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Top GOP Lawmakers Confront Obama; Fire destroys "Big Tex"; First Lady Rallies Wisconsin Voters; Akin Tries to Rebound in Missouri; GOP's Walsh Criticized for Abortion Comment; President Obama Diagnoses "Romnesia"; Obama and Romney Trade One-Liners

Aired October 19, 2012 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, top Republican lawmakers confronting the White House, saying more possible evidence that repeated security warnings were ignored before the deadly Libyan consulate attack.

Plus, a Republican Congressman ignites a political firestorm, calling the decision to allow an abortion when the mother's life is at risk a political, quote, "tool." Just ahead, what it could mean for his heated reelection battle.

And just when you thought the presidential race couldn't get nastier, the candidates soften in a rare momic -- moment of comic relief.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's nice to finally relax and to wear what Ann and I wear around the house.




BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had a lot more energy in our second debate.


OBAMA: I felt really well rested after the nice long nap I had in the first debate.


BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


First to what could be more potentially damaging evidence against the White House in the wake of the Libya attack that killed the United States ambassador and three other Americans. Top Republicans on Capitol Hill have just sent a letter to President Obama. They are charging, again, that repeated requests for increased security were not only rejected by the administration before the attack occurred, but also undermined the diplomatic mission of the United States in the region.

CNN foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott, has been going through the documents.

And Elise is joining us right now.

What are you learning -- Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Committee on Oversight on Government Reform released about 100 documents -- over 100 documents. One of the things you get, Wolf, is really the heightened concern about the unraveling security situation in Benghazi in the months leading up to the attacks.

One cable from June 25th, about two weeks after the consulate was already attacked by an IED, look at these pictures of the aftermath, Wolf. You can really see the damage to the outside of the main building, which was really extensive. And I was told by -- extra security personnel were brought in to guard the building until it was fixed.

Now, the cable said that the Libyans believe this attack and others against Westerners were the work of extremists who are opposed to Western influence in Libya.

Serious concerns, Wolf, about this Libyans' ability to protect the Americans.

A cable from August 8th, a month before the attack, said that even the head of the Libyan Supreme Security Council in Benghazi admitted his own men had not coalesced into a vec -- effective, stable security force. The cable warned, Wolf, that the government was reluctant to confront the extremists.

So a lot of concern there about not only the security, but the Libyans' ability to protect Americans.

BLITZER: What about requests for extra security?

LABOTT: Well, one of the most interesting documents was an exchange with Eric Nordstrom. Now, he was the lead security officer in Libya who testified last week at that hearing. He said that there was, as early as February, he was warning he didn't have enough men. He was curtailing diplomats' ability to get out and got -- in Benghazi.

He couldn't even move around because he didn't have enough men, Wolf. And the U.S. felt it was so important during this election period to get out there, he warned that having no movements for almost upwards of 10 days severely limited operations in Benghazi.

Wolf, he goes onto say, "I have been placed in a very difficult spot."

And the security professionals warned that five armed guards, most of, you know, the other countries in Benghazi at the time, had about five security guards. The U.S. wanted five. Sometimes there were five, sometimes there were three. And -- and even some of these other countries pulled out of Benghazi because they felt it was too dangerous.

BLITZER: Was there anything specific in these documents about threats to Ambassador Stevens?

LABOTT: Well, no specific threats to him per se. But they're -- take a look at this Facebook page. The Committee released not only a Facebook page, but it was one of this extremist groups that warned not only about -- there was a picture of Chris Stevens if -- I think we're going to bring that picture up -- but also said that they were very concerned about drone attacks in Libya. And there was a U.S. drone actually, Wolf, that actually targeted this group in Libya, one of their training camps.

BLITZER: Elise, thanks very much for that report.

Let's get to our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

She's been talking to her sources.

She's getting reaction.

What are you learning -- Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the White House is not commenting on the document release, but senior administration officials continue to maintain that in time, we will learn that intelligence backs up what the administration was saying all along, that this will prove to be not an attack that had been preplanned.

And, in time, we will probably learn that what Susan Rice had said on that morning show was accurate.

