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THE SITUATION ROOM
Mixed Messages on Foreign Policy?; Battleground Charge
Aired October 23, 2012 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Two weeks until Election Day, the presidential candidates charge into battleground states to try to change minds and win votes.
New questions about the final Obama/Romney debate. Did they send America's most dangerous adversaries mixed messages?
And CNN takes the Election Express on the road, to find out what swing state voters are really thinking right now.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Fourteen days and millions of votes on the line. President Obama, and former Governor Romney, they are beginning the final leg of their election marathon. Our correspondents are out in full force, covering the candidates, talking to voters in the key battleground states that will decide this election.
First this hour, we're taking you to Ohio, one of the most crucial swing states, 18 electoral votes at stake. It went for President Obama four years ago. But right now, our poll of polls shows he's neck and neck with Romney in Ohio. That's why it's one of the yellow tossup states on CNN's electoral map.
The president wrapped up a rally in Dayton, Ohio, just a little while ago, along with the vice president, Joe Biden, and a glossy new blueprint for a second term.
Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is in Dayton with the latest -- Jessica.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Just a month ago, President Obama had a healthy lead here in Ohio, but now you can tell both from his tone and his schedule, he knows this is now a fight to the finish.
YELLIN (voice-over): On the trail, no sign President Obama plans to tone down the sarcasm he unleashed at the last debate.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you talk about how much you love teachers during a debate, but just a few weeks ago, you said we shouldn't hire anymore because it won't grow our economy, you might have Romnesia. YELLIN: If anything, he has sharpened his bite.
OBAMA: We had a severe outbreak last night. It was at least, at least stage three Romnesia.
YELLIN: But the focus is shifting, now a closing argument.
OBAMA: There's no more serious issue in a presidential campaign than trust. Trust matters. You know, you want to know that the person who's applying to be your president and commander in chief is trustworthy.
YELLIN: And part of that argument, this booklet summarizing the president's accomplishments and second term goals and a new ad on the same. The president taking the message on a three-day swing through six battleground states.
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR OBAMA CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: We believe that any time the president can be with voters and make the case in those states, we're gaining. And we want to touch as many people as we can in the next two weeks and make that case.
YELLIN: Target audience?
DAVID PLOUFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: It's about getting out early vote. It's also about talking to undecided voters in all these states.
YELLIN: The president is trying to close the deal.
OBAMA: I'm asking for your vote. I'm asking you to help me finish the job.
YELLIN: Now with sarcasm thrown in.
OBAMA: Governor Romney didn't even mention our veterans last night.
OBAMA: Don't boo. Vote.
YELLIN: You see, Wolf, he has a bit of a two-pronged message there. It's the more neutral, positive message that seems to be directed to the undecided voters. That's why he's rolled out this plan, saying he has a detailed vision for a second term, though we have already heard the details in it, and then more of that sarcastic tone, which seems driven and directed to the base voters, who he wants to energize to get out and vote either early or on Election Day, Wolf.
BLITZER: Now, he's only spending time in the key battleground states, but he is making a side trip to California, which is obviously going to go for him. Is he only going to do the Jay Leno show? Is that why he's going to California? YELLIN: That's what he's doing. He's doing a swing through California to appear on late-night TV with Jay Leno, and then he's hitting those battleground states, Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, Florida, Ohio. He's going to Ohio twice. And what did I leave out? Colorado, Nevada, Virginia. I don't know. There's one did I miss? I don't know.
BLITZER: We will figure it out.
YELLIN: We will let you know later if I skipped one. But he's not taking anything off the table.
BLITZER: He's certainly not. Maybe North Carolina, a lot of speculation about that. But we will discuss that later.
YELLIN: Yes, no visit there right now.
BLITZER: OK. Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.
Mitt Romney is getting ready for a rally in Nevada.
Kate, you're getting ready for that rally right now as well.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely right.
BLITZER: To report on it.
BOLDUAN: To report on it. I wish I was in Nevada. That would be fun.
Nevada, with its six electoral votes, is another state that President Obama won four years ago, but it's up for grabs now. The latest polling shows the president just two points ahead of Romney in Nevada, making it another tossup state on our electoral map. Romney appeared in Nevada with his running mate, Paul Ryan, while his campaign has faced some questions about his debate performance last night.
