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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Santorum Wins Mississippi and Alabama

Aired March 14, 2012 - 00:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in the CNN Election Center. I'm in for Piers Morgan. And boy, is this Republican race getting interesting. It's a huge, huge night for Rick Santorum with wins in Alabama and Mississippi.

Listen to the moment when the candidate, Rick Santorum, learned that he had won not just one, but two southern states.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you folks do your part and you help us like the folks in Alabama and hopefully the folks in Mississippi did -- we did?

KAREN SANTORUM, RICK SANTORUM'S WIFE: You won?

SANTORUM: I guess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: How happy is he? How happy is his family? Back with us right now, our expert CNN team. Joining us, John King, Gloria Borger and Ari Fleischer.

John, this is a very significant night for Rick Santorum. Just when so many of these so-called experts were saying Romney had it all but done, not so fast.

JOHN KING, ANCHOR, JOHN KING, USA: That narrative coming in was, can Romney lock it up or essentially lock it up with at least one win in the south or will we get another revival for Newt Gingrich? Well, Newt Gingrich loses in the two southern states. He says he's staying into Tampa. It's hard to see the rationale for Gingrich candidacy.

Now the questions are, can Santorum find a path to challenge Romney? It would be easier if Gingrich gets out. My question now is, the math, the rules, the history. Everything tells you it's still Romney over the long haul into May and June. But you know what? Our politics have been outside the rules. We elected our first African- American president. The Tea Party movement came out of nowhere.

So let's watch for the next. Santorum is going to Puerto Rico. Romney is favored there. Let's see what happens. Then we have a big primary in Illinois. Back to the Midwest where, if you look at the demographics of the state, it should be a Romney state. However, Santorum has done very well in the Midwest. BLITZER: Puerto Rico, Gloria, is this coming Sunday.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Huge.

BLITZER: And then Illinois is a week from now on Tuesday. It's going to go on and on and on.

BORGER: I think I need to go to cover it.

BLITZER: In fairness, though, to Mitt Romney, he's still way ahead in the delegate count. He's got more than all of the other candidates combined so far.

BORGER: Sure. And you know, this isn't the way they wanted -- they wanted it to be right now because if they do go across the finish line, they're going to crawl across the finish line. But let me read you something that our Peter Hamby sent around in an e-mail saying that --

BLITZER: Our political reporter.

BORGER: Political reporter Peter Hamby. From a senior adviser to Newt Gingrich that floated this. Get this. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum would be a powerful team against Barack Obama. Now do I believe for a minute that's going to happen? No. But interesting.

KING: So Senator Santorum -- if Senator Santorum wins he's going to pick the guy who has said for three months he's not ready for primetime.

BORGER: No.

KING: And he was nobody in Congress. Uh-huh.

BORGER: But this -- right, exactly. But this comes from a Gingrich person because they're looking for alliances right now. They need -- they need some friends.

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER BUSH W.H. PRESS SECRETARY: Well, what I like to do to really scare my friends in the northeast is refer to President Gingrich and Vice President Palin. It really scares them.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: You know, Santorum, though, is the only one of these Republican candidates that has won virtually in every major part of the country.

FLEISCHER: Yes. He has, but his problem, Wolf, was he won non- binding states that didn't have -- didn't have any delegates. A big story tonight that he had about five weeks ago, no delegates up that night. It gave him the boost, though, and it gave him the good press to come out and do as well as he's done now. But Rick Santorum, one thing Republicans have got to look to Rick Santorum and say, can you solve this problem? It's his problem with women. If he is the standard bearer for Republicans, he's going to have to address that. Because that gender gap is yond and big and is a problem.

BORGER: Didn't he do well with married women, though, in Alabama and --

FLEISCHER: He actually did well with women women. Not married women.

BORGER: Women women?

FLEISCHER: And single. Single, married, you name it.

BORGER: Right. Right.

FLEISCHER: In both states, Mississippi and Alabama tonight. But that's Republican electorate. I'm talking about the general election.

BORGER: Right.

FLEISCHER: This is an issue Rick Santorum has got to prove --

BLITZER: How does he do that, Gloria? How does he do better, let's say, with the women voters?

BORGER: Well, I think --

BLITZER: More women usually vote in these national elections than men.

BORGER: Right. I think Rick Santorum has a problem because of the issue of contraception even though he -- you know, even though he's kind of backtracked a bit on that. I think Mitt Romney would have an easier time turning around a gender gap which is now a gender gulch. He does very well with married women and with suburban Republican women. So I think Mitt Romney would have a much easier time with that.

KING: It would help Governor Romney if there were public polling that showed Romney very competitive against Obama and Santorum tanking against Obama. The problem for Romney is the polls don't show that right now.

BORGER: Right.

KING: President Obama has come down a bit in all the polls. Forget the Republican candidates, just because of questions about the economy. Higher energy prices. He's come down some. And Santorum and Romney roughly equal in the national polls right now. So Romney has to get back to the electability argument. The problem is, how do you do that when you're losing to somebody?

