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Gingrich Campaigns in Iowa; Nasty Campaign Ads or Not?; Santorum at 2nd of Five Iowa Stops; Bachmann Makes Last Scheduled Stop; Santorum Stumps In Iowa

Aired December 31, 2011 - 15:14   ET

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


CROWLEY: That is Newt Gingrich. Newt Gingrich in Atlantic, Iowa, along with his wife, Callista.

You've got a very good feel for what a town hall meeting is like here in Iowa. Usually the candidate gives what is a pretty much a regular speech that he gives everywhere, and then taking questions which can run the gamut from global warming to our relationship with China.

You saw Newt Gingrich at the very beginning talk about all the negative advertising that's been out there against him. He's not the only one, because things can get pretty ugly during a presidential race this time of year.

Coming up, some of the nasty words and ads.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Still, even as we talk politics, we are also bringing you the New Year celebrations from around the world.

This is how Tokyo, Japan welcomed 2012. Those balloons you see floating in the darkness are filled with wish cards. It's a Japanese tradition to put wishes in balloons on New Year's Eve and then set the balloon free in unison as the midnight bell rings.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: There were lots of verbal jabs on the campaign trail this week and in the ads. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GINGRICH: Mitt Romney is the guy running the most ads attacking me, and he's doing it through this disingenuous, "Oh, gee. I don't control all of my former staff and all of my millionaire friends." It's baloney.

If he wants to defend his negativity, show up in Iowa, 90 minutes face to face. Let the - let the people decide whether or not in fact he'll back up what he's been saying, and let him back up his moderate record, not conservative record, as governor, and I don't think he'll do it. MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's running his campaign the way he thinks best. Obviously, the Virginia setting was - was not the best hour of his campaign.

I think it's - it's more like Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory. So, I mean, you know, you've got to get it organized.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Is this campaign really ugly, or is this just sort of standard fare?

That's why I brought in Mark Preston. You know, this doesn't strike me as particularly horrible.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: No, it - it isn't from any past campaign. It seems, Candy, that every four years we seem to forget what happened four years earlier and how these negative ads are helping to shape the race. And what we've seen in the past month, that it's really been directed at Newt Gingrich, right?

So he even just mentioned this, you saw this in this live town hall, where he said 45 percent of ads in the month of December were run against him, and that's absolutely correct. The analysis was done by a CNN television consultant, Canter (ph) Media, and they showed that it was Newt Gingrich that was taking all the fire, so that's why you see - see him complaining.

CROWLEY: Right. And the fact of the matter is he went down 19, 20 points in the poll over the course of that same timeframe, three weeks. So it says - it tells you right there, when people ask all the time, why do they run those negative ads? Well, guess what?

PRESTON: It worked.

CROWLEY: It worked.

PRESTON: They work. And you know who - who has been - who has jumped in the polls in the past week or so is Rick Santorum, and how many negative ads have you seen ran against Rick Santorum? Zero. One or two, but it's been very negligible.

Now, what's interesting is that Newsmax, the Internet - the conservative Internet website, is now running a 30-minute infomercial endorsing Newt Gingrich. I saw it three times this morning on three different stations, trying to pump up his candidacy. So while he has been attacked, he's also getting some support.

CROWLEY: He is, and that - I think I've seen this (INAUDIBLE) by Michael Reagan, Ronald Reagan's son -

PRESTON: Yes. Michael Reagan.

CROWLEY: -- sort of wrapping Newt Gingrich in that - the warm, fuzzy Ronald Reagan, which is how most Republicans certainly remember him. So, you know, in the end, do we have any kind of idea of who's taken the most incoming? Is it Newt Gingrich? Because it seems to me Michele Bachmann didn't particularly undergo - when she was the frontrunner. I mean, it makes sense that - that they go after the frontrunner, but I don't remember that many about Rick Perry, who kind of did himself in in the debates, or against Michele Bachmann.

PRESTON: And the reason being is because when they were the frontrunners, or at least one of the leading contenders, at that time people were holding their money. They were not spending it on television advertising.

So if we look at Rick Perry, he came on in August, and you and I and I think just about everyone thought that Rick Perry would be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. I mean, that - that was the guy. Then he fell by the wayside.

Before that, Michele Bachmann came out of the New Hampshire debate in June. She was going to be the one who's going to take it home. She did herself in as well.

Herman Cain came out of nowhere, you know, in the month of November. He went away.

