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Candidates Busy Prepping For Debate; Debate Advice; Women Voters; School Girl Shot in the Head; Fungal Meningitis; Kids and Politics

Aired October 15, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, on this, the eve of round two. We have new information showing why this next presidential debate is so critical. How it could make a difference in a very, very tight race?

And as the candidates continue intensive debate rehearsals, we'll get the inside scoop on Mitt Romney's strategy from one of his advisers, the former New Hampshire governor, John Sununu.

And while the president may be huddling with his debate team, the first lady is out on the campaign trail right now. We're going to hear from Michelle Obama live this hour.

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



BLITZER: All right. With just a day away from the rematch between President Obama and Gov Mitt Romney, and our latest survey shows just how crucial the debate will be. A CNN poll of polls averaging results from seven national surveys of likely voters shows the presidential race is in a dead heat right now, 48 percent favor Romney, 47 percent favor Obama.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is here. He's taking a closer look. What do you make of these numbers? It's about as tight as could be.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's tight as can be nationally, Wolf. As we talked last week, we went through a bunch of battleground states. What's happening nationally is also happening in the key battleground state. Well, more evidence of that today.

Let's go to the state of Iowa, big Part of President Obama's victory in 2008. A brand new American research group poll out in the state of Iowa. Look at this, doesn't get any closer than that, 48 to 48. Last week, we told you Colorado was a dead heat, Nevada was a dead heat. Now, add Iowa to that list, as well. We've been closely watching Virginia, a state President Obama carried four years ago.

It's crucial to Governor Romney's math. That got closer to last week. Now, we have so many new polls, Wolf, out of Virginia. We can do a poll of polls. This is taking several brand new polls, averaging them all together. What do you get? A dead heat, a president at 48, Governor Romney at 47, you know, our poll of polls.

And now, it's also getting more interesting. As I said, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Florida, all dead heats, president or Governor Romney up a point or two, but we're beginning to see some evidence that this race could get interesting outside of the battlegrounds we've been focusing on these past many months.

Here's yet another poll out of the state Pennsylvania showing a very close race there. This has been a state that's been in the president's basket. There's no Romney campaign ads. No Romney campaigning really in the state of Pennsylvania. He went there to raise some money, but this Muhlenberg College morning call poll, 49 for the president, 45 for Governor Romney.

Now, Wolf, I want to show you why the Romney campaign is increasingly confident going into the second debate and why this debate is so important, because I just mentioned, Virginia and North Carolina, the numbers there are getting better for Governor Romney. Florida, the numbers are getting better for Governor Romney.

Even Ohio where the president still leads getting better for Governor Romney. Ohio, getting better for Gov. Romney. Colorado, and Nevada now dead heats, improvements in the last week or so for Governor Romney. Why do they like this in the Romney campaign? Because this is the 2008 map. All of those states were carried by President Obama.

Let's go back in time, 2004, all one (INAUDIBLE) by George W. Bush. Republican base for president all the way back to 2000, only Iowa among those states went democratic. So, the Romney campaign believes states that have a history of voting Republican on Election Day of presidential politics are moving his way.

They feel very good about that understanding the big debate tomorrow night could change the momentum.

BLITZER: Yes. What do you think, John? How much will this second presidential debate affect each campaign strategy of getting that magic number of 270 Electoral College votes?

KING: The stakes are enormous, Wolf, because of the timing of this. You're getting to the point where you have to make resource decisions. Should Governor Romney, for example, starts spending time and money in Pennsylvania? George W. Bush wanted to win Pennsylvania twice, never really came close.

Got sort of close, but do you take time and money and put it in there? Michigan has now become a four-point race somewhere in that ballpark. The Republicans spend money in there. Watch over the next several days, especially in the first moments after that second debate, Republican Super PACs to go in here to try to soften up the territory.

They'll also poll, as well, because the question is, with time so short, you're running late out to buy ad time even because there's so many other campaigns out there, not just the presidential race. So, will the president have to play defense in places like Pennsylvania and Michigan? Will the president decide to pull out of one of these other states?

The Republicans are increasingly feeling confident about the west. Will the president pull out or scale back to dump resources into Ohio or Florida, because they know this in the OBAMA campaign that if they can win either Ohio or Florida or if they can win both of them, they almost certainly block Governor Romney's path.

