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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Romney Wins Three States; Tight Romney-Santorum Race in Ohio; Interview With Sarah Palin

Aired March 6, 2012 - 20:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to watch Massachusetts. Get ready for this.

Another win for Mitt Romney. Look at this. His home state of Massachusetts. CNN now projects based on the exit polling information, Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, wins in Massachusetts. Massachusetts, 38 delegates at stake. And look -- and we also project that his win in Massachusetts, his home state, will be larger than Newt Gingrich's win in Georgia, Newt Gingrich's home state.

We are not yet able to make a projection in Oklahoma. We are not yet able to make a projection in Tennessee, but we can share with you the exit poll information we have on all three of these states. Let's start in Oklahoma.

First, here are the exit polls in Oklahoma. These are what people told us as they emerged from the polling booths. In Oklahoma, a key state on this evening, these are the exit poll results, look at this. Thirty-eight percent for Rick Santorum, that's good news for Santorum, 25 percent for Mitt Romney, 24 percent for Newt Gingrich, 12 percent in the exit poll for Ron Paul.

Let's take a look at Tennessee. These are the exit poll results in Tennessee, important numbers. Once again, Santorum ahead in Tennessee with 35 percent, according to the exit poll, Romney, 28 percent, Gingrich, 23 percent, 11 percent for Ron Paul.

Let's take a look at Massachusetts. We do project Romney the winner of his home state of Massachusetts. Here are the exit poll results. Look at this. Overwhelmingly voting for Romney, 70 percent according to the Massachusetts exit poll for Romney, 12 percent for Santorum, 9 percent for Ron Paul, only 4 percent for Newt Gingrich.

Let's take a look at the map right now. It's the third win so far for Mitt Romney. We project he wins in Massachusetts, we project he wins in Virginia, we project he wins in Vermont. Newt Gingrich we projected wins in Georgia.

Ohio, Ohio, we have not yet been able to make a projection. But Romney is winning -- let's go to his headquarters and see how the crowd over there is reacting. Apparently we got a picture of that headquarters over at Romney headquarters? So let's take a look and see. Well, maybe they don't know but his margin of victory is very, very significant in Massachusetts, a very -- he needed to win, obviously, Massachusetts and he won it decisively.

Anderson, those exit poll numbers impressive for Romney but Santorum is showing strength in those two other states, Tennessee and Oklahoma, which has closed their voting.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Right, and obviously very important states, particularly Tennessee, also closely watching Ohio. As far as you're concerned, Ohio the most important?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Ohio is the -- is the most important. Obviously bellwether state, if you're Republican, to win the presidency. If you become the nominee, you have to win Ohio. It's got all kinds of demographics that you'd like to appeal to.

COOPER: Right. Blue-collar voters?

BORGER: Yes. Blue-collar voters, et cetera, et cetera. But the problem for Mitt Romney in Ohio is the same problem, Anderson, that he's been having all along in every -- almost every primary except in the south, which is with people who strongly identify with the Tea Party, people who self-identify as very conservative, and something we're seeing, particularly in the south, is people who believe that religion matters a great deal to their vote. And we see this in Tennessee, see it in Oklahoma.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You're suggesting there's a Mormon question?

BORGER: And I think we're -- I'm beginning to see, at least particularly in the south, that there really may be a Mormon question or --

GERGEN: Just as there was a Catholic question for Jack Kennedy.

BORGER: That's right. Or Santorum's evangelical -- appeals to evangelicals and born-again.

GERGEN: Yes.

BORGER: Because of his positions on the cultural issues. But I do think religion is something we really ought to keep an eye on.

GERGEN: Yes. But I -- there's no question that the road to the White House goes through Ohio. You really have to win there, I think, if you want to get to the White House on either side. So if he were able to win -- if Romney were able to win and send a signal that he can win in the rust belt, there was -- earlier on there seemed to be some indications he was having a hard time in the rust belt.

COOPER: Right.

GERGEN: But if he wins Michigan and wins Ohio he's got a much more credible claim. It could be a national --

COOPER: There were all those issues about him being -- his critics saying him being out of touch talking about, I know several people who own NASCAR teams.

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: But he's a made a real effort to try to appeal to blue- collar voters by kind of putting himself in the economy, saying -- even if it's not a relatability issue, it's that he's run companies, that he knows how to create jobs.

GERGEN: Right. It's interesting, when Candy talked about why the Romney people thought they were doing reasonably well tonight, she didn't talk about this, but I do think and we saw this last week, he's been a little -- he's been better as a candidate. He's been more disciplined, he hasn't had any gaffes in a couple of weeks now.

BORGER: Kind of. Right.

GERGEN: Well, I think that is -- you got to have progress where you can find it. But I also think he's been doing a little better job connecting. You know that speech he gave last week, we talked about it afterwards, it was a much better speech than what he has been giving. He's been more effective on the stump.

COOPER: I want --

BORGER: He's talking more about the economy.

COOPER: Yes.

BORGER: I mean he sort of -- he's rejiggered his campaign a little bit to focus on what he was focusing on at the beginning of the campaign and kind of veered of a little bit and now he's talking about the economy and jobs and the deficit.

GERGEN: Right.

COOPER: I want to bring in our Republican and Democratic contributors as well. Do you agree with that, that Romney has kind of been more focused?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, his advertising has been but he's not advertising -- David is right. The speech he gave last week was focused on President Obama. It was the kind of thing, I think, Republicans want to hear. His advertising hasn't been. He's still carpet-bombing his opponents. You have to do it but he's winning tactically day-by-day.