But nobody was spending money at that time on television ads. They are now.

CROWLEY: And it also we're closer to the time where it counts. We've seen now Ron Paul is just - I mean, I don't know what - what percentage of ads have been run against him, but certainly on the campaign trail we are hearing over and over again he's unelectable. He's unelectable. We can't elect him. And so he's taking a lot of incoming because of his status on the top tier.

PRESTON: And that's absolutely true, and you know where he's taking the incoming from, it's from the GOP establishment, which does not want to see Ron Paul win the Republican nomination. It's - it's fratricide in some ways, right? It's Republican on Republican, but not necessarily folks that are - are for - or that are for Rick Santorum or folks that are for Mitt Romney. It's all of them that are against Ron Paul.

CROWLEY: And the - the thing is it's always been a delicate balance for a Republican to go after a fellow Republican because you - while you may want him to fail, you'd also like his supporter to come to you.

PRESTON: Which was interesting, when Mitt Romney went after Ron Paul in a couple of speeches earlier this week, I thought that he would just let Ron Paul be Ron Paul, and then at some point maybe some of those folks would come over to his side. But he decided to attack him personally, and of course a lot has to do with Ron Paul's views on foreign policy, and that's why the establishment Republican does not like Ron Paul.

CROWLEY: And, in the end, though, it - it says to me that they - that Mitt Romney does see Ron Paul as a threat to his march - what he hopes is his march towards the White House.

PRESTON: It does, and specifically when you get to the convention time, because Ron Paul, you know, a lot of people don't think that he can win the nomination. I think it would be very hard for him to win the nomination because while some of his views are embraced by the Republican Party, a lot of those views are outside of the Republican mainstream thought. So that - that would be his toughest hurdle to overcome.

However, by the time you get to the convention, Ron Paul probably will not endorse the nominee if it's not him, but he can still control part of the convention. And I think that's what Mitt Romney's worried about.

CROWLEY: And what - shouldn't they also be worried that they could so tick off Ron Paul, who won't commit, by the way, to endorsing whoever wins -

PRESTON: No.

CROWLEY: -- at this point, that he could take his marbles and go play in an independent party.

PRESTON: You know, there's a lot of thought about that. It goes back and forth on that. I don't think he necessarily would do that. He could actually cause more damage to the Republican Party by staying in the Republican Party, and as a Republican, you know, questioning them -

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: -- power. Right.

PRESTON: Exactly. Now, you have him tomorrow.

CROWLEY: Right. Right.

PRESTON: And I'm - I'm really interested to see what he says tomorrow on your show, especially because he decided to take this weekend off and go home and - and recharge the batteries and come back on Monday with his son, Rand Paul, who's the Kentucky senator. A lot of people think it was a mistake.

CROWLEY: Well, you - what's interesting, though, to me is I - I have to say, I don't think there's much that you can say to convince a Ron Paul supporter not to go caucus for him.

PRESTON: Very true. And especially because these are young kids, and probably the biggest problem for Ron Paul about leaving this weekend is not Ron Paul not appearing at a rally in Cedar Rapids or here in Des Moines or West Des Moines or wherever across the state, it's the news media. It's us pointing out the fact that he has left the state and highlighting it to all of these caucus goers.

But you are right. If you're a Ron Paul supporter, you're probably not going to be a Mitt Romney supporter - CROWLEY: He could leave the state now. That's right.

PRESTON: You want to vote now.

CROWLEY: Mark Preston, thanks so much. I'll talk to you later this afternoon.

We will have more of THE CONTENDERS 2012. Coming up next, our Wolf Blitzer is going to sit down with Mitt Romney.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jim Acosta in Knoxville, Iowa. Thanks for tuning into THE CONTENDERS, a raw look at the candidates out in the campaign trail on the final days before the Iowa caucuses.

I'm inside the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Museum here in Knoxville, Iowa. It is where Rick Santorum is talking to supporters right now. And he was just in Indianola, Iowa, a few - a few minutes ago, talking to supporters there. He's making his final arguments basically to the people of Iowa this weekend.

He - he has been the iron man of this Iowa caucus campaign, hitting every county in Iowa, and that's part of his appeal to voters here. He's saying he's the one who's put the time, and he's the one who's invested in campaigning in this state, and he thinks that should be rewarded coming up on caucus night.

Let's go to Rick Santorum now and hear what he has to say.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- contrast between what - what we believe in, and as conservatives, and what Barack Obama is doing to this country.

