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Final Presidential Debate; Interview with Arizona Senator John McCain; Polls Show Obama Ohio Lead Narrowing; What to Watch for in Tonight's Debate; McCain's Unique Debate Perspective

Aired October 22, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: We're counting down to the final face-off between President Obama and Mitt Romney. It's debate night in America.

Also, I will talk to a man who's actually debated both of these candidates before, Senator John McCain. He's standing by to join us live this hour.

And the state that could make or break either campaign. We have brand-new poll numbers from Ohio.

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

Well, 15 days until the election and a critical night in the battle for the White House. This is the third and final presidential debate pitting Mitt Romney against President Obama. We have just received these pictures of Romney walking through the debate site in Boca Raton, Florida.

Tonight's focus, foreign policy. And for both men, the stakes could hardly be higher. The tight race has gotten even tighter and tonight's contest could give either candidate the chance to pull ahead in these final critical days of this campaign.

CNN's national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is in Boca Raton and he's getting ready for the debate.

Jim, what's the latest there?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here in the debate spin room, Democratic and Republican operatives are predicting another feisty debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney.

And a top Romney campaign strategist tells CNN they are expecting another aggressive performance from the president.


ACOSTA (voice-over): For Mitt Romney, debate night may be shaping up to be another fight night with President Obama. While both men will be seated at a round table, a setting engineered for a more subdued discussion on foreign policy, the candidates will be sitting near one another.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Have you looked at your pension?


ROMNEY: Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?

ACOSTA: So, if things get testy, Romney and the president won't have to cross a stage to invade each other's personal space as they did at the last debate in New York. They may already be too close for comfort.

Sources tell CNN Romney's sparring partner, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, has been trying to get under the GOP nominee's skin in debate practice sessions to prepare him for what may be another fiery night.

A senior Romney adviser tells CNN the campaign expects the president won't come out like a lamb, something Vice President Joe Biden may have telegraphed with his own body language today in Ohio.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I realize that maybe looked more symbolic than it is.

ACOSTA: Among the night's flash points, an article in "The New York Times" stating the U.S. and Iran may begin direct talks about that nation's nuclear program. A reporter tried to ask Romney about the story before a flag football game between his staff and traveling press corps.

QUESTION: As president, would you be open to one-on-one talks with Iran?


ROMNEY: ... one-on-one talks with the president.

ACOSTA: Romney may also try to press the president on the U.S. Consulate attack in Libya, as he did at the last debate.

ROMNEY: I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.

OBAMA: Get the transcript.

ACOSTA: But after that moment did not go as planned for Romney, he dropped that line of attack from his stump speech.

ROMNEY: The Obama campaign has become the incredible shrinking campaign.

OBAMA: This is the moment when the rise of the oceans begin to flow and our planet began to heal.

ACOSTA: The Romney campaign released a Web video teasing the president for his comments to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. But the Obama campaign says it's ready for that, noting what Romney told CNN earlier this year ROMNEY: This is without question our number one geopolitical foe.


ACOSTA: Now, as for the president's -- perhaps his best talking point for tonight's foreign policy discussion being the killing of Osama bin Laden, I talked to a top Romney surrogate here in the spin room just a short while ago, Arizona Senator John McCain, and asked him whether or not the former Massachusetts governor should give the president credit for taking out bin Laden. He said yes.

But then he said the president should also take responsibility for what he called abject failure across the Middle East -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim, you have also spent some time with the young man who is described as the body man for Mitt Romney. He spends all day with Mitt Romney getting him ready for various events. Tell us a little bit about it, because I know you have got a special report coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ACOSTA: That's right. We are going to be taking you behind the scenes with the man who is perhaps best behind the scenes with Mitt Romney. He is Mitt Romney's personal assistant and body man, known as Mitt's body man on Twitter. His name is Garrett Jackson.

He's constantly snapping photos of the former Massachusetts governor behind the scenes and tweeting them out to his many followers. Earlier today, as you noted, Wolf, Garrett Jackson was able to take a pretty good picture of he and Mitt Romney at that debate roundtable.

Earlier this afternoon, it's another picture for the scrapbook for Garrett Jackson, but also a revealing look at a very unique role that he has with this campaign. We will be talking about that later on this evening.

