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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

America's Choice 2012; Interview with Michele Bachmann

Aired January 3, 2012 - 19:00   ET

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


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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The presidential race has been won by Governor Ronald Reagan of California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Clinton is now president. Bill Clinton, too close to call.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There it is, George W. Bush reelected --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama, president-elect of the United States.

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WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Election history is about to be made again.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC 360": Certainly is. Now Iowa takes the first step on the road to the White House.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, the first test of the Republican presidential candidates that counts. Anyone could win.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What should the role of government be?

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ANNOUNCER: And everything could change.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not going to spend more money than what we're bringing in, in this country.

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ANNOUNCER: It's Iowa's choice. Will Iowans embrace Mitt Romney?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to restore America. I want to turn around America.

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ANNOUNCER: Make Ron Paul the spoiler?

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we have too many laws is what the problems are.

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ANNOUNCER: Turns back to Newt Gingrich.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The establishment deeply wishes I would go away, but I'm not leaving.

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ANNOUNCER: Chooses (INAUDIBLE) Rick Santorum?

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we don't have strong families in America we will not have a strong economy in this country.

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ANNOUNCER: Or another come-from-behind candidate?

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We will repeal Obamacare, it will happen.

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ANNOUNCER: Only one Republican will face off against the president.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe in that America. We believe in that America.

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ANNOUNCER: In a new year of challenges and economic pain.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no more important task for the next president. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: The candidates have spoken.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Vote for me on January 3rd.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you all very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God bless you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good luck and God less you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God bless the United States of America.

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ANNOUNCER: Now it's time for the people to be heard.

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. No one knows what will happen within the next few hours. One of these seven Republicans could take a step closer to the White House. Others may be forced to drop out of the race after Iowans have their say.

Tonight CNN caucus cameras will take you inside the places where voters are gathering right now. Take a look. Crowds are already forming inside the halls in various caucuses. You'll be able to see for yourself exactly how this contest works.

We have the most cameras in the most locations. Our anchors, correspondents and producers they are all live at all the major campaign headquarters including our Candy Crowley and Soledad O'Brien -- Soledad, first to you.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: All right, Wolf. I'm at the Seven Flags Events Center (ph) which is in Clive, Iowa. Two precincts will be caucusing here tonight. They're expecting in the next 20 minutes or so people to start showing up en masse. Right now it's mostly volunteers and folks are representing the campaigns, but there is a sense of anticipation that is growing and of course, this is happening at hundreds of caucus locations, sites around the state right now.

BLITZER: History unfolding. Soledad, stand by. Candy Crowley, go ahead, tell us where you are.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm at Romney headquarters at least for the evening tonight. You know Mitt Romney, Wolf, has been up and he has been down. He goes into this evening up. The question is has he been strong enough to hold off big challenges from Rick Santorum and Ron Paul? It's show time, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is, Candy. Thanks very much. Let's go to Anderson Cooper right now. He, of course, is going to be with us every step of the way -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, Wolf, we're counting down to the first votes in the presidential race. Less than one hour from now. Our decision team is crunching the numbers. We're going to give you the results in three distinct ways. You're going to see where the candidates are doing well with the magic wall, you'll see which Iowans are supporting them, and you'll see why with our entrance polling center, and you'll see how the country is reacting online with our social media screen. John King is at the magic wall, ready to map out the numbers for us -- John.

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING USA": Anderson, we know the 2012 map will be different from the 2008 map. The question is how much and tonight is our first test. If you go back to 2008, and look at the Republican race then (INAUDIBLE) lessons for tonight, if Mitt Romney is to win, he must replicate his success in the eastern part of the state. He must prove he can win out here in conservative country in the western part of the state. In the middle of the state, this is the key test.

This is where you find the evangelical voters, the Tea Party voters. They are critical if we're going to have a Rick Santorum surge in Iowa, but will they split between Perry, Bachmann and others. One last footnote, can Ron Paul win Iowa tonight? He won just one lonely county four years ago. The big test, can he expand the map -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, the geography very important tonight. John, we'll continue to watch that. Now to Erin Burnett who is tracking how the candidates are doing various types of voters -- Erin.

ERIN BURNETT, HOST, "OUTFRONT": That's right. We're going to be having 19 categories here, who is voting for whom and why. This is from 2008. It's a crucial category again this time around, Anderson, born-again or evangelical Christians. In 2008, 60 percent of Republican caucus-goers identified themselves as evangelicals. And take a look at this.

What did that mean in 2008? That was the Huckabee surge. Mitt Romney, those who weren't evangelicals voted for him. If that happens again this time, it could be a night for Santorum. It's really going to be all about evangelicals. And we'll show it to you every step of the way.