BLITZER: Because on the electability issue, if you look at all the exit polls, and John knows this very well, the Republicans by and large think that Romney is much more electable in a general election. But they also think that Santorum is much more conservative. And a lot of times they go with their heart instead of their electability brain. FLEISCHER: And I think it's one of the reasons this race keeps going on because Republicans are shopping. They're not sure. They're changing their minds. So they're open to different ideas. And over the months it's just going to evolve. But you know this electability --

BORGER: At some point you're going to have to stop shopping.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: I never thought I would say that, but at some point --

(LAUGHTER)

FLEISCHER: You know it does feel like Republicans are not putting our best foot forward. But the advantage we have is neither is the other party. The other party also has a weak foot going forward. And that may be the shape of the 2012 election.

BLITZER: This is hard, John, for the Obama campaign, they focused almost exclusively only on Mitt Romney. They've assumed from day one it was his. They're working on the assumption that it was still be his. Is that a smart strategy on the Obama campaign? Should they be looking at the possibility, you know what, it might not be Mitt Romney?

KING: There have been a couple of occasions where they spend a day or two focusing on Speaker Gingrich when he had a surge. A little bit on Senator Santorum. They still believe, and there's every reason for them to believe that it will ultimately be Governor Romney. They enjoy this being strung out because they believe unlike their extracted -- protracted Democratic primary four years ago which helped the Democrats arguably, at least there wasn't any blood or deep wounds to heal.

But this one is causing some deep lasting fissures in the Republican Party. But we don't know if that's true. You can -- you can say that in March. You can look at polling and find evidence. November is a long way away. And we know these southern states tonight, they're going to vote Republican. No matter who the Republican the nominee is, these states, Alabama and Mississippi, Obama is not going to --

BLITZER: And so realistically now, Gloria, I think we can assume that what happened four years ago on the Democratic side with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama going all the way through mid-June, they were waiting for primaries and caucuses in June. Finally almost at the very, very end, Barack Obama won. Hillary Clinton conceded.

Is that likely to happen this time?

BORGER: It could. Very much. I think at least for a couple more months. It really seems to me that this is -- that this is going to continue. It's the deja vu here. And now I'm starting to think about if you release your delegates, it doesn't mean that your delegates have to go for the person you necessarily endorse. You're starting to look at rules at the -- you know, so suddenly I'm getting back in that -- in that cycle that I never thought I'd revisit.

FLEISCHER: Parliamentarians. Very important people.

BORGER: Right.

KING: Well, the delegate counters in each of these campaigns is very, very important people.

FLEISCHER: Yes.

KING: Now nobody knows their names publicly but they're important. But every time I'm reminded -- you know, when I was the junior White House correspondent, Wolf is the senior White House correspondent, I'm revealing a state secret here. Before a lot of live shots he would sing. "I get knocked down, but I get up again."

(LAUGHTER)

It was a way he sort of just got a little lose energy at the White House. Every time Romney has been knocked down, and it's been several times, he has railed.

BORGER: He sings, too.

KING: He faces a huge challenge.

BORGER: Right.

KING: He faces a huge challenge. But they have the best money, they have the best organization. The question is, do they have the best candidate? We're about to find that out.

BLITZER: Do they?

FLEISCHER: Well, the calendar is going to actually benefit Mitt Romney a little bit because you're shifting to northeastern states.

BORGER: Right.

FLEISCHER: But the calendar also goes into a bit of a lull. You don't really have a big multi-state night again until April. You've got a couple of nights where there are two-state primaries, where there are some several one-state primaries coming up. That's why it keeps going.

BLITZER: The three biggest states are yet to speak out on this front.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: We're talking about Texas, California, and New York. Who's better positioned in those three -- where most of the delegates are. Those are the big prizes right there. New York, California, and Texas. Who wins?

FLEISCHER: Well, New York, I believe is in April. California -- Texas is in May. And California is in June. I'll answer that question depending on the dynamic between now and each of those states.

BORGER: Right.

FLEISCHER: Because every -- every election creates a new dynamic for the next election.

BORGER: But he has Pennsylvania -- but you also have the sort of Yankee primaries on the 24th.

FLEISCHER: Right.

BORGER: Which is also Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Delaware. And so, you know, one might think Rick Santorum might be positioned well and Mitt Romney would be positioned well. And not so much Newt Gingrich.

KING: If Gingrich stays, given the proportional rules in the states closest to have then you have winner-take-all when you get to New Jersey.

BORGER: Right.

KING: When you get to California. If Gingrich stays in, it's very hard. You can see him closing -- Santorum closing the gap. It's hard to see him catching Governor Romney.

