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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview with Robert Gibbs; Interview with Ed Gillespie

Aired October 14, 2012 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: That is not just fall in the air, that is the quickening of an election in the balance.

Today the next debate, a president looks for a do-over, a challenger looks for a repeat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After running for more than a year in which he called himself severely conservative, Mitt Romney is trying to convince you that he was severely kidding.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: This president calls his policies going forward, I call his policies forewarned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Round two, Obama versus Romney, with Obama campaign senior adviser Robert Gibbs and Romney campaign senior adviser Ed Gillespie.

Then the sunshine state leans Romney. Two influential Floridians join us, former democratic congressman Robert Wexler and the chairman of the American Conservative Union Al Cardenas.

Plus, the politics of your money with anti-tax power player Grover Norquist, Democratic strategist Bill Burton, USA Today's Washington bureau chief Susan Page and CNN national political correspondent Jim Acosta.

I'm Candy Crowley and this is State of the Union.

In the 11 days since the Denver debate, Mitt Romney has been riding the kind of wave that has eluded him since his campaign began. Polls show he is closing in on and in some cases leading President Obama in pivotal swing states, and Romney is campaigning like a candidate with the wind at his back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Now and then I see these Obama rallies and they're chanting "four more years" our cheer is four more weeks. We're getting ready for a change.

CROWLEY: The president has said he had a bad night in his first meeting with Romney and will be more aggressive in Tuesday night's debate.

Joining me, Obama campaign senior adviser Robert Gibbs. Robert, thank you for being here.

GIBBS: Thanks for having me.

CROWLEY: So what -- tell me. You've been very open about the fact - and by you, I mean the Obama team, that this will be a different president come Tuesday. How so?

GIBBS: Well, look, I think, Candy, obviously the president was disappointed in his own performance. He didn't meet his expectations.

CROWLEY: It's not true that he thought he won when he came off the stage?

GIBBS: Absolutely not. You know, and certainly his -- he knew when he walked off that stage and he also knew as he watched the tape of that debate that he has to be more energetic. I think you'll see somebody who is very passionate about the choice that our country faces, and putting that choice in front of voters. Are we going to build this economy from the middle out? Are we going to give people opportunity and make the needed investments to give them that opportunity, or are we going to do this from the top down, the perspective that the Romney campaign brings?

CROWLEY: So would you concede - and I want to show our viewers the swing state polls that are out, and you know what they say by and large. They say that in most cases in these swing states and, indeed, nationally, Mitt Romney has either closed the gap or he has now surpassed President Obama in states that the president was ahead in. Would you concede it was a pivotal debate that changed how folks looked at least at Mitt Romney?

GIBBS: Well, look, I think Mitt Romney's performance was, indeed, magical and theatrical. Magical and theatrical largely because for 90 minutes he walked away from a campaign he had been running for more than six years previous to that.

Look, Candy we always expect...

CROWLEY: But the president didn't call him on it at the time, so were you all aware of that?

GIBBS: Well, was I aware that he was going to say I don't have a $5 trillion tax plan, I don't want to cut taxes for the wealthy? I love teachers, we ought to hire more, all in contradiction to specific campaign platforms and statements that he has made in the past. I don't think anybody expected that. I'm surprised -- I think maybe only Mitt Romney understood that he was going to walk away from...

CROWLEY: But that's not an excuse, right? You guys don't use that as an excuse for the president.

GIBBS: Look, again, I think the president will be very forward- looking, will be very conscious of making sure people understand the choice in this election.

CROWLEY: Does forward-looking mean you do want him aggressive, you do want him going at Mitt Romney?

GIBBS: Candy, if you tell me what you are going to ask, I'll tell you how he is going to answer it.

CROWLEY: Oh, I'm so sorry. I was asking how, not what. GIBBS: No, no, but I think -- look, again I think - and you saw this in the vice presidential debate. There's a very clear choice in this election. There's a big difference in the way in which each of these candidates sees this economy going forward, whether, again, we're going to invest in the middle class or cut taxes on the wealthy and hope it all trickles down. We've seen that movie before, and it didn't work out so well. But I think, look, in terms of polling, sure, a couple of states in some places have gotten tighter, naturally I think so.

But I mean, look at places like poll in Ohio last night that had the president up five, which was better than he was two weeks ago in that state.

But, look, I think it's because people in Ohio and people in these battleground states understand that Mitt Romney can walk away from his positions in a 90-minute debate, but they can't walk away from the campaign and the record that he has established over the past many years.