COOPER: All right, thanks very much. Ali Velshi is also going to be looking at candidate support in another way, through social media -- Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we're tracking tweets in Iowa and across the country in a new way. When someone tweets about a particular candidate like Ron Paul, you'll see these pink dots showing up around the country. Right now more than 4,000 people tweeting with Ron Paul's name in it. Each one of these dots corresponds to one of the background colors on the candidate. Over here we can see the number of tweets that each candidate is getting right now. It is a snapshot of public opinion in real time -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, cool. Ali, we'll check to you later. Here to add context are analysts Gloria Borger and David Gergen working their sources, along with "The Best Political Team" on television our correspondents and contributors are here in the Election Center and they're also out in the field, as you saw in Iowa right now at the caucuses and the candidates' campaign headquarters -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Anderson, all right, it's going to be a busy night for all of us. We're watching everything that's going on. Let's check in with some of our reporters at various campaign headquarters right now. Candy Crowley is over at Romney headquarters. Jim Acosta with Rick Santorum and Dana Bash is at Ron Paul headquarters. Candy first to you, Romney headquarters a critically important night for Mitt Romney. If he can win here in Iowa tonight, it's a huge, huge potential bonanza.

CROWLEY: Certainly it is. You know I asked Mitt Romney that very question today. If you win tonight, is it over, because he holds such a big lead in New Hampshire. And he said, oh, no, it's a long race. But I'll tell you it would really grease the skids for him if he were to win here tonight and that's one of the reasons that right now Mitt Romney is sort of a political doctor. First, do not harm, this is a hugely cautious campaign at this point.

We saw Newt Gingrich try to engage Mitt Romney today when Gingrich called Romney a liar. Romney basically tossed it off. Reporters being kept somewhat at arm's length while on the campaign trail, very controlled audiences today, taking no questions. This is just a campaign that doesn't want to make any mistakes. The rhetoric very mild and quite familiar.

BLITZER: Candy stand by --

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MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some American hymns I love. One is "America the Beautiful". I think I like each of those versus. I don't know which one I like the best, "Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain". If corn counts, amber waves of grain right here in Iowa.

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CROWLEY: And Wolf, what could be wrong with that? Right now the motto in the Romney campaign, "don't rock this boat". It's going very well.

BLITZER: Certainly is. Candy, stand by. Jim Acosta is over at Rick Santorum headquarters. We see the sign behind you, Rick Santorum, "faith, family and freedom". A couple of weeks ago he was apparently nowhere. All of a sudden he's near the top. What's going on?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Rick Santorum has been the marathon man of the Iowa caucuses. He has held 360-some-odd town halls across all of Iowa's 99 counties. And unlike those other Mitt Romney alternatives on the conservative side of the spectrum, his surge came at just the right time.

It came in the days before the Iowa caucuses. And I had a chance to talk to Rick Santorum earlier today to ask him about this. He said that he's not predicting victory, but he's feeling cautiously optimistic. He says if he can crack the top three coming out of the Iowa caucuses he will feel good going into New Hampshire where he plans to fight very hard to win that primary, even though Mitt Romney, as you know, Wolf, is a very heavy favorite there.

BLITZER: He certainly is. Let's go to Ron Paul headquarters. Dana Bash is standing by. Ron Paul could win the whole thing in Iowa tonight and his supporters recognize that, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh they certainly do and they're hoping that. I'm actually standing here on the stage where Ron Paul will appear, Wolf, later this evening after the caucuses are done, of course. He's going to come here. He is going to speak at this podium and just to give you a sense of how excited they are and really how optimistic they are about doing well here, I want Bill, our photographer, to pull out to show you this jib- camera (ph) that the campaign has hired and they're shooting it for a potential Ron Paul commercial. They're actually calling it a hero cam so that they can shoot Ron Paul in what they are assuming will be victorious. Now, what is victory for Ron Paul?

Last time around four years ago, he came in fifth with 10 percent of the vote. Now, of course, in recent days and weeks, he has been polling in a statistical dead heat for first with Mitt Romney. They tell me inside the campaign that their internal polls still show him doing very well. They of course have a vaunted organization here. They have lots and lots of young people that say that they're going to go out for Ron Paul, maybe caucus for the first time for him. The question is whether or not they can actually turn all the calls that they're making into actual votes and get them out to the caucuses. That is the question.

BLITZER: We'll see if they can. They've got the balloons ready. They're ready to go with that. Dana thanks very much.

We have a unique opportunity tonight to see inside a caucus as it happens. We have live cameras across the state of Iowa. And as the results come in, you'll get constant updates at the bottom of your screen. You're watching CNN's live coverage of "America's Choice 2012", the Iowa caucuses.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And welcome back to our continuing coverage of this very exciting, really the first night that really matters in this election, the night of the caucuses in Iowa. Shannon Travis is standing by in Cedar Falls (ph) at a site where some 6,000 people are going to be caucusing tonight. Michele Bachmann is already there. She's actually going to be addressing the crowds. Shannon, what is the scene there? Having a problem getting to Shannon; we'll try to check in with him a little bit later. Over the past six months it seemed as though there was a new Republican front-runner every few weeks or so. Let's take a look at the trend lines in this volatile race. We're going to start with the national polling beginning in June.

Back then Mitt Romney was the leader, of course. Then there was Rick Perry. Then there was Herman Cain. When Cain's presidential bid combusted Newt Gingrich soared, but by December, Mitt Romney was back where he started at the top of the pack. There were even more ups and downs in the Iowa polls.