I don't know, Ari, Speaker Gingrich is a proud man. Speaker Gingrich sees, you know, Santorum and Romney, and thinks why not stay in longer and see what happens. But I suspect a lot of leading conservatives are going to be pressuring, not Santorum him, but a lot of leading conservatives are going to say, Mr. Speaker, nice run. You had your chance in the south. The only way we stop Romney is if you get out --

BLITZER: And we'll see if the money dries up for Newt Gingrich right now. Because that'll be a huge factor. Not necessarily the super PAC money but his day-to-day money which he needs to keep his campaign going.

FLEISCHER: That's right.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

When we come back, one of Rick Santorum's top men on why he says his candidate has earned a one-on-one race with Mitt Romney. And Newt Gingrich's daughters on why their dad is staying in the race.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Santorum is at the desperate end of his campaign and is trying in some way to boost his prospects. And frankly, misrepresenting the truth is not a good way of doing that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Some harsh words from Mitt Romney. My interview with him earlier. Words which proved to be, shall we say, less than prophetic. Here now with a response from the Santorum campaign, the senior campaign adviser, John Brabender.

John, thanks very much for coming in. What's your response to Governor Romney? Only a few hours ago he said that Rick Santorum, in his words, was at the desperate end of his campaign.

JOHN BRABENDER, SENIOR SANTORUM CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Yes, well, evidently the voters in Mississippi and in Alabama somehow didn't get that memo from the governor and decided to speak their own mind. And these are pretty remarkable wins. I don't think anybody predicted it. Especially with the amount of money that Governor Romney spent which was probably tenfold what we spent.

This is a pretty remarkable American story. You know somebody going out there, Rick Santorum just speaking from their heart and people listening and it's resonating and they're voting for him.

BLITZER: What was your realistic expectation -- and be honest with us -- a few hours ago before the polls closed in Mississippi and Alabama?

BRABENDER: Well, we actually felt really good about Alabama. We were seeing a lot of energy there. A lot of Web traffic. Those type of things. We had heard that Governor Romney had the entire establishment behind him in Mississippi and that they could deliver a win for him. And frankly, this is also, as you know, Newt Gingrich's backyard for all practical purposes. And he was expected to do extremely well.

We were surprised winning both states. Gratified. Just as surprised as we were on Saturday when not only did we win Kansas, we got more votes than all the other candidates combined.

BLITZER: Your candidate has resisted the urge to ask Speaker Gingrich to step aside. But he didn't win in either of these two states. Is it time, do you believe, for Gingrich to move on?

BRABENDER: Well, I would answer that a little bit differently. I think it's time that conservative and Tea Party supporters understand that they've got to rally behind one candidate. And that's how you stop a moderate like Mitt Romney from ever getting the nomination. If we can get all those votes behind one candidate, we'll win in all these big states coming up that are going to be very, very important.

BLITZER: All right. So does that mean you would obviously like Newt Gingrich to step aside so that it would be effectively a one-on- one race between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney?

BRABENDER: Well, yes -- no. I think to be honest with you that we've earned a one-on-one with Mitt Romney. We saw that tonight with the two wins. We saw that in Kansas. Last week big wins in Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota where nobody expected us to. I think actually the American people deserve that, too. Where it's a consistent, clear decision of whether you want to vote for a moderate, Mitt Romney, or a conservative Rick Santorum. And that's what the party should really have right now.

BLITZER: Let's look ahead quickly to Puerto Rico which is Sunday and Illinois which is a week from today, next Tuesday. What's your assessment?

BRABENDER: Well, you know, again, I think they're a little bit hard. Illinois is someplace that I think will be close. There was a poll out on the weekend by the "Chicago Tribune", I believe it was, that showed that about Governor Romney about four points ahead. It's a state where he's already spending a million dollars on TV and we'll have a little bit of catch-up. But then we get to go to a lot of states that we feel very good about. Wisconsin, Louisiana.

We haven't even gone to Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum's home state, which today there was a poll released that shows Rick Santorum winning by 18 points. And so there's a lot, a lot of big states ahead. And many of them we think favorable to Rick Santorum.

BLITZER: Having said all that, as far as delegates, by our CNN estimate, you're way behind. Mitt Romney as of right now has twice as many delegates on the road to 1,144 than you do.

BRABENDER: Well, the problem that Mitt Romney has and everybody has is right now it doesn't look like anybody is going to easily get to the amount that you need before getting to a convention. That works very much in our favor, we believe, because there's a lot of uncommitted delegates who we believe are conservatives who ultimately will come with Rick Santorum.

Plus you have some very big states like Texas which are winner- take-all states that can dramatically shift what that delegate count is yet. So we think time is on our side. We think that ultimately Rick Santorum can get to the magic number before the convention. But we also think that we have a big advantage going into the convention with all the Santorum momentum that we have going on.

BLITZER: So you basically think that Mitt Romney was wrong when he told me earlier today that Santorum is at the desperate end of his campaign. You obviously disagree.