Let's go to our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta. He is in Henderson, Nevada.
Jim, you have been doing a lot of traveling. What's the latest now?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That's right, Kate.
And I can tell you that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan just wrapped up a campaign event, a joint campaign event here in Henderson, Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas, within the last hour. They are on their way to another battleground state, the state of Colorado, for an event later on this evening.
But after talking to the Romney campaign earlier this afternoon, I can tell you they do believe that Mitt Romney achieved his objectives in these presidential debates, that he came across, in their mind, as an acceptable commander in chief to the American people, and that he also in this last debate did not take the bait from the president and respond to each and every one of his attacks. They believe that tactic worked as well.
But now the debates are over and the real race is on.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hello, Florida.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Bang. The final presidential debate was the starting pistol for a two-week sprint to the finish line. As President Obama fought to hold onto Florida, Mitt Romney tried his luck in Nevada, arguing he's got the big most'.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And these debates have supercharged our campaign. There's no question about it. We're seeing more and more enthusiasm, more and more support. His is a message of going forward with the same policies of the last four years. And that's why his campaign is slipping and that's why ours is gaining so much steam.
OBAMA: And by the way, the math in my plan adds up.
YELLIN: After the president unveiled a pamphlet advising his plan for the second term, Romney's advisers on the campaign plane were trying to read between the lines.
KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I would say that it's a glossy panic button.
YELLIN: The Romney campaign has already turned the GOP nominee's debate pivot to the economy.
BOB SCHIEFFER, MODERATOR: Governor Romney, wrong and reckless policies?
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have got a policy for the future, an agenda for the future.
ACOSTA: Into a new ad.
ROMNEY: I will get us on track to a balanced budget.
ACOSTA: A trio of key debate flash points lay down the battle lines for three crucial swing states. For Jewish voters in Florida, Romney's attack on Mr. Obama's decision not to visit Israel during his first foreign trip as president.
ROMNEY: You went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey and to Iraq. And, by the way, you skipped Israel.
OBAMA: If we're going to talk about trips that we have taken...
ACOSTA: For factory workers in Ohio, the flare-up over Romney's opposition to the auto bailout.
OBAMA: They would have gone through a...
ROMNEY: ... you're wrong.
OBAMA: No, I am not wrong. I am not wrong.
ROMNEY: People can look it up, you're right.
OBAMA: People will look it up.
ACOSTA: And for military voters in Virginia, Romney's charge that the size of the Navy is at 1917 levels.
OBAMA: Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military's changed.
ACOSTA: It was hardly a direct hit for either candidate. As it turns out, every Marine still undergoes bayonet training. And the fact-checking watchdog, PolitiFact, rated Romney's attempt to blame the president for the Navy's current fleet levels as Pants on Fire.
ACOSTA: And as for the president resurrecting that attack line of referring to Mitt Romney and shifting of positions as Romnesia, I can tell you that a senior Romney adviser had a response for that earlier this afternoon, accusing the president of trying to play Scrabble with Mitt Romney's name.
But really, Wolf, at this point, and Kate, at this point, it is a game of Rubik's Cube. Both of these campaigns are furiously trying to line up the states that they need to eke out a victory. And, Kate, by the looks of it, this is going to be a very, very close race and I think both campaigns know it.
BLITZER: I think you're absolutely right. Jim Acosta in Henderson, Nevada, a very key state we will be watching closely come Election Day. Jim, thanks so much.
Third debate's over. Now it's time for closing arguments.
BLITZER: Two weeks. Final two weeks. Can you believe it?
BOLDUAN: I can't believe it. It feels like we have been covering it for five years now.
BLITZER: I remember when it was two years and now it's two weeks. The presidential candidates didn't limit themselves to foreign policy in their final debate. One reason, they want to appeal to women voters. We're going to break down their answers. Gloria Borger is standing by live.
BLITZER: In the final presidential debate of 2012, the candidates seemed to tailor their answers, at times, to try to appeal to women voters.
