria; Burglar Steals Last Photo of Aurora Victim; 84-Year-Old Rescued from Sinking Car; Tonight's Key Questions; Candidates' Wives Step Up

Aired October 3, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: We're counting down to tonight's presidential debate. Mitt Romney's motorcade just pulled up at the debate hall. President Obama's expected to arrive in Denver any minute as well.

We will be talking with top supporters of each candidate. The former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani, he will join us live this hour. Also, we will be hearing from both candidates' wives in special CNN interviews. Today, by the way, is the Obamas' 20th wedding anniversary. So what's it like spending the night with the Romneys?

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

We're 34 days from the presidential election, but much more importantly at least right now we have reached what may be the most decisive night of the 2012 campaign, the first presidential debate at the University of Denver.

After weeks of downplaying expectations, Mitt Romney's campaign insiders are finally opening up about what they really think can be accomplished tonight.

CNN's national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is in Denver getting ready to set the scene -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Romney campaign sees the polls moving in their directions. One of the top priorities tonight is to maintain what they call that trajectory. The Romney campaign also says the GOP nominee will not be looking to score a knockout tonight, but will instead zero in on the president's handling of the economy.

You can say that the Romney game plan for tonight can be boiled down into two key phrases. Do no harm and live to fight another day.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Just a few hours before one of the most important nights of his political life, Mitt Romney walked through the debate site in Denver prepped for his first one-on-one face-off with the president. Campaign officials tell CNN Romney's game plan tonight is to provide a clear choice, talk about his plan to create jobs and contrast that with the president's performance on the economy. And in a sign of caution, the campaign says Romney won't be looking for a knockout punch.

One of Romney's top surrogates, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, says that's the right approach.

(on camera): Does Mitt Romney need to score a knockout punch?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I don't know. This is not an athletic competition. This is a debate between two men, one that is president and wants to stay there and one that wants to offer a new direction. It's about domestic issues and I'm excited about that.

ACOSTA: But all day long, the Romney campaign has signalled it will go after what it sees as another gaffe from Vice President Joe Biden at a rally in Charlotte.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is deadly earnest. How they can justify, how they can justify raising taxes on the middle class that's been buried the last four years.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the richest country in the history of the world, this Obama economy has crushed the middle class.

ACOSTA: Romney's ad team quickly seized on the remarks churning out a Web video. At an event on Romney's behalf in Denver, Rubio piled on.

RUBIO: Those happen to be the words of the distinguished vice president of the United States, Mr. Joe Biden.


RUBIO: No, don't boo. He's the best thing we got going, guys. Don't boo, because in a moment of clarity, in a brief moment of clarity, he just told us what we already knew.

ACOSTA: Romney's aides say they expect the president to call on the GOP nominee to offer specifics.

ROMNEY: We're going to limit deductions.

ACOSTA: But in an interview with a Denver TV station, Romney began to do just that.

ROMNEY: Well, you could do something -- for instance, as an option, you could say everybody's going to get up to a $17,000 deduction. And you can use your charitable deduction or your home mortgage deduction or others, health care deduction, and you can fill that bucket, if you have a $17,000 bucket that way and higher income people might have a lower number.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: As for all of that talk about zingers, the Romney campaign officials did not exactly say they have a few one-liners ready to go for tonight. But they did say it won't be difficult to challenge the president's record on the economy.

Translation, Wolf, we will have to wait for tonight.

BLITZER: The first time really he's spelling out some of those potential deductions, Jim, that he has as far as a tax plan. He hasn't really given us a lot of detail. Are we expecting more details, which deductions, loopholes, exemptions might go away as he tries to lower taxes across the board?

ACOSTA: Well, as you know, Wolf, for months now, he's been pressed for those specifics not only by the Obama campaign, but by reporters, and he just hasn't offered those specifics as to how he would exactly pay for his tax plan with limiting those deductions.

But that comment that he made in that interview to that local TV station here in Denver's about as close as he's come. Romney campaign officials who I spoke with earlier today on a conference call did say they expect that question to come. So it's possible he will get into that tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see if he does get into some more specifics. A lot of people including plenty Republicans have been asking him to do that. Jim Acosta's in Denver.

President Obama's expected to land in Denver this hour. And his campaign's still trying to spin some pre-debate expectations. But a new memo shows how the president intends to go after Mitt Romney.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is watching the president. She's in Denver as well.

