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Iowa Caucuses; Interview with Sen. John Thune

Aired January 3, 2012 - 21:00   ET


RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They came because they knew there was a land of opportunity still in this country. And there's a model for America in this country and we have put that model in place.

If we really want to make a difference in this country, if we want to leave this country for our children in good shape, there are two things that we can do together. It's going to take us all working together. This election is not about me. It's about you.

It's about our children. It's about our grandchildren and it's about having a president of the United States who respects the constitution of this country, who understands that we must pass a balanced budget amendment to the United States constitution and do it as soon as we can.

We know that we've got to have a part-time Congress, cut their pay, cut the amount of time that they're spending in Washington, D.C., cut their staff, send them back home. Let them work a job like you do, leaving their constituency under the laws that they pass.

We can get our country back on track. We can have this country energy dependent. We can send a message to the world again that America is strong economically and if she is strong economically, she's going to be strong militarily. And the rest of the world is going to respect us.

That's what you will get out of a Governor Perry. I will defend (INAUDIBLE) the United States Supreme Court. I will have the type of individuals working the philosophy that we share, to go into those agencies that are over-regulating us, that are killing jobs, that will pull back all those regulations since the '08 and have them audited.

If they're killing jobs, they're out of here. We need a president of the United States that not only respects that constitution but looks down at the Bill of Rights and gets down to number 10 where we talk about the powers not delegated to the United States by the constitution nor prohibited to it by the states are reserved for the states respectively or to the people.

And basically says that that federal government was created by the states to be an agent for the states, not the other way around. Let's work together to get our country back. You have my backing in this caucus. And I promise you one thing. For the next four years, I will have your back in Washington, D.C.

God bless you, God bless Iowa. We will continue to be the greatest country in the world.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You heard the Texas governor, Rick Perry, in Clive outside of Des Moines at the caucus there. A pretty big -- it's a pretty big -- it's a pretty big caucus there in Clive. It's a suburb of Des Moines.

The map is beginning to fill out a little bit over there. Set the scene, John. Tell us what's going on. What are we learning with about 8 percent of the precincts reporting.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Be still, my heart, Wolf. You know for the last three years we've used the 2008 map to get a sense of what happened then and what might happen now. Guess what, we're beginning to see, these are the first official votes of the 2012 presidential campaign. Eight percent of the Iowa vote is counted right now. You just noticed Rick Perry still speaking at that caucus. That means they've yet to vote.

So we've got a long way to go in counting the votes. But what are we seeing right now? Look at the colors and try to remember this for the night. This lighter pink, that's Ron Paul, purple Rick Santorum, the dark red is Mitt Romney, the lighter red, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, you just heard him, he's the orange, Michele Bachmann the yellow.

Don't expect much for Jon Huntsman tonight. He didn't really contest Iowa. He's getting a modest amount of votes but he's waiting in New Hampshire. Tonight he said when the winner of Iowa gets to New Hampshire, he says nobody will care. We're going to see how that one plays out in the days ahead.

But look at this as it starts to fill in. I just want to make a point. This is very early. This is likely to change. But I want you to look at this. I want you to look especially here in the middle of the state. This up here is where you have small -- I've circled Des Moines down here. That's of course the capital city. It's bigger.

Up here is where you have a lot of Tea Party. Rural, evangelical voters. Look what you have, a little purple, a little red, a little orange. The reason that could be significant if it holds up, is if you go back in time, this is Huckabee country. This is where the Christian conservatives consolidated around candidate, one candidate in 2008, and they propelled Mike Huckabee to that victory.

If you see -- in 2012 if you see a variety of colors, if you see a bit of hash in the middle of the map here, that tells you that perhaps Rick Santorum will finish in the top three as our entrance poll suggests he will. Let's see when they count the votes. But as we see how this plays out, let's just see, if this is a bunch of different colors in the middle of the night, that suggests to you that you have a split among evangelical voters, at least, Wolf, enough of a split so that one candidate is not propelled to victory by that piece of the electorate.

Again, we're at 8 percent right now. As you just heard Joe Johns talking to the state Republican chairman, Matt Strawn, this state has a pretty good record. Once they get to counting, they tend to do it pretty quickly. Some of the caucuses a little behind as we go. But we're going to watch this fill in tonight. If you see a green county like that, that tells you we've got a tie. Ron Paul and Rick Perry at the moment tied in that county. About 33 percent of the vote in this one small county, Union County, already counted.

So as you see you go county to county you get different results. This is a big for Mitt Romney, Davenport. One of the larger communities in the state. They're counting their vote. Mitt Romney with 30 percent there.

One of the things we'll do throughout the night, this is critical to Mitt Romney. He's getting 30 percent right now. How did he do? Thirty-one percent four years ago. It's a way to test to see if he's building, expanding or just keeping where he got four years ago.

But, Wolf, been waiting a long time to see that. We're under way.

BLITZER: You know, John, there's been an unexpected development. I want to share it with our viewers right now. We thought we had all of the respondents in the entrance polls coming in, but there's been more respondents, more information is coming in and we're going to share it with you right now.

Just to recap, as you remember, in the first wave and the second wave, it was a slight lead for Ron Paul, 24 percent, over Mitt Romney, 23 percent. Rick Santorum not all that far behind with 19 percent. Thirteen percent for Newt Gingrich. Wave one and wave two.

Do we have the bottom three? No, all right. Here's all three waves now. Look at this. A three-way effective tie when you add up all of the respondents, wave one, two and three. Look at this, 24 percent for Ron Paul, 23 percent for Mitt Romney, 23 percent for Rick Santorum, 13 percent for Newt Gingrich.

Let's take a look at the bottom three right now. This is the entrance poll results. These are not the official results. Ten percent for Rick Perry, 6 percent for Michele Bachmann, 1 percent for Jon Huntsman. But in a virtual tie, really, Ron Paul slightly ahead. When all of the respondents, all of those people who told us -- who told us what they were going to do as they were walking into these caucuses -- they can always change their minds -- it shows a very, very close race right now in Iowa. Ron Paul with the slightly 24 percent, 23 percent for Mitt Romney and Santorum.