CROWLEY: So essentially, you think the president will call him out as lying?

GIBBS: Again, I think the president will make sure people understand the choice. And certainly if Mitt Romney puts up his hands and says I don't have a $5 trillion tax cut plan, I don't have -- I don't want to can cut taxes on the very wealthy, absolutely, I think the president will walk through for voters in that room that are going to be undecided exactly what the Romney campaign wants to do and why it's bad for this country.

CROWLEY: Let me -- this was post the vice presidential debate. As you know, one of the topics discussed was Libya, the four Americans who died in Benghazi on September 11th, and this was Romney talking about what Joe Biden had to say during that debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: He is doubling down on denial. And we need to understand exactly what happened as opposed to just having people brush this aside. When the vice president of the United States directly contradicts the testimony -- sworn testimony of State Department officials, American citizens have a right to know just what's going on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Let's take this from a political point of view. The vice president said in that debate we didn't know they wanted additional security in Libya. The White House then says, well, we didn't -- by we, we mean the president and the vice president. Is that adequate for a president of the United States or the vice president of the United States to look at the deaths of these four Americans is and say, well, we didn't know they needed more security?

GIBBS: Well, Candy, obviously there's a whole bunch of stuff to unpack in this question. First and foremost, nobody wants to get to the bottom of exactly what happened more than this president and this administration.

I would say a couple of things, security requests at our embassies and consulates and our buildings throughout the world obviously go to the State Department. That's -- those are the people that should be making those decisions. That's the place where requests go.

CROWLEY: And not that anybody was saying that the president knew about it, I'm just saying that when something like this happens, isn't this about the administration?

GIBBS: Well, Mitt Romney just did say that. And I will say one thing, Candy, you started this question out by saying let's look at this from a political perspective. I think that's absolutely the wrong perspective to look at this. I think what we need to do is stop playing politics with this issue. Ambassador Stevens' own father said today this shouldn't be a political issue, this should be an issue we get to the bottom of for our investigation. We should bring those that did this to justice.

CROWLEY: But the deaths are incredibly tragic to everyone in America, and I assume you would believe also for the Romney campaign, but the question here, you know, when you look at it that they're driving at -- the Republican side is driving at why wasn't there more security, and more to the point, why was there so much bad information coming out about what happened?

GIBBS: Well, look, again, let me go back to this testimony that was given at the hearing. Those at the State Department said that the very thing that everybody has been saying at every moment in this great tragedy has been the best information that we have when we have it available. We're learning stuff each and every day about what happened, that's what an investigation is supposed to do.

Let me answer this, let's figure out what happened. But, you know what, we don't need wing-tipped cowboys OK, we don't need shoot from the hip diplomacy and when Mitt Romney first responded to what was going on in Libya, his own party called him out for insensitivity.

CROWLEY: He was responding to Egypt...

GIBBS: No, no, no. Let's be clear, he was responding to Libya. And he has done nothing but politicize this issue when what we need to do is find out what happened and do that as Americans, not as Democrats and Republicans. CROWLEY: I need just a one-word answer, which no one ever gives me when I say that, but let me try. In the end, regardless of what happened or how it happened or whether there was a riot or whether there wasn't a riot, is not any administration responsible for what happened? Is the president responsible for the U.S. part of this equation?

GIBBS: The administration is responsible, countries that provide us consulates and missions are responsible also for keeping those people safe and secure. And an investigation is what the president and the secretary of State have asked for so that we can understand directly all the things that happened and to take steps necessary to keep anyone that serves our country overseas safe from harm.

CROWLEY: Robert Gibbs, senior adviser to the Obama campaign, thanks for joining us.

GIBBS: Thanks for having me.

CROWLEY: Tuesday.

The challenge for the challenger, holding on to the momentum he gained in the first debate. Romney campaign senior adviser Ed Gillespie is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Earlier this morning, I spoke with Romney campaign senior adviser, Ed Gillespie.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Ed, thank you so much for joining us. When you are headed into this next debate, after such great reviews for the first debate, what's your goal?

GILLESPIE: Our goal is to continue letting the American people see Mitt Romney, to hear his plans to turn our country around, to see the very clear choice put before them in terms of the direction Governor Romney would take the country, by reducing taxes on the middle class, by moving us toward a balanced budget, by getting jobs going again, versus President Obama, which would be four more years like the last four years, which we just can't afford.