What's going on from your vantage point, Jessica?


You know, this is a tricky balancing act for a sitting president, but the campaign has already signaled that the president will not be shy about getting aggressive when it comes to one thing, pressing for details.


YELLIN (voice-over): The Obama campaign's latest expectations game, questioning whether Romney will share enough specifics about his policy proposals.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA 2012 DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: His details have been lacking throughout the course of the Romney campaign.

YELLIN: And preparing voters for the president to use every opportunity to press for them. (on camera): The Romney camp has made clear they plan to fact-check the president during the debate. That's what Mitt Romney plans to do. How does the president counter that?

CUTTER: You know, if Mitt Romney attacks the president and challenges him on the facts, I think you can expect the president to lay out some of the facts of his own policies, but also Mitt Romney's policies.

YELLIN (voice-over): In a memo released the morning of the debate, the campaign spelled out five areas the president could call for more details tonight on Romney's plans for balancing the budget, small business growth, energy independence, improving schools and new trade agreements.


YELLIN: Wolf, we all know that likability in the end sometimes matters on these nights a lot more than even the details -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, what's the Obama campaign saying about what Jim Acosta just reported, that Romney finally is giving some details as far as potential deductions that he would curtail? What are they saying about that?

YELLIN: They're already pushing back against that new revealed detail saying that that doesn't even help the middle class, that it could even mean a tax increase for the middle class.

In a blog post on what they call their truth-telling Web site, they say that it would raise taxes for millions of middle-class families. And it says in part, but here's the problem. Many families deduct more than $17,000 now. They say even on health care, there's more than a $15,000 deduction. And then they go through more deductions. They say this could mean a tax increase for some families.

Wouldn't be surprised if that one comes up tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I think it probably almost certainly I should say will.

You also interviewed the first lady, Michelle Obama. What did she tell you about what it's like for her out there on the campaign trail?

YELLIN: You know, I asked her about Ann Romney's claim when Ann Romney pressed back about her own husband's critics and Ann Romney has said that campaigning is hard. I said, does she share that sentiment? Here was Mrs. Obama's response.


YELLIN: Ann Romney recently said about the critics of her husband -- to her husband's critics that running for president is hard. Do you sympathize with that?

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: You know, the campaign experience is unique for everyone. Everyone comes to this and experiences it differently. For me, I really enjoy campaigning. I think Barack and I, we both get energy from it, because when you live in Washington, sometimes you get isolated from the rest of the country. And this is a time when we get out and we can remember just how decent people are.

I come across people -- I don't care what political party they come from -- they are hopeful. They're happy to see you. They're willing to listen. And it's good to be reminded of that when you get out on the campaign trail. So I get energy from it. And I always have. And I have always said that, that it's -- I never thought, you know, a few years ago that I would enjoy it this much. But I really do.

And I have had this. Then, when I can hang out with my brother, and he's a pretty good asset too out there.


YELLIN: Wolf, Mrs. Obama was in Nevada today in Reno for a campaign event and she wished her husband a happy anniversary from there. Today is their 20th wedding anniversary. She has not yet seen her husband today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But she will see him later. And a lot of people have been pointing out, I think you are the first one pointing out they will be double dating with the Romneys on their 20th wedding anniversary.

Good line, Jessica. Thanks very much.

By the way, Gloria Borger interviewed Ann Romney. We're going to show you some of that interview. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well.

The full -- both of these interviews are going to be airing later tonight during our coverage leading up to the presidential debate in Denver.

And stay with us for debate night in America. We have brought together the full resources of CNN to analyze the candidates' performances, fact-check their answers, follow the reaction of undecided voters in the host state of Colorado. Our special coverage begins right after THE SITUATION ROOM, 7:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Our new poll shows voters have very definite ideas about who they expect will win the debate tonight. We're going to ask one of Mitt Romney's top supporters, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, what his candidate needs to do.


BLITZER: Former New York City Major Rudy Giuliani certainly knows what it's like under the hot lights of a presidential debate. Four years ago, he faced off with Republicans, including Mitt Romney, for the presidential nomination.

Rudy Giuliani's joining us now from Denver. He's there. He supports Mitt Romney, obviously.

Thanks very much, Mayor, for coming in.


BLITZER: A lot of us remember some of the debates four, almost five years ago. You were involved. You were running for the Republican nomination.