Here are the actual votes coming in, with 10 percent of the precincts now reporting, 1 out of 10. Ten percent are in. Look at how close it is. Ron Paul, 24 percent. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum tied virtually at 23 percent, 13 percent for Gingrich, 10 percent Perry, 6 percent for Michele Bachmann, 1 percent -- look at how close it is to the response, the response of the entrance poll folks who told us what they were going to do when they were going in.

They could have changed their minds, but it's a very, very close race right now. Anderson, we thought it would be close. Potentially it could be a three-man tie out there -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it doesn't get much closer than this. All the guys here at the booth have been crunching the numbers. Ari Fleischer, former spokesperson for George W. Bush.

You've been crunching the numbers. What do you see?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY FOR PRES. BUSH: Here's what I see is driving this and why Ron Paul is running as well as he is. The vote this year is much younger and it's much more independent than it was four years ago. Four years ago Republicans made 86 percent of the Republican Iowa caucus, this year they're only 74 percent.

Four years ago independents were 13 percent of the caucus. They've doubled, almost doubled to 24 percent. Here's why that's important. Ron Paul has taken 48 percent of the independent votes. His closest opponent there Romney with just 16. Among Republicans --

COOPER: That's incredible. That's a huge difference.

FLEISCHER: Huge win for Ron Paul among independents and they've almost doubled in turnout. Among Republicans, Santorum is winning. Santorum 27, Romney 25.

Here's the other big demographic difference. Four years ago, those 17 to 29 were 11 percent of the electorate. This year they're 15 percent. And guess who they're working for? Ron Paul with 52 percent, Santorum second with 23.

Here's the other fascinating piece, though, and it's about Ron Paul's base. Among those who are moderate or liberal they are voting for Ron Paul, 43 percent. He's the winner there. Among conservatives they're voting for Rick Santorum.

COOPER: But among evangelicals according to the entrance poll Ron Paul was winning among evangelicals.

FLEISCHER: Well, but evangelicals are also split. Not all of them are very conservative or conservative. A lot of these independents, though, are the moderate and liberal who are coming into the Republican Party.

COOPER: Dana Loesch from, a Tea Party activist. What do you see tonight in the numbers?

DANA LOESCH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I've been looking especially at -- you know, obviously the top three and looking at some of the numbers coming in for Ron Paul. And I'm genuinely shocked, you know, just as the number, the sheer number of independents. And also again that 43 percent number that are defining themselves as moderate or liberal.

Now there's two ways you can -- you can look at this. You can look at this and say well, this is a candidate that can reach out to independents. This is a candidate that can reach out to those moderates that are really going to be helping the GOP candidate come 2012, or come this election.

Or, you can say this candidate is kind of liberal in a lot of their stances. I mean if you just talk about ending the ward and legalizing pot, you'll get a ton of -- yes, you'll get a ton of support. So there's kind of two ways that you can look at this. So we'll continue to see the numbers come in.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: There's one screaming huge story here tonight, and that is these Republicans just don't want to vote for Mitt Romney. I mean it's like you're trying to give a dog a pill that keeps spitting it up. Now they're going to eat the pill because Romney is going to eventually be the nominee. But the signal here --

FLEISCHER: He still might going to lose tonight.

CARVILLE: He may but it's going to be 25 percent. And it's the same thing he did --


COOPER: Something he had four years ago.

CARVILLE: Same thing he had before and he's got a weaker field. And it just don't matter where he comes in, they don't want to vote for him. It's as clear as a --


ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Two numbers I'm looking at. You need 2,286 delegates to win the GOP nomination. You're not going to win it tonight.


MARTIN: It doesn't matter. It's simply one state. Well, the second number is very simple, and that is, I'm looking at the number, how fast will it take for Republicans to say Iowa means nothing if Congressman Ron Paul wins? Because for a whole year all we've heard is Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, but if Ron Paul wins, the first thing we'll hear is, it's no big deal, so let's move on to the next one, which tells me, look, you can't say it's important if Romney wins but it's not important if Paul wins.

COOPER: James, I saw you wincing.

CARVILLE: Yes, I do. This doesn't matter. Ron Paul is not going to be the Republican nominee. Romney is and Republicans just don't want to vote for him. They will in the end. But they don't --


COOPER: But don't his supporters -- won't they be saying, wait a minute, he's appealing to independents?


COOPER: Why not give him --

CARVILLE: I'll give him enormous amount of credit, but he's not -- in terms of -- he's not going to be the Republican nominee. I give him credit. He organizes people, he raises money. But in terms of being the nominee --

MARTIN: Even Ron Paul (INAUDIBLE), James.

LOESCH: Right. I don't think Ron Paul is going to be the nominee. But Mitt Romney? I don't -- I mean it's too -- it's too soon to say because we still have -- he'll take New Hampshire, but what about South Carolina? What about Florida?

COOPER: You're still undecided yourself as a Tea Party activist, right?

LOESCH: Yes, I'm -- I'm looking for that non-Romney. I'm looking for the candidate who's the strongest conservative candidate that can win. And I don't -- I think we have other stronger conservative candidates.


COOPER: I want to bring in our -- I want to bring in our chief political analyst and also our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger and David Gergen.


COOPER: For you, what do you see in the numbers?

BORGER: She's got to keep -- you know, the interesting things, OK, let's talk Tea Party here. I know you're a Tea Party person. I'm looking at the Tea Party numbers. What's so fascinating to me is that Rick Santorum so far is getting the most support from the Tea Party. Guess who's getting the least support from the Tea Party? The man that James Carville says is going to be the eventual nominee and that would be Mitt Romney.