And Ohio Republican primary is not Ohio America. The primary today in Ohio from our exit polls 1 percent African-American, the real Ohio, 12. Forty-six percent female in the Republican primary, 51 percent in the real Ohio. Ninety-six percent white in this primary in Ohio, only 81 percent white in the real Ohio. And almost twice as many senior citizens. Twenty-three percent over age 65 in the primary, the real Ohio, only 14.

So even if he can win there, that's not very representative. The Republican Party is getting older, whiter and more male and more right wing, and that's not a good thing to build a future on.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, 2008 ROMNEY PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN CONSULTANT: Your question was about connecting, well, I think with voters, how do you do that? You know a lot of times I think we make a mistake in politics, we think candidates connect because they tell you they're like the voters. You don't do that. The way you connect with voters is you elevate them. You tell them that this election is not about you, it's about them, and that this election in this country's future --

COOPER: Are you quoting President Barack Obama? Because I've heard that --

(LAUGHTER)

CASTELLANOS: No. Romney --

COOPER: Specifically saying that at his convention speech.

CASTELLANOS: Mitt Romney suffers, I think, the same disease that I think Barack Obama does at times. They think the elections about them and they tell you about the differences. I'm a businessman. You know? I'm very bright, Barack Obama. They tell us the differences between them. That's not the way you connect with voters. You look at a voter and say, look, this country is in big trouble. It's in your hands, it's in your future, it's your life.

And that's the way you -- you have to get lower than the -- than the voter in a way. You have to be a servant lead to connect with people. And that's very hard, I think, sometimes for people who have been CEOs.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: And you (INAUDIBLE) when he's doing that.

CASTELLANOS: He's a CEO, he's manager, he's used to being the guy who can push a button and turn the -- you know, turn the company one way or the other. And so what does he do? He goes to voters and starts talking about what he would do, as opposed to their role and their value in saving a country, in turning the country around.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: He's doing whatever it takes to win. Look, he has closed the gap with Rick Santorum by spending millions of dollars in negative advertisement. Eighty percent of his ads and Restore Our Future, negative advertisement.

The problem with Mitt Romney is that the only time he is out there capturing voters is when he's negative, negative against President Obama and --

CASTELLANOS: And you know that's --

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY FOR PRES. BUSH: You know --

CASTELLANOS: That's so bad.

BRAZILE: And negative --

CASTELLANOS: That's terrible.

BRAZILE: All the Republican candidates.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: You know -- you know --

BRAZILE: But he's connecting by being negative. Let's be honest.

FLEISCHER: I think people --

CASTELLANOS: Good thing Barack Obama had never run any negative ads against John McCain.

FLEISCHER: I think people --

BRAZILE: We're talking about --

FLEISCHER: People are starting to suffer from political amnesia and forget what happened in 2008. In the middle of the 2008 election, that actually was a quite divisive election, too. Don't forget, Hillary Clinton attacked Barack Obama over his ties to slumlord Tony Rezko. She said he wasn't ready for a 3:00 phone call and she said shame on you, Barack Obama, implying that he lied to -- he was lying about her health care record.

And that race got a little tough. I mean here's what some of the Democrats said at the time about it. They're going to just keep standing there and pounding each other and bloodying each other, and no one is winning. That was Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee. Here's what Senator Chris Dodd, a Democrat, said, "The idea of backbiting and sniping on an hourly basis is undermining our ability to win an election."

COOPER: So you don't see this as really chipping away of the Republicans?

FLEISCHER: Anderson, I think you have to take a broader view of elections. You can't look at it just -- here's what happened today, here's today's poll.

COOPER: Right. Since we're --

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: Nobody after the Democratic primary was over remembered the divisiveness. But it was divisive. I think it's also equally possible nobody is going to remember the divisiveness of this Republican race particularly if the polls show that it's still relatively close with Barack Obama as the nominee. BEGALA: Barack Obama didn't move an inch to the left to ideologically to defeat Hillary. Yes, there was some tough shots. But he did not --

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: You and Alex are going to argue about that all night long? And I think Alex is right.

BEGALA: He did not endorse single-payer health care, for example, that the left in my party wanted. He did not like pledge to send SEAL Team Six into the boardroom of ExxonMobil which some people maybe on the left might have liked. He stayed right where he was from the beginning of the campaign. Governor Romney --

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Hide and watch, Fleischer, the Dream Act going to the right of Rick Perry on immigration, going to the right of Rick Santorum --

FLEISCHER: No, they both have their vulnerabilities. Both parties, both candidates have their own vulnerabilities.

BEGALA: Senator Obama didn't have to do that to win in his party.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: He did it in his first two years of office and did it regularly.

BRAZILE: No, here's the -- here's the difference. The longer we have a party, the longer the Democratic Party went through the process, we kept picking up people. We kept exciting people. We kept, you know, doing voter registration campaigns. When we --

COOPER: You think Republicans are turning people off?

BRAZILE: Look at the latest polling, NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, most Republicans, just 4 in 10, unenthusiastic, they are depressed.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: The Gallup showed the exact same thing about the Democratic primary in 2008.

CASTELLANOS: I hate to agree with Donna.

FLEISCHER: Fifty-six to 35, Democrats said the primary was doing more harm than good in March. But April it was 62 --

BRAZILE: That was the perception. It wasn't the reality.

FLEISCHER: Well, that's my point. We're in the middle of -- BRAZILE: But the reality is --

FLEISCHER: It feels worse than it does after it was over.

BRAZILE: But you know what, turnout wasn't down like it is in the Republican system.