I went back and checked. And there was this exchange. It was a tough exchange you had at that CNN YouTube debate back in 2007. It was in St. Petersburg, Florida. I want to play this clip.


ROMNEY: If you hear someone with a funny accent, you as a homeowner are supposed to go out there and say, I want to see your papers. Is that what they suggesting?

GIULIANI: What I'm suggesting is, if you are going to -- if you are going to take...


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You asked him a question. Let him respond and then we have got to move on.

GIULIANI: If you're going to take this holier than thou attitude that your whole approach to immigration was so...


ROMNEY: Immigration is not holier than thou, Mayor. CROSSTALK)

GIULIANI: If you're going to take this holier than thou attitude that you were perfect to immigration...

ROMNEY: I'm not perfect.

GIULIANI: ... it just so happens that you have a special immigration problem that nobody else here has. You were employing illegal immigrants. That is a pretty serious thing. They were under your nose.


BLITZER: All right. A lot of us remember that exchange. I'm sure you remember it well.

What's it like debating Mitt Romney from your perspective?

GIULIANI: Well, he's very good. He's very much up on his facts. I think tonight he's going to make a very powerful case that our economy under Barack Obama has been a disaster. The longest term unemployment we've had since the Great Depression. And I think the real question of whether he wins it or not is whether he lays out a really strong program for changing that -- you know, how being pro-business is being pro-jobs whereas President Obama's been anti-business and pro- distribution of wealth. And it's destroying our economy.

BLITZER: All right. So from your perspective, as someone who's actually gone head-to-head in these Republican debates against him, what's his biggest strength and what's his biggest weakness?

GIULIANI: His biggest strength is also his biggest weakness. He's very logical. He's very straightforward. He lays out his case in a very story, businesslike, lawyer-like way.

And I think where he's going to have to add to that is personality. You know, some emotion and some feeling or some fun like we always remember from Ronald Reagan. You know, there you go again. I'm not going to use the age issue against you. Just a little thing like that can make you human.

BLITZER: Just show a little bit more personality. I take it that's what you're saying. He's got the facts. He's got the background, the skill, but he's got to show a little bit more personality. Is that right?

GIULIANI: Yes. On the facts, on the logic, he's going to be powerful. And then the second part is the part people are waiting for, they're looking for. And I think he can accomplish it. And I think if he does, he will then win the debate in a bigger sense.

BLITZER: How did you prepare for these debates against him?

GIULIANI: Well, of course it wasn't just against him. It was against, as you remember because you moderated some, it was eight, ten people. It was like -- it was really -- part of what you saw there was everybody was fighting for time. They're not going to have that problem. They're all going to have an equal amount of time. You're not going to see as much personal interchange with people kind of breaking into each other to try to get some time.

You're prepared by hours and hours of going over the facts, going over the questions, having somebody play you, the moderator. Ask the questions they're going to ask us and kind of go over it. And could have prided yourself hopefully on anticipating everything. And if you didn't, your whole staff felt very disappointed.

BLITZER: In this particular case, the person you're debating is the president of the United States, the commander-in-chief. That's a special debate as far as the challenger is concerned because you got to show a lot of respect to the commander-in-chief.

GIULIANI: Absolutely. This has to be one where you show Barack Obama respect as the president, respect as a man that people like and admire as a good man. At the same time, you got to be able to very powerfully show that the president has not been a good president. He's a good man but he's been a bad president. Whether you're talking about the economy, whether you're talking about happened in Libya and the lack of preparation for that. So, it is a delicate road to kind of walk down. You got to make a very powerful case against him. At the same time you have to respect him.

On the other hand, just standing up there with the president of the United States being next to him, if you fight him to a draw, you'll probably win, because now you're on the same stage as the president, the same level with him. And the president has his own challenges also.

BLITZER: I'm told by some of the president's supporters some of his advisor ifs he goes after Romney, and I'm sure he will, it will be in part the flip-flops over the years. Something you're familiar with.

I'm going to play a clip. This is what you said on MSNBC about Mitt Romney, when was this? This was in December of last year.


GIULIANI: I have never seen a guy -- and I've run a lot of elections, supported a lot of people, opposed them -- never seen a guy change his positions on so many things so fast on a dime. Everything.


BLITZER: All right. So when the president goes after him as a flip- flopper, how does he respond to that charge? And you made that charge directly against him.