BLITZER: Looking forward to that report. Thank you, Jim.

Let's get to the Obama pregame under way right now. Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin is also in Boca Raton for us.

Jessica, the campaign released a new ad today. What does it tell us about the president's latest strategy?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it tells us in part we can expect the president to tout his promises kept on foreign policy, withdrawing from Iraq, beginning a timetable to withdraw from Afghanistan. But there's also something else. Take a look at this.


NARRATOR: A clear choice. President Obama ended the Iraq war. Mitt Romney would have left 30,000 troops there and called bringing them home tragic.

(END VIDEO CLIP) YELLIN: Goes on to make the same case about drawing troops home from Afghanistan and asks whether Romney fully supports bringing troops home there.

Part of the strategy for the president is to argue that Governor Romney does not have a policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, even arguably in Iran or Syria that's any different from the president's and we can look for the president to ask what the governor would do differently if anything. Is it endless war? Does the governor propose bringing the U.S. into wars in new areas or keeping us in other zones with no end date on the table, Wolf?

BLITZER: Jessica, how are the Obama folks feeling about tonight's debate?

YELLIN: Well, you know, they like to joke that when they told us that they had low expectations for his first debate, they weren't kidding because this is not his strong suit, debating.

But of all topics, they feel this is his most comfortable area because he has been commander in chief. It's an area he feels well-versed. He plans to draw some contrasts here to try to prove the commander in chief test and argue that Governor Romney doesn't need it. Here's one of his top foreign policy advisers I spoke with over the weekend, Wolf.


MICHELE FLOURNOY, OBAMA CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Does Governor Romney, the challenger, pass the commander in chief test? They know what kind of commander in chief President Obama is. He's kept them safe. He has gone after al Qaeda and gotten bin Laden. He's brought the troops home from Iraq. He led an incredibly successful intervention in Libya.


YELLIN: Now, Wolf, a little bit of detail about the President's day, he woke up day and did a little bit of prep with his advisers at Camp David before flying here.

We're told John Kerry, Senator Kerry, who was playing Governor Romney in the prep sessions, got a round of applause for his work there. Now they have flown here and the president gets a little downtime. Then he will have a steak and potatoes dinner with the first lady. That's what he did before that last successful debate. So I guess they want a repeat of what worked -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They don't want to make any changes on the food, because that could be important. John Kerry by the way will join us live in our next hour. John McCain will join us live this hour.

Let's dig a little bit deeper with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Tonight, the third and final presidential debate. For each of these two candidates, how important is this debate?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Hugely, hugely important, because this is going to be the last time before people vote that they're going to see these two candidates on the same stage together.

And what they expect tonight is sort of a global vision from each of these candidates. As Jessica was saying earlier, the advantage has to go to the president. If you look at the polls, Wolf, the president is up by about eight points or so on the latest NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll when it comes to who's better able to handle foreign policy.

But I will tell you that's about half of what it was this summer. So there are clearly opportunities here for Mitt Romney, particularly on the issue of Libya, particularly, for example, on China, which he intends to turn back to the economy.

BLITZER: Because viewers are going to be looking at other things, not just the nuances of substantive foreign policy issues.

BORGER: They are. They are.

What I think you will look for in this debate, people are going to look for a leader. If you look at the polls again, NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, which candidate has the strong leadership qualities needed to be president, you see it is an absolute tie.

What they are looking for is somebody, a strong leader, somebody they can trust, because after all, you have to trust somebody you're going to vote for to be your commander in chief. And the president has a slight advantage on commander in chief, three to four points. But still, Mitt Romney just wants to make sure that it either stay that is way or he can inch it up one or two rungs.

BLITZER: In the second debate, they were both very, very aggressive.

BORGER: Yes, they were.

BLITZER: Do we expect the same kind of aggressiveness to be displayed tonight?

BORGER: My sources in the Romney campaign tell me probably not.

There won't be as much rat-a-tat-tat as there was. As somebody said to me, look, every time somebody jabs somebody else, neither candidate looks good, as you can see from this picture here. So a little bit less of that.

I also think in talking to a Republican strategist who is affiliated with the Romney campaign, he said the one thing you have to be careful about is that you don't want Mitt Romney to seem as if he wants to go to war.