But we will have to wait and see that over time, as more intelligence comes in -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The chairman -- the ranking Democrat on the Committee has written a blistering letter responding to the Chairman Issa, a letter that goes point by point by point, claiming that Chairman It's such a and the Republicans on the Committee com -- "completely ignore sworn testimony provided to the Committee, recklessly omit contradictory information." From the very same documents, it quotes, "irresponsibly promotes inaccurate information and makes numerous allegations with no evidence to substantiate them."

Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat, insisting this is just Republican attacks on the president right now, in advance of Monday night's debate. What are you hearing from the White House, as far as the charges -- the countercharges that Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on this Committee, is making?

YELLIN: They maintain that they are reading through the documents now and they don't want to comment at all while they're still going through the documents. The larger pullback on that, Wolf, is that this is a political fight at this point. And they aren't going to weigh into it, at least in these -- in these hours on a -- a Friday night.

But I think that there's no choice but that the president will weigh in on Monday night, when he's asked about this at the debate. You know it's going to be a major topic that night.

BLITZER: It certainly will be. I wouldn't be surprised if it's the first item on the agenda Mon...


BLITZER: -- Monday night.

On another matter, the president is unleashing a new line of attack out there on the campaign trail, something called Romnesia.


BLITZER: What's going on?

YELLIN: Well, the president is stepping up his one liners on the campaign trail. Today, he was in Virginia, where some early voting has started. And, you know, five times, he told the crowd of roughly 9,000 to get out and vote, a sign that the campaign is really pushing to drum up some of the enthusiasm among their crowd and turn out their people.

He found a new way to deliver his message that Romney has been changing positions.

Here it is.


OBAMA: I mean he -- he's changing up so much and backtracking and sidestepping, we've got to -- we -- we've got to -- we've got to name this condition that he's going through.


OBAMA: I think -- I -- I think it's called Romnesia.


OBAMA: That's what it's called.

(APPLAUSE) OBAMA: I think that's what he's going through. If you -- if you say earlier in the year, I'm going to give a tax cut to the top 1 percent and then in a debate you say, I don't know anything about giving tax cuts to rich folks...


OBAMA: -- that -- that you need to -- yes, you -- you need to get a -- a -- a thermometer and take your temperature because you've probably got Romnesia.


YELLIN: Well, Wolf, the Romney campaign didn't let that go unre -- unanswered. Campaign adviser Kevin Madden issued a statement saying, "President Obama cannot get serious on the campaign trail. He's conducting a small campaign that fails to rise up to the big challenges the country is facing."

And some of those challenges will come up at that debate, as we discussed, Wolf. And President Obama is headed now, as we speak, to Camp David, where he will head into debate prep for this final foreign policy debate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting that he decided to do the preparation at Camp David this time.

We'll be watching, obviously...


BLITZER: -- getting ready for Monday night.

Let's bring in Candy Crowley, who's been watching all of this unfold, as well -- Candy, the dump -- the -- what we call this document dump, this release of all these documents by the Republican chairman of this Governmental Affairs Committee, Darryl It's such a, and this really blistering response from the ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings, saying it's just political maneuvering, selected documents telling only part of the story.

How big of an issue is this going to be?

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, STATE OF THE UNION: We'll see. I mean, obviously, the Republicans want to push this. They -- they say, listen, this is about the security of a U.S. facility in Benghazi, that they should have known because there had been previous attacks, that there were warnings, and more than that, other stories out there, that folks knew within 24 hours, essentially, what had happened, or at least what sort of attack it was.

So if this, you know, begins to look as though it's incompetent in the face of, you know, needing to protect U.S. interests, that's a huge problem. This is still an economy-based election. That's still what it's going to be about. But as we see, it's very close. So anywhere you can get traction -- and this may well be it. We'll see -- we'll see where it goes on -- on Monday night. Any way you can get traction is -- is where you want to go.

BLITZER: Yes. With -- with only 18 days left to go, the closing arguments are now beginning to be made...


BLITZER: -- rather dramatically.

I'll play this Romney ad that seems to sum up the points they want to make.


ROMNEY: -- on a collaborative basis. Look, the reason I'm in this race is there are people that are really hurting today in this country. And we face -- this deficit could crush the future generations. And Republicans and Democrats both love America, but we need to have leadership, leadership in Washington that will actually bring people together and get the job done and could not care less it -- if it's a Republican or a Democrat. I've done it before. I'll do it again.


BLITZER: He can bring people together.