This - this election is about a foundational election about freedom. It's not - it's not just about economic freedom and the economy, but it's about freedom generally speaking. And this president, as you've seen from his speeches, believes that America is a broken model, that America is - needs more government control and intervention, that we need to become more like Western Europe, we need more regulations.

This administration - over the - let me just sort of step back. In the last two presidents, President Bush, and then, prior to that, President Clinton, on average promulgated 60 regulations each year that cost over $100 million a year. Those are the most costly regulations. Sixty on average during their terms per year. This president is about to do 150 in this year alone.

You wonder why this economy is struggling and suffering? It's because this president is crushing it. And that's why we need to have someone who can go out with a plan, like mine, which I'm going to repeal every one of those regulations. You can't repeal every law, but a president can repeal regulations. Some we'll repeal completely, others we'll repeal and replace with less costly alternatives, so we can work with the business communities, so we can be competitive, so we can create jobs.

That's what the folks of Iowa have been telling me. They said, look, we're - I can't tell you the number of farmers I've talked to and the manufacturers I've talked to who have told me that they're just being crushed and - by these regulations and the uncertainty of more regulations. It's not just that what they're doing now, but the uncertainty of what's - what is to come.

So, we've gone around Iowa, and we've learned from that. We've put forth a plan, a bold plan, on the economy to balance the budget in five years, put forth a plan to - to get this economy growing with tax cuts and particularly focus on manufacturing, where we zero out the corporate tax and create an opportunity for manufacturers to compete in this country, to create the quality jobs that we need.

Those are the things that I'm hopeful and believe that the people of Iowa have responded to. We've been work very hard in making sure that we're accountable. We've done, as I mentioned before, I think, maybe I didn't mention it here, 362 now town hall meetings where we've gone and talked to the folks and made time for questions.

I know we're a couple of days before the caucus, we're doing a little speed dating here the last day or two. But I had a meeting in Davenport two nights ago that was two hours. I had a meeting last night in Marshall Town that was an hour and 20 minutes. We take our time with Iowa voters and respecting them enough to take a question and answer the tough ones.

So I'm going stop right there and just ask you if there's any questions you have, if you would like to ask them and before we wrap up and to this little -- we're at this museum. Sprint cup. We have to do something fast.

So I'm going to try to see if I can speed answer your questions. Any questions out there? Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In dealing with the Congress, is there anyway somebody can clean up the mess in Congress with all the bribery and everything in appointing an attorney general to investigate?

SANTORUM: I would say this. If you're looking for someone that has a track record of cleaning things up, I went to the United States Congress at 32 years of age, the second youngest member of Congress, second youngest to a guy from Iowa.

Nussle and I came to Congress with John Boehner and we formed a group of gang of seven in response to corruption that was going on in the Washington, D.C. in the Congress. We were in the minority. We were a pathetic majority.

We were small, ineffective grouch Republicans who had been whipped for 38 years of being in the minority. We didn't even know what it was like to think about being in the majority. They had that minority mentality.

So when corruptions came up they got sort of talked out of doing anything about it. There was a group of young freshman that said we're not whipped and we're going to go out and fight those things.

And if you look at our track record not only did we expose the check bouncing scandal that was in Washington, D.C. that led to the conviction of members of Congress, and other people, but we also exposed the post office scandal, which led to the conviction of the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

So if you're looking for someone who has that reputation, and has done it, when I came to the United States Senate same thing. I reformed the entire process of how we purchased things. I was on the committee that cleaned up the huge subsidies we were giving to senators for food and other types of perks.

We did the same thing when it came to term limits. I put term limits on committee chairmen. So we got a strong record of reform and taking on folks. What's going on in Washington right now with the insider trading is a sad state of affairs, but it just tells you bad behavior.

People not leaving good, decent, moral lives leads to what, more laws, more paper work and more tax dollars for you to monitor these folks who shouldn't have to be monitored to what common sense would tell you not what to do.

But when you lose common sense and you lose values then you have to have more laws to enforce what otherwise we would have never even thought you would have to have a law to do. When you're a member of Congress and you have a piece of legislation before you that could dramatically impact a business.

And you think that legislation will pass, well you don't go out and then trade on that information and hope to profit from it because it's wrong. There shouldn't have to be a law there, but now there is.

Why? Because it looks like some people did that. That's the kind of thing that I've said if you really want to transform America, can't be just about reform it has to be about changing the culture of this country.