So, you know -- and Ron Paul, they don't -- they're kind of neutral one way or the other because of course his foreign policy is something they would disagree with. So one thing we need to look at as we look at the results here and go on, the Tea Party has such a huge impact in the 2010 midterm elections, the question is if Romney does end up being the nominee, are they going to have as much impact because they clearly don't like him.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We may make a little history here tonight. This is a very fractured field after a year. And what's striking is the Iowa caucuses started in 1972. We have -- this is 40 years. In all those -- that time, the lowest percentage anybody won and actually won the Iowa caucuses was in 1996. Bob Dole got 26 percent.

Everybody else -- the winner has always gotten more than 20 percent.

COOPER: Got more than that.

GERGEN: This time a winner we may have a winner, it looks like, who's going to be below 26 percent. That really does suggest to James Carville's point that Mitt Romney has not yet made the impact he needs to make. And I wouldn't be surprised if we see some calls for yet another candidate.

COOPER: John King and Erin Burnett.

KING: And yet, yes, you'll have some people saying let's get another candidate. Dana Loesch says where's my Tea Party alternative?

BORGER: Tea Party.

KING: However, there are filing deadlines. Number one, you can't just say I'm running for president. You have to file. You have to have raised money. You have to get on the ballot. Almost impossible to do at this point. Almost impossible to do it in a serious way. And let's say Romney is first or second, with 20 something percent as I said earlier. Some people will say why can't he grow? Well, he's weak.

Guess what? After tonight our next question is what's next and who is best positioned?

COOPER: And that's New Hampshire.

KING: Mitt Romney is way ahead in New Hampshire. If he wins tonight or comes in a very close second, a tie with Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, it's hard to see the bottom dropping out in New Hampshire in one week. You only get one week. It will be interesting the tone. There's a debate this weekend where people go after him in a nasty, negative way.

The key test for Romney, after tonight, will be, can he keep New Hampshire? If he can keep New Hampshire, then, as it was in 2008, South Carolina, as it often is in Republican presidential primaries, South Carolina says Iowa or New Hampshire win over the field. We pick presidents. We'll see what happens there.

COOPER: If you're Rick Santorum, do you pretty much -- I mean maybe say hi to New Hampshire and then quickly just --


KING: He says he will go there because he knows he needs to prove he's not just Mike Huckabee, he is not just a Christian conservative candidate. He can contest on the economy. You know, when he won his House district he has become known as this Christian conservative cultural warrior. When he won his House district, he beat a seven-term Democratic incumbent just outside of Pittsburgh, Economic blue-collar district and he beat them on an economic message.


COOPER: But it's on financial issues, Erin, that he's been hammered by some of his opponents.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: It was interesting, obviously we saw the caucus-goer there interviewed and said, I picked Santorum because of the economy, which isn't what I expected to hear. You know we have a strike team of about 22 of the biggest CEOs, investors and the country, and I asked them the question of who do you prefer. Now you're all going to say, of course, they prefer Romney. And you are right. They do all prepare Romney.

BORGER: Did I say that?

BURNETT: But as you --

BORGER: Did anyone said that?

GERGEN: I did that.


KING: That helps you read minds, too?

BURNETT: Yes. That's right. And Gingrich generally came in second. But when it came to Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, those who would expect the quote-unquote, the establishment, the big donors, the big economic voices to not back them, it wasn't like that at all. Santorum more support than you would think. Frustration from them on his social issues. But economic support.

And with Ron Paul the biggest bond investor in the United States of America, number one choice, and the only Republican candidate who thinks he's better than the president is Ron Paul. So Ron Paul does have some people saying he's unacceptable. But in that establishment a lot of people coming out and saying it might be OK ,which was little surprising to me.

BORGER: Can I say something about Rick Santorum, though? You know you're saying, does he go on to New Hampshire? I spoke to somebody in his campaign today they've got an ad up in New Hampshire already and they have in South Carolina. But you know how much they spent in Iowa this past election on mailers, radio and television? A grand total of $120,000.

KING: This New Hampshire and Iowa, then we get into closed Republican primaries, you're seeing a lot of independents tonight. Young voters Ari was talking about earlier. The big surprise, and that could be these people showing up, maybe they're Democrats or independents they're signing up to be Republicans tonight to vote for Ron Paul.

Remember New Hampshire. Again, if Barack Obama had an opponent, if there was a Democratic race in Iowa tonight, things might be different. Those independents might be doing different things. In New Hampshire independents can also vote. This is what Huntsman has been banking on.

And some of those independents, remember when Barack Obama was winning in New Hampshire four years ago, and then late Hillary charged back and took the state? Wow, blue collar Reagan Democrat types in Grady, Manchester. In places like that there are a lot of blue-collar conservative Democrats, blue-collar, conservative Democrats, so if they want can play in New Hampshire a week from now, it'd be interesting.

One last point --

BORGER: Will they vote for Ron Paul?

KING: The Republican Party ignores Ron Paul at it peril. He is proving he can bring new voters to the process. You can't win against yes, I'm vulnerable but a very formidable incumbent unless he can change things. And he's proving he can change things.

GERGEN: I'm listening, John. I go back to this. I think you're right. Mitt Romney is clearly going to win New Hampshire, but he's not going to get a lot of credit for it. It's expected that he's going to win New Hampshire. This came goes on. And there's --

KING: Who has the money to take him on in Florida? Who has the money to take --


GERGEN: He's already sending out the ballots.

BORGER: But I think he -- I think he's got to get sort of above 28 percent or around there, because he's got to show --

KING: He's polling at 40 in New Hampshire right now.


BORGER: He's got to show that he can -- that he can go beyond that threshold. What the Romney campaign did. I think very well, almost see how it turns out tonight, they were kind of a model for how you set expectations in a campaign. You know, they got into Iowa late. They sad we're not really going to compete, then suddenly it looked better for them. And then they're in Iowa, but their super PAC is running the ads. They are not.

GERGEN: I think they've mishandled the expectations. I think they've set them too high.

COOPER: I got to take a quick break.