As Jessica Yellin was just pointing out, that's what the Obama people are going to say. They believe Romney has to step back from that, not seem so bellicose and kind of cut off that discussion. When he talks about leading Afghanistan up to the generals on the ground, there is some sense the American public will see that as saying, you know what, we're going to reevaluate and maybe we're going to stay in Afghanistan. And by the way, the Republican base doesn't want to stay in Afghanistan. The American public doesn't want to stay in Afghanistan. And neither do women voters.

BLITZER: We will be watching all of this unfold tonight together with you.

Gloria, thanks very much.

We have much more ahead as our special coverage leading up to the final debate night in America continues. Remember, our special coverage also under way 7:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Is Ohio President Obama's firewall against Mitt Romney? We have some new poll numbers from that crucial battleground state.


BLITZER: Vice President Joe Biden started a three-day campaign swing through Ohio today. President Obama will be in the same state tomorrow for a rare joint appearance with his running mate. That alone tells you how important Ohio is to the president's reelection campaign.

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent John King who himself is just back from Ohio.

And, you know, it's trite but it's Ohio, Ohio, Ohio.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. We have nine toss-up states. You could make the argument, Wolf, that Ohio is the most important.

Why? No Republican's ever been elected without winning it. And Ohio has been right, since 1964, the winner of Ohio has won the presidency. New poll numbers out today that show us this is a big battleground state, heading into the stretch of this last debate and the final two weeks.

This is our poll of polls in Ohio, advantage for the president, 48-45. But that's down from heading into the first debate. So, the debate season has been good for Mitt Romney in Ohio. However, the president continues to keep a small but stubborn lead in the state of Ohio.

Now, that's our poll of polls. The two most recent polls that we've factor into that average are these two, a CBS/Quinnipiac University poll has the president up five, 50 to 45. But a Suffolk University poll out just today has a dead heat, 47-47. The Romney campaign says this is about where they see the race in the state of Ohio.

Now, what's driving it? Let's take a look. I'm going to move this out of the way so that they don't confuse anybody.

What's driving it is a classic swing of the genders. Look at this in the state of Ohio. This is the Suffolk University poll. Among women, 53 percent for the president, 41 percent for Governor Romney. Among men, the flip side, 52 percent of men for Governor Romney, 40 percent for the president. So, a big gender gap that works both ways -- women to the president's advantage, men to Governor Romney's advantage.

And, Wolf, as you know, one of the reasons I was in Ohio recently was to take a look at the early voting. And so, in the Quinnipiac/CBS poll, they asked people who have voted early, how did you vote? And you see the president with an edge, 54 percent to 39 percent. You might think that's great for the Democrats. But it is good. The president wants to be ahead in the early voting.

But these numbers are actually better for the Republicans than they were four years ago. And I can tell you, on the ground in Ohio, Republicans think, yes, we'd like to be a little closer in the early voting but they think they have a lot more energy than they had four years ago. They don't expect to win the early voting, but heading into the final stretch of it, these numbers are actually, even though you might say benefit Obama, the Republicans think that's pretty good, that's within our plan. We think we can still win Ohio if that's the ballpark of early voting.

BLITZER: Most of the experts out there, John, say that the Republicans -- that Romney desperately needs Ohio. If he doesn't win Ohio, he could basically kiss off this election. On the other hand, if the president loses Ohio, there are other ways for him to get to that magic number of 270 Electoral College votes. Is that analysis pretty much accurate?

KING: Yes, it is. And let's switch the map and see. Look, it's a very critical state. Right now, you have that slight lead for the president. Governor Romney's team would say it's a tie.

But we also know this. Look, here's where we enter the final two weeks in the final debate, 237 electoral votes either solid or leading the president's way, 191 solid or leading Governor Romney's way. So, that tells you simple math, no one has an easy path to 270. But the president is closer, he has an easier path.

If you take Ohio and factor in other polls recently in the Midwest, this part of the country is going to be critical. We had polling just late last week that showed the president with a lead in Ohio. Now, the Romney campaign hasn't given up. But let's just say for the sake of the argument, the president can keep that lead there. President leading in Wisconsin. Again, the Romney campaign says it will fight to the end. It believes there's a lot of GOP intensity in Wisconsin.