So, Wolf, after the second debate, this is a very complicated game of chess. Time is running short to spend your money and decide where to spend your money. Watch the campaign shifting ad strategy and watch for those planes to start touching down.

BLITZER: Second debate tomorrow night, and the third and final presidential debate a week from today. John, thanks very much.

And this note to our viewers, you can create your own path to 270, just go to

Both candidates have been hunkered down for intensive debate preparations. Romney has been rehearsing in his home turf in Boston. President Obama's in Williamsburg, Virginia, where his team is going all out to make sure the president is ready for a round two tomorrow night. Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is working this part of the story for us. What are you learning?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. There have been some changes to the president's debate prep this time around. He's not taking the same long public breaks each day. The moderator is now played by Anita Dunn, his former communications director who has years of experience critiquing him.


YELLIN (voice-over): President Obama on a break from study hall.



OBAMA: Good to see you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you, sir?

OBAMA: How are you doing, man?


YELLIN: This time aides say, he'll be more --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aggressive in making the case for his view of where we should go as a country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be more energetic. I think you'll see somebody who's very passionate about the choice that our country faces.

YELLIN: The president's number one goal, to make his case on the economy. Campaign manager, Jim Messina, told me after last week's debate, Vice President Biden did it successfully.

Will you talk a little bit about next week?


YELLIN: What does the president have to do?

MESSINA: On the economy, we saw a very clear difference tonight. And that's what we've got to do on Tuesday, as well.

YELLIN: And it sounds like the president's primed for the event.

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Look, Jessica, he -- he's watched the tape of the last debate. He has some strong views about what he wants to do in this next debate. And I can just tell you he's very, very eager to see Governor Romney again.

YELLIN: But a new format creates new challenges for the president. This debate, a town hall.

TAD DEVINE, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: These town hall meetings really voters expect that you're going to answer their questions. And they're not looking for, you know, a food fight between candidates.

YELLIN: Tad Devine is a debate expert for democratic candidates. He says the president can't only play offense. The model for a good answer in this setting, then Governor Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain" approach in 1992.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've been the governor of a small state for 12 years. I'll tell you how it's affected me.

YELLIN: It's a balance.

DEVINE: So, you have to have a plan that says when someone asked me a question from the public, I'm going to answer that question, I'm going to deal with them. After you've done that, you then have to look for the opening, OK, the opening to pivot against your opponent.

YELLIN: So, what is their strategy?

AXELROD: Jessica, you've got to watch the debate.


YELLIN (on-camera): (INAUDIBLE) a little bit. But the focus of the prep, selling his, quote, "vision for the future," but especially on the economy.

And pointing to what campaign sources call Governor Romney's inconsistencies, one of the challenges, though, Wolf is that for President Obama, the truth is Governor Romney really has arguably more to gain out of this format, because he is seen as so rigid and hard to relate to that if he does a good job of connecting with people in this town hall, it could go a very long way to breaking down that stereotype and proving that he can be a more relatable guy.

And that could be a bigger win for him than for President Obama just coming out with a strong debate performance.

BLITZER: And both of them are under a lot of pressure to actually release more details of what they would do over the next four years.

YELLIN: It is a huge challenge in this whole campaign. Neither man has been very clear about what their agenda would be in the second term for the president or in the first term for Governor Romney. We'll see if they'll do it. I'd be surprised if either man really gives much detail tomorrow night.

BLITZER: They waited this long. They probably will wait a little bit longer.

YELLIN: Exactly.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

All right. Jack Cafferty is also looking ahead to tomorrow night's second presidential debate. Jack's joining us now with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Tomorrow night is make or break for the president of the United States. After the dismal showing in the first debate against Mitt Romney, the consensus is the president better bring his A-game if he wants another term in office. Writing in "The Daily Beast," Obama supporter, ardent Obama supporter, Andrew Sullivan, says the president's main challenge for re-election in the final stretch is "Obama, himself." That's quote.

Sullivan suggests that Obama threw away the momentum after the first debate calling the president's performance "so lazy, so feckless, and so vain, it was almost a dare not to vote for him," unquote. Remember, this is somebody who likes him talking. But he's on to something, Sullivan is. Romney is seeing gains in both national polls and battleground states since the first debate.

Momentum has clearly shifted to his side. Romney now leads the president, 48%, 47% in CNN's poll of polls and perhaps even more telling after the months of voters finding President Obama more likable than Romney, now they're tied according to a new poll with Romney actually over 50 percent, I think, for the first time.