BORGER: Romney himself --

COOPER: Voting continues at caucuses across the state of Iowa. We're going to bring you to a number of caucus sites. Let's you watch the voting as it takes place. Out coverage continues as well as new information from the entrance polls where we polled daughters before they went into the caucuses.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're getting official votes coming into the CNN Election Center from Iowa.

Let's take a look at where things stand right now. These are not polls. These are the official numbers coming in from Des Moines. Fifteen percent of the precincts have now reported. Ron Paul is ahead with 24 percent, 148 votes ahead of Rick Santorum with 23 percent, 4,292 for Rick Santorum.

Also at 23 percent, just below Rick Santorum is Mitt Romney with 4,183 votes. Newt Gingrich is distant 13 percent, 2400 votes or so. Rick Perry only 10 percent, 1800 votes. Michele Bachmann, a disappointing 6 percent so far with 1,000 votes. Plus only 126 votes for Jon Huntsman. He didn't even campaign in Iowa.

But once again these are 15 percent of the caucus -- of the precincts have reported right now.

Let's go to Soledad O'Brien. She's standing by at one of those caucuses in Clive outside of Des Moines.

They're counting votes over there, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, there are two precincts that they're counting votes for here in Clive. They're doing West Des Moines precinct one, a West Des Moines, increasing two. And over here I'm looking at precinct two votes being counted. What they're going to do, as you can see, they're starting to sort them, right? So first they've got to do is divide them by candidate.

After that they start counting those piles. Once they finish counting the files for the first time, they'll then switch, count those piles a second time to make sure that they're getting a consistent number. And after that they're going to start writing on a white board. They're going to write on the white board who has done what, who has done well. There are some speakers who are talking as well. So I'm going to let you come through.


O'BRIEN: Because while they're doing the counting it takes about 15 minutes. I'm sorry, I apologize for blocking you. While they're doing their counting -- it's going to take about 15 minutes -- there's business to do. So speakers are come up and going to talk about the platform and the planks and things like that for the folks who stayed.

They probably lost -- I'm going to guess, Wolf -- 800 people, 1,000 people, maybe. This is all that's left. These are people interested in seeing these results put up and also talking more about some of the business of the party. They're expecting, Wolf, that this is going to take about 15 minutes to do this, the first count, then the second count, and then they'll not only going to write it up for everybody to see, they'll also make the official phone call, as they tell me, to give the official results from these two precincts that will be reporting here from Clive -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Soledad is at the Seven Flags Events Center in Clive watching what's going on. We'll get back to you, get those numbers.

Let's check in with Shannon once again, Shannon Travis is joining us. He's in Cedar Falls.

What's the status over there in Cedar Falls, Shannon?

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: Hey there, Wolf. Well, step by step, this process is playing out. I mean this was the largest, the largest caucus. They have about site, 6,000 people but you'll see behind me that many of the bleachers are empty.

Right now the next step in this process is actually tabulating those votes. So it's taking a little bit longer because again this was is the largest caucus site. I'm joined by Justin Bartlett. He is the caucus chairman for this country.

How's the vote looking so far, Justin?

JUSTIN BARTLETT, CAUCUS CHAIR, IOWA: Well, the results are actually going to be reported by the state party in Des Moines. But we're right here, as you can see, we're tabulating everything and sending it off to them as we speak so --

TRAVIS: Can you give us an idea how it's trending?

BARTLETT: I actually don't even know myself. We haven't -- we haven't looked at it, we haven't tabulated them. I know they're entering them by precinct. And getting them (INAUDIBLE) by precinct.

TRAVIS: How much longer do you think this process will take?

BARTLETT: It looks to me like it's winding down here. So I would -- probably in the next 10 or 15 minutes Des Moines will have all our -- the State Department will have all our information.

TRAVIS: Thank you, Justin.


TRAVIS: There you have it, Wolf, Justin, the caucus chairman of this site here telling us that in about 15 more minutes we should see some of kind results reported -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Then they'll call in Des Moines and give the numbers. And we'll add them up and get those official numbers. In our entrance poll results as you know, it looks like a three-man contest right now. Ron Paul slightly ahead, though, slightly ahead of Rick Santorum. And Mitt Romney as we know right now in the top tier.

I want to go ahead to the headquarters of those three candidates right now. Candy Crowley is over at Mitt Romney headquarters, Jim Acosta is at Rick Santorum headquarters, Dana Candy is at Ron Paul headquarters.

Candy, first to you. People are coming back from caucuses and they're getting ready to hear from their candidate at some point in the not too distant future.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. As it winds down, as the caucuses, it is gearing up here. This is not actually an evening that any Romney supporters really expected to have. Not so much in terms of results. But they really thought that Romney would go on to New Hampshire and perhaps say something there. Kind of a forward looking move rather than stay here in Des Moines overnight to watch these results come in. It was seen as a sign of Romney confidence, frankly.

So this room is beginning to fill up with people who've already gone and done their duty at the caucuses. We are told that the candidate is in this hotel now, just holed up with some of his top advisers who flew in last night. And they are doing what we're doing, which is watching the counting -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, stand by. I want to go to Rick Santorum headquarters, Jim Acosta is over there. What's going on over there?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you can say that supporters of Rick Santorum are starting to make their way into the site. They're here to watch Senator Santorum give his speech later tonight. They're hoping that it's a victory speech. And I'm joined now by some Santorum supporters who caucused for him earlier tonight.

I'm here with James and Cammie. James is in the Iowa State sweatshirt, so I'll start with you. You were telling me that you think Senator Santorum is going to surprise people tonight?

JAMES, SENATOR RICK SANTORUM SUPPORTER: I really do think he's going to surprise people. The amount of people that turned out to our caucus was higher than expected. And Santorum won by a large margin of 56 to the second place of 40. So I think he has a good chance to win.

ACOSTA: And Cammie, what do you think? Have you been out to see Santorum speak? Have you been impressed by what he has to say? What is it that's drawing you to his campaign at this point?