FLEISCHER: We're starting to --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Let's try to get some votes in in Ohio and elsewhere, in Tennessee. Let's check in with Wolf -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let's take a look at Tennessee and Oklahoma first. The votes are starting to come in. We have not made a projection in neither of these states, although Santorum, according to our exit polls, is ahead.

Right now with 1 percent of voters in, Santorum is showing that lead, 48 percent to 23 percent for Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich 20 percent, 6 percent for Ron Paul.

Oklahoma, very, very early. You see only a handful of votes coming in. We are not yet able to make a projection in Oklahoma or Tennessee for that matter. We'll wait and see. Both of the exit polls in both of those states showed Santorum ahead.

Let's take a look at Ohio right now. Some real votes are coming in. Several thousand are already in right now. Mitt Romney maintaining his lead at 40 percent, he's got 10,578. That's 808 votes ahead of Rick Santorum with 37 percent, 9,770. Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul in third and fourth place.

Let's go over to John King. You know, in this kind of situation, even though our exit poll showed Romney slightly ahead of Santorum in Ohio, we could wait until we actually get a lot more numbers before we'll be able to make a projection.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: You just get a couple of points like that, four points, you say, OK, but it's an exit poll, there is a margin of error so you want to count the votes. It's been interesting to watch. Ohio is now back, as you noted, well, they're no on Romney. Now it's back Romney red, last time we looked at it was Santorum purple. Before that it was Romney red.

Look, it's just starting to fill in as you noted. Two percent of the votes now officially counted. You have the lead you just described right there. That's tiny and miniscule. In a big state like this we've got a long way to go. So you start looking slowly at what's happening.

What I would expect tonight is to see if Senator Santorum can fill in. You see the purple here, the purple here. You just saw another one fill in right there. The results come in, they fill in. These are the smaller rural counties. This is where you find evangelicals and your Tea Party voters. This is where he has been strongest in other states like this. So that's what you're looking for.

Another key area for Senator Santorum. Blue-collar, working class towns. Right here Youngstown. He was there campaigning the other day. A very slight lead right now. This is nothing, it doesn't even represent 1 percent of the votes. Senator Santorum needs to do better in this county than that. Again that doesn't really count, but that's one of the things you watch for. These blue-collar counties.

Toledo is another place to watch. You see up here Lucas County. How Senator Santorum does, again, largely a Democratic area, but in a Republican primary, you still some blue-collar votes to go. And if you're Governor Romney and you see some red starting to fill in, you're encouraged here. The Cleveland suburbs, more upscale voters. He tends to do well among higher-income voters. In the Cleveland suburbs that's critical.

Here's another key test, Wolf. Right down here. In the southwest corner of the state, this is a big Republican area. It's very important in statewide elections. I'm going to zoom in on Hamilton County. This is where Senator Rob Portman is from. He used to be the congressman from this area. He's a big Romney guy. He's mentioned by many as a potential vice president candidate. They have a very organized Republican Party here in Hamilton County. It is -- often very important statewide elections for Republicans to run up the numbers in Hamilton County. It's also very important in a turnout driven Republican primary.

In the Cincinnati area, and get out in the suburbs, Governor Romney needs to do very well. If you look at the votes right now, we say zero percent of Hamilton County, that means only a small percentage, tiny number of votes.

BLITZER: You know --

KING: This is probably one or two precincts in, that's right now. And we could use some more votes from Hamilton County.

BLITZER: Well, I think we're going to get some more because Dana Bash is over at the Board of Elections in Hamilton County in Cincinnati.

Are you getting new numbers, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I am in Hamilton County and I'm with the director of the Board of Elections, Amy Searcy. And what's happened here so far, Wolf, is they have just finished counting all of the absentee voters. And you can tell us what you've seen so far.

AMY SEARCY, DIRECTOR, HAMILTON CO. BOARD OF ELECTIONS: Well, it's actually very exciting. A little over 2 percent in.

BASH: Could you show us right on the screen here? SEARCY: Right here you'll see that Mitt Romney, Governor Romney, has about 12-point -- 12-percentage point lead. Over 1,000 raw votes here in Hamilton County with just about 2.2, 4 percent.

BASH: OK. So obviously not a huge percentage in. 2.2 percent is --

SEARCY: Right.

BASH: -- is barely anything but it does give us an early look at how -- at how this county is going. And as somebody who lives here, you obviously are -- you understand how critical it is, John King was just talking about how this could determine the whole outcome of the state for this primary.

SEARCY: Hamilton County is a pivotal county in the state of Ohio. As Hamilton goes often is how the state of Ohio goes. We are a very typically swing county and a swing state.

BASH: And I just want to show the numbers one more time, Phil, if you can come over here. Mitt Romney has 3,788 votes, Rick Santorum, 2,763, and then Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and on down. But there you see at least for the early results, Mitt Romney is winning.

I just want to tell you something interesting about how this is going to work. We are currently waiting for 25 trucks to arrive here where we are, we're in downtown Cincinnati, and actually we're going to hear them pulling up outside this window. We'll probably going to hear the beep of the trucks pretty soon.

Those trucks are going to be delivering all of the ballots from around this very important county of Hamilton County, and once we get some of those results, we'll get it back to you.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much.

All right. We're going to check in with you periodically, get the latest information of Ohio. The key battleground state.

Let's take a look at Tennessee right now. Five percent of the actual vote in Tennessee is now in and Santorum maintaining his lead, 42 percent to 31 percent for Mitt Romney, 18 percent for Newt Gingrich, 7 percent for Ron Paul. We have not projected a winner in Tennessee but in Tennessee our exit poll information showed Santorum ahead.