First Mitt Romney was the leader, then Michele Bachmann, then Romney again, then Herman Cain, then Romney again, then Newt Gingrich, then Ron Paul. Now Romney has the advantage again heading into the caucuses, tonight a lot to talk about with our contributors, with all of our contributors. Ari Fleischer, what are you looking for tonight?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm looking at two things. One, turnout, how energized are Republicans and then, of course, the big one, who won? That's really key. The other is who is going to be the first ones to drop out because that's going to be a huge issue going forward affecting Mitt Romney, if he can continue to divide and conquer the field.

COOPER: You say won, it's often said that there's three tickets out of Iowa for the top three candidates, but in this case fourth place matters as well.

FLEISCHER: Well fourth place matters because you give Ron Paul a pass. You just presume he's going to be in the top one -- top two or top three. But it really doesn't matter because he's not going to go on much longer from here in a way that he can win a race. He can't do that, so you could say the top four, but I think whoever wins, if Rick Santorum beats Mitt Romney, it's going to be big news coming out of Iowa.

COOPER: (INAUDIBLE) for you, what are the big questions you're looking to have answered tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well it's kind of along the lines of I am sort of looking at intensity to see who all comes out, how many come out, and then also the definition of the non-Romney candidates. Who are the conservative candidates out of these? Who is going to be the non-Romney? This is testing the waters of that.

COOPER: I believe Shannon Travis is talking to Michele Bachmann right now. Let's listen in -- Shannon.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: I'm standing here with Congresswoman Bachmann right now as she comes to thank some of her supporters and maybe even convince some undecideds. What kind of reception have you been getting here?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Absolutely fabulous. As you can see there are people all around us right now and it's just been a wonderful reception. For me this is home. I was born and raised here in Waterloo and Cedar Falls, Iowa, so I'm thrilled to be home in my own back yard. So it's exciting for me to be here. And this is the very first night on the -- beginning the book of who will replace Barack Obama as president, so this is a thrill tonight, the opening chapter --

TRAVIS: Have you spoken with anyone here in the crowd, Congresswoman that's undecided that's maybe on the fence about supporting you?

BACHMANN: There are a lot of people, yes that are undecided. There are a lot of them. And so we've been here shaking hands and talking to people. We'll continue to do that. I'll speak for about four minutes and then we'll continue to meet with more people.

TRAVIS: And how do you try and get them off the fence into your camp? The caucus -- I mean the caucus vote is about to start any moment.

BACHMANN: It's about to start. People are looking for the one true core conservative that can take on Barack Obama and win. That's what I've demonstrated throughout the campaign. I have an unassailable record whether it is on cutting spending, standing up for human life and marriage or whether it's standing for national security.

I'm the only candidate with current experience in national security. That's a premier issue right now because of a nuclear Iran. I'm the one who's demonstrated the fortitude to stand up in Washington. I haven't caved. I remained a real person. That's what they want in the next president, someone that will stand up, take it to Barack Obama and win in 2012. I won really tough elections. I can win again in 2012.

TRAVIS: Thank you so much, Congresswoman. Good luck tonight.

BACHMANN: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we're clear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

COOPER: She was in front at one point, as everybody was at one point.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: (INAUDIBLE) like the rest of (INAUDIBLE), improbable nominee and then everybody came, if it Gingrich, if it was Donald Trump, if it was Cain, if it was Perry. It started out and you know with Huckabee was the first front-runner. He ended up not running. He probably would be doing very well tonight. She just didn't -- there's a very, very slippery slope out there. You ought to be pretty good at it. She's just not up to the job of the nomination --

COOPER: If she doesn't finish in the top four, is this her last night? CARVILLE: It doesn't matter. She could stay in. She -- people are not going to -- if she doesn't finish in the top four in Iowa, people in South Carolina or Florida or New Hampshire are not going to pay attention to her. It's -- for now -- she's done. It doesn't -- she can hold her own for a little while, but that's not -- it's not going to matter if she doesn't finish very well here, I mean I think she's done anyway, but she'll be (INAUDIBLE) --

Remember she put everything on Iowa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And so part of her problem was she did not do well in the debates. She had some moments where she was pretty good, then all of a sudden she would make a statement. Folks would say she flat-out lied about it. That just destroyed all of her credibility. In that one debate where she got a really good response against Mitt Romney, all of a sudden she comes back out with the HP vaccine and that just destroyed all credibility.

The debates showed also I think what happens when you are not on your game consistently. Romney was consistent throughout, a couple of stumbles. For the most part the debates showed who was the strong candidate, who was the weak candidate.

COOPER: The debates have been very important this season. We're going to talk about that tonight, been fascinating. Wolf, you did a bunch of them. I did one as well. Really did play an important role so far in this primary season.

BLITZER: A lot of people think, Anderson, it was the year of the debate if you will. And there are plenty more, assuming this race continues and I think it will. We're taking you inside Iowa caucuses tonight as they happen. You're watching CNN's live coverage of "America's Choice 2012", the Iowa caucuses.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Iowa caucuses they're getting ready to begin. The doors will close at the top of the hour. Right now folks are arriving, they're walking in. You know what? They're also, some of them, at least, answering questions. We have surveyors there for what we call our entrance poll. We're going to share some of those results. That's not going to be fairly soon.