BLITZER: How effective is that closing argument?

CROWLEY: Well, that's -- that's a swing vote kind of persuadable vote argument. So it's a -- it's a nice kind of calming, you know -- you know, they like to come in with some more high-minded issues.

And I'm told it's not his only closing argument. I couldn't get out what the next one was, but I'm -- I'm assuming it will be a mixture of this -- I'm the guy that can bring everyone together. The Democrats will obviously say not quite true.

But it -- it is. Look what I did in Massachusetts, a ter -- a Democratic state. I worked with them. Here are the things I got done.

I think the other part of Romney's argument is probably, remember, I'm Mr. Fix It, I get the economy, because we've watched his poll numbers on dealing with the economy go up vis-a-vis the president's numbers (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: There are those who suggest that -- that Paul Ryan being on the ticket, though, sort of undermines that specific closing argument.

CROWLEY: Right. And Democrats are going to suggest that, hey, wait a second. Let's not be fooled by this Mr. Moderate. They've already started that, like this -- we saw Bill Clinton kind of begin that assault, which is, oh, my goodness, the moderate Mitt is back, the kind of flip-flopping, the Romnesia that goes to that part of the Obama campaign, which is trying to undermine arguments such as, I can work with folks. They will bring up his record and they will -- have already brought out people that say, no, he didn't work that well with Democrats.

So there's always going to be the counterargument.

BLITZER: What are you hearing about the president's closing arguments?

What's he starting to do?

CROWLEY: Not a thing so far.

BLITZER: Really?

CROWLEY: I mean he is very much on the attack, as we've seen, certainly on the campaign trail. So I have it -- I put in some inquiries and said, hey, what can you tell me about what your closing arguments are going to be?

But, look, we kind of almost know from the beginning -- and -- and that is, you -- you know, sort of an old rendition of that song, The Best is Yet to Come." It's -- it's stick with me, we're making progress, we can make more progress.

BLITZER: Yes. And the other argument they're going to -- I'm sure they're going to make -- and they've made it repeatedly -- is that remember what it was like at the tail end of the Bush administration, when the economy was on the verge of a deep depression, the -- the disaster that was unfolding.

Do you want more of that?

Do you want to go back to that?

Get Bu -- get Romney in the White House, then you'll repeat that same economic disaster.

CROWLEY: Right. I think they'll take the more po -- flip side of that, the more positive side of that, which is stick with me, I've made it better.

BLITZER: Yes. That's a good closing argument, I guess.

They've all got good closing arguments.

"STATE OF THE UNION," Sunday morning, 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

Something special you're working on?

CROWLEY: We are going to have Bill Richardson, former New Mexico governor, a Democrat who ran for president, as well as Newt Gingrich. They're going to engage in a little pre-debate debate about foreign policy for us. (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: Are you going to moderate that debate? CROWLEY: Yes, I am.


CROWLEY: Yes, I am.

BLITZER: I'm looking forward to it.

CROWLEY: And we're also going to talk about who's going to win Virginia with some -- Senator Mark Warner and, um, uh, Davis...

BLITZER: Rick, oh yes...


BLITZER: Tom Davis.

CROWLEY: Because that's exactly...

BLITZER: Tom Davis.

CROWLEY: -- what I was about to say...


CROWLEY: -- Tom Davis.

BLITZER: -- the former congressman.

CROWLEY: The former congressman, Tom Davis, a Republican. We'll talk about Virginia and where they think it's going.

BLITZER: You've had a busy week, Candy.


BLITZER: You know, you've got a lot going on.

CROWLEY: I need a little more sleep.


That's 9:00 a.m. Sunday morning.

We'll be watching.

CROWLEY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks very, very much.

And stay with CNN to watch the third and final presidential debate in Florida on Monday.

Our special coverage begins right after THE SITUATION ROOM, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, Monday night. Michelle Obama is campaigning in Wisconsin and she's about to speak in a few minutes. When it's happen -- when it happens, we're going there live.

Plus, could President Obama trail in national polls but still win the election?

The answer may lie in the unemployment numbers from some key swing states.