Let's get some more numbers before we can make a projection in Tennessee. Do we have the updated numbers in Oklahoma? Shall we go to Oklahoma right now?

Here's Oklahoma. Let's take a look. Still very, very small numbers in Oklahoma. Forty delegates are at stake. Thirty-nine percent so far for Santorum, 27 percent for Gingrich, 24 for Romney, 8 percent for Ron Paul.

Our exit poll numbers showed Santorum ahead in Oklahoma but we don't have enough information yet to make a projection in Oklahoma.

We're watching Ohio, we're watching Ohio very, very closely. We got more information coming in from Ohio.

We'll take a quick break. More from the CNN Election Center right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There are caucuses in Alaska. They don't close in there for another 3 1/2 hours or so.

Our Paul Vercammen is up there in Wasilla, Alaska. Remember, Wasilla, we heard a lot about Wasilla only a few years ago. Paul Vercammen is standing by with a very special guest -- I'll give you a hint, the former governor of that state. Paul, talk to her.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I will, Wolf. By the way, Sarah Palin says hello. She just voted here in Wasilla. They expect 1,000 people to come through here.

And I think, Sarah, a lot of people are asking, who did you vote for tonight? Who would you like to see emerge as the GOP frontrunner?

FORMER GOV. SARAH PALIN, R-ALASKA: I would not tell you who I voted for in this presidential preference poll. I want to say hi to Wolf, though, and thank you guys for being up here in Wasilla and covering this, because every vote counts, and every district, every state matters. And that's why I wanted to see this process continue because I want more people to have a say in who the nominee should be.

VERCAMMEN: But while you won't say who you're leaning for, are there any trends or is there something that you think is extremely important to the GOP platform this year that you want to see come to fruition?

PALIN: Yes. I want to see the process continue, more debate about who it is who can bust through the Orwellian Obama rhetoric and pandering that we see in the incumbent, who can bust through that with facts, with history, with logic, with common sense, in order for American voters to understand we do have a choice. There is a contrast between the incumbent, Barack Obama, and any of the four on the GOP ticket. Who best can bust through that rhetoric and express their ideas and their solutions to get our economy back on the right track, that's the nominee I want to see forwarded (ph).

VERCAMMEN: Is there any fear that if this drags on for a long time, you are going to sap war chests and you're going to cause a situation where the party becomes too divided?

PALIN: I am not a believer in that, not at this point. I do believe that competition makes all of our candidates better. Remember, there are five men running for president, and I think Barack Obama is the worst choice, is the last choice. So the four in front of him, as they duke it out in the arena of ideas and solutions to propose, the more of that, the better. VERCAMMEN: Sarah Palin for president 2016, is it possible?

PALIN: Anything in this life, in this world is possible. Anything is possible for an American. And I don't discount any idea or plan that at this point isn't in my control. Anything's possible.

VERCAMMEN: But would you seriously consider a run?

PALIN: I would seriously consider whatever I can do to help our country to put things back on the right track. Our economy, the foreign policy, proposals that we have to see put forward in order to secure our homeland, and the Americans, especially our brave fighting men and women who are overseas right now in places that perhaps we shouldn't be right now. Anything that I can do to help, I will be willing to help.

VERCAMMEN: This year for you, what's issue No. 1?

PALIN: Issue No. 1 is a combination of the economy and of the military needs that I, as -- having a family member in the military, serving in a war zone right now, am intimately aware of. We do have some foreign policy proposals right now that the GOP is putting forth that I believe will help strengthen our military, won't slash the military, our troops, the benefits that they have earned. So a lot of the military issues are important to me.

But of course the economy, getting the job market back humming again. And we do that by developing resources that we have up here in Alaska -- our oil, our natural gas -- all those things that are near and dear to Alaskans' heart certainly are near and dear to Americans' hearts, and there are a lot of things that we need to get working on with the economy and with the military.

VERCAMMEN: OK, one more question, from Wolf, if I can hear him. Let me try to relay it to you.

BLITZER: All right, Paul, I know there's a delay between me and you, but thank the former governor, the Republican nominee for all of us. A quick question for her. I'm just curious how she's been reacting to this whole Rush Limbaugh controversy with this Georgetown University law student, because there were some vile words that were uttered by some liberal Democrats as far as Sarah Palin was concerned, and I wonder if she wants to weigh in on this controversy.

VERCAMMEN: Wolf wants to know if you want to weigh in on this controversy. He says some vile words were thrown around, some of them directed towards you actually, the controversy involving Rush Limbaugh, contraception and the Georgetown student? Your reaction to some of those words that were used?

PALIN: I think the definition of hypocrisy is for Rush Limbaugh to have been called out, forced to apologize and retract what it is that he said in exercising his First Amendment rights, and never is that -- the same applied to the leftist radicals who say such horrible things about the handicapped, about women, about the defenseless. So I think that's the definition of hypocrisy. And that's my two cents worth.

VERCAMMEN: I promise last question, this one from John King. And Todd, we apologize, Sarah's husband has patiently been waiting--

PALIN: We thought we weren't going to get busted walking through here today, and here you are.

(LAUGHTER)

VERCAMMEN: Go ahead, John, and go ahead with your question.

KING: Paul, I would ask the governor how likely does she think there's a possibility of an open convention. And if there is an open convention and someone approached her and said, "Governor Palin, I want to place your name in nomination," would she stop them?

VERCAMMEN: It's the open convention question. If we wind up with an open convention and someone wants to place your name, throw your name into the hat, would you stop them? Would you be open to that?

PALIN: As I say, anything is possible. And I don't close any doors that perhaps would be open out there. So, no, I wouldn't close that door. And my plan is to be at that convention.

