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Countdown to Iowa, The Final 48 Hours

Aired January 1, 2012 - 20:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center.

In just 48 hours, at this time Tuesday night, the doors to the caucus rooms across Iowa will close and voters will have their say. Until then, every second counts. We're tracking late changes in the Republican race that could influence the candidates' strategy and the Iowa results.

Our John King is over at the magic wall. He's watching the ground game. And where the candidates need to make inroads.

Erin Burnett is over at the polling station with the final numbers from Iowa to show us who's on top right now and why everything could change on Tuesday.

And our Ali Velshi is over at the social media screen keeping tabs on what Americans are saying online about the candidates.

It's been a very busy New Year's Day out on the campaign trail in Iowa. CNN's Jim Acosta is covering the last big push for votes.

Jim, set the scene for us. A very important day today.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And Newt Gingrich is not crying anymore after weeks of taking abuse from Mitt Romney. The former speaker sent a clear message he is ready to return the favor.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Making his way through an Iowa sports bar, Newt Gingrich signaled it's getting close to last call before the caucuses. What better time and place to start a brawl with his nemesis, Mitt Romney.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Frankly, if you're willing to be dishonest to try to get to be president, why would we think you'd be honest once you are president?

ACOSTA: Abandoning his clinch to stay positive, Gingrich went on the attack pointing out Romney's health care program in Massachusetts provides abortion coverage and Romney's vote for Democrat Paul Tsongas in 1992.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ever notice how some people make a lot of mistakes?

ACOSTA: Gingrich said the onslaught of negative attack ads on his campaign from a pro-Romney super PAC was evidence Romney is trying to buy the election.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you feel swept up?

GINGRICH: No. I feel Romney voted.

ACOSTA (on camera): But, Mr. Speaker, by stating now that you're willing to get more aggressive, aren't you also acknowledging you should have done it sooner?

GINGRICH: No. I think we're running a very intense experiment.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But it's an experiment that played right into Romney's hand.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is an election, however, that's not being driven by money raised. It's being driven by message, connection with the voters, debates, experience.

ACOSTA: The final snapshot of the race in Iowa before the caucuses, the "Des Moines Register" poll shows the damage has been done. Romney is well out in front of Gingrich whose support has plunged roughly 20 percent in less than a month. But the results from the last two days of the poll are even more fascinating.

Look at Rick Santorum. He's statistically tied for the lead which explains why Romney is now going after him as a creature of Washington.

ROMNEY: He has a very different background than I have.

ACOSTA: Sensing he's in a battle for number two Santorum is taking on Ron Paul instead.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Like the president said when he was campaigning, I predict that if President Obama has four years where he's not looking toward re-election, his foreign policy will not be any different than Ron Paul's foreign policy.

ACOSTA: The Texas congressman's response? My crowds are bigger than yours.

REP. RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why are the crowds getting bigger and bigger? Why is it that 77 percent of the American people want us to get out of Afghanistan? So I would say that I'm pretty mainstream.

ACOSTA: And don't count out Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann. Not in the 2012 field of drama in Iowa.


ACOSTA: Gingrich says no matter what happens here in Iowa, he is headed straight to New Hampshire after the caucuses to rip into Mitt Romney. And it appears the former speaker's supporters like what they're hearing. As he was in this room taking Romney apart today, there were supporters in the adjacent room cheering him on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: When I was in Iowa last week, you turn on the TV, you see the attack ads on Newt Gingrich. Here's the question. What took him so long to respond? What was he thinking?

ACOSTA: That's exactly right. What was he thinking? I mean that is the ultimate question, I think, in these caucuses. And Gingrich said himself today that had he gone after Mitt Romney the way Romney's forces were going after him, he feels as if he could have taken Romney's poll numbers down from where it is right now at 25 percent down to, perhaps, 2 or 3 percent. But then the logical follow-up question to the former speaker was, why didn't you do that sooner?

Wolf, he simply did not have a response for that. He wanted to conduct this experiment, as he calls it, to conduct a positive campaign. But it appears at this point, unless something really turns around in the next 24 to 48 hours, it didn't work -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, looks like a failed experiment, at least for now.

Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

We have a final snapshot on the candidates' support in Iowa before Tuesday's caucuses. Erin Burnett and Gloria Borger over at the CNN polling station to break town the numbers for us.

Erin, this is a snapshot. Things could still change.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Right. And as we've seen, things have changed rapidly over just the past few days. But just as Jim was talking about the latest choice for nomination, this is what we have right now, Gloria. All right.


BURNETT: Mitt Romney is at the top. If this is how it finishes on Tuesday, here's my question to you. What does this mean for Mitt Romney? What does it mean for Newt Gingrich?

BORGER: He'll be so happy. Not only because he wins, but because the number two and the number three are people who are not perceived as true national candidates.

BURNETT: Mm-hmm.

BORGER: Newt Gingrich is somebody with a lot of national experience. Perry has a lot of money. If either of those folks had been in the second or third slot, he might be a little bit more worried. So if this is the result, I think Mitt Romney's campaign is going to be cheering.