BLITZER: Here's a question, do you want to know how President Obama could trail in the national polls but still win this election? Just look at the unemployment numbers in those critically important swing states. CNN's Tom Foreman has crunched the numbers for us. He's joining us now. What are you seeing, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, if you look at the national map right now and you see the general breakdown of which states are likely to go Republican, which one is likely to go Democrat and which ones are sort of in between, it's easy to look at the national unemployment figure, 7.8 percent, and say that could play either way for any candidate.

But here's the problem, that number actually doesn't play particularly well in any given place because everyone's having their own experience of unemployment. It's what's happening in your state or your neighborhood that matters much more than the general average. If you had a national crime rate, it doesn't actually mean anything to you depending on where you live.

It's just an average. So, if you go beyond that and you look at the battleground states where really this race will be decided, you see a very different picture. I want to bring up all the battleground states right now where the unemployment rate is below that national average. Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, all up here in New Hampshire.

You look at these states. They're below the national average. You would think that that would probably play in President Obama's favor, but that's not necessarily the case. We've been cross referencing this all day, and the polls don't really stack up this way. In some ways, this is more about perception than an absolute reality.

For example, Mitt Romney's been doing better in Virginia even though their unemployment rate is pretty good. In Ohio, a great battleground state, seven percent, it's neck and neck, but Barack Obama tends to do a little bit better. Why is that happening? When I talk about perception, what it probably means, Wolf, is are you feeling a change where you are?

For example, in places like Ohio where a lot of people left the state because they couldn't find jobs as jobs come in, they're filling up, people may have the perception that it's doing better. And indeed, it is slightly improved. But there's no clear sort of Mason-Dixon line of votes here. Those are the ones that are below the unemployment rate.

These are the ones that are above the unemployment rate, Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, Nevada. In Florida, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are running pretty much neck-and- neck. Mitt Romney in one of our latest polls had like a one-point lead, but that really, you know, that's within the margin of error. That may not make a difference.

Again, the message is how it's being sold here. North Carolina has a higher rate, but one of the reasons hey have a higher rate is because their economy has done pretty well and a lot of people have come to the state looking for work. That's driven their rate up while their unemployment situation has actually been somewhat better.

And then, of course, you have Nevada out here. This is the worst unemployment rate in the entire country. But there's a strong union base here. There's a strong Latino base here. And the question here is who do you blame for this? You'll have a lot of voters out here saying I blame this on George Bush, not on Barack Obama.

Mitt Romney has to sell out there the idea, yes, but Barack Obama's had enough time to change it. The simple truth is, Wolf, when you look at all these numbers, they don't play the way you might expect them to. So, people can't look at this as a litmus test and say, ah, that's how the states are going to go.

What you have to look at much more carefully is what is the reality of the number in that state? Do people feel like their unemployment situation is getting better? Or do they feel like it's getting worse? And, who do they blame for whatever circumstance they're facing? That's going to be the real test, Wolf, more than the absolute numbers.

BLITZER: What about the states, Tom, where Governor Romney is ahead?

FOREMAN: The states where he's ahead seems to be truly where he has better sold the idea that Barack Obama has not grappled with this problem well enough. And I go back to the average, here's what the average really is good for. 7.8 percent, what's valuable about this is that it tells us that we're in kind of a squishy zone.

This is not a good unemployment rate, but it's better than it was. This is where they're battling. For Barack Obama, he's trying to say the only reason this is good is because I've made it that good. For Mitt Romney, he's saying the only reason it's this bad is because he didn't make it better.

The states where Mitt Romney is ahead is the place where he's been able to sell that message and people have bought it.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks very, very much.

The Oscar winning actor, Tom Hanks, damaged sort of his squeaky clean image today. You're going to find out why he's apologizing. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: A down day on Wall Street. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What happened?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. The Dow sank 205 points today on weak earnings reports from McDonald's, GE, and Microsoft. All three indexes were down nearly two percent marking the worst day on Wall Street since June.

And a fire today destroyed an iconic symbol of the Texas State Fair. According to the "Dallas Morning News," investigators suspect an electrical problem touched off the blaze inside the Giant cowboy big tex. That guy's been welcoming visitors to the Dallas fairgrounds for some 60 years. Officials promise that he is going to be rebuilt better than ever.

And actor, Tom Hanks, he's probably about the last person you would expect to swear on live television. Unfortunately, for him, though, that's just what happened today on "Good Morning America."