CROWLEY: But you know that you are going to face a president different this time. I mean, he has said it; his campaign aides have said it, that this will be in certainly in style, a president different from the one faced in early October.

How do you plan to sort of have Romney respond to a more aggressive president?

GILLESPIE: Well, the president can change his style. He can change his tactics. He can't change his record. And he can't change his policies. And that's what this election is about. You know, the fact that $4,300 drop in household incomes has occurred under his watch. That we have a stagnant economy. That 47 million Americans are on food stamps, a 15 million person increase since he took office. One in six Americans living in poverty. That's his record, and it's the result of his policies.

CROWLEY: But when you look at the vulnerabilities, which I think if you listen closely to what's going on the stump and what the surrogates are saying, you get a pretty good idea of where the other guy is going to come from, and I wanted to play you something former President Bill Clinton said recently.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I had a different reaction to that first debate than a lot of people did. I mean, I saw -- I thought, wow, here's old moderate Mitt. Where you been, boy? I missed you all these last few years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: So in typical Bill Clinton fashion, you know, sort of couching it in that great sort of Southern drawl, but this is one of the complaints. You heard the president almost immediately after the last debate say he didn't tell the truth. You know, he didn't even embrace his own tax cut. You have Mitt Romney going to the Des Moines editorial board to kind of soften up his approach to abortion. Is your tactic what it seems to be, which is to move him into the middle, looking for those swing voters?

GILLESPIE: You know, he is running on the same platform he has run on through the Republican Party primary. The country is a center- right country. They want to have less federal spending. They want to get us on a path to a balanced budget. They want free enterprise driven economy that fosters job creation, not a government-centered economy that fosters economic stagnation.

One of the things I think that people didn't understand is Mitt Romney's record as a governor of Massachusetts. Very deeply Democratic state and his ability to work across the aisle to get things done with an 85 percent Democratic legislature.

CROWLEY: Sure, but I think the point that's being made is that the governor of Massachusetts and the guy who is running -- who ran for president in the primaries sometimes seemed to be at odds with one another. I want you -- let me just play you something first, which is sort of a Romney then and now. One is from the primary, and one is from this Des Moines Register, and the subject is abortion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: In my view, if we had justices like Roberts, Alito, Thomas and Scalia, and more justices like that, they might well decide to return this issue to states, as opposed to saying it's in the federal Constitution.

Do I believe Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade? Yes, I do. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you intend to pursue any legislation specifically regarding abortion?

ROMNEY: I don't -- there's no legislation regarding -- with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: So is it or is it not a priority for Mitt Romney to pursue overturning Roe v. Wade?

GILLESPIE: Well, first of all, of course, that is -- that would be a decision by the Supreme Court. That clip was a little truncated--

CROWLEY: Well, Congress (inaudible) -- the president could do something about it.

GILLESPIE: What the governor has consistently said is he thinks Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. This is something that should be left to the elective representatives, the people through their elected representatives. That clip was cut a little bit short there, because he went on to say that he would repeal and reverse President Obama's Mexico City policy, which compels American taxpayers to pay for abortion overseas.

CROWLEY: That's something that switches with presidents. Like, the Democrats tend to reinstitute it; the Republicans tend to take it out.

GILLESPIE: It's a very important issue in terms of taxpayer funding for abortion overseas.

CROWLEY: Sure.

GILLESPIE: As well as taxpayer funding for abortion here, Candy, which is part of Obamacare, and as president, Governor Romney would repeal Obamacare too. So life is a very important issue in this election, as is the economy and as is national security. All these issues always play a very important role.

CROWLEY: But you don't see a difference between him saying, yes, I want Roe v. Wade overturned, and you can do that legislatively, if one wants. I'm adding that last part. I mean, just, you know, and him saying, I don't actually see any legislation there that would become part of my agenda. Those aren't two different tones to you about an approach to abortion?

GILLESPIE: The fact is, he is a pro-life candidate. He will be a pro-life president. And he doesn't believe that we should federally fund abortion, and he believes that Roe was wrongly decided, and that this is an issue that is best left to the American people and their elected representatives. Completely consistent throughout.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you a final question about Benghazi and ongoing investigations. Do you feel as though the Romney campaign -- Romney-Ryan -- walks a fine line here between here are the deaths -- tragic deaths of four Americans, versus putting it out there on the stump?

GILLESPIE: Vice President Biden directly contradicted the sworn testimony of the State Department in the debate the other night. That led to another round of kind of nuancing by the White House.