They're telling us not only their backgrounds and a lot of personal information; they're also telling us who they're going to vote for going in. But you know what? They could change their minds. Because at these caucuses there are representatives of the six candidates who will be speaking, making pitches, and they can always change their minds. You know what we should do, Anderson?

COOPER: What's that, Wolf?

BLITZER: Let's take a look and see how these caucuses really work -- COOPER: OK.

BLITZER: -- and explain to our viewers, it's not that simple.

COOPER: If only we had some new high-tech thing that had never been seen on television before --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Do you think we should try and do something like that?

COOPER: Oh look at this, the Weebles.

BLITZER: All right, watch this, you see what's going on --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Check out these little guys. Imagine they're Iowa Republicans. They're showing up for caucuses in more than 1,700 precincts across the state, about 900 locations. This is going on in schools, church basements, even private homes. You see what's happening right now. Take a look at this. This is supposed to be representative of Mitt Romney.

He's going to the front of the room to promote his candidate, appeal for their support. Representatives in fact from all the candidates, if they want, they can have their say. They can make an appeal to the people at that caucus, then comes the really important part. Listen to this, Anderson. The caucus-goers get a chance to vote. They can write it down on a piece of paper. They can do it publicly; a show of hands sometimes depends on the rules.

COOPER: They're wobbling.

BLITZER: Representative caucus, you see all those party officials over there. Once they get all the results, the representative of the caucus counts all those votes --

COOPER: Right.

BLITZER: -- old-fashioned way. They say one, two, three, four, five. They count those votes and then they actually get what's called a telephone. They call Des Moines, the Republican Party Headquarters --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are they zapping them with a laser?

BLITZER: Yes, they have a telephone. They can make a call and give the results of that caucus. And you know what it's pretty cool --

COOPER: By the way if you miss any of this, you can see it on "The Daily Show" later with Jon Stewart --

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Yes, when he ruthlessly mocks you.

BLITZER: You like all those little guys --

COOPER: I did. They're like Weebles. It's like kind of like kicking (ph) old school -- oh look, there's a little Wolf Blitzer Weeble.

BLITZER: Yes look at that --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Look at that.

BLITZER: Yes, he's doing some reporting from the caucus that --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It's pretty cool. Don't you think?

COOPER: Yes, I guess --

BLITZER: That's how a caucus works.

COOPER: Yes, I hope the Weebles are going to show up throughout the evening.

BLITZER: Get ready.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We have more.

COOPER: This is not the last you've seen.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Hold on. Hold on a second because I want everyone to appreciate that we just showed everybody in the United States and around the world --

COOPER: How the caucuses work.

BLITZER: -- how a Republican caucus works because it's different than a Democratic caucus.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are those the undecided voters, the ones that are --

COOPER: Well that's what's interesting about these caucuses --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: -- a lot of people don't realize is you can show up, you can be an Independent voter, you can even be a Democrat as long as you re-register --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

COOPER: -- at this site. The rules are made up by the Republican Party --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right and you can change back the next day. And that could be the key to Ron Paul's success --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- because he'll attract --

BLITZER: Hold on one second because you know what I'm going to do, I'm going to go over and check something out.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is off script.

BLITZER: Joe Johns, he's standing by at one of those caucuses right now. He's in Ankeny, Iowa. Joe, what are you seeing where you are?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the campus of Des Moines area community college. You just come down this hall, I'll give you some sense of what's going on. Right down here at the end of the hall is where this process really begins and ends. This is the check-in table. As you can see there are people signing their names and addresses, what have you, and if their name isn't on the list, but if they want to participate in the caucus, they can simply sign up, register as a Republican and then they're eligible to do so.

Right across the hall here, Chris, unfortunately, it looks like somebody turned off the light for us, but this is the room where they're actually going to count the votes after all of those votes come in, so it's a computer room, not particularly impressive, but that's the room that really counts, as we say. Now this right here is a sample ballot. It's actually green.

It's very small as you can see. Just a piece of paper, there are no names printed on it, just a seal of the Republican Party of the state. No names because they didn't want to decide whose name goes first, whose name goes last, whose name gets left out. All you have to do is write a name down, turn it in, and it will be counted. And with me right here is one of the people who is actually caucusing. Your name is Greer Sisson (ph), right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Correct.

JOHNS: Now tell me who are you caucusing for tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mitt Romney.

JOHNS: And did you caucus for him last time?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well no, I didn't. I supported him. I was at the caucus last time -- I guess I should yes, I did support him last time in the caucus. This time I'm going to be speaking for him and I didn't do that last time.

JOHNS: Great and did you go to classes? Did they send you a speech? How did you end up deciding you were going to do this because you're also going to speak, correct?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I am going to say a few words on behalf of Mitt Romney and the campaign headquarters just called and asked if I'd like to do that and I said sure. I'd love to.

JOHNS: Great. Thanks so much, Ms. Sisson (ph), nice meeting you -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe, thanks very much. We're going to be checking back with you often. Let's go to Indianola, Iowa right now. In fact Indianola High School, Peter Hamby is standing by. I think they expect about 200 folks to show up at the caucus, Peter, where you are.