CAMMIE, SENATOR RICK SANTORUM SUPPORTER: I'm just kind of impressed by -- I don't know, family values are very important to me because I have family. And yes, just what I've heard about what he believes is really positive.

ACOSTA: OK. Very good.

And so, Wolf, we're hearing that from a lot of Santorum supporters. We've spent the last 24 hours out on the campaign trail with him. And it's striking to see just how many social conservatives are showing up at his events. And he's really counting on those voters, those caucus-goers to deliver for him tonight.

I'm just going to start walking here to show you exactly what it's like inside Santorum headquarters. There was a small hoard of (INAUDIBLE) here earlier that has grown steadily over the course of the night. And this is something that we've seen over the last 24 hours covering Senator Santorum.

He -- I mean this is something that we haven't seen very much of following this campaign. He has been trailed by not only American press but German press, Japanese press, you name it. And it just goes to show you how this campaign has caught fire in just the last couple of days before the Iowa caucuses.

And earlier you were talking about organization -- if I can just get back to that, very briefly. It should not come to -- surprise to a lot of people to see Senator Santorum doing so well tonight. I was talking to an aide to Senator Santorum over the weekend, who said that they expected to have 70 percent of the caucus sites across the state of Iowa covered.

Just goes to show you they had a ground campaign planned ready to go for tonight, you know, long before all of this came up this evening. So this is something they've been planning for for some time. They feel like they're executing it pretty well tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. I spoke to Senator Santorum the other day and he said they were really counting on their volunteers. They seem to be doing a pretty good job for him.

Jim Acosta at Santorum headquarters.

Let's go to Dana Bash over at Ron Paul headquarters. It looks like he potentially, Dana, could be the big winner tonight. It's a very, very close contest but he's slightly ahead of the entrance poll results that we tabulated. Sort of a -- I guess that room is going to fill up big time once a lot of those Ron Paul supporters finish voting.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, that's right. You're starting to see some people come in here. Actually a lot of young people coming in here. For the most part young people we've seen in the early evening are the volunteers that came in from out of state. Of course those are helpful to Ron Paul in doing some things but not in what he really needs, which are the votes.

But if you look our entrance polls and talk to Ron Paul's campaign tonight they are saying that they are very, very happy with what they're seeing, with regard to the young vote. We saw that earlier today. We were out at the "Rock the Vote" event and it was very interesting, a 76-year-old candidate, Wolf, but by far the oldest candidate in this race, really got the biggest applause from junior and seniors in high school, those who are going to go out for the first time today.

And definitely you're hearing -- I'm hearing from Ron Paul's campaign chief, he just sent me an e-mail saying that they were confident that they're going to meet or exceed the entrance polls that we are seeing. So they're certainly raising expectations tonight. And they are really focusing a lot on that youth vote thinking about really is going to help them potentially put them over the edge if you listen to their confidence.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll stand by to hear from Ron Paul. Thanks very much, Dana.

That entrance poll did show him slightly ahead Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Ron Paul, who would have thought, 76 years old, as Dana says, an OB/GYN.

Erin, Gloria, and he's doing remarkably well. He's got supporters out there, a lot of young people who have come in, they are bringing folks to those caucuses. You're digging deeper, Erin.

BURNETT: That's right. And interesting Dana was talking about age. Obviously important but minding as I said, these 19 categories, that we have trying to find out what really this best shows this essentially three-way tie with Ron Paul leading, that it looks like we have at this moment.

Here are two categories I wanted to hone in on. First, vote by party I.D. Now obviously Democrat would be people who went to the door, identified themselves, switched their affiliation for the night.

What really matters is obviously Republicans, 74 percent of voters tonight and independents, 24 percent. And I'm going to break those charts down with Gloria in just a moment because I think it's pretty amazing what they show.

But this -- ever attended a GOP caucus? Yes, 60 percent. Now I can tell you right now that that yes, 60 percent, that is where Mitt Romney has his strength. And you see it clearly.

But I want to break down and flick over to you, Gloria, is --


BURNETT: -- the people who have never attended a caucus before. This is a very high number. This is where you see it, as Dan was talking about. Young people enthusiastic, Ron Paul.

BORGER: Young people enthusiastic and organization. This also speaks to Ron Paul's organization. When I was in Iowa a couple of weeks ago, spoke with a senior Republican in the state, who said to me, Ron Paul has gone out there and done what Barack Obama did in 2008, which is identify his voters, get to his voters and figure out how to get them to the caucus sites.

I think that's where --

BURNETT: That's what we see.

BORGER: -- paying off this time.

BURNETT: Now let's look at these independents, because this is really also -- this is where you see 24 percent of the voters independent, and almost half of them going for Ron Paul.

BORGER: Right. And I bet they're young, of course. And they're coming into the caucus and they may turn around and register as something else some other time. But -- but I think this tells you a lot about his anti-war message.


COOPER: I think that would appeal to independent voters. And also his economic message.

BURNETT: Right. And as we hand it back over, I do just want to note one final thing. Well, there is it. That's independents. But in terms of Republicans, where you saw the split, that's where you see the three-way split, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum leading amongst Republicans. Ron Paul the third. So that's where you see the -- the three way tie.

BORGER: And Santorum will get those social conservative.

BURNETT: That's right. So we will watch this, see which way this breaks. Wolf, Anderson?

BLITZER: Erin doing the fabulous flick over there on those two screens. More flicking coming up. But let me show you the real numbers. These are the official numbers that are coming in right now; 22 percent of the precincts have now been counted. It doesn't get a whole lot closer than this.

Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul all with 23 percent. But Mitt Romney now 41 votes ahead of Rick Santorum, who is slightly ahead of Ron Paul; 6,297 for Mitt Romney, 6,256 for Rick Santorum, 6,240 for Ron Paul. Newt Gingrich 13 percent; everybody else 10 percent, Rick Perry six percent, Michele Bachmann one percent, Jon Huntsman.

You know, a quarter of the votes are now in, John. And look at how close it is.