CROWLEY: What's the political question about this? Putting it into the political realm--

GILLESPIE: It's a national security question here, which is, you know, when -- why would the administration and the president -- the president two weeks after these attacks on September 11, which resulted in the first -- the assassination of an ambassador, for the first time in 33 years, and it was known at this point by various accounts that it was a premeditated attack -- you know, six times in the United Nations speech talked about this Youtube video and never said it was a terrorist attack.

CROWLEY: Do you think he was -- do you think he was lying? What are you -- I'm just trying to figure out what you all are saying.

(CROSSTALK)

GILLESPIE: I think there are inconsistencies here, and what we're saying is that, you know, as Americans, we deserve to know what really happened going into this attack.

CROWLEY: Ed Gillespie, senior adviser to the Romney campaign. Thanks for joining us. I'll see you Tuesday.

GILLESPIE: Thank you. Looking forward to it, Candy.

CROWLEY: Florida may once again be the deciding factor in the presidential race. The candidates have visited the state a combined 48 times and poured nearly $80 million into advertising. Who'll get the Sunshine State's coveted 29 electoral votes? The state of the race in Florida is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Of all the battle grounds this year, Florida is the mother load: 29 electoral votes. The north lines Republican, the south, heavily Democratic. In between is Florida's famed I-4 corridor, the area around the interstate that runs from Daytona Beach to Tampa Bay. It is home to most of the state's swing vote. Here is where elections are won in Florida.

For Mitt Romney a loss of the Sunshine State virtually closes the door to a presidential victory. President Obama won Florida in 2008 and is fighting to keep it in his column.

CNN's average of three polls taken after the first presidential debate found Romney leading Obama 49 to 46 percent.

Two prominent Floridians, Republican Al Cardenas and Democrat Robert Wexler on the battle for their state next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining us me now, former Florida Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler, he is now president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, and American Conservative Union chairman Al Cardenas, he is the former head of the Florida Republican Party. So two guys that are pretty steeped in Florida politics.

We're now seeing post-election. I think our CNN's poll of polls had a three-point edge, actually, at this point for former Governor Romney. What decides this election, or is it multi-determined?

ROBERT WEXLER, (D) FORMER FLORIDA CONGRESSMAN: It is multi- determined. And one thing you can bank on, the Florida election will be close on election night, where I think...

CROWLEY: Agreement?

AL CARDENAS, (R) AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION CHAIRMAN: Maybe. Maybe. I think -- I think it all depends on these next two debates. It's fair to say that I think, you know, Governor Romney has a three- point lead in some polls. Mason Dixon had him with a seven-point lead. I think it's in the three, four point range. But this election could maybe not be close.

CROWLEY: Do you sense it moving away from -- clearly, Al senses it moving away from the president in Florida. Do you sense that?

WEXLER: No, not at all. The Obama team has registered more voters in Florida than we ever dreamed to do. We've got more than 100 offices on the ground, but most importantly, the economic facts in Florida -- Florida went through a very difficult time. 220,000 new jobs in Florida in the last 31 months. President supports a robust space program. The differences on Medicare, the fact that Governor Romney supports what in essence is a voucher for Florida seniors will make a big difference, and the immigration issue. The bold steps that President Obama has taken.

CROWLEY: And yet, Mitt Romney is pretty -- I mean, if you took all of those issues and say that's what's going to decide it, you would think, oh, then President Obama should be somebody put ahead, and he is not.

CARDENAS: Here's why they're in real trouble. And they're in real trouble beyond the polling numbers. They're in real trouble also in terms of intensity. The 18 and 29-year-old vote, which was decisive for him in 2008. The intensity factor is down 25 percent. And in Florida it's even higher because of the unemployment rate amongst our young people.

The seniors where he did pretty well in '08, he is now losing the senior vote because of the Medicare issue. And our success in letting folks know that they're taking $716 billion away from their Medicare plan.

CROWLEY; Let me just put -- I want to put a poll up there because this was specifically on Medicare and Floridians. Which candidate would do a better job handling Medicare? And this is likely voters. Obama 50 percent, Romney 42 percent.

CARDENAS: Well, that has changed a lot since the debate. I think that the first two debates...

CROWLEY: This is post-debate, I should say.

CARDENAS: The first two debates with Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney, the numbers that I have, have shown a significant movement in the senior vote, but we're also, you know -- look, since 1952, Dwight Eisenhower, there have been 15 presidential elections. Democrats have won four.