But if those two polls which had bigger leads than most other battleground states are dead heats, one points, two points either way. These two had bigger leads for the president. If those hold, Wolf, look at this, those two states would get the president to 253. If he could win Ohio, he's over the top.

So, you could make the argument, the president just camp out right here in the Midwest. If he can win these three states and nothing else changes on the map, he wins reelection. If Governor Romney wins that, as you noted, the president would still be, even if you take these back, the president still has more options to get there.

The state of Florida is a huge factor. It's the biggest battleground left on the map. If we say advantage Romney here, most people think advantage Romney in North Carolina. This is the big one here in Ohio, if the president can take this away from Governor Romney -- Governor Romney not only have to sweep, especially if the president wins these states here, if he wins Wisconsin and he wins Iowa and he wins Ohio, he's over the top.

So, the only way for Romney to do it would not only to be able to sweep the rest of the battlegrounds but to take something back, to either get Pennsylvania or Michigan out of the president's column to get him below. So, you could make the case for the president, just camp out right there in the Midwest.

BLITZER: But if he does -- Romney -- if he does win Ohio, let's say he wins Florida and Virginia, he's well on his way to winning this election.

KING: I'm going to put these back in toss-ups, we'll take this out. We'll give Romney here, three, two, one, the three states that were most Republican that Obama carried, Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia. If Romney can win those and win Florida, then he's at 248.

Then the question is, can he win Ohio? If he wins Ohio as well in that argument, then he would be at 266. Any one of the remaining states would get Romney over the top.

So, for Romney, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina. For the president who has a closer path, if he could do Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, game over.

BLITZER: We're going to see what's going on. And let's not forget, maybe we'll talk about this down the road if there's a 269/269 tie, then what? Worth pondering.

KING: Then what?


KING: House of Representatives, lawyers.

BLITZER: A lot of lawyers. Thank you.

Only one person's stood at a presidential debate and gone head to head with both Mitt Romney and President Obama. That one person being Senator John McCain. He's standing by to join us live this hour.


BLITZER: Decisive plunge today, Lance Armstrong's spectacular downfall.

Lisa Sylvester, she's here. She's monitoring that and some of the top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

So, what happened?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And what a fall it is, Wolf.

Cycle international governing body stripped Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and banned him for life from the sport. The decision comes after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency accused the cycling star of systematic drug use, something he has denied. Armstrong is now being asked to give back nearly $4 million from his tour winnings as his name gets wiped from the record books.

And Cuba is trying to quell renewed speculation over Fidel Castro's health and reports that the former leader might be close to death. State-run media ran an article in Castro's name that scoffs at the rumors and shows these photos of him reading the paper and walking in a garden. Castro is 86 years old and has not been seen in public since March when the Pope visited Cuba.

And as the election draws near, the candidates are making final pitches. The White House says President Obama will sit down with Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show" this Wednesday. It will actually be his third appearance as president. Last week, he got some laughs and talked foreign policy with "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart.

And Ann Romney visited "The Tonight Show" last month. Of course, she was without her husband, Wolf.

BLITZER: They're trying to get votes. That's what they're doing.

SYLVESTER: This is the final stretch and certainly the final push, Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.

Our panelists are standing by. They have a heads-up about one particular debate technique both candidates may use tonight.


BLITZER: Tonight's third and final presidential debate between President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, they will concentrate on international policy, which means there's a debating technique you might want to watch for tonight. Here's a snapshot.


PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: I call it the pivot. All right. This is a debate about foreign policy, right? But we all know the top issue on the minds of American voters remains the economy.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: There's a direct tie between our economic strength, our military strength and our position in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The economy's getting better. That helps President Obama. The other is, right now, Governor Romney has a lot of momentum in a lot of states. KING: This is an election that is about the economy, the economy, the economy. But he has to show people that he has the gravitas and the temperament to be commander-in-chief.


BLITZER: Let's get straight to our CNN political contributor, Margaret Hoover. She's got an excellent panel -- Margaret.


Here we are with "Unsolicited Advice" panel and we're talking about the pivot, that technique.