BOLDUAN: And here are some examples from their discussion last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: In order for us to be competitive, we're going to have to make some smart choices right now. Cutting our education budget, that's not a smart choice.
ROMNEY: We can't kill our way out of this mess.
OBAMA: But what I think the American people recognize is, after a decade of war, it's time to do some nation-building here at home.
ROMNEY: America is going to come back. And for that to happen, we're going to have to have a president who can work across the aisle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Gloria, when you hear those lines, what were they both trying to accomplish with that? How does that appeal to women voters?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, talking about things like education, talking about things like bipartisanship, not sounding bellicose, like you want to start another war in Iran, for example, something that Mitt Romney had to be very, very careful about, all of those things appeal to women voters, because what women voters are looking for is someone who makes them comfortable.
Like all voters, women want a candidate they can trust, and that's what each of these candidates were trying to do last night.
BLITZER: Women voter in higher percentages. There are more women voters than men voters, so how are they trying to focus their drive to win over these women voters in these final two weeks?
BORGER: They do.
Well, first, let's take a look at where the numbers are. And I have to tell you that I have been having some very hot and heavy e- mail exchanges with senior advisers of both campaigns, because, you know, while the Obama campaign will say, we do well with women, the Romney campaign says, we do well with men. So let's take a look at this.
And they're both right. So when you ask the question, NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, who will you vote for, for president, you see there that the president is up eight points with women, but Mitt Romney is up 10 points with men. So what's the gender gap? Is there a gender gap with women or with men?
So if you look back to recent history, the biggest gender gap was when Al Gore won women by 11 points, but George W. Bush won men by nine points. And you know how close that election was in 2000. And we may be in a very similar situation here, which is why you see these campaigns pushing so hard on women, because the Romney campaign doesn't have to outdo President Obama with women. They just need to get their numbers up a little bit and keep their numbers with men as high as they are.
BOLDUAN: Now that the debates are over and we're into this final stretch, do you think it's now more a campaign for undecided voters that we have talked about so much, or is it more about voter turnout, turning about the base?
BORGER: I think there are about six undecided voters left in the entire country. Honestly, if you're -- what it is, in talking to a Republican pollster today, he said he preferred to describe it as fluctuating voters, voters who go back and forth, who sometimes have been for the president, maybe they were disaffected Obama voters, sometimes for the president, took another look at Mitt Romney in that first debate, which was very important for Mitt Romney, said, you know what, maybe he's an acceptable alternative, and then maybe seeing the debate last night, seeing that the president won that on points, maybe they're going to go back.
So it's about that and it's about intensity now and getting the people you have identified as your voters to get out there to the polls. So it's trying to get those fluctuating voters, but get your voters out.
BLITZER: Michelle Obama and Ann Romney, those would be -- they would be terrific secret weapons, not so secret in these final two weeks.
BORGER: And they're out there talking to women. I mean, you remember Ann Romney at the convention. We love you, women, she said. Well, you can't be anymore obvious than that.
She's out there talking to women, and so is Michelle Obama, not only trying to humanize their husbands, but to say, our husbands care about issues like education, they're bipartisan, they don't want to go to war. So, you know, both of them are very important to the campaign.
BOLDUAN: Understatement of the year, every vote is going to count this election. That is for sure.
BORGER: That's right.
BOLDUAN: All right, Gloria, thank you so much.
Still ahead, the CNN Express is on the road. It's hitting the road, making stops in Florida so we can hear directly from voters in that critical swing state. Our Ali Velshi is on board and he will be with us next.
BLITZER: We're going to hear from some women voters, more women voters who know about tough races, hard knocks -- how the presidential candidates can win them over.
BLITZER: All of us who lived through the 2000 presidential recount are well aware of Florida's political importance.
BOLDUAN: And, as you know, the state has 29 electoral votes, a whopping 29 electoral votes. It went for Obama in 2008, but it's neck and neck now.
Our latest poll shows Romney holding a one-point edge over Obama in Florida, another tossup state on our electoral map.
CNN's Ali Velshi is in Lakeland, Florida, with the CNN Election Express, taking a big round-the-country tour, Ali.