According to Andrew Sullivan, it's going to take a lot of quote, "intelligence, fire, and argument," unquote, for the president to turn this thing around. And it still might not be enough for Obama to just breakeven with Romney in the remaining two debates. That brings us back then to tomorrow's debate, tomorrow evening, moderated by CNNs Candy Crowley. While the president insisted the debate preparations are going great, the town hall format could make it even tougher for him to win. No teleprompter and all of that. No doubt the president will have to come out strong against Romney, but he also has to show that he can connect with the voters in the town hall and those people watching at home.

It's all a very tricky balancing act. And above all else, Mr. Obama will have to avoid the long, boring, professor-like answers that he is sometimes prone to.

Here's the question, what's the president's greatest challenge at tomorrow night's debate? Go to, post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. Our special coverage of the next presidential debate begins tomorrow night 7:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.

Just about everyone says he won round one, so why would Mitt Romney change his strategy for tomorrow night's debate. I'll ask his advisor, John Sununu.

And she risked her life defying the Taliban by attending school. Now, this Pakistani teenager is fighting for her life far from home.


BLITZER: Let's go to Boston right now where Governor Mitt Romney has been huddling with his aides getting ready for tomorrow night's debate. Joining us now, the former New Hampshire governor, John Sununu. He's a Romney adviser. Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

JOHN SUNUNU, (R) FORMER NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR: Good to be on. Thank you for having me on.

BLITZER: Thank you. How is Governor Romney preparing differently for this second presidential debate than he prepared for the first?

SUNUNU: Well, obviously, you set up the format so that he gets a chance to feel comfortable with the walk around. I don't know. Is it a walk around format or is it a sit down format?


SUNUNU: But whatever it is, they set it -- they set it up exactly the same so he gets used to the format. That's probably the biggest change. And the second biggest change is that they -- as I understand it, they're really confined to a two-minute answer. And Candy, I'm told, is going to make sure that they stay within their limits. So, it's more to the voter format.

They're answering undecided voters' questions. And it's much harder for either candidate to break out in such a format. I actually feel that this format promotes a draw, you know, both candidates do well and come out of it with a draw, and I suspect that that's what we're going to be talking about tomorrow night.

BLITZER: Mark McKinnon (ph), smart guy, you probably know him, he was a political adviser to President Bush and John McCain four years ago. He thought it would be tougher for Mitt Romney this time. He said on CNN earlier today this town hall format, he said makes it clear that Romney needs to step up his game, engage, and be empathetic. You agree with Mark?

SUNUNU: Well, I think that's incumbent of both candidates. That's what the town hall format demands. And in odd way, it may be a little tougher for the president, because he's been used to going out amongst adoring crowds only. And now, he's going to have to be talking to a neutral crowd and certainly at least part of it on a one-on-one basis.

And when you do one-on-one with 50, 60, 70 million people watching you, it's a little different than talking to a rally where you've got 2,000 adoring followers cheering you on.

BLITZER: I noticed the interview that Paul Ryan gave the "Wall Street Journal" today, and he was asked about the Romney/Ryan tax proposals and he was asked how they're going to pay for it to make sure that there isn't increase in the nation's debt as along the -- after you go ahead and reduce taxes 20 percent across the board.

He said we shouldn't be negotiating the details of tax reform in the middle of a campaign. That's Paul Ryan. But if you saw Chris Wallace yesterday on Fox News, he was making the point that they are releasing all the details of the so-called C.A.N.D.Y, the across the board tax cuts for everyone, but they're not releasing the details of the so- called spinach, which is the deduction --

SUNUNU: That's not true.

BLITZER: -- the stuff that's going to have to be eliminated.

SUNUNU: With all due respect to Chris Wallace, that's not true. What they're saying is there's a tax cut of a certain magnitude, right?


SUNUNU: Twenty tax cut, 20 percent reduction in rates across the board. That's a magnitude statement. And then, they're saying there will be an equal magnitude of reduction in the loopholes or whatever you want to call those issues. There's -- you require $360 million a year for a 20 percent reduction in tax rate.

When you look at all the things you could put on the table as loopholes, you can find about $1.3 trillion a year, about four times as much. So, you put all that stuff in a basket, you go down to Congress, and you say, we want to find $360 billion. Same number as the tax cut. We're going to sit down and negotiate with you which one of these we eliminate, which one of these we means test, and which one of these we put in a package that caps the total amount you use.