Carly, how is Mitt Romney going to pivot tonight?

CARLY FIORINA, CALIFORNIA CO-CHAIR, ROMNEY FOR PRESIDENT: Well, before I talk about pivot, I want to talk about tone, because I think John King was right when he said, you know, temperament is important here. And I think Romney's tone has actually been very productive the last couple of debates. He's firm but not nasty. I think he gets his points across.

But I think the most important pivot that Governor Romney can make is to remind voters that a strong foreign policy depends on a strong economy. We cannot have a strong military and a strong presence in the world unless our economy is firing on all cylinders which is manifestly not doing.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Carly, did you ever have a debate when you were running for the Senate --

FIORINA: Yes, I did.

NAVARRO: -- when you were seated around the table?

FIORINA: Yes -- well, no, we were standing in front of a podium with six questioners. They don't do that at the presidential level, thank goodness. We had six reporters firing questions at us --

NAVARRO: I think that format is very tricky. You know, as we know from sitting around this table. It's not as easy to fight with somebody sitting around the table with you.

VAN JONES, FORMER OBAMA SPECIAL ADVISER: But Biden and Paul Ryan figured out a way to do it so it can be done. Pivoting to the economy is going to be important. If I am Obama, I want to pivot to George W. Bush.

Basically from my point of view, I would be trying to remind people, you've got sketchy economic plans and also sketchy overseas plans. You've seen Romney -- he's come across very bellicose on the stage, on the stump, he's out there. Seems like that shoot first, ask questions later policy -- the pivot is to make sure that people remember what --

NAVARRO: I think that's one of the biggest mistakes that President Obama could make. I think most voters, like me, are sick of all of this blame against George W. Bush.

JONES: No, I don't mean it --

NAVARRO: How do you pivot -- you don't pivot to George W. Bush to commend him on --

JONES: Not saying that. Let me clarify. The reason I say this is because -- I'm not saying he did bad stuff in the past. But there is a way of reasoning that is familiar to me. When I listen to Romney reason, where it seems like he's trying to puff himself up and throw this sort of rhetoric out there --

NAVARRO: I think it's a slippery slope. He was the boogie monster. George W. Bush was, four years ago. Four years have since passed. President Obama is the president. Take that responsibility.

HEATHER MCGHEE, VICE PRESIDENT FOR POLICY AND OUTREACH AT DEMOS: For the president to accomplish about the man sitting across the table from him tonight -- I think the president really needs to just take a step back and get back to the basics and remind the American people about the top lines of the character of his opponent.

We're talking about easy talking points. He can say he's a Wall Street billionaire who's done everything in his power to not contribute to the country he's asking to lead. We haven't talked enough about the foreign policy of tax shelters, the Cayman Islands, Swiss bank accounts. That starts to reveal who Romney is.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Is an incumbent though, Heather, you think on President Obama to make the case for his own foreign policy rather than to the negatives of Mitt Romney --

MCGHEE: Absolutely. I think he does that actually all the time. I mean, first you start with the fact that he was able to do sort of -- heal the wound that this country had of having their leader, the architect of 9/11 be running free.

And something George W. Bush was unable to do. Of course, he's going to make that point. He's going to talk about how he's leading on Israel and Palestine, something that Mitt Romney said in closed door that is he didn't think could happen, we should kick the can down the road.

I mean, he can really talk about the Start Treaty with Russia. He can talk about the ways that actually in some ways people could say that President Obama's been able to accomplish more and been a visionary --

FIORINA: I think your advice to President Obama to be revealing of Romney's character, as you put it, is actually what President Obama has been doing on the stump. And I think it's revealing of President Obama's character, not President Romney's.

I think President Obama has yet to lay out a compelling case for a second term. Why does he want to be president for another four years? What does he hope to accomplish. What he continues to talk about instead is to bash the character of Romney. I'm not surprised, but frankly I'm shocked. If the president of the United States would call Romney a Wall Street raper, basically, when he's clearly -- he's been raping the middle class, he's been doing all these terrible things because he's wealthy? That's character assassination and I think it's beneath a president of the United States.

HOOVER: How about undecided voters, these elusive undecided voters? They're going to make the difference. What do undecided voters need to hear? Because I don't think they're going to make their decision on foreign policy.