Do voters in Florida realize how much their vote could matter?
ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate.
We have actually spoken to a number of them over the course of the last couple of days. They really do get it. Look, 29 Electoral College votes, like you said, 19 million people in Florida -- 4.2 million people are over the age of 60. So that's the largest over-60 population in the United States. They have particular concerns, not only about Medicare and health care, about Social Security, but about investments, how the markets are doing and how they will do.
They are skewing a little bit toward Mitt Romney, the younger voters in this state skewing towards Barack Obama. What do you do when the race is this tight? You do two things. One is you concentrate on your ground operation. Who can you get out?
Believe it or not, I have run into a few people who are not planning on voting. That's kind of interesting. If you are inclined to vote, but you're not 100 percent sure, the Obama campaign is working really hard to make sure that they capitalize on their ground operation, a particularly large, growing Hispanic community in the neighboring area in Orlando.
The other thing you have to do is you have got to hit these voters with what they want to know. If you're undecided at this point, you need something other than soaring rhetoric. We in fact talked to one woman who said she's kind of disappointed in everything she has heard in the debates and the ads. She wants frankness. Listen to what she told me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANN HUTCHINSON, FLORIDA: I watched all the debates and stuff. Really just frankness, somebody who was really frank, hey, things really stink, and, yes, this is -- not all this political, safe stuff to say or non-offensive stuff. I would rather see somebody very frank.
And I think people can take it. If Medicare is going, say it. Just say it, instead of -- you know what I mean? Instead of like dancing around it. I don't like that. That really bothers me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: And we're hearing a lot of that.
People are saying, look, they think things could have been better under Barack Obama. They're considering giving him another chance. They really like some of Mitt Romney's projections about the future and what it's going to look like in terms of deficit reduction and job creation, but they can't get the numbers to add up.
But they could go his way if they could get the numbers to add up. So it might be in the candidates' interests over the course of the next two weeks to give these voters some of the specifics they need. That's obviously very difficult to do politically, but there are votes to be had here.
And obviously, if you win them, you get all 29 votes in the state of Florida -- Kate, Wolf.
BOLDUAN: All right.
BLITZER: Remember -- I remember Florida, Florida, Florida 2000.
BOLDUAN: Fondly. Ali, thank you so much.
BLITZER: Five hundred thirty-seven votes out of millions cast, which made all the difference.
BOLDUAN: Ah, memories!
BLITZER: Let's go to the battleground state of Iowa now, with six electoral votes up for grabs. President Obama won the state back in 2008, after his Iowa caucuses win launched him towards the presidential nomination.
The most recent poll shows the president holding an eight-point lead in Iowa, but the state remains a toss-up on our electoral map. CNN's Miguel Marquez is on the move in Iowa, with a unique group of women voters. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If it's Davenport, it's got to be roller derby and the Quad City Rollers.
Scott County is just one of several battlegrounds here in America's heartland. In this one county alone, there are enough votes to turn this state blue or red.
(voice-over) The Rollers demonstrated their signature move.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Blocking in front of you.
MARQUEZ (on camera): Oh, my God!
(voice-over) Oh, and by the way...
(on camera) Your booty did block me.
(voice-over) They're really tough. These rough-and-tumble Midwestern women, also voters.
(on camera) So it's all about keeping the other side from moving forward.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
MARQUEZ: This is a lot like politics, you realize?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right behind you, guys?
MARQUEZ (voice-over): Waitress Connie Hart has worked at the Machine Shed restaurant for 26 areas. Her derby name, Diamond Dust. Her specialty, blocking. Her biggest issue, the economy.
(on camera) How tough has it been?
CONNIE HART, ROLLER DERBY PLAYER: It's been tight. It's been real tight.
MARQUEZ: Because, what, less money, higher gas? What?
HART: Less money. A lot of people don't want to go out to eat as much as they used to.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You've got to let me know.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): By day, Carrie De Crane is a special worker helping kids with special needs. On some nights, she's Lady Gotcha, a jammer. That's the one that scores the points.
(on camera) What is important in this election?