GIULIANI: I did. The best way to respond is to go to the president's flip-flops. You know, the promises the president made he didn't keep, he was going to close Guantanamo. He didn't close Guantanamo. He was against mandates when he debated Hillary Clinton. He then enacted the biggest mandate in the history of the country.

I mean -- so I think the best way -- what I would suggest is don't go on defense. Everybody in politics has these change positions. So you go after the president for some of those really dramatic flip-flops that he's had, you know, just like everybody else.

BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, he's in Denver helping the Romney campaign get ready for a huge night, debate night in America. Mr. Mayor, thanks for joining us.

GIULIANI: Thank you, Wolf. Take care.

BLITZER: Thank you.

GIULIANI: And just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're going to hear from the other side, Stephanie Cutter, the deputy campaign manager for Barack Obama, she's going to join us live from Denver as well. That's coming up later.

Our new poll shows voters have very definite ideas about who they expect will win tonight. Gloria Borger is standing by. She's got the numbers.


BLITZER: All right. These are live pictures the presidential motorcade arriving at the debate site, at the University of Denver. You saw the presidential limo. Maybe you did, maybe you didn't. But it's in that long, long motorcade.

Both of the candidates are going to be walking around, checking out the podium, making sure they feel comfortable. They'll be standing there for 90 minutes answering questions and debating some of the most important economic issues, domestic issues of the day in this the first presidential debate.

A brand new CNN/ORC poll by the way shows most voters expect President Obama to be tonight's big winner: 56 percent of likely voters out there think the president will do a better job in the debates. Only 32 percent say Mitt Romney will do a better job. That low number may be Mitt Romney's big opportunity though.

Let's discuss with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Are these debates, Gloria, always harder for incumbents?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it is. You look at the expectation game there first of all.

People understand that President Obama is a great speaker. They've seen him do other debates in the past. And they kind of remember them and think -- you know what? He's the sitting president. He'll do a better job.

So he's got expectations running against him.

Then the other thing for the challenger is remember, Wolf, this is really the first time that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will be at the same level. So just by showing up to a certain degree, Mitt Romney gets elevated standing on the same stage with the president. And here's another thing about the president, he has to defend his record without seeming to be defensive about it. And that's, you know, that's not an easy thing to accomplish. So he's got a big job tonight.

BLITZER: Mitt Romney's got a huge job as well. What do you expect he will try to do?

BORGER: Well, I've been talking to some senior Romney advisors this past week. And one advisor said to me there are three things, three kinds of people we need to talk to, three D's he calls it, the dissatisfied, disappointed and disenchanted with Barack Obama, number one. And that what Mitt Romney has to do is convince people that four years from now, a Mitt Romney presidency will be better for their personal lives.

They understand on the likability question of which the president beats Mitt Romney so handily, they're not about to convince all these people suddenly to turn around and say, oh, we like Mitt Romney more than we like President Obama.

What they're going to try and do is say you like him enough and he can do the job and he's better able to fix things. So he's not going to try and be Bill Clinton here, I feel your pain. But what he's going to try to do is say, I'm focused on your concerns.

BLITZER: Can a debate like tonight's debate really change the direction of this campaign?

BORGER: I think it can accelerate or decrease momentum one way or another.

And I went back and looked at 2004 for example when you had John Kerry and George Bush. In sort of late September, Bush was ahead of Kerry by about seven points. After the first debate, it was a two-point margin because John Kerry did very well. Then, George W. Bush came back and did better at the next debate. But he did narrow the gap after that first debate.

And in a race that's as closes as this, Wolf, that could make all the difference.

BLITZER: Very close in Florida and Virginia, for example, and a debate tonight could impact the undecided voters, those switchable voters right now.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: Thanks, Gloria.

BORGER: Uh-huh.

BLITZER: All right. You want to talk about the trial of the century, it could have happened if the raid in Pakistan had unfolded differently.

And a woman who came close to death in Portland, Maine's harbor can thank her lucky stars for some alert bystanders ready to help her.


BLITZER: A new book reveals if U.S. Navy SEALs had captured Osama Bin Laden, President Obama would have put him on trial in a civilian court rather than in front of a military tribunal.

"Vanity Fair's" excerpts from the new book entitled "The Finish" he says the president told him and I'm quoting now "My belief was if we captured him I would be in a pretty strong position politically here to argue that due process and rule of law would be our best weapon of al Qaeda in preventing him from appearing as a martyr."