And each one of those four, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, and Obama, have been won by people who eventually won the election. In Florida he is behind. I mean, Obama. If he is behind in Florida, according to Florida history, he is not going to win the general election.

WEXLER: Let's get this straight on Medicare. The $700 billion- plus that Al and other Republicans speak about coming out of Medicare, just so all of Florida seniors know, that's coming out of insurance companies and providers who are charging too much.

CROWLEY: Providers are -- OK, but let me just -- and I don't want to get into the weeds on these numbers because nobody ever comes to any kind of agreement on it, but a provider is a doctor, and what we know is that those folks on Medicare have to struggle sometimes to find a doctor who will accept Medicare.

So if cut those payments further for providers, that's a problem, is it not?

CARDENAS: Forty percent of the doctors and hospitals in Florida have said they will not take Medicare patients in the event that Obama's cuts come into effect.

WEXLER: The financial security of Medicare under President Obama's watch has been extended eight years. That's an enormously important factor for Florida seniors. And when we get into other issues which benefit President Obama, from immigration to choice for women.

And even today, Candy, as we speak here, 1,500 American uniform military personnel are in Israel or on their way to Israel to engage in the largest joint military exercise between the United States and Israel.

And this will, amongst many other things, in a very pro-Israel community in Florida, which there is, highlight President Obama's excellent record.

CROWLEY: And yet, we do see post-debate that there was some falling off inside Florida when you look inside the poll numbers with Hispanic vote. That, in fact, there was -- it was -- we didn't see it so much rushing toward Romney as falling away from the president.

CARDENAS: Right. And, you know, the rhetoric on immigration is beginning to come around to help us. Look, people want a solution...

CROWLEY: How so?

CARDENAS: Well, people want a solution on immigration. The only candidate who said he is going to find a bipartisan solution is Mitt Romney. It's like Nixon...

CROWLEY: But the president said he would tackle immigration reform.

CARDENAS: It's like Nixon going to China. It's like Nixon going to China. The only party that can get immigration reform permanently done in the United States is Romney's party. And he said he would.

Now, President Obama has had four years. He has broken all his promises to Hispanics. How do you trust a person to do what he hasn't done in four years?

WEXLER: The most extreme position that Governor Romney took in the primary may, in fact, have been immigration. He was to the right of Newt Gingrich. He slammed Newt Gingrich. He slammed Governor Perry for being too accommodating to new immigrants and people who...

CROWLEY: By offering in-state tuition and other things.

WEXLER: Exactly, that's right. Governor Romney cannot run from his very harsh position on immigration, a position that is quite anti the interest of Latinos in Florida.

CROWLEY: And in fact, the numbers are overwhelming for the president still.

CARDENAS: No one has been hurt in America by this president's economic policies more than Hispanics, 15 percent unemployment, almost 50 percent of college graduates of Hispanic origin can't get a job.

Jobs and the economy are the number one issue for Hispanics. And, frankly, they don't want four more years of this.

CROWLEY: But would you concede that in the Hispanic community, Latino community, that there is a feeling that Republicans are very harsh in their approach to immigration, and that that hurts the Republican Party? Do you concede that?

CARDENAS: I think politics, frankly, between you and I, I think Democrats have done a lot better job on outreach than the Republicans have. This will be the last election that a Republican will win the presidency unless, generically speaking, the party does a better job with Hispanics.

CROWLEY: But he can't win in Florida without...

CARDENAS: But Mitt Romney is doing a great job. Mitt Romney has gotten over 40 percent of Hispanic vote in Florida. That's plenty to win the state. He will hold on to that, and there will be a critical -- it will be a critical component to his win. I think he is beginning to improve with Hispanics, and for that reason, the economy.

CROWLEY: And, still, the president will win the overwhelming number of votes probably nationwide, and certainly in Florida, with Latino votes.

Let me just ask you one last quick question. There's a Senate race going on, the Republican, Connie Mack, the Democrat, the seated senator, Bill Nelson. It looks as though at the moment that Mack, the challenger, is going to get crushed. If the Republican gets crushed in the Senate race, how does that affect the presidential race?

WEXLER: It affects it very well for President Obama and all of the Democrats on the ticket. Senator Nelson is a known quantity in Florida. He has served both at the state level and the federal level. He has done so in a very admirable way. He is a decent man. He and his wife are...

CROWLEY: You think it will help President Obama as well.

WEXLER: ... household figures in the nicest of ways. They are both old Florida and new Florida.