KING: Wolf, you know, sometimes we make this overly complicated. Politics, at the end, is about math. You just went through the arithmetic; 22 percent of the vote in and 57 votes separating Ron Paul and Mitt Romney at the top, with Rick Santorum in the middle.

I want to show you something, because as this begins to fill in, look at this. Look at this. Purple, that's Rick Santorum. The dark red, that's Mitt Romney. The pinkish orange, that's Ron Paul. Look at this. I just want to show you something.

This is a three-way race in Iowa tonight. If you go back four years, it was a two way race. It was Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee. Ron Paul won one lonely county.

Let's come back to where we are tonight. Michele Bachmann is leading in one small rural county right now. Newt Gingrich leading in one small rural county right now. The rest of the map, this is Romney, Santorum and Paul.

So in a close race, 22 percent of the vote counted, out here in the middle, you see all those empty counties in the middle? They're very tiny counties. Let me bring it up right here. Marshall County, 1.3 percent of the population. Story County, that's important. There's a college campus here. Ames, Iowa, is right in here. That's very important to watch the Ron Paul vote.

When you get up the top here, you're look at very, very tiny counties, 0.6 percent of the population, 0.4 percent of the population. So as we start to count these votes, these smaller counties critical to Rick Santorum. That's where you have Evangelical Tea Party voters. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul will fight it out out here.

Wolf, in the end, you look, where are the big population centers that we're looking for votes. Des Moines, Polk County is the largest county. It's almost 13 percent of the state population. A little more than a quarter of the vote counted so far. Ron Paul running ahead. Very important, if he can keep that lead, even though it's a small lead, 28 percent to 22 percent, this is where the votes are.

If he keeps the margin there, that helps you in a close race. We'll watch this county.

Let's move over here. Dubuque, a little more than three percent of the population. This was Romney county four years ago. It's a dead heat right now essentially, five votes separating, with 23 percent of the vote in. Again, this is a place that you have a larger -- not a huge, but a larger population center. We need to watch that.

Davenport, another big city in Iowa. This county more than five percent of the population. Again, 76 percent of the vote still to be counted. Romney's tied here right now. Why does that matter? If you go back again four years ago, this was very important to Mitt Romney.

So if he stays tied right there, he could be in trouble when you start counting the overall vote.

One last point I want to make, look out here, Sioux City, Woodbury County, 3.5 percent of the population, not counted yet. Just down below it, you have some counties not counted yet. They get smaller as you head -- this is a very conservative part of the state. Four years ago, it was for Mitt Romney.

It has been in play, hotly contested this year. As these votes come in, If these percentages in all these counties stay roughly the same, this state could be decided out here. We're still waiting; 3.5 percent of the population here. Remember, as we get closer, if it stays this close, the bigger population centers. Iowa has no huge population centers. But if Ron Paul can hold this, then we'll watch Davenport, Cedar Raps, Dubuque. If you just look, here, we're starting to come in here. Romney again -- if you want to go back in time to Lynn County there, Romney won it a little bit more last time. Got a lot of fun math to come.

BLITZER: Yes, and it's a three man race, 23 percent for all three of the leaders right now, with 22 percent of the precincts reporting. Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul -- and Ron Paul, in our entrance poll results, slightly ahead of Romney and Santorum.

We're going all of this. We're going back inside. There are caucuses where there is still voting. And they're counting votes. We're going to take you inside and show you what's going on. At some point, we're going to hear from these candidates. They'll be speaking to their supporters.

Stand by. Our coverage will continue in just a moment.


COOPER: And welcome back. Our coverage continues of the Iowa caucuses. John King, just a few moments ago, was showing you the map of where the votes are coming in and where we're still watching. He was pointing out the area around Des Moines as particularly important. Votes still coming in from there.

At the Clive Caucus site, Soledad O'Brien is standing by. Soledad, it's a suburb of Des Moines. They are still counting votes there, yes?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. so in the city of Clive, Anderson, west Des Moines Precinct One and west Des Moines Precinct Two are here in Clive really for space reasons. so the precinct number one has finished their count. This is the precinct number one with the red ballots.

In their count, Mitt Romney is ahead significantly. And number two, behind Mitt Romney, is Santorum. That is what has happened with precinct number one, west Des Moines.

Over here, though, they're still counting. They're on their second count for precinct number two, which are the white ballots. So they are -- they've actually -- at the same time -- we turn around for one second. They're making the official, 79 votes, she's saying, for Mitt Romney. Ron Paul third with 42 votes, Gingrich is fourth, 24.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're still working on West Des Moines two.

O'BRIEN: So you heard what Christy Taylor (ph), who runs this precinct -- Christy, will you give us those numbers one more time?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure, Governor Romney has 79, Santorum 46, Paul 42, Gingrich 24, Perry 23, Bachmann has 10, and then unfortunately none for Huntsman and Cain.

O'BRIEN: All right, so that's one precinct. Over here with the white ballots, as I mentioned, you've got the second precinct reporting. Any word on how that's going so far, in the second count?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a bigger precinct, so it's taking a little bit longer. It's high volume, a lot of votes. I'm guessing a similar turnout, but we'll see momentarily.

COOPER: So that is what we're standing by for. I know that there are some folks that were able to wrap up their counts early. But, of course, this is a place where we had maybe a thousand people. And because of those numbers, started a little bit late, the count goes longer. They're just wrapping up their second confirmation count in the precinct number one.

I'm expecting in just a minute or two, they'll be able to tell us how that went. But, of course, in precinct two, Mitt Romney significantly ahead. Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Soledad, thanks. Soledad showed us in that shot, the place is pretty much empty, except for what's happening on stage. Most of those 1,000 people have already gone home. John King, that's an important area, as you were saying, because of the around Des Moines, important to watch those numbers coming in.

KING: Right. Here's our live caucus cam, right where Soledad is. You see Bachmann, Cain -- you see people now moving on. So let's take that away. Let's come back to our map and show you exactly what we are talking about here. You come in, you watch the state -- again, look at this, we're stuck at 22 percent.