That's a negotiation that you do. And you don't tip your hand in a negotiation till you go there. Otherwise, you don't get a package. But they are revealing exactly the same thing on both sides. $360 million a year worth of tax cuts, $360 million a year worth of reduction in loopholes to pay for it.

BLITZER: Because so many people are wondering will their interest deductions from their home mortgages be eliminated? Will their charitable contributions, their deductions be eliminated? They're worried about that especially middle class families who hear that they're going to be all these reductions in loopholes and deductions -- reductions in the deductions, shall we say?

SUNUNU: Sure. And I don't blame them for being worried. But the fact is, this is going to be a decision made on a political basis. And you know, nobody's going to cut those critical deductions on the middle class. You might cap them for the very wealthy, you might limit the amount of those the very wealthy might use, but there's a whole host of things.

And when you have nearly four times as many dollars worth of those things as you need to play with, there's going to be a lot of horse trading and giving and taking, and I think the middle class is going to be very well protected by Romney/Ryan.

BLITZER: All right. Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

SUNUNU: Thank you.

BLITZER: Robert Gibbs from the Obama campaign will be standing by to join us live in the next hour. We'll presumably get a different perspective from him.

Meanwhile, a 300-year-old relationship could soon come to an end. Up next, one of the countries under Queen Elizabeth's control now wants independence.


BLITZER: Syrian regime in Damascus is denying an alarming new report. Its military forces are using cluster bombs in the deadly fighting. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What's the latest, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, human rights watch is accusing the Syrian air force of using Russian-made cluster bombs citing videos and witness accounts. The bombs are said to be particularly vicious to civilians, because they explode in mid-air scattering hundreds of smaller bombs over an area the size of a football field. Russia's foreign minister says there's no confirmation of the group's report.

And the ACLU is suing Wall Street giant, Morgan Stanley, charging that during the 2004 to 2007 housing bubble. The firm discriminated against minority homeowners by providing funding for risky subprime mortgages. The lawsuit is being filed on behalf of five Detroit residents asking that the case be certified as a class action. Morgan Stanley is denying these allegations. And Scotland could be one step closer to gaining its independence more than 300 years after it (INAUDIBLE) England to form the United Kingdom. British prime minister, David Cameron, and his Scottish counterpart signed a deal today paving the way for a yes or no vote on the measure likely to come in 2014.

A pro-independent's campaign launched in May is pushing for the vote. That is pretty big news that Scotland could become an independent country.

BLITZER: I'm sure a lot of people in Scotland talking about that for a long time, but now, they actually have a referendum, a vote, that the folks will have yay or nay as they want independents.

SYLVESTER: Yes. And it's not that far off either. We're talking 2014.


SYLVESTER: So, it could become a reality, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks.

Tomorrow's second presidential debate isn't just a different format. It also includes two, even three different audiences. We're going to explain how that could change the candidates' game plans.


BLITZER: Tomorrow night's town hall style debate is different from the one -- the one format that was used in the first presidential debate, and it poses some new challenges for both candidates. Our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, has been looking into this. Dana, what are you learning about Mitt Romney and how he's preparing differently for this debate?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, one of the main reasons Mitt Romney performed better during the first debate is the way he looked straight at the president and addressed him aggressively, especially juxtaposed with the president who did just the opposite.

Now, in the debate tomorrow night, what's most important isn't so much to zero in on the president but on the audience member asking the question and really to make a connection with that person. Have a conversation with them. And Republican sources I've been talking to say that that has been a focus of his debate prep over the past 13 days, really working hard to shed that out of touch image.

The last thing that they want is an awkward moment with a real person. You remember George H.W. Bush, that first town hall in 1992, a voter asked him a question about how the recession hit him personally. He didn't understand the question and he said so. That's exactly what they want to try to avoid.

BLITZER: There are, Dana, as you well know, some pitfalls with the stage craft of this kind of debate. Explain.

BASH: Well, there are, because there are actually two audiences in the hall, Wolf. And if the candidate doesn't know which to address, they can look uncomfortable. I spoke with the Republican debate coach, Brett O'Donnell, who worked with John McCain and George W. Bush on their town hall presidential debates, and he explained.


BASH: When you prepare for a town hall, it really gets technical in terms of where the candidate needs to focus.