CROWLEY: You've got 10 seconds. Is it going to hurt Mitt Romney?

CARDENAS: Look, two-thirds of the state legislature is Republican, 80 percent of the congressional group is Republican. Connie Mack is coming back. He is within 5 points. Bill Nelson has never gotten to a 50 percent threshold. There's still a race to get.

CROWLEY: I've got to go. Al Cardenas, Robert Wexler, thank you both so much.

WEXLER: Thank you.

CROWLEY: President Obama and Mitt Romney are both making big promises about taxes. Can Uncle Sam afford either candidate's plans? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Time for a check of today's top political headlines, a new poll shows a tight race for the White House in Arizona. According to a Rocky Mountain poll of likely voters, President Obama has a 44 to 42 percent edge over Mitt Romney, and that's within the survey's margin of error.

Only one democrat has won Arizona in the past 60 years, and that was Bill Clinton in 1996.

The Romney campaign has a new ad out today featuring Joe Biden laughing as his Republican challenger, Congressman Paul Ryan, talks about the struggling economy. The contrasting footage was from last Thursday's vice-presidential debate.

A CNN/ORC poll taken after the two men squared off showed voters who watched narrowly favored Ryan over Biden.

A dangerous and daring effort to break a sound barrier. Today skydiver Felix Baumgartner is making his second attempt to jump from the edge of space. His leap from a balloon will be about 120,000 feet. If successful, he will be the first person to break the sound barrier without a vehicle.

And those are your top stories. Up next our political panel on Obama, Romney, and the candidate's plans for your money.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN; It's with time they take some responsibility here, and instead of signing pledges to Grover Norquist not to ask the wealthiest among us to bring back the middle class, they should be signing a pledge saying to the middle class, we're going to level the playing field.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Joining us me for our roundtable Bill Burton, senior strategist with the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA action, USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page, CNN national political correspondent Jim Acosta and the aforementioned Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

I imagine you saw the debate?

GROVER NORQUIST, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: I did get a chance to see it.

CROWLEY: So let me just get your -- everybody's take on the vice presidential debate. We have polls that show nominally people thought Romney -- Ryan won, sorry.

NORQUIST: The Al Gore imitation, the laughing and the smirking and acting like a 14-year-old while on camera, he was supposed to be the adult. He was supposed to wipe the floor with the guy 20 years younger than him. And I thought it was rude, abusive, and it didn't make the points he wanted to. Ryan got to make the points and it showed up when you look at the polls.

CROWLEY: Let me go to Bill for the counter and then get...

BILL BURTON, PRIORITIES USA: Well, I mean, the theatrical criticism of how Joe Biden responded to Paul Ryan's laughable performance in that debate, I think doesn't get to the substance, which was that...

CROWLEY: Would you rather he laughed less some.

BURTON: No. I think that for most Americans when they heard Paul Ryan say things like American troops should do the job that Afghan troops should do, I think people were throwing things at their television not just laugh and throwing their hands up at what Paul Ryan was saying. On the substance I think you can get a pretty good sense of how Republicans think that Joe Biden did if their main critique is his face gestures and how he moved his hands.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: You know, I think Joe Biden did what Democrats need him to do, which was to stop the hand-wringing over the disappointing job that President Obama had done the week before, but in the end I don't think this debate really matters. The debate that matters is the one that's coming up Tuesday, and what President Obama do we see there? Do we see one that's more energize and more willing to push back against the points that the presidential candidate Mitt Romney is making?

CROWLEY: And let me bring you back to one of the points that we know the president is going to push back on and it's -- it's kind of what a lot of people see as a change in Mitt Romney over the course of the past month or so. This is something he has said on September 26th and it's about tax cuts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: By the way, don't be expecting a huge cut in taxes because I'm also going to lower deductions and exemptions, but by bringing rates down, we'll be able to let small businesses keep more of their money so they can hire more people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Now, without going into the weeds of the money and the $5 trillion and this and that, do you -- I mean, you're the master of the tax pledge and no new taxes, does that fit your bill? By the way, I'm not actually promising you a tax cut it might just come out even.

NORQUIST: Yeah, and the only confusion is people don't understand...

CROWLEY: It's fine with you, sorry.

NORQUIST: Yeah, look, he wants to reduce marginal tax rates across the board for all Americans 20 percent, which is what Reagan did, which is what John F. Kennedy did. He also wants to do what Reagan did in '86, which is to have it end towards revenue neutrality both with economic growth, job creation as Reagan and Kennedy gave you, and eliminating some unnecessary deductions and credits, all the Solyndra tax credits that have funneled money to the administration's friends not helped the economy, let's get rid of those kind of corrupt deductions and credits and raise some money at the same time. But net, it's going to be a revenue-neutral at worst or a tax cut.