BRABENDER: Well, yes -- no. And in fact if you look at their math figures, they're counting a lot of votes that they don't have right now. Second of all, there's only been a third -- roughly a third of the delegates even voted on. So I think, frankly, there's probably a lot of states that are starting to get very offended by Governor Romney saying that those states shouldn't even have a chance to vote.

And I'm hoping people in Illinois, and Louisiana, and Wisconsin are some of those states that say this is -- this is arrogant and we're not going to have the establishment and Mitt Romney tell us how we're going to vote.

BLITZER: John Brabender, thanks very much for coming in.

BRABENDER: Thank you very much. I really appreciate being here.

BLITZER: Newt Gingrich says he's going all the way and will compete for the nomination no matter what despite his disappointing finish in Alabama and Mississippi. He also took a shot at Mitt Romney. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the things tonight proved is that the elite media's effort to convince the nation that Mitt Romney is inevitable just collapsed. If you're the frontrunner and you keep coming in third, you're not much of a frontrunner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Knocking Romney on what turned out to be a bad night, a disappointing night for Newt Gingrich himself.

Joining us now, two of Newt Gingrich's staunchest supporters. They happen to be his daughters, Jackie Gingrich Cushman and Kathy Gingrich Lubbers.

Ladies, thanks very much for coming in. How disappointed is your dad that he didn't win both of these southern states?

JACKIE GINGRICH CUSHMAN, NEWT GINGRICH'S DAUGHTER: Well, you know, he's not disappointed at all. He's very happy to be here in Alabama and Mississippi. It was actually a photo finish. It was not a very big gap at all. So I think he would have -- of course he would have liked to have won. The reality is he's going to walk away from tonight with more delegates than he had before tonight. So that's very good. It's a very positive thing.

I think he's got a great point. For months we have been hearing that Mitt Romney is the inevitable candidate. Well, clearly he is not inevitable because it hasn't happened yet. So we're really focusing on the race for the long haul. The 1144 delegates needed to secure the nomination. And the reality is nobody is there yet. And we're going all the way to Tampa.

BLITZER: So, Kathy, the notion of him dropping out even though he didn't win both of these states, he didn't win one of these states, that notion we should forget about because he came close, but it wasn't close enough?

KATHY GINGRICH LUBBERS, NEWT GINGRICH'S DAUGHTER: Well, we can't listen to what the elite media says about our father dropping out. He's good for his word. And as you've heard him say, this is going to be a dialogue with the American people. And he's the one that can actually beat Barack Obama. The president is actually already responding to his messaging about $2.50 a gallon gasoline. There were five different instances this week where the president or the White House was responding, commenting, making press comments. There's a reason for that. Our father has already taken the dialogue to President Barack Obama. He's the one in the end who's going to be the best to debate him and to lead the conservative Republicans through this race.

So we're in this for the long haul with our father. And we think he's going to take it all the way to Tampa and beyond.

BLITZER: But, Jackie, you have to admit that Rick Santorum really has a lot of that political momentum right now, much more than your dad.

CUSHMAN: A couple of things. I think if you look at Senator Santorum, he did -- obviously he did very well tonight in Alabama and Mississippi. Dad congratulated him on his good night. And I'd like to do the same thing, congratulate him on his good night. But part of what's going to happen during this process is people are going to get to know Senator Santorum and his record better and better as every day goes on.

And in the end, what they're going to find is that under my dad's leadership as speaker, that the deficit went down $20 trillion. When Senator Santorum was in leadership on the Senate, they increased the deficit by $1.7 trillion. So that's a huge difference. Twenty percent decline for my dad, $1.7 trillion increase for Senator Santorum.

I think when you look at their records, and even Governor Romney said this week that Senator Santorum wasn't as fiscally conservative as he was. Now I'm not going to compare the two, but I think as time goes on, the voters will go out and look at their records and realize that my father who balanced the budget for four years, who reformed the welfare as speaker, who cut taxes and cut spending, he stood up and governed with President Clinton, that he is the only to candidate that we have that could actually get conservative ideals done in Washington.

BLITZER: And this notion --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Kathy, let me just interrupt for a second because we're almost out of time. But this notion that he's only won two states out of, what, almost 20 contests so far, what does that say?

LUBBERS: Well, the reality is even as we get through this process, Louisiana is where the halfway point of this game, football game if you want to use an analogy, that the Deep South does really resonate with. So there's a lot, a lot, a lot of delegates yet to be determined. The inevitable candidate definitely is no longer inevitable. And I think that our father is going to continue the pace and the duration is going to be well for him over the duration of this race. He's going to continue to do better and better and the people will get to know his political perspectives, his solutions for America, and if you need more information go to Newt.org. There is plenty of information there for all of your viewers.

BLITZER: All right. Ladies, thanks so much for joining us. I'm sure we'll continue this conversation now that we know your dad is staying in this race. Appreciate it very much.