BRETT O'DONNELL, DEBATE COACH: Sure, absolutely. In the presidential town hall, there's really two audiences and a third if you count the television audience. But there is the audience that's actually on the set, the 100 or so people that are surrounding the candidates, but then, what most people don't realize is there's another audience above watching that town hall debate.

And as a candidate, you've got to make sure that you play to the audience that is on the set rather than the audience that's up above watching the entire event. So, it's quite an interesting dynamic. And there have been times where candidates have lost a sense of who the audience really is, and I think it causes a disconnect.


BASH: One example of that that Brett O'Donnell gave and I've heard others as well, footage -- if you look back at the footage from the 2000 town hall, Democratic presidential candidate, Al Gore, didn't really get the difference between the audiences and maybe didn't come across as naturally as he could have.

BLITZER: He's got to be natural because, you know, there -- the third audience is obviously so much more important, with all due respect to the 100 people in the town hall format who have the opportunity to ask a question, shall we say, maybe the 1,000 guests who are invited are going to be sitting around them, there's going to be 50, 60, 70 million people who are watching on television. And you know you never know if -- do you look into the camera, do you try to just look at the person who asked you the question? These are complicated issues. They're practicing for this.

BASH: They are complicated and they are practicing. But what everybody I talked to who has worked and is currently working on this kind of stylistic format, what they say is that the key is really to focus on the person who asked the question. That the audience, those tens of millions of people watching will understand that there is a connection being made on television rather than the candidate just looking at a camera or looking at the moderator or looking off into the sunset. That is really the key.

BLITZER: And the person who is not speaking should always be sensitive to the fact that he might be on television, as well and his reaction --

BASH: No looking at his watch.

BLITZER: No, none of that. Dana, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now in our "Strategy Session", the Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons who is looking at his watch already, and our CNN contributor the Republican strategist Alex Castellanos. Alex, you've advised these candidates. How do they finesse that which camera to look at? How to be emphatic, if you will?

ALEX CASTELLANOUS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Each camera is one person. You're not talking to 70 million people at home, even though you really are. It's one person in their living room and you just turn into that camera and say, look, I know this affects you too and --

BLITZER: Look at that person, in that person's eyes.

CASTELLANOS: Through that person's eyes at home, yes, that's what you do. And if you're talking to Barack Obama, look at him. Your eye clasp is almost like shaking hands like a hand clasp. Look at them, hold it as long as you might shake their hand and make sure you establish that connection and do that whether it's Barack Obama, whether it's Candy Crowley the moderator, whether it's that person who asks you the question at the town hall. Or you're right, Wolf, the most important viewer of all, the one at home.

BLITZER: Millions of people will be watching. You know Bill Clinton, the man you once worked for, he was great at this. He could feel your pain and make everyone in that room think they were so special and in the process make people who were watching feel they were special, as well.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely. And what was so great about the answer everyone remembers when George H.W. Bush was looking at his watch, is that the woman asked a question about the deficit and what Bill Clinton understood was that the question was about the deficit, it was more about how the economic recession was affecting her. And he went into a very kind of heartfelt discussion about what the economy was doing and how being the governor of a small state he understood that. And so I think the trick for a candidate is to take that question and pivot it to a place where you know the average voter really does care what they want to hear about.

CASTELLANOS: And you know Wolf, both of these fellows should be pretty good at this by now. Mitt Romney started doing "Ask Mitt Anythings (ph)", I think he called them in the last campaign, town halls --

BLITZER: Four years ago, yes.

CASTELLANOS: Four years ago and so he's been out there doing this a while. Barack Obama did a tremendous job at the town hall format --

BLITZER: You don't get to this level of a game without being good at town hall meetings -- CASTELLANOS: If both of these men are very good at this format, which I think we'll see, this may actually turn into a debate that turns on substance. Who knew?

BLITZER: Because some people have suggested Mitt Romney might not be empathetic enough. You worked for him four years ago. What do you think?

CASTELLANOS: You've seen him lately on the campaign trail and this whole campaign, I think, has made him so much better as a candidate. He is telling stories about the people that he's met, the woman whose son was lost in Afghanistan, someone else who is struggling to find a job, and you can tell that these stories have had such a big impact on him. We have a brutal process for picking a president, but it's a brilliant process because it makes these candidates go out and just immerse themselves in the challenges --

BLITZER: Make it personal and I'm sure the president will do that, as well.