BURNETT: And we'll see what it means for Newt Gingrich. But, again, this brings me to the second point I wanted to make. BORGER: Right.

BURNETT: Which is how volatile it's been as Wolf and Jim were mentioning. Is your mind made up? Here is what the numbers are on this. And this is pretty amazing. At this point with this many debates and this much discussion, 41 percent of people in Iowa could be persuaded to change their vote.

BORGER: Don't forget. These are the Iowa caucuses. You're not just going into a polling booth and pulling a lever. You're going into caucuses which we're going to show on Tuesday night. People are going to talk on behalf of their candidates. This has been a very, very volatile year, as you know, so 51 percent say their minds are made up.

You know, in the 2008 caucuses on the Republican side, 60 percent were made up months before the caucuses.

BURNETT: This is amazing.

BORGER: Look at this. Yes.

BURNETT: All right. On our other screen, and this is what's neat. Everyone over the next couple of days will get to see we have multiple screens and all kinds of neat things we can do. But this actually shows in action what we have been seeing. You see Mitt Romney in red at 20 percent back on Tuesday, 26 -- I mean this is just the past four days. And what you really see is the change in Ron Paul down and, wow, Rick Santorum.

BORGER: You know, it's interesting. First of all, Romney, as you know, has been the most consistent. He doesn't go much below that 22 percent. He can't get much above the 26 percent.


BORGER: You look at Santorum, though. He's probably thinking he's peaking at just the right time. Some of these folks peaked a little early. I would say Ron Paul probably did. You know that's the peril of being a frontrunner, because once you're the frontrunner, you get a different kind of treatment and you go under the magnifying glass. It's tough.

BURNETT: And I guess your timing could be right. I mean only four days ago Ron Paul was the one with 29 percent. That shows you the brief window of time we're talking about here.

All right, back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

And you know, it's interesting that as far as Mitt Romney is concerned, he's been down this road in Iowa before.

John King is over at the magic wall for us. He's -- he learned some lessons four years ago that I'm sure he hopes will be applicable this time. JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As we take a closer look, Wolf, when the voting starts on Tuesday night we get to redraw the whole map. This is 2008 for you here. You remember in November Barack Obama carried Iowa. But let's go back to the Republican caucuses.

First let's look at 2008. This is the big test right here. Mitt Romney thought he was going to win Iowa in 2008. He did very well in the eastern and the western part. As you see, he got 25 percent of the vote. But look what happened. Look what happened in the middle of state. All that orange. Mike Huckabee. And that is the question this year. Does one candidate, does one candidate consolidate in the end the evangelical vote?

I'm going to keep that screen just like that. Take this up. Let's come forward to 2012. We have no votes yet so the map is blank. But here are your candidates. Jon Huntsman is not really playing in Iowa. We don't expect him to have significant support. He's waiting for New Hampshire.

But if you go through these candidates, Michele Bachmann wants that evangelical vote. Newt Gingrich needs a slice of it. Rick Perry campaigning hard for that evangelical vote. Right now Gloria and Erin just mentioned the Santorum surge largely on evangelical votes.

Guess what, Mitt Romney gets a piece of it. Ron Paul surprisingly gets a pretty good piece of the evangelical vote. But look at these candidates. So think about that. She needs it, he needs, he needs it. Desperately. He needs it if he wants to pull up a surprise win.

Now let's come back to the map. And that is the question for 2012. Does one candidate, one candidate, a Santorum, a Perry, a Bachmann -- can they win here in the middle part of the state? Small towns, not a lot of votes. Let's take a look at some of these towns. Mike Huckabee won with just 356 votes. But you say, well, that's not many. But you come into the caucus setting, you win all these small towns, you offset the Romney wins here.

Does one candidate, Wolf, does one candidate get all this? Or is it split? Is the -- if the evangelical vote is split and Mitt Romney can match this, maybe grow a little bit, that 25 percent might be enough to win.

One more point I want to make. If you look down here, there's a lonely color right down here. Who's that? In 2008, Ron Paul won just one county. Tiny Jefferson County. We know he's stronger this term -- this time. The question is, as he gets more votes, can he not just have more votes but can he fill in more of the map by winning counties?

BLITZER: Yes, those are 2008 numbers. The final numbers in Iowa. And I'm sure Rick Santorum is looking at Mike Huckabee's 35 percent saying to himself, I can do that.

KING: If you can get to that, you'll most likely win the state. Because look at this. Huckabee and Romney right there. That's 60 percent of the vote between two candidates. If you have that this time, then the question will be who gets the third ticket out. But with the Santorum surge, this is what his campaign is dreaming about.

Can they match Huckabee? Huckabee surged early. We knew at this point four years ago that Mike Huckabee was a major player and the potential winner in Iowa. This race has broken late. The polling in Iowa tracked the national debates. The debates were so dominant in this race, the Iowa polling tracked the national polling until just the last 10 days or so. Once the debates ended, Iowa has gone back to the old-fashioned way. Rick Santorum has worked this state really hard. Less money, but worth watching.

BLITZER: Stand by, John. We're going to be coming back to you. A lot to digest.