NAVARRO: The one thing we haven't heard from either candidate yet and it's going to be what makes undecided decided is vision. Both of them can do a much better job articulating a vision for the next four years. We've been having a lot of small fights. We now need to have a big vision for America.

MCGHEE: The vision -- we haven't seen -- there was a promise that Romney could have provided this shift from the Republican vision for the economy and foreign policy that's been of the past eight years and certainly of the past 20, 30 years.

You would think maybe the so-called moderate from Massachusetts might have been able to articulate something that really broke from his party. And we just haven't seen it on regulation, on taxes, on foreign policy, on the sort of chest-thumping around Iran.

We haven't seen him be able to say, I'm a new kind of Republican and this is what I've got for the country.

JONES: What's interesting to me is the big framework here is you have Obama moving us in the direction of peace and prosperity. You have Romney who would go for more war and austerity.

FIORINA: That's crazy.

NAVARRO: It rhymes.

JONES: Here's what's interesting. The economy is starting to do better. Gas prices are coming down. Unemployment is coming down. Confidence is starting to go up. Same thing overseas, Iran is now coming to the table. Crippling sanctions on Iran. Here's the thing --

HOOVER: After 3 1/2 years.

JONES: We've been in Afghanistan for almost ten. Look at what's happening with Iran. Only three things you can do in Iran. Either be this war chest-thumping person, which is reckless, or try to go it alone, which is weak, or get the world on your side.

HOOVER: You think it's beneficial for the mullahs to believe you're actually use force?

JONESA: You don't want to go it alone. NAVARRO: There are some very immediate questions that require answers that should come up tonight. One is we need to do an effective case on Benghazi. I don't think Romney did an effective case and he needs to fly like a butterfly and sting like a bee on it today.

I think we need answers on Mr. Obama, what did you mean when you told the Russian president that you would have more flexibility? We're about to have that second election now and we're talking about one-on- one talks with Iran maybe leaking, I don't know.

What does that further flexibility mean? I know a lot of Americans who are very worried about that point.

HOOVER: I'm going to give Carley the last word.

FIORINA: I just want to question the premise that independent voters don't care about foreign policy. Of course, the economy is their most important topic. Their personal lives are what consume people daily.

But I do think that Americans are concerned about is their place in the world. I think there is a sense of unease about the role we play in the world.

HOOVER: Agree with you there.

FIORINA: So I think it's an important debate, an important night.

HOOVER: OK, great. Keep it right there. Don't change your channel. We're going to be back in just a minute with more unsolicited advice from this panel. Stay tuned.


HOOVER: Here we are. Welcome back to unsolicited advice. We're here with our panel. They can give advice to anyone about anything. Carly Fiorina, what is your piece of unsolicited advice today?

FIORINA: Well, it's to Whoopi Goldberg. I love Whoopi Goldberg. But Whoopi Goldberg conducted a, I thought quite bizarre conversation with Ann Romney the other day on the subject of the troops.

Her question was both ignorant and hypocritical. It was ignorant because he was apparently under the belief that Mormons can't serve in the military, odd.

And it was hypocritical because her premise was because Mitt Romney hasn't served in the military, therefore he can't support our troops. I say that because neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama served in the military.

And I don't recall her having that concern. So I guess my advice to Whoopi Goldberg would be, check your prejudices at the door, be careful. We know what her points of view are, but I thought that was an awkward exchange.

HOOVER: Whoopi tends to be pretty open-minded, too. She tends to get outside the box and not to go --

MCGHEE: To be fair, usually when interviewers are doing that, that's something that's on people's mind. Mitt Romney's been questioned about it before, how are your many sons serving the country?

He said, they're serving the country by trying to get me elected. That is a question that's on people's mind and usually we'd say that's giving him a chance -- giving Ann Romney a chance --

HOOVER: Who else?

FIORINA: It isn't how she asked it. She asked it with reference to his Mormon faith, which I think was unfortunate. It's a totally legitimate question to say, talk us to about how you'll support our troops and how you feel about this? That's a totally legitimate question.

HOOVER: If Mitt Romney is elected, he'll be the first Mormon. So the American public is learning about Mormonism.