TOM HANKS, ACTOR: Mostly it's swear words. so that's a little bit --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you say it with an accent like that --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are so sorry, "Good Morning America."

HANKS: Man, oh, man. I'm sorry. I slipped into a brand of acting. I have never done that before. I would apologize to the kids in America that are watching this right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We hope they're all in school.

HANKS: And let me say next time on the show, there will be a seven- second delay.


SYLVESTER: OK. you heard him there. Hanks apologized profusely for the slip. He was talking about his role in the new movie, "Cloud Atlas," which clearly has earned an R rating. And I think he's just one of those actors who gets into the moment. He gets into the zone, and you know, he becomes a character --

BLITZER: You've been on live television, ever happened to you?

SYLVESTER: No, but I try to self-censor at least, just a little bit, Wolf.

BLITZER: Me too.

(LAUGHTER) BLITZER: Thanks very much. Many wrote off the Senate candidate, Todd Akin, after his comments about so-called legitimate rape, but what's going on? Could Todd Akin show them up in the show me state or will his mistake cost Republicans a sure thing in Missouri?


BLITZER: Let's go live to Wisconsin right now where the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, is speaking at a campaign stop in Warsaw.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: -- was something you all see all the time. You saw it in the debate. You see it in how he carries himself as president, what he's done, it's his character. You know, I married him because of his heart.

You know, his decency, his honesty, you know, the fact that he's always been someone that I could trust in so many different ways, his compassion, his conviction. You know, when I first met Barack, I loved that he was so committed to serving others that he turned down high paying jobs, and instead, he started his career working in struggling neighborhoods to help folks get back to work.

It was the very first thing he was doing. And I loved just how devoted he was to his family. That meant a lot to me. That meant a lot to me, especially the women in his life because Barack is surrounded by women. Bo is probably the only boy in his life these days. But growing up it was the same way.

I saw the respect he had for his mother. You know, I saw how proud he was that she was able to put herself through school while still supporting he and his little sister as a single mom and I saw the tenderness that he felt for his grandmother. You know he talked about her all the time, Tutu (ph). I talked about her at the convention, but how grateful he was that long after she should have retired, should have been able to put her feet up, she was still waking up every morning to catch her bus to that job at the community bank. She was doing everything she could to help support his family. And he also watched as she was passed over again and again for promotions simply because she was a woman.

But he also learned something very important from his grandmother. He learned the importance of getting up, because he saw her get up every day year after year going to that same job and doing it without complaint and without regret. And with Barack I found a real connection because in his life story I saw so much of my own. Growing up on the south side of Chicago I watched my own father make that same uncomplaining journey every day to his job at the city water plant.


M. OBAMA: And I saw how my dad carried himself with that same dignity. We all know that dignity that comes with being able to provide for your family. That same hope that his kids would one day have opportunities he could only dream of. And here's the thing. Like so many families in this country, our families just weren't asking for that much. You know that's the darn thing. Our folks didn't want much. They didn't begrudge anyone else's success. They didn't mind if others had much more than they did. They didn't care about that. In fact, they admired it. And that's why they pushed us to be the best people we could be. But what they did believe was in that fundamental American promise that even if you don't start out with much, if you work hard and do what you're supposed to do, then you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids and your grandkids.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: The first lady speaking at a rally for her husband in Wisconsin. We'll continue to monitor what she has to say. We'll take a quick break -- much more on the race to the White House. And some of the key political races for the Senate and the House, there are dramatic developments unfolding right now including some ugly and nasty words being exchanged.


BLITZER: In Missouri the Senate candidate, the Republican Todd Akin is still trying to rebound from that disastrous comment he made about so-called legitimate rape. The debacle could cost him his Missouri race against the Democrat Claire McCaskill, but you wouldn't know it from last night's heated debate. Congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan has been looking at this race closely. Kate, what are you seeing?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was the final face-off in this long hard-fought battle for a seat that's being watched as key to the balance of power struggle in the Senate. And it was a debate with one glaring absence.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): The attack lines were clear. Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill making a final pitch to defend her seat tried to paint her opponent as too extreme.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: Moderate versus conservative.


MCCASKILL: Moderate versus extreme. I think there's a very big choice for Missourians to make.

BOLDUAN: Republican challenger Congressman Todd Akin argued McCaskill is in lock step with President Obama.