That's a direct quote from the president in this new book. Lisa Sylvester's monitoring some of the top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Wolf. Well, Turkey has struck back at Syria after a cross-border mortar strike. The office of the Turkish prime minister says, quote, "Points in Syria have been hit by artillery fire."

A mortar strike from Syria killed five people in a Turkish town near the border. A NATO meeting to discuss the clash is underway now and it comes on the same day that three car bombs hit a popular square in Aleppo, Syria's biggest city.

At least 40 people were killed in that strike. That city has become the epicentre of the battle between rebels and the forces of President Bashar Al-Assad.

And a home burglary has left a Denver man without the last photographs taken of his 6-year-old granddaughter, a victim of the Aurora theatre shootings.

This is one picture of Veronica Mozar Sullivan, the youngest of the 12 people killed at the movie theatre in July. The "Denver Post" reports that Robert Sullivan lost four cameras in the burglary and one of those cameras contained a memory card with the last photos ever taken of Veronica. Her mother was wounded in the shooting and is still recovering.

And an 84-year-old woman is alive today because of the heroism of the bystanders in Portland, Maine. Ursula Nixon broke her leg after she crashed her car into the harbor.

Several people you see in the pictures there they jumped into the water as the car slowly sank below the surface. Nixon's family says she faces weeks of recovery, but she's grateful to her rescuers.

Looked like about five people or so there, Wolf, jumped in that water. I'm sure that water wasn't very warm either talking Portland, Maine.

BLITZER: They saved her. Good for them and good for her. Thank you.

Gloria Borger also sat down with Ann Romney. Her national exclusive interview that's coming up, but first, our unsolicited advice panel is standing by. They're going to preview some key questions you're going to want to listen for in tonight's debate.


BLITZER: Only tonight's debate moderator, Jim Lehrer, knows for sure what questions will be asked. He's getting plenty of advice. Just take a look at this snapshot.


CAROL COSTELLO, ANCHOR, CNN'S "NEWSROOM": Question today, what would you ask the candidates in tonight's debate?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the questions we know is going to be front and center each candidate whether or not the voters actually trust them in handling the economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where'd the money go? Who's got the money? Who's got my money? And what about a little health care?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two words, Obama care and Romney care.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you better off than you were three and a half years ago? Is the world safer? Do you think we're going in the right direction?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of that, Charlie, depends on the questions.


BLITZER: Let's get straight to our CNN contributor Margaret Hoover and the rest of our unsolicited advice panel -- Margaret.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks a lot, Wolf. Here we are, we've got a debate tonight. We have six 15-minute segments on the economy. Carly, we were talking before in the green room. You think your question would be about taxes. What would you ask the governor or the president?

CARLY FIORINA, FORMER CEO, HEWLETT-PACKARD: Well, first of all Governor Romney has been attacked with these ridiculous and clearly untrue ads from the Obama campaign that he's going to raise taxes on the middle class.

That's clearly false. I think Governor Romney needs to lay out what his tax plan truly is and why it's going to help everyone in America from job creators to middle class families. I think he needs to be very clear and explicit about that tonight.

VAN JONES, FORMER OBAMA SPECIAL ADVISER: Well, I mean, you say it's clearly false. I mean, there's obviously a big debate about it. As best I can tell the math doesn't work. We've gone from fuzzy math to no math in American politics.

I want to hear what he has to say, but I think the big question that neither candidate really answered is about the housing crisis. We have a third of American homes under water right now.

Romney says they should just all go into foreclosure. That seems to be a bad idea. Obama hasn't fixed it. I want to hear the bread and butter issues being talked about. I haven't heard enough about the housing crisis.

HOOVER: So what's the question?

JONES: What are you going to do about the fact that Fannie and Freddie are still over charging Americans in their homes. You got a third of homes underwater. Fannie and Freddie right now could cut the principle and you would put enough money back into the economy to create about a million jobs, but it's not happening.

ROSS DOUTHAT, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": I mean, I think that's a really good question. I think the bigger question for President Obama in particular is why hasn't the recovery lived up to your expectations, right? Because the narrative from the White House is we inherited this mess, we're heading in the right direction. That's a fair narrative. But if you look back at Obama and the White House's own projections, they've repeatedly projected better times than we've actually had.