It is got to be about, you know, values and faith and freedom and that's what we've been talking about across this state. Take one or two more. If there are one or two more, there don't need to be one or two more.

On children's issues like education or? People that harm children?

Well, by and large those issues are state issues not federal issues. I guess my feeling on that, as far as federal crimes in that area I'm not sure there's a need for federal crimes in that area. That those are generally state crimes and I think they are probably best left for the states to implement those. OK, thank you. Anybody else? Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you were elected would you do something with the EPA to call them off --

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Congresswoman Bachmann, we're here at your Urbandale, Iowa headquarters. How are you feeling right now?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Wonderful. Fantastic. We just completed our 99-county tour. No other candidate has attempted that and we just saw incredible enthusiasm. We had thousands of people flip and go my way so we're looking forward to Tuesday night.

JOHNS: Why the choice to race through the 99 counties at the very end as opposed to doing good --

BACHMANN: We did. Probably no other candidate spent more time going through all of Iowa last summer and that's why I won the Iowa straw poll. But we wanted to make sure we went back a second time and so we went to all 99 counties to make sure every Iowan when they make their final decision had a chance to be able to come out.

I could listen to them. They could ask me questions and that's why we literally saw thousands of people flipping and they are very excited and now they are going to tell their friends at church, their co- workers, sending out e-mail list. They're Facebooking.

So they are our best recruiters. They're going to bring all their friends out and I think we're going very excited about what we see on Tuesday.

JOHNS: Since your Ames straw poll, you've even talked about your poll numbers flipping or plummeting a little bit. Our latest CNN poll, you're sixth in Iowa. Not doing so well in New Hampshire. So what is the strategy going forward beyond Tuesday?

BACHMANN: Well, Tuesday we intend to win here in Iowa. That's our plan. We think we'll do extremely well here in Iowa. That's going to be the cannon shot. That's the cannon shot that's going to launch us across the country.

We'll be heading out and taking on state after state after state because the ultimate victory is to defeat Barack Obama, make him a one term president so that the country has a chance to grow again.

And that's my plan to repeal Obamacare, repeal Dodd-Frank, abolish the tax and give these kids a chance for their future. That's the whole goal.

JOHNS: Let's talk for a moment about New Hampshire. What's the strategy after Tuesday going into New Hampshire?

BACHMANN: Well, we worked hard. We laid a lot of foundation in New Hampshire. So we'll go there and we'll make our case to the voters. We have a lot of Tea Party support up in New Hampshire, but we see this as a full race of all 50 states.

So we've, yesterday, we just sent in our applications to the Ohio ballot and the Kansas ballot. We're looking at all 50 states and we think at the end of the day, we will be the nominee to defeat Barack Obama. We need a strong woman in the pattern of Ronald Reagan and a Margaret Thacher to take him on and defeat him. That's what happened in 1980. Everyone said a conservative couldn't win against Jimmy Carter. It was just the opposite.

We needed the strongest conservative we could have. It's the same thing now. I've proven that I am the strong consistent core conservative in this race. That's what we need. I'm fearless.

I've already taken Barack Obama on, on Obamacare, on Dodd-Frank and all these issues. I will stand on the stage fearlessly look him in the eye, take him on the issues, hold him accountable for his $15 trillion in debt. Take him on to defeat him and then go on to turn the country around.

JOHNS: So in terms your rival, some have been campaigning heavily in New Hampshire for the past few months? Is it your acknowledgement or do you think you have a lot of ground make up in New Hampshire since they've been doing so much campaigning there?

BACHMANN: Well, our goal is to do very well here in Iowa. That is a game changer because people will make up their minds based upon what is happening at the time of their primary. This is a caucus state. New Hampshire is a primary state. It's very different.

So we absolutely will be there, but we'll also go on the South Carolina as well. Again, this is a 50 state race and so this is where I want to show very well. Remember, there's only been one state-wide race so far in this presidential election.

And I'm the one person of all the candidates that won the only state- wide race that was the straw poll. So I intend to win the second state-wide race, which is the Iowa caucuses and then go on from there to New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and ultimately to defeat Barack Obama.

Because this isn't about me, about me winning, this is about this demographic behind me. We have a lot of young people. Of all the candidates in this race, no candidate does better with people who are 18 to 29 years of age. That's because this next generation recognizes we need a strong candidate who cares about them and their future to make sure that they don't have the $15 trillion in growing debt that they have to pay off.