CARRIE DE CRANE, ROLLER DERBY PLAYER: I want to make sure there's going to be budgeting for the people who actually need it. Jobs, as well. I want there to be continued job growth.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): De Crane says she'll likely vote for a third party.
(on camera) Republicans say this is like 2004, when just a few counties broke their way, giving Bush a very narrow victory here. Democrats argue their advantage, the low unemployment rate, now just 5.2 percent among the lowest in the country.
This is a single machine?
PAT POLLACK, GENESIS SYSTEMS GROUP: This is a single machine and it's only part of the machine.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): Scott County in Iowa rebounded with help from companies like Genesis Systems Group, a manufacturer of industrial robots. Increasingly, its business is overseas.
(on camera) Are you hiring?
POLLACK: We have done some hiring this year. I think we're up about ten people overall. But we're still about 10 percent lower than we were in 2007.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): Scott County, an economic bright spot in the heartland, whose voters can be tough to win over.
(on camera) Oh, my goodness!
Politics are rough and tumble, as I'm discovering. Things are hot and heavy here in Iowa. Mr. Obama will be out here tomorrow in Davenport and then Mr. Romney, a few hours later, will be in Cedar Rapids.
The polls show them within a couple of points, and Republicans here believe that if they can pick up a few thousand votes in places like Scott and other counties, they can turn this state to their column -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A pretty important state, Iowa. Miguel, thanks very, very much.
BOLDUAN: Amazing, we're talking about a few thousand votes here and there. Could be so, so close.
President Obama says his final debate with Mitt Romney drove home their differences on foreign policy, but at times, Romney sounded a lot like President Obama. Wolf will ask Romney adviser John Sununu about that. And then we'll hear from Obama adviser Colin Kahl.
BOLDUAN: Two weeks until election day. The candidates are unleashing everything they've got to get to the finish line.
BLITZER: And the finish line is getting closer and closer. They're getting fuel for their attacks today from the foreign policy debate last night. We'll talk to Obama campaign adviser, Colin Kahl in a few moments.
Right now we're joined by a top Romney adviser, the former New Hampshire governor, John Sununu.
Governor, thanks for coming in.
JOHN SUNUNU, ROMNEY ADVISOR: A pleasure to be here. Happy Tuesday.
BLITZER: Thank you. I want you to listen to the president of the United States today, hammering away at Mitt Romney and his debate performance last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Romney's foreign policy has been wrong and reckless. You heard him last night. He was all over the map. If you say that you love American cars during the debate, you're a car guy, but you wrote an article titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," you definitely have a case of Romnesia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That article he wrote, that op-ed, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," if he loses Ohio, and I think you'll agree it probably will be, as the president says, because one out of eight jobs in Ohio is related to the auto industry.
SUNUNU: Look, let's face facts. The president again is being dishonest. He knows that title was put on by "The New York Times," not by Mitt Romney. And if he really read the article, he would understand that what Mitt Romney was proposing was a process not only in which they would go bankrupt as, through a nongovernment initial intervention, but that they would be government support for the process after they came out of bankruptcy.
The president has misrepresented that or else he's not smart enough to be able to read that article.
BLITZER: Well, as you remember, the financial sector at that time was so week, most of the investment firms, the big ones, were -- they weren't investing. If the government wouldn't have given Chrysler and General Motors that money, where would that money have come through, to go through a structured bankruptcy?
SUNUNU: That money would have come through, if there had been a support for putting money into it, after it came out. The idea was to do it in a process that allowed this normal course to take place, rather than this huge intervention, which, in fact, in the opinion of many people, ended up spending tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas. The president keeps misstating that, but he keeps misstating a lot of things.
BLITZER: But the auto industry is pretty robust right now. Both Chrysler and General Motors. They're in business and a lot of people in Michigan...
SUNUNU: And so -- and so is Ford.
BLITZER: ... and in Ohio and Illinois, they're pretty grateful about that.
SUNUNU: And so is Ford that didn't go through bankruptcy. Look, they may be grateful, but they also understand that the last four years has been a disaster. Twenty-three million people unemployed and underemployed. Everybody in Ohio knows somebody that hasn't got a job. The fact is that this president has not produced a recovery that has any robust character to it at all.