PETER HAMBY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This isn't as big as the other caucus sites that we've been seeing tonight. Indianola is the center of Warren County, which is a conservative part of the state. Mike Huckabee won here the last time. It's going to be kind of good Petri dish for where that conservative, anti-Romney vote is moving tonight. Take a look over here.

People have just started to arrive. You can see what a precinct actually looks like in the caucuses. Right here we are in the Fourth Ward of Indianola and they have about 2,000 Republicans registered to vote here. They're expecting about 200, Wolf, but you can see they're signing in. And over here to my right they're preparing some of the secret ballots that are going to be counted tonight. This is actually what they look like, Wolf, right here. So probably not a lot of Jon Huntsman votes coming out of this district tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: In some of those -- in some of those caucuses, folks can do it secretly. Other caucuses they do it publicly. In Indianola, these are secret ballots. Is that what you're saying?

HAMBY: Yes, that's right, Wolf. I mean they vote by secret ballot. They count them publicly, so we'll be watching the vote counts as they come in. There's a table in another section of the room after the precinct leaders speak for their chosen candidates. Then the ballots are going to be counted out and we'll all be able to watch. There will be representatives -- or excuse me -- volunteers from the campaigns that will be observing the vote. But the initial vote secret ballot, stick it in an envelope and someone else is going to count it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Peter Hamby, thanks very much. Let's go to Soledad O'Brien right now. She's in Clive, Iowa. Where exactly is Clive, Iowa, Soledad -- Soledad --

O'BRIEN: They're redialing.

BLITZER: Hold on. Soledad -- can you hear me, Soledad? Can you hear me?

O'BRIEN: Yes. Can you hear me --

BLITZER: I hear you. You're -- I was saying you're in Clive, Iowa --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: -- and you're going to tell our viewers where Clive, Iowa is.

O'BRIEN: Well let me tell you something. Clive, Iowa is an area that is very, very populated. What's interesting here is that there are two precincts that are caucusing here. And I want to show you the size of this space and also the size of this line now Wolf. It really goes on -- the last couple of minutes, it has grown very big. One of the reasons they've had to come to a space this size is because the suburban populations that are caucusing here, West Des Moines One and West Des Moines Two, they've grown so quickly, so much they've had to move out of the churches and the schools that they used to caucus in and come to a big rented space like this. So here's what's happening here tonight. This is the receiving line. Basically it's where people will be checking in. I'm going to cut around the back so they let me sort of dip in this way.

A couple of things happen right here. I'm going to move you over one minute. Two things happen. One, you get a volunteer form -- this is an area where you can not only put your personal information, but also say if you want to host a yard sign or if you want to, you know, hold a meeting or do some events.

More important thing, though, is this one. This is the presidential preference ballot. And this is what is going to be stuffed into the boxes that are up front when they do the voting. Before that happens, though, there will be speeches from people who are representing the candidates, kept to five minutes apiece.

And then people have an opportunity to talk with their neighbors and then they will be putting these ballots into the boxes and eventually, they'll be telling them, they will count. Let me show you one final thing, Wolf. Look at the size of this crowd now.

And, literally, this has happened, I would say, in the last five or six minutes, the line has grown. They're expecting maybe as many as 150 people.

An interesting thing that they did, because they wanted to keep the neighborhood grassroots feel that is so important to the caucuses, they removed a lot of the chairs that would normally be here. They want not as many chairs as the people because they want people to mingle and talk and have conversations about the candidate that they're supporting so that even though they're in a big, giant space, they keep the homey feel that they think is so important to the caucuses -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And representatives of the candidates will speak before they actually vote in Clive, is that right, Soledad? O'BRIEN: That's right. They've been limited to a very tight five minutes. And I've been told that they will be yanked off the stage when they get beyond five minutes. But they're expecting to hear from every representative of the candidates for five minutes before people are allowed to then come up, put those ballots in and vote.

BLITZER: We're going to hear what they have to say. Soledad, thanks very much.

Let's go over to CNN's John King who's over at the magic wall for us.

John, give us a little flavor of what we're going to be doing, what we should expect to see in the course of this evening.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's pick up off of what Soledad just said. She said she was in the West Des Moines suburbs. That's right here. That's right here.

See that dark red, this is four years ago. That's Mitt Romney. So, if Mitt Romney does well where Soledad is tonight, that means he's at least to replicate what he did four years ago.

Now, that wasn't enough, Wolf. Four years ago, Mike Huckabee at 35 percent, Mitt Romney 25 percent. Because of all this orange in the middle, those are your small town. That's where Peter Hamby is, small town, evangelical Christian conservative, Tea Party Iowa.

Let's wipe out the map from four years ago and let's come forward. This is why we're so excited. The first votes tonight, they begin to fill in this map. And you'll watch it happen live. These colors will change as the vote results come in.

Why does this matter? Because we're going to look at a number of things. One of the things we're going to look at, we've talked about this a lot, the evangelical vote. The darker the area of the state, the higher percentage of voters who define themselves as evangelicals or born-again Christians. This was the biggest spliced four years ago. That's why Huckabee won.