VERCAMMEN: I thank you profusely for stopping.

PALIN: You are a lucky dude that I did. Thank you.

VERCAMMEN: Thank you so much, and I appreciate Todd stopping as well and your family.

PALIN: OK, appreciate you, thank you.

VERCAMMEN: OK.

PALIN: Thanks for being in Wasilla.

VERCAMMEN: You're welcome. We're glad to be here.

As we said, not just Sarah Palin, but to expect that as many as 1,000 people will come through here as multiple districts vote in Wasilla, Alaska, of course, very exciting, a wild card if you will. They're not really sure how this will go tonight. You've got no political polling here, Sarah. Well, let me ask you while I'm here, do you feel like anybody has an advantage on the ground here?

PALIN: You know, there's a strong libertarian streak here in Alaska, so I think Ron Paul is going to do very well. Romney won though four years ago the caucuses, presidential preference poll. So perhaps we'll see a repeat of that. Newt Gingrich, though, he is the one who is spot on with energy development. That's so important to Alaskans. And Alaska is a very, very conservative state, so red that Rick Santorum could be very well suited (ph) -- so kind of I think a microcosm of the rest of the country. Things are up in the air. We don't know. VERCAMMEN: And if I might add, here in the Mat-Su Valley, they say that Santorum has been running very well among evangelical Christians.

PALIN: Sure, of which I am one. So, no, but again, all four candidates are great, and five men running for president, and the four that you just mentioned are better than the incumbent. Anybody but Obama.

VERCAMMEN: Right, thank you so much for taking time out.

PALIN: Thank you. Thanks.

VERCAMMEN: There you have it, the story from Wasilla, Wolf, John, and the rest of you, back to you in the studio now.

BLITZER: Paul Vercammen, we'll call him the lucky dude from now. Appreciate it very much. Paul Vercammen. We saw the first dude of Alaska there as well.

Anderson, let's assess what we just heard right now from the former Republican vice presidential nominee. She's not closing any doors. If there's an open convention, 2016, she's got her options all open.

COOPER: And Paul Begala, a Democrat, is smiling like a Cheshire cat, thrilled, I think, by the idea. What did you make of --

BEGALA: I think that a lot of Republicans watched Paul's interview with Governor Palin and said, why can't the boys who are running speak with that kind of clarity and authority. She did not do a great job in interviews with -- when she was the running mate for Senator McCain. She did a great job just then. Seriously. All kidding aside. And the notion that she's still holding out and telling Republicans, if there's a brokered convention, I'm available. I mean you heard her answer to John King's question. That may be the biggest news story of the night.

COOPER: Alex?

CASTELLANOS: Gulp. Gulp.

(LAUGHTER)

CASTELLANOS: Well --

BRAZILE: Cat got his tongue.

CASTELLANOS: When campaigns aren't about big things, the small things become big. And Mitt Romney has not been able to close down this race. And what's happened because of that? All of a sudden, doors stay open, candidates stay in, they find funders somewhere to keep their campaigns alive. Sarah Palin sticks her foot in the door tonight of the Republican convention, says, you know, I'll be sitting in the stands in case you need me. That was a -- you know, she wasn't disavowing any interest in still being the Republican nominee tonight. So -- but all of this starts with one candidate's inability to grab this election that's laid there in front of him and make it his and that has to be Mitt Romney.

COOPER: Can you imagine a scenario where --

FLEISCHER: No.

COOPER: No.

(LAUGHTER)

FLEISCHER: No. I think the nominee is in the field right now. It's one of three, really, and probably one of the two, and probably one of one. And we'll see what the delegate count is tonight. But let me remind you, it's not that last long-lasting Republican primary. There are previous four races. Huckabee dropped out against McCain on March 4th 2008. McCain dropped out against George Bush on March 9th, 2000. Dole dropped out against George H.W. Bush on March 29th in 1988, and of course George H.W. Bush didn't drop out until May against Ronald Reagan in 1980.

This thing could end up rapidly moving after tonight. Let's just wait and see. It's not that long a primary so far.

COOPER: Do you think Sarah Palin has a role in the Republican Party as a candidate in the future?

BRAZILE: Yes, indeed.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: If Democrats have their way. I think that's a contributor.

BRAZILE: Look, I agree with former Governor Sarah Palin when she said that, you know, we have so many states to go, so many voters who have not had a chance to take a look at these candidates. Mitt Romney was out of the race four years ago. So this is an opportunity for him to introduce himself, to continue to connect with those conservative voters. So I agree with her on that issue.

CASTELLANOS: Sarah Palin's negatives. Remember, where she was a few months ago when this process was starting and we were looking who was going to be in and out. Her negatives even among Republicans were substantial.

She is a very polarizing figure politically on the ballot. She would give Barack Obama the election he wants, which an election that's about the Republican, not about Obama and his economic record.

Sarah Palin, to her credit, saw that and stepped back and realized that -- and very few politicians actually put country before self these days. She did. She stepped back and said, you know what? I can be the power behind the thousand thrones as opposed to sitting one. If she rethinks that, we could be back where this whole thing started. I think she'd be polarizing again.

BORGER: OK. It's not happening. These candidates are not going to suddenly step out of the way and say, Sarah Palin, right. We forget about you. How about coming in and rescuing the Republican Party?

The people who work for these candidates, these candidates themselves have fought a hard race. You just don't walk in and rescue the party. They're not going to do it for Mitch Daniels.

They're not going to do it for Chris Christie. By the way, anybody who got in now would probably lose. If you wait until the convention, come on, don't think so.