And coming up, we'll have a closer look at the next primary contest. We're talking about Sunday's vote. That's coming up in Puerto Rico.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: We stood with a guy that comes from this grandson of a coalminer from the steel town of western Pennsylvania. But you knew, shared your values and was going to go out and work for you to make sure that this country was free and safe, is prosperous based on believing in free people and free markets and free economy. And of course the integrity of the family and the centrality of faith in our lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The next stop on the Republican primary trail is Puerto Rico on Sunday. That state's governor is Luis Fortuno. He has endorsed Mitt Romney.

Governor, thanks very much for joining us. It looks like it's shaping up to be a pretty good night for Rick Santorum, not necessarily for Mitt Romney who's your guy. What's your reaction so far?

GOV. LUIS FORTUNO (R), PUERTO RICO: Well, let me tell you. I am convinced that Governor Romney will continue to deliver his message across the country. Not just in Puerto Rico but the following states. And I'm convinced that down here we're going to do our job correctly. And I will help him carry the state.

BLITZER: Do you think he's going to win Puerto Rico decisively?

FORTUNO: Well, let me tell you. It's impossible to tell at this moment. I will do everything I can. There's a lot of excitement among the voters that not just Governor Romney but some of the other candidates are coming down. And I expect a nice turnout. And certainly I will do my best so he can deliver this message in the same fashion that he has done so in the rest of the country.

BLITZER: I know there's some economic hardship in Puerto Rico right now. What are the biggest issues that Republican voters are concerned about right now?

FORTUNO: Well, number one, we're looking for a president who will commit to a stronger national security for the Caribbean border as we call it ourselves. And Governor Romney has committed to do exactly that. It's -- it is a national security issue that affects not just American citizens residing in Puerto Rico but also everyone that lives in the Eastern Seaboard as well.

Secondly it's job creation, and as you mentioned we have had a long recession. We're coming out of that. We're turning a corner because of the policies we have implemented. Actually similar policies to the policies that Governor Romney has espoused in his campaign. Making sure that we lower taxes and that actually we make sure that businesses can create jobs in better business environment. And he has committed to do that across the country including Puerto Rico.

BLITZER: How worried are you that all the Republican candidates for that matter including the man you support, Governor Romney, have imposed what's called immigration reform allowing, for example, children of illegal immigrants to get benefits from the Dream Act so they can go to college and stay in the United States. Even though they may be illegal immigrants they've lived their whole lives virtually in the United States. How big of a problem is that for Puerto Rico voters?

FORTUNO: Well, as you know, we are American citizens. So it is not going to be such a big issue. I think it's an issue, however, that we all need to address as a nation. And certainly I'm hopeful that in the general campaign, it will be addressed appropriately.

BLITZER: There has been some speculation that you, Governor, potentially -- you're very popular. You could be a vice presidential running mate for Mitt Romney or maybe even for Rick Santorum. He said nice things about you not that long ago. What do you think about that?

FORTUNO: Well, let me tell you. I believe that the Republican Party has done a good job in actually reaching out to the Hispanic community. However, we need to do more. But it is not about the races that actually are going to be seen in our ticket in November. It's about the values that will be behind those faces. And the Hispanic community share many values with the Republican Party. We just have to stress those regardless of which races will appear on our ticket.

BLITZER: You like the idea, though, of potentially being on the Republican Party presidential --vice presidential ticket?

FORTUNO: Wolf, I love my job. And I really -- I want to stay here if I can. I really enjoy what I'm doing. I'm looking forward to another four years of continuing to turn a corner here and make our economy grow. And I want to work with a, you know, with a president that will be working hand in hand with us to guarantee that that security that we need in the region and that will assist us in creating jobs.

BLITZER: Very diplomatic answer. Good politician. Governor Fortuno, I love Puerto Rico. I love San Juan. Stay with us. We'll be talking down the road. Appreciate you joining us.

FORTUNO: My pleasure again. You're welcome any time.

BLITZER: Rick Santorum certainly has the momentum right now as the candidates get ready for next week's showdown in Illinois. Pat Brady is the chairman of that state's Republican Party. Pat Brady is joining us now.

A very good night for Santorum, Pat. Not such a good night for Mitt Romney. You're a Romney supporter. What does he need to do in these next few days? Next Tuesday is the primary in Illinois. What does he need to do to make sure he wins in Illinois?

PAT BRADY, CHAIRMAN, ILLINOIS REPUBLICAN PARTY: I think he'll do very well in Illinois. And I don't necessarily agree. He didn't have a terrible night. He picked up a third of the delegates. He's got more delegates combined -- than the rest of them combined. So you know, it wasn't a bad night. He'll do very well in Illinois. He'll run a kind of the Mark Kirk model, run as a fiscal conservative and do like Mark did. He'll win big here, I think.

BLITZER: The most recent poll that I saw there, this was before tonight, obviously, had Mitt Romney at 35 percent, Santorum at 31 percent in Illinois. Is that a little bit too close for comfort right now?