Will they turn out in as high numbers this time? Will other Republicans turnout, will the evangelicals, despite their numerical numbers, have the same percentage of the vote? That's a huge question. It's very important.

The evangelical slice, Wolf, is important. And throughout the night, we'll also show you the Tea Party vote, and the more traditional Republican establishment vote. It's not just about how many Republicans turn out tonight. It's which piece of the party they come from.

BLITZER: You know what? Michele Bachmann is speaking at Cedar Falls, to the folks out there. Let's listen in briefly.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- after generation has sacrificed for us, including our military, including our veterans. My father signed up to serve honorably in the United States Air Force here in Black Hawk County. It is for them. It is for their memory that we are here tonight, because we are here to reclaim the greatness of this country.

We are unwilling to allow Barack Obama to implement socialism in the United States of America. That will not happen on our watch. We won't let it.

That's why as a member of Congress, I stood up against Obamacare. I stood up and was counted, and led 40,000 Americans to Washington, D.C. to say no to the crowned jewel of socialism which is socialized medicine.

We cannot allow the federal government to run the housing in this country. We can't allow the federal government to run the automobile industry in this country. We're better than that. We're America.

Barack Obama continues to treat us like we are a third world banana republic. We aren't. We're the United States. He continues to make decision after decision for unilateral --

BLITZER: All right. You hear Michele Bachmann. She's making literally a last-minute appeal to the folks at that caucus to vote for her.

Newt Gingrich, by the way, is getting ready to speak as well.

Much more of our Iowa caucuses coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Some 6,000 people expected in the caucus site in Cedar Falls. We just heard from Congresswoman Bachmann speaking to those already there.

Speaker Gingrich is now talking. Let's listen in to some of what he has to say.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- of his administration may cripple America for several generations. So the decision you are making is very, very important.

In considering my candidacy, I ask you to just think of four things. First, I am the only candidate who worked with Ronald Reagan to turn around the economy, to grow jobs and at the same time to defeat the Soviet empire in the 1980s. And who then went on -- who then went on taking the Reagan playbook and in the 1990s reformed welfare, cut taxes, brought unemployment down to 4.2 percent, helped create 11 million new jobs and balanced the budget for four years.

This is not a time for another amateur. We've had three years of an amateur. Washington is too complicated. The problems are too hard.

Second, I ask you to consider who can stand up to Obama's billion dollar campaign, meet him in debate in October and decisively repudiate his policies, his principles, his values and his ideas and win despite every smear, every attack and every distortion which you know their billion dollar campaign will launch. And I suggest to you, given the debates you've seen, I will come far closer to being able to decisively outline who he is and defeat him.

Third, we've run a relentlessly positive campaign. We've done -- our ads have been positive. The speeches have been positive.

(APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: You have a chance tonight to send a signal to America that the consultant-driven, viciously negative campaigns are totally wrong for this year when America is in these kind of problems. And you can do that by refusing to vote for anyone who has run negative ads, and you can insist on voting for someone who's been positive.

Finally, the conservative movement has an opportunity to take advantage of all of Obama's weaknesses and win one of the great historic victories of the 21st century with your help. We will try to lead that movement to a decisive change in Washington for our children, our grandchildren and the future of our country.

Thank you very, very much.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Former Speaker Newt Gingrich addressing the crowds in Cedar Falls and the caucus site there.

David Gergen, Gloria Borger, standing by.

What has happened to Newt Gingrich? What does he need to accomplish tonight? Is anywhere in the top four, does that give him new life?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It helps. What we saw tonight was a smoldering Newt Gingrich. He's very angry.

And he let go today. He's run a positive campaign for the most part.

COOPER: He called Romney today a liar.

GERGEN: He called him a liar. He's caused a real stir of it -- by the way, that's an old taboo in politics, to go after someone in your own party and call him a liar in the midst of a major campaign. That really breaks a taboo.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Bob Dole did that. Remember? Stop lying about my record.

GERGEN: Lying about my record.

BORGER: Exactly. It didn't work out so well.

GERGEN: It didn't work out so well.

But I do -- I think the question is, I think he has to finish in the top four. There's a fairly good chance he will. I think he's clearly going to go to New Hampshire.

The question becomes: is he going to go after Mitt Romney in the way he went after him today? Will he continue to do that? In which case, this is going to get to be a very, very tough campaign.

COOPER: Does he have the money to run counter ads? Because half -- about half the ads run in Iowa were aimed at Gingrich and clearly took a toll.

BORGER: I would argue that's one of the reasons he went positive because he made virtue out of necessity. The necessity -- he just didn't have the money. So, he said, OK, I'm going to go positive.

But he's faced $3.5 million of negative advertising from Romney's super PAC, as it's called, Romney does not direct, by the way, although --

COOPER: But Gingrich has said, and clearly, look, these are his millionaire friends who are doing this and he could tell them to stop.

BORGER: Right.

GERGEN: Romney said I can't tell them the stop. That's why Gingrich said, no, you're lying. You can stop them.

BORGER: So, here's the thing. We have debates coming up. It will be interesting to see if he does attack Romney directly in these debates and say, stop lying about my record.