Right Candy Crowley is standing by. She's in Des Moines, on the ground in Iowa. She's joining us.

Looks a little bit different this time around for Mitt Romney. Looks like a cold night in Des Moines as well, Candy. But set the scene for us as far as Romney is concerned.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, I had a brief but interesting conversation with the Romneys the other night. We shared an elevator in the hotel going up together. And I said, well, you seem pretty laid back. And I think it's hard to think of Mitt Romney and laid back. But he seemed just easier to me than he did certainly four years ago on the campaign trail.

And Mrs. Romney, Anne Romney, said to me, you know, it's different this time. I said, how so? And he said, you know, I think we realize some of it's just out of our hands. So, you know, he approached Iowa differently strategically this time. He poured $10 million into it last time and came up with a poor second to Mike Huckabee.

He spent a lot less money. He's been here less than three week. Less than three weeks on the ground in Iowa throughout the whole campaign season because they didn't want to pour all his time and resources into this state. And yet here he is, and he's looking pretty good.

Now, is that because of some change in strategy or because that conservative vote is being split four ways? So he can get the same 25 percent he got in -- four years ago. And maybe still win. Because that evangelical and conservative Christian vote is so split among the others. So there was -- there certainly is something to him. The dynamics of the race are different than they were four years ago.

And I think that has made him seem a little easier. Although he admits, he can get hyper sometimes. And if you see him on the campaign trail, he is, indeed, pretty pepped up. But he does seem a little more laid back and a little more confident about how he's going to come out here.

BLITZER: Yes, that was the impression I had as well when I saw him in Iowa last week.

Candy in Des Moines for us, we'll be getting back to you.

Ron Paul is certainly striking fear in the hearts of some establishment Republicans across the country. We're going to take a closer look at his message, how it got him where he is today. A frontrunner in Iowa.

Plus, I'll ask Michele Bachmann about one Republican's claim that she's staying in the race in hopes of being Mitt Romney's running mate.


BLITZER: Michele Bachmann is signaling she'll stay in the presidential race no matter how she does in Iowa. Her campaign confirms her travel plans after the caucuses. She'll go to New Hampshire which holds its primary next week, but first she'll stop in South Carolina which holds its primary on January 21st.

Joining us now from Iowa, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

Congresswoman, thanks very much for coming in. And let's get right to what's going on right now. You were so high in Iowa when you won the Iowa straw poll. These latest polls you're not doing very well. If you could change one thing in your campaign strategy between August and now, what would that be?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, what we're looking at right now, Wolf, is on Tuesday night, and we are -- we think we made the exact right decision. After the last debate, where I took on Ron Paul over the issue of whether or not Iran should have a nuclear weapon, we saw an electric light switch flip on and we saw people all across Iowa come toward our campaign.

We literally saw several thousands of people flip and go my way in the last couple of weeks because we did something no other candidate did. We traveled 6900 mikes across Iowa. We visited all 99 counties. And during the course of that time we saw Iowans who said no candidate has been to this part of Iowa. And we saw people continue to make their decision to support me for the presidency. And we think we did exactly what we need to do for Tuesday night.

BLITZER: Rick Santorum has visited all 99 counties as well. And first, he was the first one to do so. He's surging right now. So what went wrong, though, for you?

BACHMANN: Nothing has gone wrong, Wolf. What we're looking at is Tuesday night and what is going to happen. I was just over in Oskaloosa, Iowa, speaking in a church this morning. We were on our way back. We had stopped at a Culver's to get some food. And people were flocking our bus, coming on board. People are so excited, they're saying, oh, we're with you, we're going all the way.

People are really charged up. And I think you're going to see people speak at the caucuses. Because, again, about 40 to 45 percent of the people in Iowa haven't made up their minds. We don't know who will come to the caucuses, who won't. And of all of the candidates, I have the most enthusiastic supporters. And that's what you need.

Caucusing is very different than primaries. You can take poll tests, but everything that matters is who shows up and who do they support.

BLITZER: In this "Des Moines Register" poll I was really surprised when people were asked the question which one of these candidates would you say is the least knowledgeable, and you came out on top, 26 percent said you were the least knowledgeable. Rick Perry, 17 percent. Ron Paul, 11 percent.

Why do you think that is? Why do they say that you're the least knowledgeable among these Republican candidates?

BACHMANN: Well, I think what I have demonstrated clearly during the course of the debates is that I do have knowledge. On national security, I have more current experience on national security than any other candidate. When it comes to fiscal policy, domestic policy and national security policy, I've got it.

Polls can say one thing, but I think during the course of the debates, I've demonstrated very clearly that I'm highly competent, conversant on the issues. I am a successful private businesswoman, a tax lawyer. I have the national security experience. I'm the whole package, I think, for what we need to have to face President Obama on the stage, in the debates, take him on, defeat him and put the nation on the right track.

BLITZER: And you're the only woman who's running for the Republican presidential nomination. Last week when we spoke, you compared yourself to Margaret Thatcher. You called yourself the Iron Lady. Is there a problem that Iowans might have with you because you're a woman?