CASTELLANOS: President too.

SIMMONS: Absolutely and you know, Wolf, Janet Jackson had an old song called "What Have You Done For Me Lately" and the campaigns it's even more immediate. Voters want to know, what are you going to do for me next? And so what the president has to do is forget about two weeks ago, the last debate, that's history. Focus on the voters' future. What is he going to do to make people's lives better? And I think the sooner he connects on that point, the better it will be for the viewer at home and for the people in that audience that he's talking to.

BLITZER: has a new ad featuring some movie stars, women talking about abortion rights for women. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, POLITICAL AD: I want to talk to you about women.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, POLITICAL AD: Mitt Romney's for ending funding to Planned Parenthood.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, POLITICAL AD: Including cancer screenings.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, POLITICAL AD: He said he'd overturn Roe v. Wade.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, POLITICAL AD: We have Republicans trying to redefine rape.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, POLITICAL AD: Trying to force women to undergo invasive ultra sounds.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, POLITICAL AD: If you think that this election won't affect you and your life, think again.





BLITZER: Scarlet Johansson (ph), Eva Longoria and Kerry Walsh (ph), pretty powerful ad, especially if you're going, want to solidify that, women vote that President Obama has.

CASTELLANOS: Well that's -- you know it's going to help with a certain vote. I think a lot of folks would argue that's a vote President Obama already has. You know women like men these days have to be multi-sport athletes. It's not, you know, it's not just women's issues, it's the issues that affect all of us. Economic issues, most small businesses in this country are started not by men, but by women. Women have seen big cuts in that family paycheck from $54,000 to $50,000 under Barack Obama. When the economic house is burning down, it's not as big an issue who is having a better time inside the house. We need to get everyone out. So I'm not sure that at this point late in the campaign it's not the bigger economic issues that I think are going to drive the vote and not so much who's cool with Hollywood.

BLITZER: And he makes a fair point. Because several liberal women, normally Democrats, who support abortion rights for women don't want to see Roe versus Wade overturned, have said to me recently you know what, as much as I believe in that, I believe in the economy more. I don't think the president has done a good job; I want to give Mitt Romney a chance. And that's a powerful argument that they're making.

SIMMONS: It is a powerful argument. And I bet you if you talk to, you know a pink-collar worker in Cleveland, Ohio, who is concerned about her reproductive freedom or whatever else is going on in her life the question becomes about choice and about trust. Not just about this particular issue but whether or not I trust Mitt Romney to actually look out for me on the things that I think are important. The second motivator for the president with an ad like this is he's got to get the people who agree with him, he's got to get them to show up and vote, turn out on Election Day and I think the Democratic campaign is moving in that direction more than it is moving to persuade more voters --

BLITZER: Very quickly --

CASTELLANOS: And you know the last debate, one of the things that changed is that voters saw a Mitt Romney that was not this fire- breathing radical that's going to burn the whole world down. They saw a very reasonable man. And I think that mitigates the impact of ads like that.

BLITZER: All right --

SIMMONS: Trojan horse, perhaps a Trojan horse. BLITZER: Guys thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: We're standing by to hear from the first lady of the United States. You're seeing a live picture there. They're getting ready to hear Michelle Obama in Cleveland, Ohio. I don't know if you guys heard, but Ohio's a battleground state, right now the first lady getting ready to speak to a crowd there in Cleveland. We'll have live coverage. That's coming up.

Also, other news, including a teenage girl fighting for her life right now after being shot point-blank in the head by the Taliban. We have new information about that brutal attack and what doctors are now saying about her condition.


BLITZER: A Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head by the Taliban. She's now in the United Kingdom this hour where she was transferred for additional medical treatment which could take weeks if not months. CNN's Reza Sayah is joining us now from Islamabad. Reza, you've spoken with Pakistani police. What are they saying about this attempted execution?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they say it was a brutal attack and obviously we've reported a lot of times that the doctor removed the bullet from Malaya's (ph) neck, and I think that leaves the impression with many people that she was shot in the neck. That's not the case. She was shot directly in the head. Many don't believe that she's still alive today. We talked to the spokesperson for the Pakistani military who described in graphic detail where she was shot. Take a listen.


MAJ. GEN. ASIM SALEEM BAJWA, PAKISTANI ARMY SPOKESMAN: She got hit on the left side behind the forehead.

SAYAH: So she got hit directly in the head?