BLITZER: The -- I don't know about you, Governor, and I've known you for a long time. I was pretty surprised that Romney last night on the foreign policy issues. He seemed to go out of his way to agree with the president on some of the most sensitive issues. And he certainly didn't go on the attack on a sensitive subject like Libya, for example. Let me play a few clips, and then we'll discuss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't want to have our military involved in Syria. And of course, a military action is the last resort. When I'm president, I'll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014.
I don't blame the administration for the fact that the relationship with Pakistan is strained. It's widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes and I support that entirely. And feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Were you surprised, Governor, how supportive of the president's foreign policy, of all of these sensitive issues the governor was?
SUNUNU: No, not really. Because what he did, he ticked off the things he supports, he agrees with him on, but he also ticked off the things he doesn't agree with him on.
In Libya, he didn't agree with the general theory of leading from behind. If we had led from the front, we would have some stronger input into who the leadership was there.
In Syria, he pointed out that the president said a year ago, that Assad had to go and had virtually done nothing significant in that period of time. And Iran, he condemned the president for not supporting the Green Movement that took place there.
And on Russia, he really differed with the president, because Mitt Romney does feel that Putin has ambitions to make the Russian empire another Soviet Union again, and the president, in his whispering asides to Medvedev, said, "Let me get" -- the words were, in essence, "Let me get through the selection, and I will be flexible afterwards." Those are four major areas that he underscored the difference on, and those are the four major areas that have to be addressed properly, if this country is going to deal with the future.
BLITZER: I was -- I was struck at the softening, though. And I've covered him over the past several years, and I definitely sensed a softening. And I wasn't the only one.
My old friend, Steve Hayes, of the "Weekly Standard" -- he's a conservative writer -- he said this. He wrote a biography of Dick Cheney. He said, "Romney was so determined to avoid sounding like George W. Bush, that he spent much of the night sounding like Barack Obama." What do you say about that?
SUNUNU: Well, look, this was an opportunity for Mitt Romney to at least let the public understand that he doesn't have horns and a tail when it comes to foreign policy. And I think he did a great job. The proof of the pudding is, is that the bulk of the narratives today talk about Mitt Romney as presidential and Barack Obama as snarky. I think the governor wins on that basis alone.
BLITZER: Why did he not want to get into a debate with the president on the most sensitive issue right now, what happened in Benghazi?
SUNUNU: Well, there's a -- everybody knows what happened in Benghazi. If he got into it, the key issue in Benghazi is that the president lied constantly and misrepresented to the public, particularly...
BLITZER: Why didn't Romney say that?
SUNUNU: Because that's up to people like me to use words like that. Last night, he was putting a presidential side forward, and I think it was a brilliant strategy, and as people are thinking about what happened last night, I go back to the phrase I used. They're calling Romney presidential and the president snarky. That alone makes it worth it that it leaves it to folks like me to help explain what happened in Benghazi.
BLITZER: Governor Sununu, thanks for coming in, as usual.
SUNUNU: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Next we'll get a very different take on the campaign and the final debate when we talk to Obama campaign adviser, Colin Kahl.
BLITZER: Just a little while ago, the president landed on the South Lawn of the White House. Marine One, there you see some video that we got. Out on the campaign trail today, the presidential candidates are picking up where they left off last night after their final debate. We spoke just a little while ago with a top Romney campaign aide.
BOLDUAN: That's absolutely right. And now we're joined by Colin Kahl, a national security adviser to the Obama campaign and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
So let's look at this new ad from the Romney campaign first.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: The president began with an apology tour of going to various nations and criticizing America. I think they look at that and saw weakness.
The reason I call it an apology tour, you went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey and Iraq. And you skipped Israel. Our closest friend in the region.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Why did he skip Israel? The first four years of his administration, visited all these other neighboring countries but skipped Israel. I know he was there as a candidate, but not as a president.
COLIN KAHL, OBAMA ADVISOR: Just like Mitt Romney went there as a candidate, but Mitt Romney didn't go there for a fundraiser, he went there for serious business.