We're waiting for this to come in. This is about as close as it gets. You see it playing out in the three way race, county by county. Soledad is here. This is Polk County. She's out here in Clive, in the suburbs, 12.8 percent of the state's population. So 13 percent of the population.

Now, we don't say that's going to be 13 percent of the vote tonight. We have to see how many Republicans turned out in this area. But this is the biggest chunk of the vote. So that vote she's watching, to see Romney win that one precinct -- just one precinct. But that's what Governor Romney wants to see.

But as you see right now, that's Ron Paul. Ron Paul leading. But again, 28 percent to 22 percent. We're talking fewer than a thousand votes for everybody, 27 percent. As that goes up, this is the biggest area. If Ron Paul holds that lead, it's big.

But as you go county by county, this is interesting. Again, Speaker Gingrich leading in one county, less than one percent of the population. So it's not a huge influence.

Michele Bachmann, leading in one county, again, a tiny county right now, not a huge difference. Other than that, Gingrich and Bachmann, this is a three way race. You see it playing out like a checker board. Someone saying, who is green? Green is a tie. It's a tiny little county, Ron Paul, Rick Perry tied in that conservative little county.

Anderson, this is fascinating. If you look at the open spaces now -- if you look at the open spaces -- let me use a little red here. This is a very important part of the state.

COOPER: Much more conservative.

KING: Much more conservative. And a decent population chunk here, if you bring out Sioux City, a decent population chunk, 3.5 percent. Conservatives here. There was a debate out here not that long ago. A lot of conservatives target this area here.

Forgive me for reaching across. I just want to go back in time and show you. Here's where we're going to see if the Romney organization can deliver tonight. Romney carried this area four years ago. Remember, conservatives have attacked him, saying he's not the true conservative. If you look at these three counties in the west, all carried by Romney. In Woodbury, where Sioux City is, he had a decent margin, 38 percent.

As we watch, this could decide the race tonight, what happens out in the western part of the state. We don't have the votes there just yet.

COOPER: Conventional wisdom before voting began tonight was the northwest, more conservative, perhaps more likely to go for Santorum. The east more moderate, more likely to go for Romney. And population centers around Ames, where there's a lot of young people because of Iowa State, may be for Ron Paul.

KING: Exactly right. And if you look here, Romney's doing OK here, not quite as strongly as he did last time. This was Romney country, Right now, Santorum is winning.

COOPER: So he's lost ground.

KING: He's lost some ground compared to four years ago. But you have a three-way race this time. You had a two-way last time. If you see here, Santorum's winning. A lot of these counties, we're talking about a few hundred votes.

However, in a very close race, a few hundred votes add up.

COOPER: We're talking about 57 votes right now between --


KING: And 23 percent right now, say, in Dubuque County. Again, in a close election, it's math. You look where the people are. The larger counties, the percent of the population. Romney winning by five votes. I mean, by five votes. So we're going to slug this one out.

COOPER: So what are the most important population centers that we're still watching, the area around Des Moines?

KING: The area around Des Moines, this would be number one. Polk County is the biggest chunk of the electorate. That's where Soledad is. She showed those votes counting. Romney just making a gain in that --

COOPER: Do we know what percentage of the vote we have in from them?

KING: From Polk County, we have 27 percent of the vote. So there's still a long way to go. That's first place you want to look. Then Davenport, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Sioux City. And Sioux City, we have nothing right now.

Again, we're going to watch this fill in. This is critical to Romney. That could decide the state right there, the western part of the state.

COOPER: It's fascinating. It's all about geography at this point, and numbers. John and Wolf, we'll check in with you.

Our coverage continues. More counting of votes still going on, as you just saw in Clive. We'll bring you those results and elsewhere from around the state. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Almost a quarter of the official votes have now been counted. A three-man race, very, very close, between Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. Let's go to Clive right now, Soledad O'Brien. Have they finished counting the votes over where you are, Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Yeah, just a couple of minutes ago, Wolf, I told you that West Des Moines one, precinct one, was counted. So now West Des Moines precinct number two has the results in. Here they are.

Go down to the bottom here, Mitt Romney the clear winner with 160 votes, followed by Rick Santorum with 87 votes. That's a very similar result, actually just larger numbers because the precinct is bigger. Very similar result as to what we saw in precinct one, which reported and closed a couple minutes ago.

So Dr. Christy Taylor has been the woman running the whole thing. Let me just ask you a couple quick questions. Are you surprised?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, actually I'm not. I think this is about what I expected as things have gone on this week.

O'BRIEN: One of the interesting things that I saw when I first came here -- and it was jammed with probably. I guess, what, about a thousand people here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Probably close to it, yeah.

O'BRIEN: The number of undecideds. People literally who were trying to figure out and were on the fence. And in lots of cases, they were going different directions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think in the last three to four weeks, people have changed their minds multiple times. I've talked to many people who have changed from two to three to four candidates.

O'BRIEN: Is it an indication? People this morning were telling me I'm looking for a composite candidate. I want this from Mitt Romney, this from Rick Santorum. Obviously that's not doable. Does that ultimately spell a dissatisfaction, and a problem come November against Barack Obama?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, I don't think it's a problem. I think it's a real opportunity. We have a lot of great candidates to choose from. We like the brilliance and historical knowledge from Gingrich. And we like the fact that Rick Santorum is a real man who seems to be -- you know, he could be your brother or your cousin, the guy next door.

And we like the bravado of Rick Perry and the intelligence of Mitt Romney. I think we just had to choose which of those characteristics was most important to us at this time in our history.

COOPER: Christie Taylor, who's running the whole thing, while she also juggles being a doctor. So we appreciate your time, in her spare time. We'll bring it right back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I saw she's an MD, it says on her nametag. What kind of doctor is she?