BAJWA: Yes. She got hit in the head and then it traveled through here, through the neck, and went behind the shoulder and rested just next to the backbone.

SAYAH: Was this a point-blank shot?

BAJWA: It was a point-blank shot, yes.

SAYAH: Are you surprised that she's even alive today?

BAJWA: Yes, everyone is surprised that she's alive today.

SAYAH: So was it a small-caliber gun?

BAJWA: Yes. I think it was nine millimeter (ph) probably. SAYAH: Have you ever seen someone get shot in the head with a nine- millimeter and survive?

BAJWA: Such cases are very rare.


SAYAH: A 14-year-old girl shot in the head at close range. A lot of people don't believe she's alive today, Wolf. But somehow, some way she is.

BLITZER: And she was shot because she just wanted to get an education. She wanted other little girls in Pakistan to get an education. The Taliban rejected that. I understand Reza, that they have also threatened to repeat their attempts to kill her now, but they're also expanding their threats. What's going on?

SAYAH: Well, it only took a couple of days for the Taliban to make this announcement. They said if Malaya (ph) survives, they're going to go after her, her father, and her family, as well. Now, if there's any kind of strategy behind that Taliban threat, I'm not sure what it is. But it really drives home the fact that they don't stop at anything and no target is off limits. Authorities say here that they are going to provide protection for the family as well as the two other girls who were shot in the attack. They're getting protection, as well. Their family getting protection, as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Reza Sayah with a really heartbreaking story for us. Thanks Reza very much.

The first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, about to speak live at a campaign stop in Cleveland, Ohio. We'll go there live in a few minutes.


BLITZER: The FDA is now warning of possible infections associated with any drug injection made by the Massachusetts facility at the center of the nationwide meningitis outbreak in the United States, not just those steroid injections. So far 15 people have died in the outbreak, 214 people have been affected across 15 states. CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has one victim's horrifying story.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I recently spent the day with a family who lost their family patriarch in this meningitis outbreak. First, they have the sadness of losing someone they loved and then they experienced anger when they learned he didn't have to die.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lord, give us the strength to go forward.

COHEN (voice-over): Something's missing in the Lovelace (ph) house, five generations gather in mourning. Eddie Lovelace (ph), husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, Sunday schoolteacher at his church and a circuit court judge in Albany, Kentucky, dead, a suspected case of fungal meningitis.

(on camera): What do you miss?

CHRIS LOVELACE, VICTIM'S SON: He was the center of our universe as a family.

COHEN (voice-over): Judge Eddie Lovelace (ph) was a healthy 78-year- old man, worked full-time, walked three miles a day, when in the middle of September, he started feeling dizzy and slurring his speech.

JOYCE LOVELACE, VICTIM'S WIDOW: He was in the kitchen and he said my legs don't work right. He said there's something wrong with my legs.

COHEN: Lovelace had had a stroke. Lovelace died five days after being admitted to the hospital.

J. LOVELACE: It was a nightmare.

COHEN: Later, the doctors put it together. Lovelace had been in a car accident and received three injections with steroids for back and neck pain. The medicine he received was likely made by the New England Compounding Center. After his death, these injections were recalled because of fungal contamination which can cause strokes. Now all his family can do is remember the devoted public servant, the grandfather who let his granddaughters play with Barbies behind the bench when they were little while he heard court cases.

(on camera): What kind of a man was your dad?

C. LOVELACE: He was the most intelligent man that I've ever met. His memory was uncanny. If you needed advice, irregardless of what the subject was, you could always take his and trust it.

COHEN (voice-over): His family looks back and asks why.

C. LOVELACE: The decisions to save money, the decisions not to regulate drugs, decisions not to oversee these facilities, those decisions affect lives every day. And if different decisions had been made at certain points along the way, my father would be here today.

COHEN (on camera): Your father just went in for really a very routine --

C. LOVELACE: He did. And he went there for pain relief. He went there to get help.

COHEN: And he got --



COHEN: The drug involved in this outbreak was made at something called a compounding pharmacy. And as we heard Chris Lovelace say, they're not regulated as well as everyone would like. Now members of Congress are trying to fix that because this isn't the first outbreak involving a medicine made at a compounding pharmacy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Elizabeth Cohen. What a heartbreaking story. Unfortunately it's not going away. Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Question this hour is what's President Obama's greatest challenge at tomorrow night's debate? Could be one of those nights where you have got to go all in and hope your hand holds up. I mean he's got a lot, a lot on the line.