CROWLEY: Part of what happened in the first debate, I think, and this will run back into the tax issue, is that people saw Mitt Romney and someone thought, oh, he is not this scary person we've seen in the ads. He we think he seemed reasonable. He seemed like he knew his stuff. I mean, it wasn't just that the president seemed to have done badly, it was that Mitt Romney seemed to have done himself some good.

So, how is the president taking this tax issue and move it forward on Tuesday?

BURTON: Well, on taxes I think that Romney is actually a lot closer to George W. Bush than to Ronald Reagan. In comparison, when you consider Ronald Reagan was actually willing to raise taxes and the spike in growth that you saw in the 1980s came after a big tax hike. What Mitt Romney is saying is, no, we can't make the wealthy pay more of their fair share, what we have to do is just cut taxes for everybody, cut tacks for corporations and by doing that, by making sure that the people at the very top do better, somehow that will trickle down.

What we know is that doesn't work.

CROWLEY: Jim, on the campaign trail are you hearing a lot of chatter as well about the moderate Mitt? We've heard Bill Clinton took him on saying, oh, the moderate Mitt is back, oh -- it sort of comes off the president's post-debate thing about he is lying. That's not what he said. He has completely changed.

A, has he completely changed, or have they, what we call putting emphasis on a different syllable?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I put this question to a senior Romney adviser, and he put it, and pushed back on the notion that the governor is moving back to the middle, he said that the governor is talking about bipartisanship more now that he has this big audience through all these debates and that may strike the Obama campaign as being wishy-washy or moving to the middle, but the Romney campaign says, no, this is what he did when he was Mitt Romney did when he was governor of Massachusetts. He governed as a conservative. Now, a lot of people may say that's not true, but he did work with a Democratic legislature in Massachusetts, and they say that is one of the strong telling points heading into the rest of this campaign.

But as for the issue of tax cuts, I mean, I think one thing that has not been answered by the Romney campaign and not by Paul Ryan at that debate the other night is how they pay for these tax cuts. Mitt Romney has been given this opportunity on a number of occasions, he just won't specify. He talks about these deductions in loopholes that will be closed or eliminated, but there aren't any specifics as to how to pay for those tax cuts.

CROWLEY: And in fact, isn't there - and I want you to take that on because isn't there some kind of mathematical formula that if you close all those loopholes, just close them all, you still can't pay for that kind of 20 percent tax hike? Is that not true?

NORQUIST: Well, most important thing -- you could always do something along those lines, but the most important thing is economic growth. If our economy had grown since the bottom of this recession as Reagan's did, we would have ten million more Americans at work today than we do. Reagan had a pro-growth, low tax rate, spend less not more and deregulate approach. Obama did the opposite. We've seen the worst recovery since World War II.

So, the most important thing you can do to bring in revenue to the government is to have more people working, that's why the lower tax rates bring in more money, not by posting every single deduction or credit, that's how the Democrats would want to do it, but by having more growth and more jobs.

CROWLEY: So bottom line, Bill, as they're saying you close some of the loopholes and the rest will be made up loopholes and the rest will be made up in growth and the economy and in creates - therefore more people will be working, therefore more people will be paying taxes and you're done paying for the $5 trillion.

BURTON: Right, except for the fact that no credible economist says that is actually possible without magic or some wizardry, or something that...

NORQUIST: Reagan did it, Kennedy did it, they weren't magic.

ACOSTA: The deficit exploded under Ronald Reagan.

BURTON: And keep in mind that the growth over the course of the Reagan presidency was only about 3.4 percent, which is only slightly better than it was the previous eight years before that.

What Mitt Romney is talking about is instituting a tax cut plan, which would actually force taxes in the middle class to go up. One of the studies that Mitt Romney cites by Feldstein says that actually if you raise taxes for folks in the $100,000 to $200,000 bracket, you could pay for this whole tax plan. It doesn't make sense...

NORQUIST: There has been a change in tax policy, stated tax policy, and that's Obama's. Four years ago, he said he would not allow any tax increase on anyone who earned less than $250,000 ever. That was the promise. Now he's broken it about 20 times with a series of tax increases.

CROWLEY: ...health care and places like that.