COOPER: He is going to be in South Carolina. So, the hope for him -- I mean, what is the hope for him out of tonight?

GERGEN: To make South Carolina the firewall. If Romney can win tonight and then win in New Hampshire, he will have momentum and many people think he will then win South Carolina.

COOPER: But for Gingrich?

BORGER: Gingrich would say the top four. I mean, you know, he came out the other day and said he wasn't going to win Iowa.

COOPER: But if he does fourth place, he can make the argument that Ron Paul is not sustainable, that Santorum is not sustainable, but he's in the lead in South Carolina and, therefore, can win the sort of the mini caucus.

BORGER: Actually, when you talk to the Romney people, they will tell you that it's Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, I believe, who can raise the most money, so they would rather those guys finish way back because those are the people that they believe have some sustainability in terms of raising the money. GERGEN: That's right. That's exactly right. The Romney people have said very clearly that they think there are only two people in this race who could potentially beat them, one is Gingrich. The one is Perry. They would like to have both disposed of tonight.

If Gingrich is way back in fourth or even fifth, that makes it harder for him. But he's shown, Anderson, he's one of the candidates who can live off the land before and --

BORGER: Live off the debate.

GERGEN: Live off the debate.

BORGER: If debates were the first primaries, you could argue that Newt Gingrich actually rode those to the top of the polls at one point because he was so good.

GERGEN: Yes.

COOPER: You're saying he can live off the land, he doesn't need -- he doesn't have a big campaign infrastructure. He doesn't need to raise a lot of money to continue on to South Carolina?

GERGEN: Exactly. But he can -- he has to defend himself in South Carolina. That's going to be a really interesting state. But I think the critical thing tonight is how angry he is.

COOPER: And how long that continues if he maintains that.

We'll talk more with David Gergen and Gloria Borger, all around and throughout the evening tonight. We're monitoring social media as well, getting your reaction to this first decision day in the presidential election.

Plus, Erin Burnett is standing by at our polling center, revealing the latest set of entrance poll numbers, talking to people as they talk about as they enter the caucus sites. We'll find out what they are saying, what they are thinking tonight, as we continue in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: They got about 900 locations in Iowa. The doors will be closing in the Iowa caucuses in, what, 11.5 minutes from now. They'll start closing the doors.

There's late arrival, they might let that person in, but it's going to be very, very tight. The late arrivals, they're showing up right now.

Let's go to Romney headquarters in Des Moines.

Candy Crowley is standing by there.

Are there indications they're gearing up for a massive celebration, you see balloons, stuff like that, as you do with the Ron Paul headquarters, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that they will have a celebration whether he comes in first, second or third. I think it's going to be hard to argue a third place is a win, but nonetheless, they feel pretty good here.

Yes, they're hoping for a celebration. It's a good thing that I'm close friends with these two women who are with me here now, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist Mary Matalin.

Listen, I'm going to pick up on the conversation that we just heard on our air, about Newt Gingrich and going negative. It is my experience that candidates about whom there's kind of a muscular question, a Barack Obama, can go negative and people go yes, yes.

People like Newt Gingrich, about whom there's no question that he can have a sharp tongue. When they go negative, there's a risk.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Of course. With so many voters still undecided, this race still is fluid. He needs to be positive, optimistic. He needs to go in there and being convinced and persuade some of those undecided voters to come over to his side.

That face of bitterness and anger is not going to help on a night like tonight when they're looking for someone who's electable, who can speak to their values, and looking for somebody that can go the distance.

CROLEY: Can Newt Gingrich sell a fourth coming out of here? Can fourth be the new third?

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Never say never in this new cycle. It's been totally unpredictable.

But what he's getting negative, positive, negative, positive is more or less to -- it has been more harmful about is the presence of no strategy.

Mitt Romney had a strategy. They never came in here wanting to win Iowa. So, they will be able to claim that if they are in the top, (INAUDIBLE) that's good enough victory for their strategy.

Republicans started out wanting a consistent conservative. They're leaving having seen a consistent candidate. Everybody else went up and down. Newt is just one example of that. Romney has stayed steady and solid and he's become a stronger candidate during this fight (ph).

CROWLEY: And somewhat removed. I mean, I would say consistent and cautious. He's not been out there in the fray, so to speak. It's kind of as though the motto was like, you know, if you stand back, everyone else will implode and we can get out of here with a win.

BRAZILE: Perhaps more patient than the other candidates. Remember, he's been at this rodeo before. The people here in the state, they know him. He really came in second place four years ago. His organization is pretty tight. And he can hold some of his organizational muscle for the next contest.

MATALIN: All right. It was cautious, but it was disciplined. And the only time they broke the discipline was for good reason, when Newt was a real problem. And he took off the gloves and changed the strategy of his campaign and jumped in here and was a tough fighter.

CROWLEY: Mary Matalin, Donna Brazile, we will be back with you later tonight.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: You can see the Believe in America/Romney banner right behind a speech. He's presumably going to be giving a speech at some point tonight. We see the teleprompter is going up there already.

Candy, thanks very much.

We've been asking Iowa voters what's important to them as they consider their choice for the Republican nominee for president.