MCGHEE: And part of it is the service includes going overseas and missionary efforts --

FIORINA: I earnestly hope that that was her motivation. If so, then I sincerely apologize in advance, but I think it was an awkward line of questioning.

HOOVER: We're going to Van. What is your piece of unsolicited advice?

JONES: Mine is for the moderator. We already talked about Libya now in two debates. We've talked about it --

HOOVER: As a Democrat, you don't want to continue --

JONES: You know, I think --

MCGHEE: Bingo.

JONES: Frankly, if we want to talk about Libya, this president has helped to bring about a huge Democratic change in Libya. I don't think he has to run on the record in Libya. It's very unfortunate we keep politicizing the death of an American hero. That's not my advice.

My advice is the last part of the debate, please ask questions that might be relevant beyond the talking points. There's a global youth bulge happening all around the world and there's not jobs for half of the world's young people.

HOOVER: Population explosion.

JONES: These people hit the global job market, what are we going to do about that? There's the climate change issue out there. We may have to redraw the world's maps. That's going to create incredible conflict. Can we please talk about some of the issues that are actually likely to impact the next 10, 20 years in America and not just go with today's talking points?

FIORINA: The youth unemployment issue, which I completely agree with you on that, in my opinion, is the real cause of the Arab spring. When there's 50 percent unemployment, whether it's in Baltimore or Benghazi, people eventually are going to take out their frustrations. I think that's a terrible problem.

JONES: And young people can either be constructive or destructive, depending on how the leaderships, how the adults relate to their situation. And when young people are being essentially abandoned and ignored on the world stage and sometimes here in America, we're setting ourselves up for bigger problems.

HOOVER: We have two minutes, Ana Navarro and Heather go each a minute. Go for it.

NAVARRO: Well, listen, I actually got the memorandum saying this was a foreign policy debate and there are a lot of foreign policy issues to discuss, whether Israel, Benghazi, Libya, Syria. There are a lot of things I hope we do focus on foreign policy because we have not enough.

And it's a big part of the job description of the president. And in that, my advice is to Governor Romney, President Obama and Bob Schieffer, I hope they discuss Latin America.

Every four years, I get somebody campaigning telling me about what they're going to do with Latin America and for four years, Latin America gets neglected. We have got horrible things happening across the border in Mexico.

There is a lot of alliances being built by Ahmadinejad in Latin America with Hugo Chavez, with the Castro brothers and others. We need to focus on our backyard and pay it some attention for real.

HOOVER: That's a good point especially with Chavez's latest victory.

MCGHEE: My piece of advice is for our nation's biggest employer. And that's Wal-Mart that has had a really rough year. You start with the cover-ups of the bribing in Mexico, obviously the ongoing sex discrimination class action.

Now you've got for the first time in its history strikes all across the country. The warehouse workers, terrible abuse conditions and we're moving into the holiday shopping season.

My advice to Wal-Mart would be to say, OK, we're the most profitable employer, we are the most profitable corporation, we could actually raise wages and this would be great for America. It would be a flag- waving moment. It's totally within Wal-Mart's power to do that. They could do that.

HOOVER: That's great. Thanks so much for joining us for unsolicited advice today. Wolf, we're sending it back to you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Margaret, thanks very, very much. Over the course of the last presidential campaign, John McCain debated both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Based on that unique experience, what's he looking for tonight? The senator is standing by to join us live that's next.


BLITZER: Senator John McCain certainly has a unique perspective on tonight's debate. Nobody else has taken part in presidential debates against both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, happened four years ago when he was the Republican presidential nominee.

Senator McCain is joining us now from the debate site at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: I want to talk about your unique perspective on debating these two individuals later. Let's go through some issues, beginning with Libya right now.

"The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that the president's daily intelligence brief for a week after the 9/11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi for a week was suggesting this was a spontaneous protest that resulted in the death of these four Americans.

It looks -- if that's true, that looks like a major intelligence blunder, but what do you say?

MCCAIN: Well, I'd say we should then question everything we hear from the intelligence community. That's gross incompetence. But also the president had other sources of information.

Wolf, I had open information -- all of us did, who have any knowledge whatsoever that this was not a spontaneous demonstration that was triggered by a video. There was no demonstration.