NORQUIST: In health care, yes.

But he's changed his position. August 8 junction -- Grand Junction, Colorado, and six times since he said my plan is I won't raise your income taxes in the next year if you earn less than $250,000. He said this enough times that it's a big signal. What is it, he's promising not to raise your income taxes, a value-added tax, excise taxes, other things.

Two, the promise is good for 2013. In 2014, this president of the United States has promised nobody that he won't raise their taxes. There's a reason he's opening that door.

CROWLEY: Susan, how - we all know this election is about the economy, but that encompasses so much. Is this tax issue, what's going happen to your taxes, is that playing large? Is that playing small? What is that, is that a driver of votes?

PAGE: You know, the bigger issue I think is jobs. Who is going to create jobs than the specific issue of taxes. Taxes always a powerful issue with people.

I think President Obama, you know, will try to push back against the Mitt Romney plan. He'd be in a better position if he was presenting more details about his own proposals, what plan he would have moving forward on tax reform, on job creation, on the economy, maybe we'll hear more of that.

CROWLEY: Jim, when you look at Mitt Romney on the stump now as opposed to Mitt Romney, I think we've said it sort of in the beginning he seems to have at this moment the momentum that has eluded him through much, much of this.

ACOSTA: That's right.

CROWLEY: Is there is change in him? Is there, do you feel it at all or is this just debate-driven?

ACOSTA: Candy, when Mitt Romney came to the back of his campaign plane the other day and handed out quarter-pounders to the press corps, that seemed to give us a sign that, yes, he's feeling better about this campaign these days. And you do see that on the campaign trail. And I think one of the other things to note here, Candy, is that he has always run a very disciplined campaign. He's not always a disciplined candidate, things pop out of his mouth that make his advisers go crazy, but all of that discipline I think is paying dividends now in the final stretch of this campaign.

He's been going into intense debate prep. A lot people are said, hey, wait a minute, why are you doing that more than being out on the campaign trail. It's starting to pay off in this final stretch.

CROWLEY: Right. And he's going to face a different President Obama I think as we know

I've got to end it there. Bill Burton and you -- I looked at you and thought, Susan Page - Jim, and thank you so much, Governor Norquist for being with us.

ACOSTA: Good luck on Tuesday.

CROWLEY: Thank you.

Up next, advice for the moderator of the next debate.

(LAUGHTER

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: And, finally this Sunday, a look ahead to the second presidential debate this Tuesday, a town hall-style face-off where questions will come from undecided voters. We wanted to know what our intrepid CNNers would ask or if they had any advice for me before the showdown.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I notice in the debates that when the candidates are asked a certain question about a certain topic, they sometimes stray off it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really hold candidates' feet to the fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Say, hey, wait a minute, this was my question five minutes ago, you didn't answer it. Can you answer this question.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Candy, you can see I'm at the airport in Kentucky coming from the vice presidential debate. And my advice to you having been in the hall, wear warm clothes. It's freezing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My advice to anyone who might moderate a debate, don't forget it will be a full body shot, so be sure to wear some shoes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like to hear the candidates ask, no kidding, what is the best thing you can say about the opposition party, because I think they wouldn't have a word to say.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I probably would ask something along the lines, what's been the happiest moment of your life and what's been the saddest moment of your life.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Candy, I'd really appreciate it if you would ask both of these fine gentlemen if they could stop by my office win or lose after the election to help clean up all the clutter we get during the campaign. I mean, I have my Romney flip-flops here. They've been taking space in the office. To be fair, to be fair, there's an Obama set as well.

We have Chia Obama and we have Chia Romney.

We still have the relics and the clutter of four years ago.

So ask, but I'm not expecting the right answer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please ask about campaign finance. Isn't that the root to all of our problems? Obviously the most important question that any moderator should ask is what was your pregame meal.

Come on, get to the marijuana question.

All right, listen, I know Candy Crowley is moderating this debate and I would tell Candy to meditate to get ready. It's very stressful, but I already know that Candy meditates and now I'm doing it because she told me to. So meditate, Candy. You're going to be fantastic, we all know.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Thanks to my colleagues for the tips.

Check out the debate live from Hofstra University this Tuesday. Our coverage starts here on at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. And you can send me questions about the debate. Go to cnnireport.com/crowley to submit your questions now. Thanks you so much for watching "State of the Union." If you missed any part of today's show, find us on iTunes. Just search "State of the Union."

Fareed Zakaria GPS is next for our viewers here in the United States.