They said unemployment wouldn't go over 8 percent. It's been stuck over 8 percent. They were predicting 3 percent or 4 percent growth. We're getting anemic 1.5 percent to 2 percent.

And I think voters need to know what's President Obama's theory of the case, you know? I mean, what's his theory of what's gone wrong? It's not enough to say we're headed in the right direction if we're going so slowly.

GOVERNOR BRIAN SCHWEITZER (D), MONTANA: So I'm Jim Lehrer and I'm going to suspend the rules and give you a bit more time, Mitt Romney.

HOOVER: You're just going to hijack --

SCHWEITZER: That's just what I think of when I think of Jim Lehrer, that kind of boldness. I'm going to give you extra time because no one's been able to explain the Ryan budget. In fact, when Ryan talked about it, well, we don't have enough time to talk about it. Take your time. Explain it to us.

FIORINA: It's a little like Nancy Pelosi saying we've got to pass it so we know what's in it, right?

HOOVER: You said this yesterday, Governor, if you get too specific, you end up compromising, selling out or showing your cards before you get into office. On the other side, we all know Paul Ryan can do the math and we all know that he can spend the whole 90 minutes talking about --

FIORINA: Of course, Paul Ryan isn't the candidate for president. Paul Ryan will get his chance.

SCHWEITZER: If you endorsed budget, please explain to us how that works.

DOUTHAT: Well, at least there's a budget.

SCHWEITZER: He was for and then against it.

DOUTHAT: So how should Romney answer? Our whole debate all this week has been your argument is he should avoid substance at all costs. So how should Romney answer Lehrer question then?

SCHWEITZER: The good news is that the rules don't allow him to speak more than a few seconds.

FIORINA: Actually, 2 minutes I think.

SCHWEITZER: So move on to the next issue, the next issue. We're looking for details. You are not going to get details tonight. HOOVER: Let's be clear, there are 15-minute segments. They each have 2 minutes to respond to the question and then Jim Lehrer's going to narrate the back and forth. There should be enough time.

JONES: One thing I want to say though is that this is going to be for a bunch of young Americans their first chance to vote. A lot of the young Americans didn't watch the conventions, they had summer vacation. Now they're going to be tuning in. What I think they should be talking about is what are they going to do for young people?

We have a jobs crisis in this country. We have kids graduating off a cliff every spring with no jobs, huge debt. And you got Romney who unfortunately when he was governor of Massachusetts actually devastated financial aid for young people trying to go to college.

College went up 65 percent, cost of college 65 percent under Romney as governor, tuition help went down. Those --

FIORINA: Well, college costs have gone up 25 percent under President Obama. What I find so interesting about all the conversation about Ryan's budget I hope that Jim Lehrer.

And all the media who are watching and commenting on this debate expect the same level of specificity from President Obama that they asked for from Governor Romney because President Obama has failed to deliver a single budget.


FIORINA: In four years, it's unbelievable actually. So forget the Ryan budget. What's the Obama budget?

DOUTHAT: After Lehrer asks your hypothetical he should play a clip of Paul Ryan in conversation with Timothy Geithner, the secretary of the treasury. They had this great back and forth where Geithner basically said, well, we know we don't like your plan.

And we don't really have a plan of our own. And that's the difficulty the president's in, right? He can attack the Ryan budget all he wants, but those kids you're talking about they're graduating with a big overhang of, you know, debt and deficits as well to pay off down the road.

FIORINA: And their unemployment levels are at historic highs among youth today.

SCHWEITZER: The problem Romney has is he says if I'm elected president I will do the following things. The problem is when he was governor he actually raised the debt to the highest level per capita at any place in America.

He increased tuition and he increased taxes. Those aren't the things he's saying on the campaign trail. That's just what he did as governor.

FIORINA: So here's the thing I would say to you, Governor. If Governor Romney's track record is relevant, then President Obama's track record is relevant. And under President Obama, the debt has gone to $16 trillion -- he has racked up under his presidency more debt in a single term than every president combined before him.

JONES: That was true with Reagan, Carter, Nixon.

FIORINA: You have to sit and deal with that track record.

HOOVER: One other issue we haven't talked about yet, one of these 15- minute segments is going to be about health care. What is the question for Mitt Romney? I think he should double down and just explain the difference between Romneycare and Obamacare. He should own it.

JONES: Good luck with that. There's no difference.