REP. TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: Claire McCaskill was the first to endorse Barack Obama and she was his strong right hand passing legislation voting with him 98 percent of the time.

BOLDUAN: But one noticeable absence from the hour long debate, barely a mention of the controversial legitimate rape comment in August that catapulted this Missouri Senate race into the national spotlight.

AKIN: First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

BOLDUAN: Akin apologized. No surprise though McCaskill made the issue a focus of subsequent campaign ads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, POLITICAL AD: And on August 19th Todd Akin said only some rapes are legitimate. What will he say next?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, POLITICAL AD: As a woman of faith, I must forgive Todd Akin, but as a voter, it's not something I can forget.

BOLDUAN: And despite intense pressure from even the very top of the GOP ticket, he refused to drop out of the race.

AKIN: And I have one purpose going into November and that's replacing Claire McCaskill.

BOLDUAN: Democratic leaning polls now have McCaskill with a double- digit lead while Republican pollsters still show a much tighter race.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Earlier this summer Republicans thought the Missouri Senate race was the one they had in the bag. They were going to win this race hands down and grab back a seat from the Democrats. Since the controversy with Congressman Akin, no, not a sure bet at all.


BOLDUAN: Meaning what's also definitely not a sure bet is the Republicans' chances to taking back control of the Senate, which is why this race was so closely watched. Also noted by many reporters following debate last night, potentially blunting some of the impact of this final debate for either candidate, Major League Baseball, the playoff game between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants was happening at exactly the same time. Wolf, Claire McCaskill even made a joke about it asking people to hold up their fingers to give her the score of the game during the debate --

BLITZER: They were very, very interested --

BOLDUAN: But still closely watched all the way to November 6th --

BLITZER: See you in a few minutes, Kate.


BLITZER: Thanks very, very much.

The Republican effort to win over women may be harder for another reason. The Illinois Congressman, Joe Walsh, is under fire for saying that abortion can never save a woman's life. It's the latest stumble for the Republican candidate. Walsh already trailed the Democrat, Tammy Duckworth (ph) in polls. Let's bring in Lisa Sylvester. She is taking a closer look at this contest.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there are a lot of twists and turns with this story. Representative Walsh, he held a news conference late this afternoon and he says he is still firmly against abortion. But he acknowledged that there may be rare, very rare cases where to save the life of the mother where it would be OK to terminate a pregnancy. He was clearly trying to clarify some of the comments he'd made last night after congressional debate.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If a woman's life is at issue, would you say she should not have an abortion?

REP. JOE WALSH (R), ILLINOIS: Let me briefly say there's no such exception. With modern technology and science, you can't find one instance --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you mean to say it's never medically necessary to do an abortion to save the life of a mother?

WALSH: Absolutely. Yes, what else, folks?

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Walsh saying there isn't any instance where a woman's life is at issue that would necessitate an abortion. During the debate he said he believes that quote "the health of the mother has become a tool for abortions any time under any reason." At a Friday news conference he seemed to walk back from those comments.

WALSH: When such occurrences take place, that decision on whether to perform that procedure is a very difficult one and one that should be left up to the mother and her family.

KERRY LESTER, POLITICAL EDITOR, DAILY HERALD (via phone): He talked about atopic (ph) pregnancies and he talked about procedures that might be necessary. Now, he also said that advances in science and modern technology have brought things to a point where abortions aren't medically necessary.

SYLVESTER: Walsh was under fire for his initial statement.

DAWN LAGUENS, PLANNED PARENTHOOD ACTION FUND: I think absolutely there are very few people who agree with Representative Walsh. And in fact Representative Walsh is so ignorant of the facts in this case, again, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have made clear that this is absolutely something that happens in pregnancy. We've seen real life examples where real women's lives were at risk and sometimes lost.

SYLVESTER: In that statement the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists saying quote "abortions are necessary in a number of circumstances to save the life of a woman or to preserve her health. Unfortunately, pregnancy is not a risk-free life event, particularly for many women with chronic medical conditions. Despite all of our medical advances, more than 600 women die each year from pregnancy and childbirth-related reasons right here in the U.S." Another group, the American Association of Pro Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists doesn't support aborting a fetus but says it might be medically necessary to quote "separate mother and baby."