BRADY: You got to remember. This is a delegate hunt right now. And Senator Santorum's not on the ballot in four of the congressional districts. So he's only eligible for 44 of the 54 delegates that are going to be voted on on Tuesday. We give out 69, maybe 15, those are considered super delegates we gave out in the convention. So I think Governor Romney is actually in pretty good shape. The air war's already started and he's got a ground game going. So I think he'll have a good night. He's going to have to campaign hard. And he's not going to win everything but he'll walk out of here with a lot of delegates.

BLITZER: What happened to those four congressional districts where Santorum didn't get on the ballot? How difficult is it for a presidential candidate to get on all the congressional ballots, all the congressional delegation ballots in Illinois?

BRADY: Wolf, I got to tell you. When you live in the state of Illinois, there's a lot of weirdness. And it's terribly difficult for candidates to get on the ballot. I've tried to change the rules and was voted down. And we're going to try to reform it. But you have to get a whole bunch of signatures. And it's usually a volunteer effort. We did it for McCain in 2008 and it took all summer. So I'm not faulting the Santorum campaign. It's just the reality of politics in Illinois. That huge petition signature requirements. And that's why they didn't get on all the ballots.

BLITZER: You want to give us a prediction? Sixty-nine delegates in Illinois, that's a lot of delegates up for grabs next Tuesday.

BRADY: Well, you got to understand, as opposed to tonight, Illinois -- 70 percent of the vote is in the Cook -- the six counties around Chicago. So it's a lot of urban and suburban votes which I think plays very well for Governor Romney. I couldn't give you a number. But he will walk out, I think, with a clear majority of the delegates and probably win the preferential votes. So he should have a good night. Illinois shapes up well for him. And I think that we're kind of a microcosm, I think, of the country insofar as the economic problems we're dealing with here.

I think that will translate well into the battleground states. What's really important in beating President Obama. I paid $4.70 for a gallon of gas in President Obama's home city today. And that's going to be a very big issue for us.

BLITZER: Well, very quickly because we're out of time, but do you think President Obama is actually vulnerable in Illinois, his home state?

BRADY: He's lost almost 20 points of support since he won his Senate seat in 2004. He won with 70 percent of the vote. He's down to the low 50s now. We're certainly going to make him work here in Illinois. But probably more important to us is congressional races. Speaker Pelosi was here to announce that, you know, the road to her retaking the speakership goes through Illinois. And that's not going to happen.

BLITZER: Pat Brady, thanks very much for coming in.

BRADY: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: And coming up next, we'll have more on Rick Santorum's southern sweep tonight. What it means for conservatives.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: We will compete everywhere. The time is now for conservatives to pull together. The time is now to make sure -- to make sure that we have the best chance to win this election. And the best chance to win this election is to nominate a conservative to go up against Barack Obama. Who can take him on on every issue.

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BLITZER: That was Rick Santorum's victory speech tonight. But what will his big wins in Mississippi and Alabama mean?

Joining us now, Amy Holmes of Glenn Beck TV, Carol Roth, the author of the "Entrepreneur Equation," Politico's chief White House correspondent and all-around great guy, Mike Allen, and Dana Loesch, editor of Bigjournalism.com.

Dana, let me start with you. Santorum is saying he's the real conservative candidate in this race. He's probably hoping Newt Gingrich will step aside, let him go one-on-one with Mitt Romney. You think that's going to happen? DANA LOESCH, EDITOR, BIGJOURNALISM.COM: Well, Gingrich's campaign was signaling that that was going to happen just a few days ago. They were saying that Alabama and Mississippi are must-win states for Newt Gingrich and that he really needs to perform in these southern states in order to have a viable campaign from here on out.

And now it seems as though they're kind of changing their story. Now they're still going all the way to Tampa. So I'm not quite sure what the story is there. I know the Santorum folks would love to see Gingrich step out. And I think we're at the point where we have to start asking ourselves, are we dividing the conservative vote? If you look at the exit polling data, I mean, definitely we are. Santorum is getting the more conservative voters. But the center right voters are getting split amongst all the candidates. And Newt Gingrich at this point is proving to be more of a spoil for Santorum than he is Romney, I think.

BLITZER: Amy, is this surge that we're now seeing for Santorum the real deal? Or is it going to fade? What do you think?

AMY HOLMES, NEWS ANCHOR, GLENN BECK'S "THE BLAZE": Wolf, after this primary season, it's hard to say. It's been such a rollercoaster. And don't forget, we saw that Mitt Romney had his surge in Michigan and Ohio. So Santorum, if he can take this forward, if he has the organization, but, Wolf, you were just discussing with your guest earlier that he doesn't even have Illinois -- he's not even on the ballot in Illinois in four districts, I was listening. And so he may not necessarily even be able to capitalize in a very practical, on the ground kind of way.