HOOVER: That's not true. For one, his was passed with a bipartisan historic majority.

JONES: And there was no difference between that proposal and what Obama did. The difference is that the Republican Party refused to cooperate.

FIORINA: Massive differences.

HOOVER: I think he has a chance to make the case that there are actually massive differences.

DOUTHAT: I think the thing Romney has to do there though is actually explain what Republicans would do about the uninsured. I think this is the big weakness in the Republican case throughout the health care debate.

They've launched all kinds of fairly effective critiques of Obama care. I'm sure we'll hear the same from Romney again. The weakness of the Republican Party on this issue has always been not the repeal part but the replace part. If Romney wants to make a real difference, he needs to actually have something --

JONES: Why do they want to repeal it? They're literally the same thing. And the Heritage Foundation -- this was a conservative --

FIORINA: They're not, Van. One has an individual mandate. One doesn't in the same form.

JONES: But the individual mandate was in fact the conservative idea that we wouldn't have this big government, we would have individual responsibility. Suddenly Republicans say, individual responsibility from Obama, no. That's socialism. We want to be the pro-moocher party. Just go into the emergency room and let the government pay for it.

FIORINA: Come on. Come on.

JONES: Obama adopting a Republican idea. DOUTHAT: In general though I think the idea that this was a Republican idea, this was an idea that a couple think tankers put forward, a few Republican politicians latched onto. It wasn't an idea that Republicans as a whole had rallied behind.

And I think you're right, Van. There's a whole in the Republican narrative. There isn't a Republican alternative. That's not the same thing as saying the president's bill is just what reasonable --

HOOVER: OK, hold that thought. We're going to get to unsolicited advice next. We're going to be back in a second. Don't go away. More next.


HOOVER: Welcome back to unsolicited advice. Here we are with a little bit more for you. I'm going to go to Governor Schweitzer first. You have some unsolicited advice for Karl Rove.

SCHWEITZER: And the American crossroads. He's been collecting hundreds of millions of dollars of dirty secret money from all over the world, corporations and private individuals.

And Mary Matalin famously said during the George H. Bush race, if you're not still supporting George H. when the ship started sinking, you're a ship jumper.

I'm saying to Karl Rove, stay on the ship. Keep all of those millions of dollars on the Romney ship. It's got a hole in the side. It's sinking into the ocean. Don't spend that money on my friend. Don't spend it against Sharon Brown.

DOUTHAT: Somewhere in this picture insincerity.

SCHWEITZER: Go to the bottom of the ocean with the dirty secret money.

FIORINA: Why is it dirty secret money when it goes to Karl Rove, but it isn't when it goes to the Obama PACs? What's the difference?

SCHWEITZER: About 100 fold.

FIORINA: So you only call it dirty secret if it's more money.

DOUTHAT: In all sincerity I agree with you. I think that this race is still sufficiently close at the national level. And we'll see what happens tonight. Obviously, it could be a game changer in one direction or another.

But I think it would be foully for groups like Karl Roves to bail out on Romney at this stage. He's down by 2.5, 3.5 percent in the polls. This is bipartisanship.

SCHWEITZER: The captain of the "Titanic," ride it down.

HOOVER: Yesterday, your unsolicited advice was for Jenny McCarthy. DOUTHAT: I'm going to go to something more serious, to my fellow conservatives. Please stop getting excited about secret maybe not so secret videos of President Obama saying things before he was elected president of the United States.

You saw this on Fox News last night. A video of President Obama giving a speech to a group of black ministers in which he engaged in some pandering, adopted stronger African-American accent. The problem is he's already been elected president.

You can't argue against Obama saying don't vote for him, he has a secret plan to destroy America. He's been president for four years. Quite seriously, you have to run against the Obama record.

You can't convince Americans that there's something more to be frightened of in an Obama second term than they already saw when he had 60 votes in the Senate.

FIORINA: I think when conservatives do that and certainly that videotape was so hyped and then there really wasn't much in it. It really takes away the credibility from the conservative argument.

What conservatives ought to be spending all of their time on is why our ideas work better to lift people out of poverty, to grow jobs to make this country stronger and better.

That's what conservatives should spend their time on. Not President Obama talking to a church, I mean, news flash.

JONES: News flash, Obama's a black guy, my God.

DOUTHAT: It's a game changer.

SCHWEITZER: And how are you going to take more credibility away from fox news? How is that possibility?