GERGEN: I don't think for a second she was seriously thinking she's going to be drafted at the convention. She's very artful and I respect her for it at keeping her name alive. This is about Sarah Palin Inc. You want to keep that stock value very high and she's very good at it.

COOPER: Do you see down the road a political campaign in her future?

BORGER: Sure.

COOPER: -- or does Sarah Palin Inc continue on?

GERGEN: I think Sarah Palin Inc rolls on.

COOPER: That's the business of the future.

BORGER: You know what, you never know.

COOPER: You disagree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think she is an incredibly sincere political figure. She loves her country. She's concerned about it. She steps back. There are other ways to be important in the Republican Party other than run for president.

COOPER: I have no doubt. That was my question. Do you see her running for an office?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anderson, we're having such a hard time predicting what's happening this week and this month, who knows in four years.

COOPER: We have six hours.

BRAZILE: Considering the volatility of the electorate, and the fact that she can raise money. She has 100 percent name recognition and there's a lot of negativity out there, but she also commands media coverage.

COOPER: When is the next time she will be on our air, we have to make the most of it.

BORGER: But the answer should have been --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is a polarizing figure. As long as she remains that, she'll have the strength to be within the party but --

BORGER: I will be voting for the Republican for re-election, right? That would have been the political answer to give, right?

COOPER: Let's check back in with Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, three states have closed. The voting in Ohio, Tennessee, Oklahoma, we have not yet been able to make projections in those states, but we're working really, really hard, based on exit poll information that we got and also the actual votes coming in. We'll see if we can make a projection very soon. Stand by for that.

We're also waiting to hear from the winner of the Georgia primary, Newt Gingrich. He's getting ready to speak to his supporters in Atlanta. Stand by. Our coverage continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Newt Gingrich getting ready to speak to his supporters in Atlanta. He wins the Georgia primary. Newt Gingrich, by the way, also as of tomorrow will start receiving Secret Service protection, just like two other Republican candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Newt Gingrich as of tomorrow receiving Secret Service protection.

Let's take a look at the votes in these three states where the polling are closed, but no projections yet. We'll start in Ohio right now, 10 percent of the vote now in, Mitt Romney with 40 percent to Rick Santorum's 37 percent.

Mitt Romney as of right now 3,200 almost 3,300 votes ahead of Santorum. Newt Gingrich only 14 percent, Ron Paul 7 percent. So it's very, very close in Ohio. According to the exit polls, we did have Mitt Romney slightly ahead of Rick Santorum in Ohio, but we're waiting for actual vote count before we can make a projection.

Let's go to Tennessee right now. In Tennessee, 15 percent of the vote is actually in, Rick Santorum maintaining a significant lead. You saw it change. We have just projected, by the way, that Rick Santorum will win Tennessee.

You saw that happen even as I was speaking right now. You saw the check go on so this is the first win in the night for Rick Santorum. Rick Santorum, CNN projects will carry Tennessee, 55 delegates at stake.

You can see based on the exit poll information, the actual vote count with 15 percent of the vote in, Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator will win Tennessee.

It's the first win of the night for Rick Santorum, a very, very important win for Rick Santorum give him a little bit of momentum on this day.

Peter Hamby is on the scene for us in Nashville right now. Peter, Rick Santorum needed a win tonight. He got a win in Tennessee, an important state.

PETER HAMBY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He really did, Wolf. This was a state that Mitt Romney had hoped they can really pull out with Gingrich that are creeping up in the polls and Santorum shining down and Romney closing pretty well.

We spoke to Romney folks thought they could eke it out. A lot of early votes though went to Santorum's way. We're watching Davidson County right here around Nashville. This is a place where Romney was supposed to do well.

But we actually got the news here first before they heard it here in the Tennessee GOP war room, Wolf, where we are at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, which is by far the coolest primary night location so far.

But yes, this is a big win for Rick Santorum. He had to do well here and Oklahoma, these two big delegate prizes. He's won a lot of caucuses so far, not a lot of primaries so this is a good one to have under his belt -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, congratulations to Rick Santorum winning Tennessee. Newt Gingrich is getting ready to speak in Atlanta. His over at the Marietta Atlanta Hotel and supporters are all excited that he has won the state of Georgia.

You see him there with his wife, Newt Gingrich getting ready to speak. Well, actually maybe Callista, his wife will speak first. Let's watch and see what happens, an important win for Gingrich, important win in Georgia for Newt Gingrich.

In Tennessee, apparently did not do that well in Tennessee. But Georgia, he wins. Let's watch a little bit of this and see what's going on. We'll listen to Calista and Gingrich.

CALLISTA GINGRICH, WIFE OF NEWT GINGRICH: Thank you for that warm welcome. It`s great to be back in Atlanta. What an exciting evening!

(APPLAUSE)

C. GINGRICH: We are so proud of our many volunteers who have worked diligently here and throughout the state of Georgia. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You have made this evening possible. And we are very grateful.

(APPLAUSE) C. GINGRICH: We have truly enjoyed being back in Georgia throughout this campaign and are humbled by your overwhelming support and prayers. Thank you.

Newt and I are engaged in this race because we believe America is at a crossroads and care deeply about the future of our country. There are only a few months left before the most important election in our lifetime.

Our only opponent is Barack Obama.

(APPLAUSE)

C. GINGRICH: And we are committed to removing him from the White House.

(APPLAUSE)

C. GINGRICH: This campaign is far from over. And tomorrow will bring an other chapter in the race for the nomination.

(APPLAUSE)

C. GINGRICH: Newt is the only candidate with the experience and knowledge necessary to rebuild the America we love.

(APPLAUSE)

C. GINGRICH: He has a successful national record of creating jobs, balancing the budget and reforming the government.

Today, we need a leader with bold solutions to create a better future for all Americans.