And I'm a very unique candidate who draws not only broad support from young people, but also I bring in Democrats, independents, senior citizen, people who don't necessarily vote Republican, I bring in those people.

I'm the first Republican ever to win in the state of Minnesota. I do it by bringing in Democrats and independents and they don't agree with me on every issue.

But they do recognize that I'm real, I'm sincere. I'm authentic. I'm not going to lie to people. I tell them exactly what I'm going to do. They put their trust in me. They know that I will stand up and be fearless and turn the country around.

JOHNS: Last question, we're 72 years away from the caucus, how do you feel?

BACHMANN: We feel fantastic. People right now all over Iowa going door-to-door all over Iowa and as soon as we're done here they will be right back on phones. They'll be making tens of thousands of phone calls. They're going right back on. That's called victory. This is called win, win, win behind me. This is victory. So we are thrilled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Congresswoman.

BACHMANN: Thank you.

JOHNS: So, Candy, there you have it. The congresswoman talking about the momentum that she feels that her campaign has heading in to caucus just few days from now. Back to you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to "Contenders 2012." Today, we are hearing from the Republican presidential contenders in their own words. Three days now until the Iowa caucuses.

In just about an hour, we will hear from Mitt Romney. He'll be campaigning in Le Mars, Iowa. We will bring to it live when it happens.

But first, we want to take you back to Rick Santorum. He is right now in Knoxville, Iowa, actually, talking in a small town hall meeting. Let's listen in.

SANTORUM: -- because people started to focus in and listen to the message and the differences between candidates. We were able to defeat a 14-year Democratic incumbent and then four years later, defeat a United States senator, a Democratic United States senator, win a senate with almost a million more registered Democrats than Republicans.

Two democratic incumbents head on, two for two. So, if you're looking for someone who can win, don't listen to these pundits, they think the only thing that allows someone to win is if they are not ka conservative because they are not conservatives.

The only way to win is to be like us. Well, that was the case they made back in 1980 when they said he can't. You know, Jimmy Carter is a disaster. We got to get rid of him. You got to take someone who can win.

Ronald Reagan said no. Let's not have a pure victory. Let's have a victory that actually if we win that we can actually make the changes that America needs and that's what I'm asking you to do today.

To support us to we can make the changes that America actually needs. If you would be willing to sign up -- so we have some sign ups outside you can take some information. Take some signs. We would greatly appreciate your help and support.

We need caucus captains to go to the caucus on caucus night and help us out and if you can do that I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you all very much and God bless you. Thanks.

CROWLEY: That is a former senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum. He is in Knoxville, Iowa. He has a lot on his schedule today more than anyone else.

Rick Santorum has been in Iowa over 100 days during this election season. He has visited all 99 counties. I'm actually a little bit surprised to hear him say they still need precinct captains because I thought they were pretty full up on precinct captains.

Nonetheless, it seemed to have paid off. I want to bring in our Jim Acosta. You know, Jim, Santorum really had a great week. I mean, this is a man who has toiled in the kind of also running category up until this week when suddenly we look and he's third in the polls.

ACOSTA: Well, that's right, Candy. I mean, we've seen throughout this campaign we've seen different candidates emerge as sort of the un-Romney and this is Rick Santorum's turn.

What better time than right before Iowa caucuses to sort of emerge as the latest un-Romney and you know, he has been as you just said a few moments ago been canvassing the state today. He has the busiest schedule of all the candidates and that's been sort of his ammo throughout this campaign. He's hit all 99 counties and he's hoping that hard work is going to pay off in the long run and here comes the former Pennsylvania senator now.

He's walking up to our site and we'll talk to him for a few minutes live on THE CONTENDERS.

Senator Santorum, Jim Acosta with CNN. Thanks for stopping by. We appreciate it.

We were just listening to you a few moments ago. It sounds like in your comments of different stops you've been thanking the people of Iowa.

You've almost a part time resident in this state leading up to these caucuses. What is your message in these final days going in? Do you think that message can put you over the top?

SANTORUM: I feel very, very good that, you know, the people of Iowa have seen us out there. They've kicked the tires. We've done 360 town hall meetings.

They know the vision I've laid out that I'm the strong full spectrum, consistent conservative and someone who will make the kind of changes that America needs and that they don't need to settle for something less.

They don't need to settle for something less because some folks convinced them that's what we need to do to win. It's a perrit victory if we elect someone who is not ready to do what American needs to have done.