We'll have some of their answers. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We are nearing 8:00 p.m., the time that the doors at the Iowa caucuses are closing. At Cedar Falls, former House Speaker Gingrich had just completed speaking.

Shannon Travis is standing by there very close to where the speaker is.

Shannon, the doors have not closed there yet, but the speaker is finished with his speech.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLTICAL REPORTER: That's right, Anderson. He just got of the stage. He's making his last appeal for votes. Let's see if we can get a word with him right now.

Speaker Gingrich --

GINGRICH: Some day, we're going to write a sequel.

TRAVIS: Speaker Gingrich, about how many people do you think you were able to help decide of the undecideds?

GINGRICH: You have to ask these folks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good luck.

GINGRICH: Thank you, ma'am.

TRAVIS: What do you think your chances are in Black Hawk?

GINGRICH: Well, pretty good. We'll see. TRAVIS: And what about going negative? Do you think you'll have to go negative?

GINGRICH: No, we'll just tell the truth.

TRAVIS: And Mitt Romney -- and you'll stay with that pledge, Speaker?

GINGRICH: Sure. We'll just tell the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We love you, Newt.

TRAVIS: There you have it, Anderson. The speaker is saying that he'll basically stay positive and keep that campaign mantra even as some of his competitors go negative against him.

COOPER: Shannon Travis, appreciate it. Obviously, Wolf, it's going to depend on how he does tonight. But it would be hard to imagine Speaker Gingrich, given the atmosphere the last couple of days, given his anger today, that he would not try to respond to some of the attacks.

BLITZER: I was surprised the last several weeks. I covered him for 20 years. I know him.

He took all that pummeling, all those negative attack ads and he tried to take the high road. He didn't take the bait until the last few days, the last week.

COOPER: How much of that was about money, though? That he just didn't have the money.

BLITZER: He didn't have the money. But you know what? He can go on television and you can really pummel your adversaries for free.

COOPER: Right.

BLITZER: You know, he can go on television and do interviews on all the cable channels, whatever he wants to do, and he could have pummel him, he decided not to and it probably was a blunder.

COOPER: All right.

We want to tell you, give you kind of snapshot of how tonight's entrance polls work. We're going to be talking to people before they go into the polls. We have a little virtual animation to show you how they actually work.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So the first caucusgoers to show up, we're calling them the "early birds," appear, and they look oddly like Weebles, they wobble but they don't fall down. They're highly motivated. They're the first ones to show up. They showed up about an hour ago.

They're followed by the late arrivals who are just now getting in right before the doors close. The doors close in about three minutes from now.

Now, some of these people will have a chance to answer questions from survey takers before they enter. Soon after the caucus doors close, we're going to bring the results of those entrance polls in two sets. One with just the early birds, and one that includes the late arrivals as well.

Now, why this matters is these -- what's interesting is these two groups have historically voted differently. That's why with each set, it's possible the leading candidate could change.

In fact, let's look back. In 2008, let's look at the early birds. They went for Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney. The later arrivals went for Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee. Of course, Obama and Huckabee won, as you know, Wolf, because we were in our election center all that night.

So, when somebody arrives, it gives you a sense of how motivated they may be and we'll be watching that closely with Erin Burnett for who the early arrivals are and who they like.

BLITZER: And you know who else is just arriving right now with all these nice people on the table here?

COOPER: I do not know.

BLITZER: Take a look. Let's take a look over here.

COOPER: Oh, I have my own little --

BLITZER: Yes, I like my tie.

BORGER: Nice tie.

BLITZER: Very handsome. Gray hair, beautiful blue eyes.

COOPER: This is all going to show up on the "Daily Show" later. But what would election night be without some sort of new technology and virtual reality.

BLITZER: Lovely technology.

COOPER: Why have reality when we have virtual reality?

BLITZER: You remember Will.i.am?

COOPER: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: Very nice.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Let's continue the coverage. We're two minutes away, Wolf, from the top of the hour.

BLITZER: Yes, we're getting ready to see what's going on. At the top of the hour, just to reset for our viewers, they're going to start closing the doors at about 900 locations. There's about 1,700, 1,800 precincts in the state of Iowa. But some of them double up in various locations.

They're going to close the doors. If somebody arrives a minute or two or three late, there might be a line, they'll let them in. They're going to go inside, they're going to hear speeches from various representatives of the candidates, the six candidates, who have been campaigning aggressively in Iowa.

And at some point, they'll start passing around a ballot. And people will be able to write the names -- the names of -- the name, I should say, of the person they want to see win the Republican presidential nomination. After that, they'll count all the ballots and they'll tell Des Moines -- the Republican Party headquarters in Des Moines, they'll call in and tell them how many votes went for X, Y, Z, et cetera.

We're also standing by, we hope, to be able to report -- to give you a little bit of an indication of what's going on with the entrance poll results. Normally, we have exit polls, but in a caucus, we ask people who are going in for their preferences, who they say they're going to vote for. It doesn't mean that they're going to necessarily vote for that individual that they tell us they're going to vote for because at the last minute, they could -- their minds could be changed based on what they just heard.

But we'll have a better sense of what's going on, presumably.