You don't have to have an intelligence estimate to know that. They had realtime video from the site itself in a drone overhead. It's ridiculous and outrageous to blame it on intelligence sources when facts are obvious before your very eyes. So it's ridiculous.

It's an attempt to put the blame -- first they threw Hillary under the bus. Now I guess they're going to throw the CIA under the bus, but the president is the one responsible.

And he told people in the world and in this country that it was a spontaneous demonstration and they kept talking about the hateful video when it was not true.

BLITZER: Because as far as the U.S. Ambassador, Susan Rice, is concerned, the briefings that she received, the guidance from the intelligence community apparently was what she said on those five Sunday morning television shows that day. So the question, I guess, to you is, is she to blame for trusting the intelligence community, the CIA, the National Intelligence Center or whatever, or is the intelligence community to blame for giving her bad information?

MCCAIN: I think it's probably a combination of the two, common sense, as I said before, common sense -- I was on one of the Sunday shows, unfortunately not CNN at the time, or one of the Sunday shows.

And the president of the Libyan National Conference came on immediately after her and said this was an al Qaeda attack. I mean, he knew it. We knew it. We knew that you don't take mortars to spontaneous demonstrations.

You don't do that. It was -- I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I don't know whether they were wilfully deceiving the American people or whether it was incompetence to the degree that I've never seen the likes of which.

BLITZER: I know you have great admiration for General Petraeus, the director of the CIA. But if the CIA was providing bad information, I assume you'd want to know about that.

MCCAIN: Yes, I would, but it's a debacle. And the president is the one who's responsible for -- in April and in June, there was attacks on our consulate. The British closed their embassy. The International Red Cross closed theirs.

There was an attack on the British ambassador. The last message we got from Chris Stevens was his concern about security at the consulate. I don't expect the president to know when 16 people are moved in or out or something like that.

But I certainly expect him to know in his daily intelligence brief that things were deteriorating in Benghazi to a terrible degree. And then, of course, when it happened, we saw all this business of spontaneous demonstrations, which anyone with any knowledge knew --

By the way, the CIA station chief in Benghazi's first message back was that this was a terrorist attack and we all knew and they knew that there was an al Qaeda-affiliated organization there. This is really an unacceptable screw-up and obviously the president should have known better.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the debate tonight because you're unique in this regard. You've debated both Mitt Romney when he was seeking the Republican nomination, you won. You debated the president when you were the Republican nominee. He won that. I'm going to play a couple of clips of you debating both of these individuals four years ago.


MCCAIN: My hero is a guy named Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt used to say, talk softly, but carry a big stick. Senator Obama likes to talk loudly. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Senator McCain, this is the guy who's saying, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. Who called for the annihilation of North Korea. That, I don't think, is an example of speaking softly.

MCCAIN: Timetables was the buzz word for withdrawals --

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Why do you insist on not using the actual quote?

MCCAIN: The actual quote is, we don't want them to lay in the weeds until we leave. That is the actual quote.

ROMNEY: What does that mean?


BLITZER: So, Senator, who's the better debater, from your perspective? I know you're not an honest guy. You'll tell us what you really think.

MCCAIN: I think they're both excellent. I think the president has a great deal of charisma and likability on the part of the American people. I think we saw in the first debate that maybe he'd dulled a little bit after four years.

And Mitt, obviously, had to sharpen his skills going through those rather unpleasant debates that he went through. So I think they're both going to be excellent tonight. I think it was pretty much a stand-off the second debate. So I think they're both excellent.

BLITZER: I know you'll be watching. Have you given Governor Romney any advice?

MCCAIN: Could I say both better than me? I think that one of the things that Mitt will do tonight is to tell the American people, we believe in peace through strength.

We think that that's the best way to avoid conflicts, not to allow President Obama to paint him as some guy who's going to be hair trigger, that's going to get us into a conflict.

He understands the limits of American power as well as the possibilities of American power. And I think that's the major message that he needs to get across tonight.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, thanks for joining us.

MCCAIN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Another presidential debate veteran standing by to join us live as well, Senator John Kerry has been working with President Obama. We're going to ask him whether the U.S. should be talking one- on-one with Iran.