(APPLAUSE)

C. GINGRICH: I believe that leader is my husband.

(APPLAUSE)

C. GINGRICH: Please welcome former Speaker of the House, and the next president of the United States, Newt Gingrich.

(APPLAUSE)

NEWT GINGRICH, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, this is amazing.

(LAUGHTER)

I hope the analysts in Washington and New York, who spent June and July explaining our campaign was dead...

(LAUGHTER)

... will watch this tonight and learn a little bit from this crowd and from this place.

(APPLAUSE)

We survived the national elite`s effort to kill us in the summer because of you, because people who said, we are not going to allow the elite to decide who we are allowed to nominate. And so, with your help, thousands and thousands of people came to newt.org. And with your help, we survived the two most difficult months of a career which goes back to August of 1958.

And June and July were really hard, and it was precisely because the national elite -- especially in the Republican Party -- had decided that a Gingrich presidency was so frightening that they had to kill it early. But, you, you wouldn`t let them do it.

(APPLAUSE)

So with your help and the power of large solutions and big ideas and clear communications in the debates, by December, according to Gallup, I was the frontrunner by 15 points, and according to Rasmussen, I was the frontrunner by 21 points, because you believed in the power of ideas, you believed that people can make a difference, that, in fact, Wall Street money can be beaten by Main Street work.

(APPLAUSE)

And, of course, at that point, Wall Street money decided that only a relentlessly negative $5 million campaign in Iowa would work, and they did reduce my support from 36 percent to 14 percent in three weeks of unrelenting negativity.

And, once again, the media said, oh, I guess this is over, finally. But you all said no.

AUDIENCE: No!

And at the very depths of the establishment rejecting it, thousands of more people came to newt.org and signed up. And the result was, by South Carolina, we won a historic victory, carried 43 out of 46 counties. And it was extraordinary.

(APPLAUSE)

And I`m pretty sure that tonight we have a number of the South Carolinians who helped us win who are here who came over to help celebrate this great victory.

(APPLAUSE)

And at that point, the forces of Wall Street figured out they were in real trouble. And as the New York Times reported later, they held a meeting on Sunday morning after a Saturday night primary, and they said, "We have to destroy Gingrich." One of them was even quoted in the New York Times as saying, "We have to eviscerate him," which I thought was a fairly strong word in a Republican primary.

(LAUGHTER)

I would expect Obama`s people to do that. But I thought it was a tad much, having spent my entire career building the Republican Party.

And so they piled on $20 million in three weeks of negativity in Florida, and we were still standing. We carried all of north Florida. And, interestingly, everywhere we were, when we won, the vote went up. When Wall Street won, the vote went down, which I think`s a pretty bad sign for this fall, if we end up with a Wall Street candidate.

At that point, once again, they began to say, well, maybe he`s gone. And then, frankly, Senator Santorum did something very clever. He went to three states nobody else was in, and he won them.

(LAUGHTER)

And the news media, once again desperate to prove Gingrich was gone, suddenly said, ah, now we have the person who`s going to be the non-Romney. Now, Callista and I looked at each other, Jackie and Jimmy and Kathy and Paul, my two debate coaches, Maggie and Robert... (LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

By the way, I would say, for the performance they get out of me, the most underpaid debate coaches in America.

(LAUGHTER)

Although they`ll probably talk to me about that later on. I shouldn`t have said that.

(LAUGHTER)

But in any event, we looked at each other and we thought, you know, remember when it was Tim Pawlenty who was going to crowd me out? And remember then when it was Michele Bachmann? And then it was our good friend, Herman Cain the first time? And then, for a brief moment, it was Donald Trump almost.

(LAUGHTER)

And then it was our good friend, Rick Perry, then it was Herman Cain the second time, and now it`s Santorum. And you just can`t quite get across to them: It`s all right. There are lots of bunny rabbits that run through. I am the tortoise. I just take one step at a time.

(APPLAUSE)

AUDIENCE: Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt!

And I have always tried to be very candid. Sometimes it gets me in trouble, but on balance I think it`s how I want to live and how I want to do things. And so I said -- I said, at the very peak of, you know, the Santorum surge and all this stuff, if I can`t carry my home state, where people know me, I would have no credibility. And I knew the basic Wall Street technique, which was to come in and spend lots of -- how many of you have noticed negative ads?

How many of you have noticed the -- the Reagan negative ad that is a total lie, OK? I mean, that`s -- that`s what we`re up against. It`s one thing to have lots of money; it`s another thing to lie with the money.

And so I looked around, I thought, you know, let`s go home, and let`s test it out. I`ll go home. Callista and I crisscrossed the state. Kathy and Jackie were a great help. And I have to say, Governor Deal did a tremendous job and worked very hard.

(APPLAUSE)

Herman Cain stepped up to the plate and worked very, very hard.

(APPLAUSE) Todd Palin made phone calls and really helped communicate that there was a candidate who ought to be helped. The fact is, in Tennessee, Fred Thompson was just tremendously helpful. And in Oklahoma, J.C. Watts was extraordinary.

(APPLAUSE)

And so we basically put people power up against money power. And as you saw, the very first race they called tonight about 15 seconds after the polls closed.

(APPLAUSE)

And so I`m here, first of all, to say thank you to each and every one of you, because you are the reason we survived every effort of the establishment to stop us.

(APPLAUSE)

AUDIENCE: Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt!