O'BRIEN: She's an internist, and actually was on call late last night. And it's going to be a late night tonight for her. And she's going to be on my show "STARTING POINT," tomorrow morning, early, which we appreciate. I don't know if your staff told her.

It's going to be a really busy 48 hours for Dr. Taylor.

BLITZER: Dr. Taylor and for Soledad O'Brien, going to very busy as well. Guys, we're going to get back to you. Thanks very much.

Let's take a look at the votes right now; 31 percent of the precincts have now reported. Look at how close it is. Mitt Romney slightly -- slightly ahead, 118 votes ahead of Rick Santorum. Ron Paul right up there, though. Mitt Romney with 24 percent, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul 23 percent. Newt Gingrich 13 percent.

Look at how close it is for the top three. The bottom three, let's bring that up and show our viewers. Rick Perry, a disappointing 10 percent; Michele Bachmann 6 percent; and Jon Huntsman, who really didn't campaign in Iowa, only one percent, 211 votes.

Let's go back to the leaders right now. These are the official votes. These are not the entrance poll results, these are the official votes. And it is a three-man race right now. Almost one third of the voting has now been counted; 7,844 votes for Mitt Romney; 7,726 for Rick Santorum; 7,655 for Ron Paul. Let's go to Dana Bash over at Ron Paul Headquarters right now. I guess more and more people are coming back from their caucuses to wait for the candidate.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And we have right here somebody who actually did just go vote for Ron Paul, a first time caucus voter, Corporal Jesse Thorsen, who is 28 years old. And you are active duty U.S. Army. Why did you vote for Ron Paul?

CPL. JESS THORSEN, U.S. ARMY: I'm really excited about a lot of his ideas, especially when it comes to bringing the soldiers home. I've been serving for 10 years now. And all 10 years of those have been during wartime. I would like to see a little peace time army. And I think he has the right idea.

BASH: You've done two tours in Afghanistan, you told me. You're going to go back for a third tour. You can see your neck right there, what you have on your tattoo, 9/11, remember, and a picture of the Twin Towers. Some Republicans have been saying that Ron Paul would be very dangerous for this country, because he wants to bring troops like you back from your posts from all over the world.

THORSEN: Well, I think it would be even more dangerous to start nitpicking wars with other countries. Someone like Iran -- Israel is more than capable of --

BLITZER: All right. We just lost our connection, unfortunately, with Dana. Dana, stand by. If you can hear you, we're going to get back.

I want to go to Candy Crowley over at Mitt Romney Headquarters. People are beginning to fill up that room over there, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: They are, indeed. And we're starting to grab some folks here. And I wanted to introduce Senator John Thune, who I know I don't have to introduce to you, Wolf, but to our audience. You always know when a politician looks this relaxed, it's not your election night.


CROWLEY: But Senator Thune was at the caucus in Ankeny tonight, speaking for Mitt Romney. Listen, we're watching these poll numbers come in. We see Romney now at about 23, 24 percent, less than he had last time around. What does that say about Mitt Romney in Iowa?

THUNE: Well, I think it's an entirely different race this time around, Candy. You've got more candidates that are in contention. You've got sort of a three-way pack at the top. And then you've got a number of candidates were not doing as well. But it's just the vote's divided up a lot different ways -- in a lot different ways than it was four years ago.

But we're, I think, very encouraged by the numbers that are coming in so far. CROWLEY: Well, you know how this works. If he comes out of here with 24 percent, even if he wins, people are going to say, he's got a ceiling. There's just something about Mitt Romney that the Republican party does not warm up to.

THUNE: What's going to happen, though, is the race, it's going to start to narrow. You're going to have some candidates probably who eventually are going to drop out. And when the race starts to get down to fewer candidates, then people are going to have to make some decisions.

And I think the decision -- the reason that I think Mitt Romney is doing really well here in Iowa is because people are really looking at the electability issue. I think people realize that they need somebody that can win. And if their goal is to defeat Barack Obama and deny him a second term in office, then he's their best shot.

So as the race goes on and there are fewer candidates in the field, I think you'll see those numbers change. And I think they're going to change in Romney's favor.

CROWLEY: Senator John Thune, thank you so much for stopping by. We appreciate it. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. And thanks to Senator Thune as well. Social media is abuzz right now. We'll check with Ali Velshi, see what the buzz is all about. You can Tweet me, by the way, @WolfBlitzerCNN. I'll check my Twitter to see what's going, what you think about what's happening in Iowa. Stay with us.


BLITZER: All right, let's recap as we approach the top of the hour. Right now, it is a very, very close race in Iowa. These are official numbers that have now been counted and distributed; 31 percent of the precincts in Iowa have now reported their numbers.

Mitt Romney slightly ahead, 24 percent. He's got 7,844 votes, 118 votes ahead of Rick Santorum, with 23 percent, 7,726. Ron Paul right up there as well, 7,655. He's got 23 percent.

Then, all of a sudden, Newt Gingrich slips. He's at 13 percent, with 4,440. And then the bottom three, they're in trouble right now in Iowa, with about a third of the votes in, if you take a look at Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman. They are not doing as well.

There you see it right there, 10 percent for Rick Perry, six percent for Michele Bachmann, only one percent for Jon Huntsman.

But once again, 61 percent of the precincts reporting. Let's go down, Anderson. As we're watching all of this unfold, you know, just to give you some perspective, four years ago, we projected a winner in the Iowa caucus at 8:35 p.m. Eastern.

Now it's, what, an hour and a half later. And we can't project a winner. It's so close.

COOPER: Yeah, it's a fascinating race. John, what are you hearing from people in the various camps?

KING: If you check in with the campaigns, the Romney people, I'm not going to say they're predicting victory. But they are confident, because they're looking county by county, precinct by precinct, as we are. They are reasonably confident they will eke this one out because of what we were talking about earlier, the votes that are left out in places with a bit more population.

Now, that's contingent -- that's contingent on what we're seeing in the center of the state, the smaller conservative counties of Santorum and Paul sort of trading.

So we'll see how this plays out.