If you actually look back over the last 11 presidents, seven of them never traveled to Israel, and before they did, two of them, to include George W. Bush, didn't travel there until their second term. It's not all that unusual.
BLITZER: Here's what's unusual. Here's what's unusual. Other presidents, they may not have visited Israel, Ronald Reagan, but he didn't go to Egypt, didn't go to Iraq, and skipped Israel. Didn't go to Saudi Arabia and skip Israel. If you're in the neighborhood, usually, you visit Israel.
KAHL: Actually, of the four that traveled to the region and eventually traveled to Israel, they all traveled to Arab countries first.
BLITZER: They went -- they wouldn't just go to Arab countries but they wouldn't just go to Arab countries and not go to Israel.
KAHL: I don't think that's true, actually.
BLITZER: We can double check that. And the president last night twice said that Israel is our greatest ally in the region. In "60 Minutes," he said Israel is one of our best allies in the region. So what is it?
KAHL: Look, I don't think there's any question that Israel is our closest ally.
BLITZER: Why didn't the president say that on "60 Minutes."
KAHL: I think the president says it all the time.
BLITZER: He didn't say it on "60 Minutes."
KAHL: Nobody else in the region gets $3 billion a year in security assistance. We stood up, the administration has, for the Israelis at the U.N., repeatedly. I mean, Israeli officials all the time -- last time I was on the show, you played Ehud Barak and President Peres saying that there's never been a closer relationship. So I think this is just this myth that there's daylight between this administration and Israel.
BOLDUAN: One final question on the question of Israel. I want to play this exchange from the debate last night. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB SCHIEFFER, DEBATE MODERATOR: Would either of you be willing to declare that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States? Which, of course, is the same promise that we give to our close allies like Japan.
OBAMA: First of all, Israel is a true friend. It is our greatest ally in the region. And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel. I've made that clear throughout my presidency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Some were listening very closely. Many were listening very closely to that and heard that he kind of avoided answering that question. Will he declare an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States?
KAHL: The United States is committed to defending Israel. In fact, as we speak, there are more than 1,000 U.S. troops in Israel and another couple thousand participating from Europe in the largest-ever joint U.S./Israeli defense exercise.
BOLDUAN: So you're saying it's not needed to be stated other...
KAHL: No, I'm saying that what the president said, is that we stand with Israel and if Israel is attacked, we have their back.
BLITZER: That's not the question that Bob Schieffer asked. Is an attack on Israel an attack on the United States? An attack on a NATO ally is an attack on the United States. Is an attack on Israel an attack on the United States?
KAHL: Well, I think in that context, an attack on a NATO country would lead to an American response. And what the president said last night is an attack on Israel leads to an American response. Same thing.
BLITZER: So -- so just speaking for the Obama campaign, an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States?
KAHL: I'll just say what the president says, if Israel gets attacked...
BLITZER: You understand the nuance, the difference.
KAHL: Yes. But I'm saying...
BLITZER: You want to leave that.
KAHL: I'm saying the effect -- the effect is the same. If a NATO country gets attacked, we have their back. If Israel gets attacked, we have their back.
BLITZER: Not necessarily. But go ahead.
BOLDUAN: I want to move on if we can to the question of Afghanistan. It, of course, came up in last night's debate, and both President Obama as well as Governor Romney said that they plan to pull troops out by -- in 2014.
KAHL: Many people have asked this. We're watching all of these insider attacks continue, and so many questions -- more concerns about insider attacks. Why not pull them out sooner? If we already have this date set of 2014, why not pull them out sooner? Is this time -- would a second-term President Obama reassess that?
KAHL: Well, you know, I sent out a tweet last night that said that Mitt Romney must have forgot his talking points on Afghanistan, because he just read the president's.
I mean, obviously, Mitt Romney has swung toward the president in a big way, kind of waffling on Afghanistan. I think that the issue you race, these green on blue attacks is serious. The commander of Afghanistan takes it incredibly seriously.
And they change the way that we partner with Afghan security forces and that (ph) security forces to try to hedge against this risk going forward.
But I think the president believes and apparently Governor Romney agrees, that we need to make sure this transition happens responsibly. So I think the time line we've agreed to with our NATO allies through 2014 does that.