BACHMANN: Well, clearly, they didn't have a problem in the straw poll because there's only been one statewide race in this presidential election so far, and it's the Iowa straw poll, and I'm the candidate that won the Iowa straw poll. So clearly they were willing to get behind a woman. And I think they will again.

And I think, actually, it demonstrates when Barack Obama became president, he did so in large part because of the support that he received from young people. I also have a very large amount of support from young people as well.

BLITZER: The reason I raise the whole issue of gender, Iowa's never elected a woman governor. Iowa's never elected even a woman representative to the House of Representatives or to the Senate. So it's -- that could be a factor.

But let me ask you about Ed Rollins who used to work for you in your campaign. He told "Politico" the other day, he says you've avoided criticizing Mitt Romney with a deliberate strategy in that you want to be his running mate. Is that true?

BACHMANN: No, it's absolutely flat-out false. I have no idea why he'd say something like that because it's not true. Because if you look during the course of the debates and if you look at the course of my comments throughout the campaign, probably no one has been a bigger critic of Romneycare than I have. Because I have been the leading advocate against Obamacare.

And Romneycare is the blueprint, if you will, for Obamacare. In fact, Mitt Romney's advisers went into the White House in 2009 and sat down with Barack Obama's team as they were designing Obamacare. This is the seminal issue of Barack Obama's presidency. And this is the chief liability that Mitt Romney has going into the presidential race.

Consider it. He is the only governor in the history of the United States that has put into place socialized medicine in his state. And that's going to be our nominee to stand up against President Obama? That's why I'm the best candidate to stand up against President Obama. I can stand with a clear conscience on the stage and take President Obama on, on every issue that's important to the American people.

Chief of which is stopping out-of-control spending. And if you have socialized medicine, all you're going to get is unpaid for spending. I have the ability to hold President Obama accountable for how he's destroyed not only our economy, but how he will destroy our great health care system.

BLITZER: Good luck, Congresswoman. Thanks very much. We've got 48 hours to go.

BACHMANN: We do. Thanks again, Wolf. Good to talk with you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Joining us from Urbandale, Iowa, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

We've seen candidates rise and fall in this Republican presidential contest. Erin Burnett will take us through the ups and downs in the polls for clues about the direction the race might take next.

And Rick Santorum surge. Can he keep the momentum going on Tuesday night and beyond?


BLITZER: We've certainly seen a lot of rising stars and fading stars in this, the 2012 Republican presidential race. And there could be even more surprises in these, the final 48 hours before the caucuses.

Let's bring back Erin and Gloria. They're tracking these numbers, these poll numbers.

It's been amazing over these many months, Erin.

BURNETT: It really has. And we're going to take a look at national, Wolf. And then we're going to zoom in on Iowa as we were joking about.

BORGER: We hoped for it. BURNETT: OK. And here we go. Everything is working. All right. So this is -- this is amazing. We call this the squiggly lines because that's really what it's looked like. So if look back in June, and we're going to take everyone from June all the way to where we are now. You see Mitt Romney was in the lead. Mitt Romney remained in the lead but started to fall.

Then you see Romney at 27 percent, which, as you pointed out, Gloria, really seemed to be kind of the ceiling for him.

BORGER: Exactly.

BURNETT: Then you see in July the surge of Rick Perry, which holds for a little while. Up to 31 percent. Higher than Mitt Romney has ever gotten. Then you see in gray, that would be the surge of Herman Cain. So Mitt Romney just barely there. But then you see Romney and Cain with that tie.

Now coming into November you start to see the rise of Newt Gingrich which has been stunning, 37 percent. Highest of anybody so far. And then some of those negative campaign, the spotlight on the leader took a hit and you see Mitt Romney at 26.

So what's your takeaway of how volatile this has been?

BORGER: Well, first of all, Republicans want to win. They want to pick a winner. They're not sure which one of these folks is actually their winner. Another thing that's important to keep in mind is Republicans have been watching all of these presidential debates. The debates have been so important for Republicans.


BORGER: And I think if you track the rise and fall and you saw the Perry oops moment, you would see the start of his decline nationally in the polls.

BURNETT: It's been amazing. And again, it is also amazing to see Romney is, if you take out his highs and lows, incredibly flat there, which -- let's get back here to Iowa. I think we can also see here.


BURNETT: All right. So Iowa -- I really love this thing. How the pictures pop up. But ,you know, we're still getting used to this, too.

All right, so, we have Romney starts out as the leader. Michele Bachmann, now. What's interesting in Iowa is you see a couple of the only people who haven't risen I suppose you see here.

BORGER: Right.

BURNETT: So you see Bachmann. And as you go through, you see Cain get much higher than he got on the national poll. Romney continuing to stay in the 20s. Cain -- you see Gingrich with the surge there. And then you see the Ron Paul surge which obviously you didn't see nationally. Mitt Romney. And then you see Mitt Romney there so --

BORGER: And then you would see Rick Santorum.

BURNETT: Rick Santorum. So you see Paul and Santorum here, Bachmann, people you don't see nationally you see here in Iowa.