DR. DONNA HARRISON, AMERICAN ASSOC. OF PRO LIFE OBSTETRICIANS AND GYNECOLOGISTS (via phone): There's no case where direct abortion is needed to save the life of a mother. You can separate the mother from the baby with the intent to save the life of the mother and also try to treat the baby if that's -- if the baby is old enough to allow it to live at the time of separation.

SYLVESTER: Walsh is running against Tammy Duckworth (ph) in a largely Democratic district where congressional lines were redrawn. He is considered to be the underdog. These are not his first controversial comments. He's called President Obama a tyrant and on the House floor said the U.S. should put motes (ph) and alligators along the southern border.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Walsh I think is someone who is going to say what he believes, say what's at the top of his mind, what's on the tip of his tongue no matter what the repercussions are.


SYLVESTER: And Walsh's latest comments come on the heels of those controversial remarks by Representative Todd Akin of Missouri. As you heard, he suggested that in a quote "legitimate rape a woman's body would somehow take care of terminating the pregnancy." So you know he -- essentially Representative Walsh says he's different. He's trying to separate himself. It's not the same thing as the comments that Representative Todd Akin, but still it's receiving a lot of attention on the blogs and elsewhere -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. The last thing Mitt Romney needs right now what Walsh is saying, what Todd Akin has said it's a huge, huge embarrassment for the Republican candidate.

SYLVESTER: That's right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

With only 18 days to go until the presidential election what's happened to all of Mitt Romney's one-time rivals who dropped out and endorsed him? Are they really being effective? Are they at all being seen out there on the campaign trail for him? Are they traveling around the country? We'll assess.



BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's forgetting what his own positions are. And he's betting that you will too. I mean, he's changing up so much and backtracking and sidestepping. We've got to -- we've got to name this condition that he's going through. I think -- I think it's called "romnesia". (LAUGHTER)


BLITZER: A new line of attack from the president. Let's get our -- get to our "Strategy Session". Joining us now our CNN contributor, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, also the Republican strategist Terry Holt. Good new line, don't you think, Terry, from the president?

TERRY HOLT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Very, very cute. I'm not sure that it's going to break the problem that he's got that people are thinking about the economy and his failed foreign policies, but it's a cute line for a speech.

BLITZER: Donna, what do you think about this? Do these really have impacts when they come up with these clever lines? You know when the president says you know he's interested in Wall Street, not Sesame Street and all that kind of stuff.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, it might stick, Wolf, because you know in truth Mitt Romney is running from his previous record, whatever that was because he constantly changes it. But the facts remains the same is that Mitt Romney was a moderate who became an extreme or severe conservative and now he's trying to become a moderate again and so if we wake up tomorrow morning and he's a liberal, don't worry because he'll be a conservative on Sunday.

BLITZER: Terry, you know it's interesting, I saw John McCain. He's doing a lot of campaigning for Mitt Romney. He's been in New Hampshire in the past few days, a critically important battleground state even though it only has a few Electoral College votes. But you know so many of the other Republican presidential candidates, they occasionally make an appearance whether Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich or Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, you don't really see them very -- on a high level out there. What's going on here? Is it because they don't want to campaign for Mitt Romney or he doesn't want them to campaign for him?

HOLT: Well, your surrogates need to really play a strong and important role in the campaign. Republicans traditionally have relied on their team of governors. In 2000 and 2004, President Bush relied on this A-team of Republicans to help deliver his message in key places. In Virginia you have Governor McDonnell (ph). In Florida, Marco Rubio has been a big, big draw down there. Rob Portman in Ohio, the senator from Ohio. These people have the policy chops. They have been strong and strident supporters for Mitt Romney from the beginning. You know the guys that ran for president, and the ladies with due respect to them, they had their time in the sun. They were Mitt Romney's rivals and Mitt Romney's time now is to close this case, this argument, the American people with a team of politicians, leaders of the Republican Party that can help him promote his message, and that's what this is really all about.

BLITZER: Is that what it's all about, Donna? Because you know you don't see Mitt Romney out there raising hands with Newt Gingrich or Michele Bachmann or any of these other Republican candidates very often. You don't see them jointly unlike four years ago when we did see Hillary Clinton out there at the end even though she lost in a hard fought battle against then Senator Barack Obama.