BLITZER: He's got a lot less money, although that could change a little bit, Mike, that we're talking Santorum than Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney is already spending a ton of money. His super PAC, also has campaigned in Illinois. The money is an issue. But we've learned so far it's not necessarily the decisive issue.

MIKE ALLEN, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: No, that's right. Mitt Romney is going to be talking about delegate math. And that's not inspiring. That's not Ronald Reagan. So coming out of tonight, we're going to hear Rick Santorum talking about momentum, saying he's the insurgent. You're going to have are Mitt Romney saying, well, I got more delegates.

The Obama campaign tonight is having a little fun with Mitt Romney on Twitter. The Romney campaign had tweeted, oh, just wait until you get the results later tonight from Hawaii and American Samoa. David Axelrod, the president's chief strategist, tweeted back and said, well, Mitt, you know what they say. As American Samoa goes, so goes the nation. So we're going to see Mitt Romney need to toughen up his message, to give conservatives something to go after. Those 83 percent of the evangelicals in Mississippi today just weren't liking what they've heard.

BLITZER: Carol, you're a Romney supporter. Is it better for Romney if Gingrich actually stays in the race and divide up that so- called conservative vote as opposed to allowing it to simply be a two- man race between Romney and Santorum?

CAROL ROTH, AUTHOR, "THE ENTREPRENEUR EQUATION": I certainly think so. At least in the short-term. I keep saying that I think there's a secret pact here. I mean Newt is kind of Romney's wingman for right now. Because the bottom line is, Wolf, it almost doesn't really matter what happens in terms of the Republican race. Those red states are going to Republican. That the -- that what the Republicans have to understand is that they need somebody who has strength in the place where there are swing states, where there are independents.

The red states are going red either way. So, you know, sometimes you get what you want and sometimes you get what you need. And here the Republicans need Mitt Romney.

BLITZER: Dana, look ahead a little bit to Puerto Rico. I don't know if you know that much about Puerto Rico, but Illinois you probably do. Look ahead to Illinois next Tuesday. What's going to happen then?

LOESCH: Illinois is a typically very moderate -- very moderate Republican base. At least in Illinois. I mean obviously it's going to go blue. There's no hope in the general election of that state going to Republicans at all whatsoever. Santorum not being on the ballot in four congressional districts, I don't know if that's going to be all that -- if it's going to have all that much of an impact because I really just -- I expect Illinois to go to Mitt Romney.

Now my state in Missouri, I expect Missouri to go to Santorum. We have -- because of the law in Missouri it's a little weird. We had a primary that was -- you got no delegates out of it. Then we have a caucus that's coming up, 52 delegates at stake -- at stake. Rick Santorum did incredibly well the last primary, even though Newt Gingrich wasn't on the ballot. And even though Newt Gingrich will be on the ballot for the caucus, I don't think that Mitt Romney is going to do incredibly well.

It tends to go towards Rick Santorum. And I take that all the way back to Prop C. People in Missouri don't like mandated health care in any form and we saw that with Prop C back in 2010 midterm elections so Illinois is going to go to Romney but I think Missouri will go to Santorum.

BLITZER: That means, Amy, that this could go on and on and on because we still have a lot of big states, I've point out earlier, Texas, California, New York. This could go as the Democrats had that experience four years ago, all the way through June.

HOLMES: Absolutely. I remember it well. And I remember the arguments there being that similar to sort of Carol's arguments. If winning this state is really meaningful in the general elections, so for example, winning California, is that meaningful for the Republicans since it's very likely that California will go for the Democrat in the general? But you know, sort of taking a step back in terms of what Mitt Romney needs to do to move forward to try to gain some enthusiasm or some momentum. Carol and I were talking in the green room before the show and it's kind of, like, well, he really just needs to relax and just be himself and to embrace the person that we're trying to get to know. I think it's a problem that up to this point that evangelicals are still not, you know, sold or rallying around Mitt Romney. That's a problem. And I'm curious to know why Mitt Romney in all these years of politicking, between 2008 and now, hasn't sort of you know -- he didn't lay the ground work, meet with evangelical leaders and try to assuage some of those concerns about him. Unfortunately he needs to try to make up some of that ground now.

BLITZER: All right, guys, hold on for a moment. I want to continue this conversation. We've got a lot more to discuss.

Up next, Mitt Romney's trash talk. What he told me about Rick Santorum. Stand by.

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ROMNEY: He's far behind in the delegate count. He's far behind in the popular vote count. If you look at the math of how many delegates he'd have to win to become the nominee, it's a very difficult road for him. And so at this stage, he's looking for some way to try and gain ground. I understand that. But I would hope that you'd use truth as one of the pillars of your strategy as opposed to trying to come up with one attack after the other.

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BLITZER: That was Mitt Romney talking to me earlier today about Rick Santorum who has a lot of information, a lot of reason to be happy after his big wins in the Deep South tonight.