Terry in Tennessee writes "being able to relate to the person asking the question -- be a town hall type format so ordinary folks, undecided voters will be asking the questions. Obama cannot seem aloof or standoffish. He needs to answer in a way that resonates with the average person."

Cindy writes "explaining his lack of leadership regarding the terrorist attack in Benghazi."

Tom in Atlanta says "his biggest challenge is himself. Obama appeared indecisive and incompetent during the last debate. In the next debate his vice president didn't help any by acting like a buffoon. If the president doesn't look in control and clearly communicate both a vision and how he'll implement it during the next four years then he is toast."

Sisi writes "Obama can win the next two debates, it won't change the fact that I'm not voting for him again."

George says "to convince voters the next four years won't be the same as the last four."

Paul says "correcting his body language. In the first debate the president frequently hung his head down and what looked like an acknowledgment of defeat. Many in the audience must have perceived it that way."

Paul writes "his biggest challenge will be getting me to watch."

And Gary in Arizona says "Mr. Obama's biggest challenge tomorrow night will be to intelligently put together a dozen or so words without the use of a teleprompter. It's something I don't think he's ever done before."

If you want to read more on this, go to the blog, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

The author of a popular children's book series is trying to get kids interested in politics. How's this for starters?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody in their best behavior and I want everybody to say hi, CNN.






BLITZER: They may not be voting in the election 22 days from now but when they grow up many of America's children will certainly have the chance to. One children's book author is now trying to get kids interested in the process before it's too late. Lisa Sylvester caught with him and is joining us now. Lisa, what happened?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. You know Civics used to be emphasized in school a lot more than it is today but with education reform, the focus on school testing, well math and reading have been favored more. As Thomas Jefferson said, though, it is important to have an informed citizenry and you can start even at the earliest ages.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): We hear the ads. We hear the chatter. Sometimes it's hard to figure out what it all means.


SYLVESTER: It's tough enough for adults, even harder if you're a child.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I think Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are still running for president.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Every president has to be good at kissing babies. I don't know why though.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Jobs are low right now and right now most things aren't made in USA. Right now we are giving (INAUDIBLE) money and then China is usually getting all the stuff.

SYLVESTER: Does that give you an idea about the lens through which kids view politics?

NICK BRUEL, AUTHOR, "BAD KITTY FOR PRESIDENT": I think kids probably pick up more than we give them credit for because they're exposed to it, even if they're just watching television with mom and dad.

SYLVESTER: That's where Nick Bruel comes in.

BRUEL: Hi, kids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi! SYLVESTER: "New York Times" best selling author and illustrator of the popular "Bad Kitty" series which has sold more than four million copies. His latest book is "Bad Kitty for President" and introduces elementary aged children to the world of presidential politics to help make sense of all of it.


BRUEL: I wanted to create a book that would be fun and interesting for kids, about this whole process that this country goes through.

SYLVESTER: Bruel's character decides to run for president of the local cat club touching on things from caucuses to political ads to campaign finance and the third graders at Shawnee Elementary School (ph) in Easton, Pennsylvania, can't get enough.


DIANE HUNTINGTON, LIBRARIAN, PALMER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: I think they're picking up a lot, honestly. I think books like this and other things that we do in the school system.

SYLVESTER: Sure it will be 2024 before they can actually vote in a presidential election but Bruel says teaching Civics early on can make a difference.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Why did you pick a cat? Why didn't you pick a dog?

BRUEL: They can't vote themselves but they can go up to their mom or their dad or whoever's in the house and say, hey, you, have you registered to vote yet?

SYLVESTER: When Bruel started the book his goal was to create a story that children love and inform them along the way.

BRUEL: When I'm writing these stories about "Kitty", I don't really think of her as a cat. I kind of think of her as a little kid who happens to be shaped like a cat.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I think it helps kids learn.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I didn't know that they have to go through so many things to finally get to be president.

SYLVESTER: Proving you're never too young to learn.


SYLVESTER: And so here's the book. You know, it actually does have a great glossary of election terms, everything from the difference between a candidate, a nominee, a Super PAC, and a Pac and, I think Wolf that there are a lot of adults that will find this book very helpful and we will have more resources on, as well, to help parents, as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I love the story. Lisa, thanks very much.