BRAZILE: You know let me just say this and I really like Terry, but the truth of the matter is --

HOLT: Thank you, Donna.

BRAZILE: -- I mean Michele Bachmann -- I mean that's not going to help him. You know Ron Paul perhaps that might energize a few people. Newt Gingrich well he's on television, but he's not really on television to promote the Romney campaign. You know like Diana Ross and the Supremes, Lionel Ritchie and the Commodores, of course you want your lead singer to have some people that know the tune, but the problem is, is that Mitt Romney continues to change his tune, so nobody knows what the message is, so he cannot rely on his primary you know colleagues to help him out.

HOLT: Well and you know McCain was in New Hampshire because McCain is a beloved person, a political figure in New Hampshire with strong chops there. I mean you go where people can help you. And let's face it, I love Newt Gingrich, but Newt Gingrich is a very divisive figure and as we've heard from the Romney campaign over the last few days this is a time to come together. The Republican Party is united and excited for Election Day and so we're putting our best faces forward.

BLITZER: Terry Holt and Donna Brazile, guys, thanks very much.

HOLT: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: John McCain, by the way, will be among our guests here Monday. He has debated both Mitt Romney and President Obama. We'll get his insight looking ahead to that Monday night debate.

Being president doesn't just mean hard decisions and tough choices. Sometimes you've got to be the commander-in-chief as well as the comedian-in-chief. We have plenty more where this came from.


OBAMA: Thank you.



BLITZER: For a few brief moments last night voters got a rare dose of comic relief from the candidates. President Obama and Mitt Romney sharing the same stage at the renowned Al Smith charity dinner in New York City.


ROMNEY: I'm glad to be able to join in this memorable (ph) tradition. Of course I'm pleased that the president is here. We were chatting pleasantly this evening as if Tuesday night never happened.


ROMNEY: I was actually hoping the president would bring Joe Biden along this evening because he'll laugh at anything.



OBAMA: Everyone, please take your seats otherwise Clint Eastwood will yell at them.


OBAMA: It's been four years since I was last at the Al Smith dinner, and I have to admit some things have changed since then. I've heard some people say Barack, you're not as young as you used to be. Where is that golden smile? Where's that pep in your step? And I say settle down, Joe, I'm trying to run a cabinet meeting here.


ROMNEY: A campaign can require a lot of wardrobe changes. We -- blue jeans in the morning perhaps, suits for a lunch fundraise, sport coat for dinner, but it's nice to finally relax and to wear what Ann and I wear around the house.


OBAMA: Tonight is not about the disagreements Governor Romney and I may have. It's what we have in common beginning with our unusual names. Actually Mitt is his middle name. I wish I could use my middle name --


ROMNEY: People seem to be very curious as to how we prepare for the debates. Let me tell you what I do. First refrain from alcohol for 65 years before the debate.


ROMNEY: Second, find the biggest available straw man and then just mercily (ph) attack it. "Big Bird" didn't even see it coming. And by the way, in the spirit of Sesame Street, the president's remarks tonight are brought to you by the letter "O" and the number 16 trillion.


OBAMA: This is the third time that Governor Romney and I have met recently. As some of you may have noticed, I had a lot more energy in our second debate. I felt really well rested after the nice long nap I had in the first debate.


ROMNEY: Let's just say that some in the media have a certain way of looking at things. When suddenly I pulled ahead in some of the major polls, what was the headline? Polls show Obama leading from behind. And I've already seen early reports from tonight's dinner. Headline "Obama Embraced by Catholics, Romney Dines with Rich People".


OBAMA: I'm still making the most of my time in the city. Earlier today I went shopping at some stores in midtown. I understand Governor Romney went shopping for some stores in midtown.


ROMNEY: It would be easy to let a healthy competition give way to the personal and the petty, but fortunately we don't carry the burden of disliking one another. Our president has had some very fine and gracious moments. Don't tell anyone I said so, but our 44th president has many gifts and a beautiful family that would make any man proud. You can oppose --


OBAMA: And I particularly want to thank Governor Romney for joining me because I admire him very much as a family man and a loving father, and those are two titles that will always matter more than any political ones. So --



BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE) for more laughs with the candidates meet for their final debate in Florida. Our live CNN debate coverage begins Monday evening, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.