Now, being here at the Waverly brings back many memories. In 1994, this is where we learned that, for the first time in 40 years, there would be a Republican speaker of the House.

(APPLAUSE)

And, you know, for that entire campaign, all of the elites thought we were crazy. First of all, we ran a positive campaign. We had a Contract with America. They just thought that was weird. Why -- why would you go to all that trouble? You have all these ideas.

(LAUGHTER)

We didn`t spend our time on lots and lots of negative ads. We spent our time communicating hope to the American people. The result was the largest one-party increase in an off-year in American history, because the American people want a chance to have hope again.

(APPLAUSE) So, as Callista said, tomorrow will bring another chapter in the race for the nomination, but it`s more than a chapter in the race for the nomination. It`s a chapter in a fight for the soul of the Republican Party. It`s a chapter in the fight for the very nature of America. It`s a chapter defining who we are as a people.

And let me be very clear. I believe that I am the one candidate who has the ability to debate Barack Obama decisively...

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

AUDIENCE: Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt!

And -- and let me be straight. I -- I don`t believe the Romney technique of outspending your opponent four- or five-to-one with negative ads will work against Barack Obama, because there is no possibility that any Republican is going to out-raise the incumbent president of the United States. Therefore, you can`t follow that strategy.

What you have to have is somebody who knows what they believe, understands how to articulate it so it cuts through all the media, offsets the bias of the elite media who are desperate to re-elect the president and has the guts to take the president head-on every single time he`s wrong.

(APPLAUSE)

(UNKNOWN): No TelePrompTer!

(LAUGHTER)

Well, we run a very frugal campaign, and we couldn`t afford one.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

But I`ve -- I`ve already promised that if the president will agree to seven three-hour debates in the Lincoln-Douglas tradition, he can use a TelePrompTer if he wants to.

(APPLAUSE)

And I`ll get to that in just a second. But I want you to know that, in the morning, we are going on to Alabama.

(APPLAUSE)

We`re going on to Mississippi.

(APPLAUSE)

We`re going on to Kansas.

(APPLAUSE)

And that`s just this week. I was actually in Huntsville this afternoon, starting off our Alabama effort. And I want to say to all of you, any of you who have friends anywhere in the country, if you can e-mail them, if you can post on Facebook something as simple as, "Newt equals $2.50-a-gallon gasoline," if you can go to Twitter and put in #250gas, I mean, we run a very inexpensive, very straightforward, reach-every-single-person campaign.

Now, I just want to give you one example of how profoundly different we are both from the other candidates and from the president, one that I would love to debate this president about. And that`s the one that a number of you are holding signs for. I want us to have an American energy policy so no president will ever again bow to a Saudi king.

(APPLAUSE)

AUDIENCE: Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt! Newt!

Now, I want you to imagine the debate this fall. The president was right the other day. He`s so nervous about gasoline prices and energy that he`s done two major speeches. And I thought today, in one of the most shallow and self-serving comments by a president that I`ve heard in a long time, he was candid in his press conference. He said, "You know, I`m really worried about higher gas prices because it will make it harder for me to get re-elected."

(BOOING)

I did not make this up. It was just nice to know that the president once again has managed to take the pain of the American people and turn it into his own personal problem.

(LAUGHTER)

Now, the fact is, I`d love to debate this president, because when you read these speeches, they are so deliciously incoherent.

(LAUGHTER)

They -- they are the perfect case study of liberalism run amok. The president says, the Republicans have three strategies. Strategy number one is drilling; strategy number two is drilling; strategy number three is drilling.

(APPLAUSE)

And I want to say to him, Mr. President, this is one of the rare occasions when I can say: You are right.

(APPLAUSE)

But the president had an alternative to drilling. And this is why debating him would be just one of those moments where you could almost sell tickets for charity.

(LAUGHTER)

The president said, we have to be practical; drilling won`t solve it. And then he offered his practical solution. Anybody here remember what it was?

AUDIENCE: Algae!

Algae.

(LAUGHTER) Algae. I mean, I think this summer, as gas prices keep going up, one of our campaign techniques should be have people go to gas stations with a jar of algae...

(LAUGHTER)

... and say to people, would you rather have the Gingrich solution of drilling and having more oil? Or would you like to try to put this in your gas tank?

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, you can`t -- I`m amazed that "Saturday Night Live" hasn`t taken that speech and turned it into a skit. I mean, you can`t make this stuff up.

(LAUGHTER)

What made it really intellectually totally incoherent was the president -- literally two pages after he explains that drilling doesn`t work -- the president explains that we`ve had this great breakthrough in natural gas, that we now have, thanks to new technology, over 100 years` supply of natural gas, that, in fact, we`re going to create 600,000 new jobs in the next decade out of natural gas.

And I am still waiting for one of the reporters at the White House to come out of their comatose "Re-elect Obama" stance and ask the following question: How does the president think we discovered the natural gas? Because, of course, the answer is...

AUDIENCE: Drilling!

Right? Now, I -- I came up with a specific proposal to -- to make vivid that there could be a better future in practical terms. So I proposed $2.50 a gallon as our goal.

(APPLAUSE)

Now, I have to say, my daughter, Jackie, was off campaigning with Herman Cain, and after two days of campaigning with Herman, she came back to me, and she said, you know, maybe we should change that. Maybe it should be $2.4999.

(LAUGHTER) And to his credit, Herman said, no, that will not work as a marketing device. Stick with 2-5-0, which -- which he`s very good at. So I picked $2.50. And I actually picked it by asking the oil experts, what`s a price at which you would have continuous exploration? Because my goal is to have energy independence so we are free of the Middle East.

(APPLAUSE)