We're back with Amy Holmes, Carol Roth, Mike Allen, and Dana Loesch.

You know, Mike, he was pretty upbeat. He was talking about Rick Santorum being at the desperate end of his campaign. For all practical purposes, a lot of the Romney establishment types in Washington, you know them, I know them. They were going into the Deep South. They were pretty confident this was all but over. But you know what, the voters had a different mind tonight.

ALLEN: Yes, well, Wolf, great interview. And I think we're going to see a lot of that tape. And there he goes again. He was talking about delegate math. The campaign knows that they need a tougher message. So a small sign of this, I'm told that Mitt Romney has been saying that he's out to replace Barack Obama. In coming days I would look for Mitt Romney to say he's going to defeat Barack Obama. A small example of how they're tweaking their message.

Wolf, I think another big story in the next day or so is a lot of pressure both on the public stage and behind the scenes for Newt Gingrich to get out. I think the campaigns are going to be very cautious. You saw John Brabender, the Santorum strategist, earlier not taking the debate from you, not directly confronting Newt Gingrich.

I think you're going to hear the Romney campaign silent on this question because they don't want to back Gingrich into a corner. They don't want him to get his pride up. They want them to figure this out on his own. But Keith Patel, a top conservative leader, saying tonight that Rick Santorum has earned his mano-a-mano with Mitt Romney. So I think you may see conservative leaders telling Newt Gingrich it's been a great run, go out as a happy warrior.

BLITZER: Carol, you like Romney. What piece of advice do you want to share with him and all of our viewers? What he needs to do right now. This is a very, very sensitive, delicate moment in this presidential campaign.

ROTH: Well, first of all, Wolf, I actually do agree with him on the math story. There's a Hollywood story and there's a math story. But if I had one piece, Mitt Romney, if you're listening to me right now, you need to make people feel. People do not remember what you say, but they remember how you make them feel. So go rent a bunch of Disney movies and learn how to tell a story, connect with the audience, and build that report. Because they will remember if you make them feel. And there's a formula to this and I know you can do it.

BLITZER: Amy, how much of a problem does Santorum have with women voters out there?

HOLMES: I'm glad you brought that up. And I wanted to point that out as well. That, you know, back in 2008 between president, then senator Obama and Hillary Clinton, Senator Clinton, there was a lot made of the different constituencies that they were winning state to state. Especially white working class, et cetera.

I think in this case, in the Republican contest, it is very important that the Republican candidate solidly win, in particular married women with children. That is where Republicans have always done well. And if there is any retreat on that number, it spells a lot of trouble for the Republican nominee in the general election.

And I think that, you know, Mitt Romney has a strength there when he can point to the states that he's won where he has won the female vote. And, you know, he's also won the Catholic vote. And the Catholic vote is also a swing vote that's very important for a general election candidate to win.

ROTH: And not to mention he's got a great family. Put more Ann out there. He has a fantastic family. This guy is a family man. So he should be touting with the women. Look, you know, I am all about the family. This is a strength for him. They're taking these strengths and making them weaknesses. He has to turn them back into strengths again.

BLITZER: She is impressive, very impressive, Ann Romney. But, Dana, let me say -- ask you the same question, how much -- who's a stronger general election candidate among the Republicans as far as women are concerned?

LOESCH: Well, frankly when you look back at -- again, I break it all down to the -- to all of the exit polling data going back from Iowa. And just examining all of the contests. Gingrich did exceptionally well with women especially in South Carolina. And this was right after the whole ex-wife controversy that came about. And Rick Santorum, despite everything that's been said about him, he's actually doing -- been doing incredibly well with women in southern states and Alabama and Mississippi as well.

But in terms of the general election, you know, honestly I think any one of these candidates are going to do well as long as they are able to articulate conservatism and show that their policies aren't just attractive to men and Republican males but also to women, too. And that to me seems relatively easy but unfortunately every single one of these primary candidates, to be frank, Wolf, have had difficulty in doing that to some extent to another.

HOLMES: And Wolf, can I just jump in there? That, you know, in conservative circles the discussion about Rick Santorum and some of his comments like, for example, that he's opposed to contraception in all cases including in marriage, a lot of conservatives say is not conservative. That someone who is running for president of the United States shouldn't be commenting on such personal matters.

BLITZER: Guys, we're going to leave it right there. Amy, Carol, Mike, Dana, thanks very, very much.

ALLEN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: When we come back, the latest on tonight's results in Alabama and Mississippi.

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BLITZER: You got to give Rick Santorum a lot of credit. He was outspent big time by Mitt Romney but look at this, he's the winner in Mississippi and Alabama. Twin victories of significant boost in his campaign for the White House. A setback for the frontrunner Mitt Romney as well as for Newt Gingrich.

Now attention turns to the next contest in Puerto Rico on Sunday and Illinois next Tuesday. We'll, of course, have complete coverage.

Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer sitting in for Piers Morgan. The news continues on CNN.