BORGER: Right. And that's because you're seeing a lot of Rick Santorum in Iowa. And don't forget, this is sort of a process of elimination here with the ups and downs nationally. There's also been the ups and downs in Iowa. But Iowa caucus-goers like to meet their candidates.

Ron Paul has a very effective message, which they understand and like. Which is small government. He's got a great organization. Really, really important. They've seen a lot of Michele Bachmann, but what they saw, they didn't like. With rick Santorum now, what they see, they like. And so he's peaking.

With Mitt Romney, hasn't spent a tremendous amount of time in the state.


BORGER: But then there's another question. They believe he's electable. And so that's important to them, too.

BURNETT: All right. Interesting, as John King had pointed out. You had one county, I believe, that went to Ron Paul last time. Ron Paul obviously doing a little bit better this time around -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Erin, Gloria, guys, thanks very much.

We certainly don't know who will win Tuesday night. But who's likely to lose? Who's most likely to lose? We're going to talk to our analysts about possible dropouts once the Iowa results are in.

And the secret to Ron Paul's success and why so many establishment Republicans find it so scary.


BLITZER: Even though the latest polls in Iowa show Ron Paul in a virtual tie with Mitt Romney, the congressman is spending the weekend in -- with his wife in Texas. But he will be back tomorrow. And he's bringing along a favorite of the Tea Party conservatives, his son, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

CNN's Dana Bash is joining us now from Des Moines. She's keeping tabs on Ron Paul's campaign.

Dana, it's been very, very impressive what he's managed to -- managed to achieve so far.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly has. He is somebody who wants to abolish federal income tax, abolish the IRS, audit the Federal Reserve, legalize drugs and he wants to bring all troops home from overseas deployments.

Boy, Wolf, that is -- those are all positions that make him nothing like any other candidate in this Republican field. And it's what makes his supporters so fervent, but what makes many in the Republican establishment warn he's nothing more than a fringe candidate.


BASH (voice-over): Go to a Ron Paul rally, and his appeal is apparent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Different strokes for different folks as the old saying goes.

BASH: Especially on the economy. Anti-tax, anti-debt. Tea Party mantras Paul talked about well before they were cool.

PAUL: I want to cut a trillion dollars out of our spending in one year.

BASH: Libertarians love it.

PAUL: The role of government in a free society, in a republic, should be to protect your liberties.

BASH: Isolationists eat it up.

PAUL: I think we're in way too many wars, and it's time to change that and start bringing our military home to protect this country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anecdotally I've had people come up to me that have been self-described Democrats who are going to caucus around Paul strictly on the basis of his non-interventionalist foreign policy beliefs.

BASH: Iowa's Republican chairman says Paul has an organization to behold. In 2008 he finished fifth with just 10 percent of the vote. But his supporters never left. They've been building a Paul infrastructure all over Iowa for four years. Campaign offices in tiny towns like here in Maquoketa. Population, under 6,000.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's an incredible example of the way he has organized around the state. I can't imagine that any campaign either in the current caucus season or past caucuses would have had an office in that small of community.

BASH: But Paul's power in Iowa appalls many in the GOP establishment. Exhibit A, about the Bush administration.

PAUL: Just think about what happened after 9/11. Immediately before there was any assessment, there was glee in the administration because now we can invade Iraq.

BASH: On foreign policy, this makes many Republicans go berserk.

PAUL: Why does Israel need our help? We need to get out of their way.

BASH: So does his hands-off attitude toward a nuclear-armed Iran.

BACHMANN: That makes him a very dangerous person to be our next president.

BASH: Paul opposes sanctioning Iran.

PAUL: I think we should not put on sanctions. They -- that's -- they are active war.

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY FOR PRES. BUSH: Ron Paul wants to abandon the world. I often think if Ron Paul was around at the time of the American Revolution, would he have told the French to stick their nose out of our affairs and stay home and then we'd have lost the revolution.

BASH: But even worried Republicans who call Ron Paul dangerous, they say they get it. For caucus-goers who want to send Washington a message, this is hard to pass up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cut a trillion bucks year one. That's trillion with a T. Department of education, gone. Interior, energy, HUD, commerce, gone. Later, bureaucrats. That's how Ron Paul rolls.


BASH: In fact, when the "Des Moines Register" poll came out last night, it did say that Iowans who want to reduce spending and limit the role of federal government, they still say that Ron Paul is their first choice.

But, Wolf, I spoke to a senior Paul adviser tonight who admitted that the intense scrutiny on controversial statements he's made both on foreign and domestic policy issues, that that is taking a toll on his popularity here just days before the caucuses -- Wolf.

BLITZER: When I was in Iowa last week it was impressive to see the Ron Paul organization, whether in Davenport or Dubuque or Clinton. Wherever I went there seemed to be Ron Paul organizers. But give me your impression. You've been there now for a while. It looks like he's got a terrific operation under way.

BASH: That's right. They're very confident about it. I spoke to the senior Paul adviser tonight. They are, as you know, also very secretive about it. Because they've got a lot of volunteers both locally and in from around the country. They do say that they feel that they have got their voters identified, that they feel confident that enough will come out to win.