ACOSTA: And let me ask you about that because if I can read between the lines there, it sounds like you're talking about Mitt Romney. You have emerged as sort of the latest un-Romney here in the final stretch of this campaign going into the caucuses. Do you feel he's a full spectrum conservative the way that you describe yourself?

SANTORUM: Look, I feel we're a much stronger and we have a better record of showing that we stand up in good times and in bad, when it's popular and not popular for the principles that made our country great.

That believing in the bottom up, believing in free people, and free markets and not in government control. Whether it's health care or financial services or controlling energy and global warming.

That we believe in markets and we believe in people, and that's the plan I put forward and it's a clear contrast to Barack Obama and I think that's what we need in this election.

ACOSTA: Let me ask you about the way you wage this campaign because you've sort of done it the old-fashioned way. You've visited all the counties. You've done it basically with very little TV time or very little ad time.

Whereas you look at the other candidates in this race especially the two at the top, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, they profited primarily because of advertising, PAC advertising.

But you haven't done that. What message do you think Iowa caucus goers should take from that? Because we've heard Newt Gingrich say don't reward some of these candidates who are doing that sort of thing. What's your message?

SANTORUM: I think you reward the candidate that you've had the opportunity to test and see what their, not just their ads say, but what's really in their heart, what's in their head.

You know, how well they can handle the tough questions because they are going to get them. We've seen that. We've seen candidates that have not gone through the trial, have not been tested and when they go out there, they don't do particularly well.

After 360 town hall meetings, I can answer most questions now and I have a pretty good idea why I believe what I believe not just trying to form the answer that may sound the best.

ACOSTA: Senator, one of the things that we focused on this week is the fact that if Mitt Romney wins these Iowa caucus, goes into New Hampshire and then wins the New Hampshire primary, no Republican presidential candidate has done that since Gerald Ford and lot of people think he would be unstoppable.

Do you think that would that be bad for your party, for him to pull off that kind of (inaudible) essentially make it almost impossible for this process to go on in any sort of real way? SANTORUM: If there's anything we've learned from this process that those kinds of predictions have been uniformly wrong. We've been through the process while it's a two-person race and you can go through "it's a two-person race" every six weeks and it's two different two people.

You know, the pundit class has just blown it in this election. Why, because it's not like a typical election. I don't think no matter what happens here today, this is not going to be over in two states.

There are a lot of folks who are concerned that we get a Reagan-style conviction conservative who's a stark contrast that paints in bold colors, contrasting with the very bold colors of President Obama.

And I think that -- I believe I'm the best candidate to do that and I think Mitt Romney, while a good man, doesn't draw those contrasts.

ACOSTA: I was just about to ask you because you've been pretty nice in this interview not to go after Governor Romney. But if you look at the two top candidates in this state, you said, let's put a Reagan conservative at the top in Iowa. Do Ron Paul and Mitt Romney qualify as Reagan conservatives, in your view?

SANTORUM: I would say that I'm a much better Reagan conservative than they are. That's why I'm running.

ACOSTA: You're not very tough on these guys. How come? Why is that?

SANTORUM: I'm being tough. I'm contrasting myself. I'm just not going to be mean. I think I'm better than they are. I think Ron Paul's -- as I've said many times in the Dennis Kucinich win in the Democratic Party on national security.

That's not a good thing to contrast with President Obama. I've mentioned, you know, Mitt Romney's problems with respect to a lot of the issues that I think are important to contrast in this election. Health care obviously being first among them.

So, yes, I'll draw my contrasts, but you know, they're good people, I'd vote for them over Barack Obama. But we need something better. We can't settle at a time when our country needs major changes on national security and economically and with our culture.

We need someone who can paint a very different vision than Barack Obama, to be able to lead, not only win the election, but to be able to rally the American public with that mandate to do something that's going to save our country. I think we provide a much better remedy than what they do.

ACOSTA: And Rick Perry is going after you. It's been sort of a battle of the ricks this week. Some have called it a race for third place.

But let me ask you, I know you want to win, but he's gone after you on these earmarks that you supported when you were a senator in Washington. And he's talking about these rain forest museums and all that. Can you be a consistent, full-spectrum conservative the way you describe it and be supportive of earmarks.

SANTORUM: Well, the rain forest was here in Iowa and I've voted for lots of appropriation bills that had things in it that I didn't vote for. Governor Perry hired people repeatedly over the years to go to Washington, D.C. and get money for Texas.