HOOVER: OK, Van Jones, what is your unsolicited advice?

JONES: I have an unsolicited piece of advice for a liberal. We can talk about the debate and have a chance to talk about it. My advice is for a fellow Democratic governor of yours, Jerry Brown. Decide which side you're on in the war against women.

We have a Democratic liberal governor who had the opportunity to extend a helping hand to domestic workers in California, New York State passed a law saying if you're a domestic worker, you're taking care of children, changing diapers, keeping elderly alive, you deserve some basic rights.

New York State did that. California overwhelmingly passed that and Jerry Brown vetoed it. Now, listen, Democrats can't get so comfortable and cozy that we've got the Latino locked up, we've got the women locked up we can then throw Latina women overwhelmingly the domestic workers under the bus.

Jerry Brown should not have vetoed that bill. It's Democrats taking advantage of the fact that right now Latinos and women don't feel they can go to the Republican Party. The sickness in the Republican Party on these issues is -- Jerry Brown should be ashamed of himself.

DOUTHAT: Don't you think that's a broader pattern in the Democratic Party?

JONES: It could be.

DOUTHAT: You have social issues a lot of places are trumping economic issues. Even in New York Andrew Cuomo maybe signed the bill you're describing, but when Cuomo wants to shore up his base, he does gay marriage.

And when he wants to move to the center, he cuts budgets and takes on unions and so on. I think this is something economic liberals should be concerned about that social liberalism is sort of the only liberalism that really matters.

FIORINA: And I'm delighted that Van brought Jerry Brown up for two reasons. One, I think Van is absolutely right. The Democratic Party does take advantage of its constituencies. I would argue it has taken advantage of Latinos for a long time.

President Obama could have put comprehensive immigration reform forward when he had the House and Senate. He failed to do so. So now he does a little dream act right before he gets elected. It's unbelievable, however, my unsolicited advice --

HOOVER: Good, we have about 30 seconds.

FIORINA: -- is for Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Harry Reid hopes to stay in majority as leader. Nancy Pelosi wants to be leader. She was on Wolf Blitzer's show yesterday. I hope they're not leaders, but you cannot govern through half truths, innuendo and half-baked charges.

Harry Reid stood in the well of the Senate and charged that Mitt Romney had not paid taxes for ten years, demonstrably false. And Nancy Pelosi yesterday on this show said when the subject of Libya came up and security in Libya came up, she threw an innuendo on the table.

She said, well, Republicans didn't give the State Department all the money they asked for. They under resource their budget by $300 million, another grenade tossed in the middle. You cannot govern through half truth and innuendo. That's what Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi seem to major on.

HOOVER: Well, there we got it. That's our panel. That's our unsolicited advice for the afternoon. Thanks very much for being with us. We look forward to the debate tonight.

BLITZER: Margaret, thanks very much.

Ahead we're going to hear from two of the top advocates for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama setting the stage for tonight's presidential debate. And Mitt Romney has no backer as passionate about his potential than his wife, ann. Just ahead in an exclusive national interview she talks to CNN's Gloria Borger about the hard road to the White house.


BLITZER: Earlier, we brought you part of Jessica Yellin's interview with the First Lady Michelle Obama. Now an exclusive national interview with Ann Romney. CNN's Gloria Borger spoke with her about the election.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You recently responded to campaign critics, you said stop it, this is hard. You want to try it? Get in the ring. You seemed really upset by that.

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: Well, you know, there's always days when you just go, you know, everyone's a critic and you just go if you really understood what you're up against when you do run for president, it's a very difficult thing.

And as you know, Gloria, I said last time I would never do this again. And that's part of the reason. I mean, it's really hard for a family member, a person that loves this person you see going through these difficulties and just know how tough it is on that person that you love.

And so for me it comes out of a compassion for Mitt and a compassion and passion for how important this election is and how important that people really figure out what they should be thinking about when they go in that voting booth.

They should be thinking about have the past four years been good? Do you expect the economy to get better under this president or do you think it's going to just go on as it has been just dribbling along?

It doesn't need to be that way. I want people to think if they vote for Mitt, they know they're going to get better economic solutions. They're going to get leadership. They're going to get someone that cares and they're going to get this country moving again.


BLITZER: And we're going to have a lot more of our interviews with Ann Romney and the First Lady Michelle Obama later tonight starting at 7 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.