But I can tell you just even in the past day they are lowering expectations for that win, even to come in second as we've seen other candidates surge like Rick Santorum -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's amazing what's going on. Dana, thanks very, very much. Candy Crowley spoke with Ron Paul earlier in the day on her "STATE OF THE UNION." Candy is going to be joining us and we're going to be talking about that interview. We'll hear a little excerpt of the interview as well.

Stand by for parts of Candy's interview with Ron Paul earlier in the day.

Meanwhile, Iowa is a patchwork of 99 counties which presents a dilemma to the Republican candidates. Should they campaign in all of them or should they concentrate on a few strongholds?

Let's go over to our chief national correspondent, John King, once again. He's over at the magic wall.

Give us a closer sense, John. Some of the candidates, two of them, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, they've been to all 99 counties but most of them haven't.

KING: So let's take a look. And you see all the counties here. Again, the map is blank because we don't have any results from this year's election. You mentioned where have they been. Let's take a peek at some of that.

You bring this up here, where have the candidates visit? This is just from September now. That's everybody's colors. Let's take them off to make it easier to read. This is Michele Bachmann. She's touched all 99 counties. This is since September she filled in the blanks there, doing it the old-fashioned way. Visiting hands on. The other person who's done it quite frequently like this, Rick Santorum. Again this is just since September. He was the first to visit all 99 counties. If you went back some, you'd fill the rest of these counties, more than any candidate, Rick Santorum, low money, high volume visits. The old-fashioned way.

Look, for example -- look at that. Just about everywhere in the state. Contrast that with Mitt Romney. Leading in the polls he has been there the least this time around. He campaigned a lot in Iowa four years ago. Speaker Gingrich splits the difference. He's been there in the middle of the pack. Governor Rick Perry, been there a lot lately. Not so much early on.

But Governor Perry is trying to do, he can't touch all the counties like Rick Santorum. So I want to show you something, Wolf. I want to come over here and come to TV ad spending. This is what gets interesting. Rick Perry, this is his color, orange here, you see the color code under that.

Rick Perry has more TV ads, has bought more TV ads in all of the Iowa markets. Omaha and Nebraska reaches into Iowa. Sioux City, Des Moines is the biggest market, of course, Cedar Rapids. This is a Minnesota market that reaches into northern Iowa here. Rick Perry has bought the most in terms of ads. We don't see the results yet in the poll numbers.

One more thing I want to show you. It's not just the candidates buying time. This is Mitt Romney's color right here. Focus on this right here as I do something. This is spending by Mitt Romney on ads. There's a political action committee. Restore Our Future, it's called. Former campaign aides. Donors to the Romney campaign, funding it. Watch the slice of the Romney pie grows a bit when that -- when you bring in the PAC spending as well.

That PAC spending, Wolf, has been spent overwhelmingly on attack ads against Newt Gingrich. A big part of Romney's rise in Iowa, bringing Gingrich down.

BLITZER: Iowa is going to be over with Tuesday night. What happens beyond Iowa?

KING: It's a fascinating question. Most of the focus is here. As you know, Governor Huntsman is not playing. He's up in New Hampshire. And you see some spending up here in New Hampshire. That will intensify dramatically right after Iowa.

But I want to focus on this. South Carolina comes next. So we see a little bit of spending down there. That's not surprising. But what's this? What's this? Florida's fourth. What's all this spending here? This is the pro-Romney Restore Our Future PAC. If you think back a couple of months when Gingrich was surging, he jumped to a big lead in Florida. Florida votes fourth.

What happened? Not the Romney campaign, but Governor Romney's friends suddenly start spending on all those attack ads against Newt Gingrich. Pro-Romney ads in Florida. Mitt Romney very well remembers what happened to him in 2008. Stumbled in Iowa. Then he stumbled in New Hampshire. He was gone after South Carolina.

They are already, Wolf, preparing Florida as a fallback. It votes fourth. The Romney campaign when Gingrich surged had its friends jump into action. Now they insist there's no direct coordination. But these are Romney friends, former campaign workers. They saw the problem. They took it on TV.

BLITZER: They certainly did. And January is going to be an incredibly busy month for the candidates.

KING: Amen.

BLITZER: And for us, John. Thanks very, very much.

Tonight, a prominent conservative blogger is questioning whether Rick Santorum's credentials are too similar to President Barack Obama's. We're going to explore that in a moment.

We'll also take a look at what could go wrong with Mitt Romney's hopes for a quick one-two knockout. Iowa, New Hampshire punch.


BLITZER: All right. Let's get to our excellent political panel here at the CNN Election Center. You guys having fun yet? Because it's only just beginning. ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No.

BLITZER: You're not having fun.


BLITZER: I know Roland. He's always a contrarian.

All right, let's talk a little about -- Erick Erickson, you wrote this about Rick Santorum. It jumped out at me. I said, wow. "I really and genuinely do not get why we'd want to throw one senator-elected president out of office." You're referring to President Obama. "And replace him with a senator who couldn't even win re-election in his home state."

You have no great love for Rick Santorum, to you?

ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR IN CHIEF, REDSTATE.COM: I don't dislike him. But this Rick Santorum rise boggles my mind. There are plenty of evangelicals in the race with longer records than Rick Santorum that are much more successful. Even though 2006 was a wave here, in Pennsylvania he lost by 18 percentage points which was more than just throwing bumps out. That was a rejection of Santorum. And in fact, because of Santorum's 18-point loss the Republicans lost four House seats tied to Santorum's re-election. So he hasn't been elected since then. Why would you want to try to put him up as your nominee against Obama.

BLITZER: And you don't like Mitt Romney either.

ERICKSON: I'm not a Mitt -- I'm a none-of-the-above guy right now.

BLITZER: Maybe none of you all. You don't like any of these candidates?

ERICKSON: None of them have really excited me. I'm really disappointed by this -- by this field. And I really think we need to talk to some of these guys privately. Not these guys. Some of the guys who didn't run probably. They're not sure that this is going to be a year for the Republicans. They like 2016 and the field you'd have here.

BLITZER: Roland, let's say -- and it's a big if. Let's say Mitt Romney wins Iowa and then of course goes on to win New Hampshire, a one-two punch, is it over?

MARTIN: No, it's not over. And I think we need to stop even putting that out there. This is one of 50 states. And so I expect this to go on. The rules have also changed. You're talking about proportional delegation. You don't have winner-take-all. And you do not have people who are absolutely sold on Mitt Romney.

And so I think the dynamics of the various states change. I think you have to look at this election from the lines of being a regional. And you talk in terms of what happens in the south, what happens in the Midwest, what happens in the west. The issues come into play. So I don't buy the whole notion that two states in, it's all done.

BLITZER: Gloria, you heard my interview with Michele Bachmann. She calls herself now the Iron Lady.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Making comparisons to Margaret Thatcher.

BORGER: I don't see that somehow.


BLITZER: Is there an element though -- is there an element of sexism under way in Iowa right now? Because --


BLITZER: -- you know Iowa, as I pointed out in the interview with her, they've never elected --


BLITZER: -- a senator or a congressman who's a woman or a governor for that matter.

BORGER: You know what, it's easy to play that card. But I wouldn't play that card in this particular case. Because I think Michele Bachmann has not run a terrific campaign. I think she peaked very early. After the Iowa straw poll, she did very well in CNN's first debate that John moderated. And then it seemed to me that she really wasn't ready for the kind of scrutiny she got.

She misspoke many times on the HPV virus issue. She said the vaccine, she heard, could cause mental retardation. Nothing to back that up, remember. And so I think that what she did was essentially shoot herself early on. And she could never kind of recover from that. So I don't think it has anything to do with being a female. Although she might have liked to go shooting with Congressman King. I think she had wanted to go do that.

BLITZER: I think that image of Rick Santorum when he went pheasant hunting with Congressman Steve King was popular in Iowa.

BORGER: Hunting. Right. Yes.

BLITZER: I think that helped him --

BORGER: Hunting, sorry. Yes.

BLITZER: Hunting is important. Whoever comes in last or second to last, let's say Bachman or Rick Perry or even Newt Gingrich for that matter, is it time for them to think about dropping out?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: They should think about it for a couple of reasons. I mean, first of all, right now everyone is making the noise that no matter what they're going to pull up their stakes, go to South Carolina. Go for the social conservative vote.

Here's the thing. If the mission of the anybody-but-the-Romney-camp is to stop Mitt Romney, the best thing for Mitt Romney is a fractured field of conservative alternatives to Mitt Romney. So the more folks stay in, the more that 75 percent is fractured, the better it is for Mitt Romney.

So someone who's going to come in last place is going to have to really look in the mirror and say look, is this really happening for me or not?

MARTIN: Well, they shouldn't drop out. It's one state. You don't drop out after one state.


MARTIN: Look, I understand it takes -- also, we have seen candidates fall by the wayside --

BLITZER: Let me interrupt you for a moment. So four years ago on the Democratic side, you're saying Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, after they lost in Iowa they shouldn't have dropped out?

MARTIN: What I was saying is, Herman Cain went to the top, fell back. Newt Gingrich went to the top, fell back. Bachmann won the Ames straw poll, fell back. What I'm saying is, you do not know what's going on. And Tim Pawlenty is at home right now going, what was I thinking?

AVLON: And that was -- I mean, look, Tim Pawlenty definitely did it with a dumb move because he would have been up there to look as the alternative.

BORGER: He didn't have any money.

AVLON: He didn't have any money, but I mean look. It is ridiculous to drop out after the Ames straw poll. It is not ridiculous to drop out --


BLITZER: How much of a blunder was it for Newt Gingrich not to respond to all of these attack ads?

KING: You can argue this one either way. By the traditional rules of politics, it was a huge mistake. When you're being hit, you hit back. You at least defend yourself. You at least defend yourself and then you decide whether to hit back. However, Newt Gingrich is not your normal political candidate in the sense that he's trying to recreate himself.