I mean, when taxpayers send their money from the state of Pennsylvania, my job is to make sure that Pennsylvania gets a fair share of that. I don't think any senator or congressman in the history of this country would say that's not their responsibility.

What happened after I left Congress was there was an abuse and an explosion of spending. I along with others like Jim DeMint who earmarked said this was an abuse. After the 2010 election when it became it was important to the public, I stood up and said, there should be a moratorium on earmarking.

For Governor Perry to rewrite history as to earmarking, earmarking was not the plague that it was for hundreds of years because members of Congress thought it was their responsibility and there wasn't abuse. When abuse came, we ended the process and I supported it.

ACOSTA: Let me ask you about translating poll numbers into boots on the ground on caucus night because your spokesman told me a few moments ago before this interview that he believes that your campaign has roughly 70 percent of these caucus sites staffed for Tuesday night. That's pretty impressive.

SANTORUM: When you say staffed, I'm not talking about staffed. We're not paying a lot of people. We have who we call --

ACOSTA: Volunteer captains.

SANTORUM: Caucus captains. These are Iowans who are going to be helping us there at the caucus sites.

ACOSTA: Do that make a difference for you because we heard Mitt Romney winning big in '08 and he's had a lighter footprint this time around. Maybe he does -- does he have that kind of manpower this time around?

SANTORUM: You'd have to ask Governor Romney. I don't know. All I can tell you, I don't know what the other campaigns are doing.

ACOSTA: Ron Paul has serious ground game.

SANTORUM: I'm sure he does.

ACOSTA: How does your contrast with theirs?

SANTORUM: Again, I don't know what they're doing. They haven't briefed me on that. All I can tell you is we had a bunch of people in today. We had caucus captain training. We had well over 100 people in to pick up their packets and pick up their signs and placards and talk to our folks about how they're going to present the best case for us.

They're anxious to get there and work the door and work their colleagues. That's what it's all about. That's why caucuses are a little bit more fun than going to a regular polling place where you have to stand so far back.

You can actually get in the polling place and you can talk to folks and wear your buttons and if we have people who are enthusiastic because they've met me, I think that's going to make a big difference.

ACOSTA: I'll wrap it up so the rest of the press doesn't kill me here, but let me just ask. Do you understand the caucus process? Do you understand how it works?

SANTORUM: I've been to them. I actually spoke at a caucus back in 2004 for President Bush. I've experienced a caucus -- I think it's a -- what you're really doing here is folks who are really paying attention, folks who are active, who are screening, if you will, people who are coming are not your average voter.

They're voters who are really focused on the issues. They're focused on the character and quality of the individual and they're performing, I think, a very important function, which I bet if you asked -- I've done this at almost every event I've had the last couple of weeks.

I've asked people, how many of you have met the other candidates other than me? And almost every hand goes up. Folks take this very seriously and I think they're actually doing quite a service to the people of this country in giving these candidates a scrubbing and then making a recommendation.

ACOSTA: All right, Senator, thanks for your time. Thanks for being on THE CONTENDERS. Appreciate it. Best of luck to you. Thanks a lot.

So there you have it. There's Senator Rick Santorum. He stopped for a few moments to talk to us. He's going to be going on throughout this day well into New Year's Eve trying to convince caucus goers to support him on caucus night.

He's got a tough challenge. He was way at the back of the pack here in Iowa throughout this campaign. But he has surged here in the final days before the Iowa caucuses.

We'll see how he translates that into a final performance on caucus night. We'll be right back with "The Contenders" in just a moment.

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CROWLEY: A little bit of breaking news for you on this very political New Year's Eve day. Newt Gingrich, one of the Republican contenders has now joined a lawsuit with some of his fellow presidential contenders against the way the Republican Party selected folks to be on the ballot in Virginia. The lawsuit specifically was filed by Rick Perry and it seeks to stop the state of Virginia from keeping Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum off the ballot. Under Virginia rules, as they now exist, you have to have a certain amount of certified signatures to get your name on the ballot in one way or another, all those candidates failed to meet Virginia's law -- election law as to how they should qualify for the ballot.

They are now suing both members of the election board and the Republican Party chief in Virginia to stay on it. Newt Gingrich now joining Huntsman, Bachmann, Santorum and Perry in a lawsuit to try to get on the Virginia ballot. We'll be right back after this break.

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