BLITZER: Colin Kahl. Lots of questions. Are you getting excited?
BLITZER: I can tell. Exactly.
KAHL: I'm always excited.
BLITZER: Thank you so much.
BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.
BLITZER: Peaches endorsed by the university, too.
BOLDUAN: Much smarter than I am. There's no question of that.
At the top of the hour, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" taking a close look at what's inside the Obama campaign's new 20-page plan for his second term. See whether some of the claims add up.
BLITZER: She's a force to be reckoned with on the beauty pageant circuit and a star of a cable reality show. I'm not talking about you.
BOLDUAN: Unfortunately, you are not.
Now Honey Boo-Boo is taking her show on the road, promoting her second season and making the most of the spotlight. Here is CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pick the toughest interviewee. Is it Dick Cheney?
DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So?
MOOS: Is it Charlie Sheen?
CHARLIE SHEEN, ACTOR: I am on a drug. It's called Charlie Sheen.
MOOS: But they're child's play compared to Honey Boo-Boo.
DREW PINSKY, HLN HOST: Let me ask you some questions.
ALANA THOMPSON, REALITY TV STAR: Oh!
MOOS: HLN's Dr. Drew had to contend with pretend snoring.
PINSKY: Is it difficult to be on TV?
MOOS: But the week before, on KTLA, they probably wished she'd dozed off...
(BEGIN COMMERCIAL BREAK)
MOOS: ... instead of belting out song. The 7-year-old star of TLC's reality show "Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo" bounced her way through the interview. She played games.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hang on.
MOOS: Mom didn't have enough hands to stop her.
THOMPSON: Whoa, whoa.
MOOS: Honey Boo-Boo is on a tear. While on her latest media tour, from "Extra" -- to "Jimmy Kimmel" she couldn't sit still.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't know...
THOMPSON: You better redneckognize!
MOOS: The crowd recognized one of her favorite sayings. She went from interview to interview acting up.
(on camera) Now, a lot of people are booing all of the attention being showered on Honey Boo-Boo.
SHARON OSBOURNE, TV PERSONALITY: I honestly think that people are doing a disservice to this child.
MOOS (voice-over): Sharon Osbourne's family had their own reality show.
OSBOURNE: I think 7 is way too young.
MOOS: The media grind can leave you pooped. Honey Boo-Boo's family seems to be exceptionally loving. That didn't stop people online from posting dire predictions: "This will end badly." Already, she's been portrayed on "SNL."
VANESSA BAYER, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": And always be telling off no one in particular!
MOOS: Debuted on "South Park."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've already had three heart attacks, girlfriend!
MOOS: And been mentioned by the president.
OBAMA: Honey Boo-Boo endorsement.
THOMPSON: Barack Obama.
OBAMA: So that's a big relief.
MOOS: She almost swatted Dr. Drew.
PINSKY: Hi, hi.
JUNE THOMPSON, MOTHER: Don't hit.
MOOS: these days, she's less honey...
(SOUND OF SNORING) MOOS: ... more boo-boo.
PINSKY: Is there something exciting you'd like to talk about?
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: This programming -- we have a programming note. You can see Dr. Drew's full interview with Honey Boo-Boo for yourself. It airs later tonight, 9 p.m. Eastern on our sister network, HLN.
BOLDUAN: Just so you know, that was Wolf's first introduction to Honey Boo-Boo.
BLITZER: I don't know much about Honey Boo-Boo.
BOLDUAN: It's OK. You've learned enough, I think.
BLITZER: Her ratings were pretty good when she had a show opposite the president's address at the Democratic convention.
BOLDUAN: I think that tells us something.
BLITZER: Remember, you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. You can tweet me, @WolfBlitzer, tweet Kate at Kate Bolduan. A lot of people don't know how to spell your name.
BOLDUAN: You can Google it.
BLITZER: Google it: @KateBolduan, @WolfBlitzer.
That's it for us. Thanks very much for joining us. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: "OUTFRONT" next, 14 days before the election, President Obama lays out his vision for a second term. But does his 20-page plan add up?