Republicans remember Newt Gingrich. They remember the caustic, controversial sometimes nasty Newt Gingrich. If you look at his favorability ratings, among all Americans, not just Republicans, but 4 in 10 Americans, the full electorate, view him negatively. More than 20 percent of Republicans view him negatively. In Iowa, the state where he decided to stay positive, 40 percent of Iowa Republicans say they would never consider voting for Newt Gingrich. So if he went slash and burn, he raises his own negatives. Now he says he might do that after Iowa. The question is, would he benefit from that or would people say, negative Newt is back, and would somebody else benefit?


KING: But somebody has to be viable to benefit.

ERICKSON: The angry Newt is what put him in the game. Fighting with the debate moderators. Fighting with Barack Obama. Fighting with Mitt Romney put him in the game. For him to then back up, I realized you wouldn't --


BORGER: But people don't vote for relentlessly negative people --


BORGER: -- for president of the United States. They like optimists.


BORGER: And what -- he didn't have the money. So he tried to make virtue out of a necessity. He doesn't have the money for those ads.


BLITZER: Let me play a clip. I want to talk about this. Let me play a clip.


BLITZER: Here's the former speaker.


ACOSTA: Now that you're willing to get more aggressive, aren't you also acknowledging you should have done it sooner?

GINGRICH: No. I think we're running a very interesting experiment. This is the first of many contests. I don't know what the result is going to be. And you hear people here. I think people genuinely are disgusted with the negative ads. And I think it will be very interesting to see what happens Tuesday night.


BLITZER: You know, I think people may be disgusted with the negative ads, John. But they work. They work effectively. That's a lesson we're all learning from Iowa right now. And if there's any doubt that the general election campaign is going to be nice and positive, forget about it. AVLON: This is the first glimpse of a post-season united world. And I think Newt is feeling the brunt of that. But here's an interesting point. First of all, he's saying, look. He's had millions of dollars in negative ads directed at him. They have had an affect. Now I like the way he's now saying, look, Iowa has a chance to send a message. If you don't like negative ads, don't reward them.

But very interestingly, Romney-- the Romney-related PAC, which has done the avalanche in negatives in Iowa, not running them in New Hampshire. In part because the independent voters who are such a factor in New Hampshire would actually reject them. And that's significant.


ERICKSON: I thought it was interesting that Newt until the end of last week when someone told him that half of the money spent in Iowa on TV was negative against him seemed to have had no idea that's how much negative advertising was after him in Iowa.


BORGER: He seemed pretty mad about it.

MARTIN: It also doesn't help when you spend time signing books in other states when you should have been in Iowa campaigning. And so --


MARTIN: You can complain about ads all day, but show the hell up and you might have a shot.

KING: They were trying to get the Cain vote in Iowa which is a nonpolitician, different kind of politician. And if Newt Gingrich goes back to being -- if he's a back that guy again as opposed to a new I-learned-my-lesson Newt, he can't be viable and he knows it.

BLITZER: All right, guys, we're going to continue our analysis. Lots more to discuss.

One of the biggest differences between this year and every other presidential election is the rise of social media. Our own Ali Velshi is taking a closer look at which Republican candidate is generating buzz on Twitter. He's naming names. And that's next.


BLITZER: Thanks to the social media networks like Twitter, we can get an instant snapshot of what Republican candidates are generating and which ones are generating the biggest buzz as we head into the Iowa caucuses.

Our Ali Velshi is here. He's analyzing the trends for us.

It's pretty impressive. What are we seeing, Ali? ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you and I are big tweeters so we get why this really works. And what we've got is some great new technology that I want to share with our viewers. We can see in real time where tweets are coming from, either because the person tweeting has a device that locates them or because they have their location in their Twitter profile.

Now the number of people who tweet indicating where they are tweeting from represents somewhere upward of about 12 percent of all tweets. So this is real time. In the last 15 minutes -- we're doing this on 15-minute increments -- these are tweets from around the country which mention any of the candidates.

You'll see many of them are in purple. Purple is the color that Rick Santorum is representing here. You'll see Ron Paul in this pink color. Many, many tweets coming from around the country. These might be negative or positive. They mention Ron Paul's name, Michele Bachmann's name, whatever the case is.

Where you've got areas where you see white, that means there are multiple tweets coming from those areas about multiple candidates.

Now let's talk about what these candidates are doing in terms of their trends. Ron Paul is and always has been at the top of the -- of the Twitter pile. This is positive and negative. But Ron Paul in the last 15 minutes has had 412 tweets total. Not just based on location. Mentioning his name.

You can see Rick Santorum is coming in second. And this has been the trend for most of the day. He's got 234 tweets mentioning him in the last 15 minutes. And then Mitt Romney is in third place with that.

Some of this relates to their popularity. Some of it relates to how active they are on Twitter. Ron Paul does a lot of that.

Now this doesn't just tell us where the tweets are coming from. It tells us what people are saying about them. For instance, Michele Bachmann, Joe music master says Bachman is a passionate Tea Party conservative who could beat Obama, but she may lack the experience to be president of the -- to be president.

So these are the kinds of things we're following. We'll be following this very closely for the next couple of days. And, of course, on caucus night on Tuesday. Wolf?