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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

GOP Debate in Las Vegas; Tea Party Power

Aired October 18, 2011 - 19:00   ET

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


ERIN BURNETT, HOST: Las Vegas for tonight's CNN GOP debate. The set has been built. It was a pretty amazing process. The candidates ready and we've got a formal countdown on. Even the bells are tolling in honor of our debate -- you can hear them. It's almost like Venice for real.

There's a lot of big storylines playing out tonight, though. The Tea Party, a big one, just how much has the Tea Party defined the GOP? And the "Bottom Line" on the economy, it's the biggest issue in the nation right now. Each of the candidates thinks their tax plan is the right one and we're going to take a closer look.

As the bells ring, let's go OUTFRONT.

Hello, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett OUTFRONT live from Las Vegas. It does feel good to say that. We're counting down to the debate and we're just under an hour away. We've got seven Republican candidates squaring off for their party's nomination to challenge President Barack Obama next November.

We've got a lot to watch for tonight. Herman Cain surging in the polls out to defend his front runner status. Rick Perry has been dropping significantly and that really could be the comeback kid story of the night and Mitt Romney, slow, but steady. In a poll released this morning actually lagging behind Cain in likeability, can he pull more GOP voters to his side?

He has a chance to do just that tonight. We are less than an hour out. We've got a lot lined up for you. We want to begin with two of our special guests, John Avlon, a contributor, senior economist for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast" and the one and only Gloria Borger, CNN chief political analyst and all of this action was buzzing around as our show began.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: We've got a lot of people over there, too --

BURNETT: People, the light turned, the motorcycles came.

BORGER: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

BURNETT: That's right. It is (INAUDIBLE) day.

BORGER: Vegas baby. BURNETT: And this is a place where they've got a lot to prove, Gloria.

BORGER: Yes, it sure is and I think this is going to be kind of a transition debate because we're going to see if Rick Perry can save himself here. If Herman Cain is going to withstand all those withering attacks people are going to make on him and whether Mitt Romney is going to be able to remain above the fray attacking Barack Obama kind of laying in wait for all the other folks --

BURNETT: That's just Herman Cain arriving as you can see now.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: I tell you I saw -- it's sort of a bizarre thing.

BURNETT: Yes.

BORGER: I saw four of these candidates today walking through the casino.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK --

BURNETT: Was anybody -- was anybody --

BORGER: Nobody was at the table.

BURNETT: Partaking -- oh --

BORGER: Nobody was at the table.

BURNETT: That would have been a good story.

BORGER: They were all kind of lost in paradise, right?

BURNETT: John and I were talking on the way from the airport saying which would be the candidate, if someone were to gamble --

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Most likely --

BURNETT: -- who would be most likely to go out and have a good time. But this is a really important campaign tonight -- debate tonight for -- well for Perry, Cain, Romney, there isn't anybody that can kind of coast here.

AVLON: No, the horse race headlines aren't clear. As Gloria said look, Herman Cain now the front runner. He needs to show that he can be a responsible, realistic candidate for president. He needs to answer the seriously question seriously. He can't be talking about electrified fences along the border. Rick Perry has the same problem he had in the last debate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

AVLON: He needs to show that he can step up and be strong and be that strong conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, but he bailed, he flopped, he slumbered and slept in the last debate so the bar is high for him and he's basically said (INAUDIBLE) I'm just not good at this and then Mitt Romney has got to show that, look, everyone else you may -- I may have a ceiling (ph) at 25 percent. It's a real problem, but at the end of the day I can be president.

BORGER: I'll tell you where Mitt Romney does not have a ceiling (ph). Just in our new poll today and that's electability. His numbers on electability have gone from the mid-20s to the mid-40s. That's huge for Mitt Romney. It's clear among Republicans -- it's clear that people are starting to say, you know what? He may be the guy who is best able to take on Barack Obama but it's a question of whether the Tea Partiers can actually sort of say, all right, we'll hold our nose and in the end we may go with him.

BURNETT: We're going to talk to the Tea Party in a couple of minutes because I'm curious if you have a top of the ticket like Romney that they don't love but you pick your VP as someone who they do --

(CROSSTALK)

AVLON: This is the Palin model. It had down sides last time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

AVLON: I mean look, ultimately right now the question the Republican Party needs to ask itself is electability versus ideology and then if Mitt Romney does get the pass because he's the most electable candidate, there's every sign that he's going to need to shore up his right plank (ph) with a candidate who has more enthusiasm from the base, from the Tea Party, but of course that could come with a cost, could come with a cost of appealing to swing voters and independent voters, but right now this is all about trying -- one guy trying to get -- the Republican Party around his candidacy and there's an additional test beyond the horse race as well. It is who tonight can also stand up in terms of policies, put forward policies that can reshape the national debate --

BORGER: Well --

AVLON: -- and help folks in the economy who is suffering here in Nevada.

BORGER: I mean Perry has to come with a plan --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: He doesn't have a plan --

BURNETT: We've been going through all of them and laying them out --

BORGER: Right.

BURNETT: -- and actually (INAUDIBLE) you've got some bold plans from Paul and from Cain. BORGER: Exactly.

BURNETT: Some more traditional plans --

BORGER: Fifty-nine points (ph) --

BURNETT: Hundred and sixty-one pages --

BORGER: Right. OK --

BURNETT: He likes odd numbers. That's all I can say. All right, but --

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: But nothing from Perry, right.

BORGER: Perry needs a plan, and he told us he was going to have his jobs plan we got an energy plan, but we're kind of waiting for that.

BURNETT: Right.

BORGER: I doubt he's going to introduce it tonight, but he might be under --

BURNETT: If he loses or if he doesn't shine tonight --

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: Does it matter? He's trying to say I'm just not good at this.

AVLON: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: Can you get away with that?

BORGER: I think it --

AVLON: (INAUDIBLE)

BORGER: I think it really matters because Republicans are watching these debates and 51 percent of Tea Party voters say that it's actually made them change their minds according to a Pew poll. So he may say this is just the media leak (ph), but there is an echo chamber and Republicans are in it and they're watching and that's why he's falling in the polls.

AVLON: Look, to be fair to Mitt Romney he is a strong retail politician, but you can't just wave off debates and say oh I'm just very good at asking questions --

BORGER: Right, right -- AVLON: -- communicating directly to the American people (INAUDIBLE) not going to be a very good president at the end of the day.

BURNETT: And three-quarters of likely Republican voters were undecided as of yesterday according to our latest poll.

BORGER: Sure.

BURNETT: So to your point, not only are they watching, but they are listening --

BORGER: Here's --

AVLON: They're open to a sale.

BURNETT: Yes.

BORGER: Here's the thing Herman Cain has though. People like him. They like him.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: (INAUDIBLE) I don't know if you saw it.

BORGER: Yes.

BURNETT: It was literally -- it had everybody over here on likeability and then Herman Cain.

BORGER: Herman Cain.

BURNETT: (INAUDIBLE) people really like him.

BORGER: They like him and it matters because voting for president is a personal vote, and you really want to like the person. That was something that cost Hillary Clinton a bit of trouble in the Democratic primary. She didn't do too well on likeability and it hurt her.

BURNETT: Right.

BORGER: It really did.

AVLON: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, well we're going to have both of you back later in the hour, so thank you very much. And we've been talking about this and going through the plans today for all of the candidates. And as we said, Rick Perry really has an energy plan, not an economic plan, but the economy is the biggest issue right now in the country and there really is no place where that is more obvious than the foreclosure and unemployment capital of the country. That's where we're sitting right now, Las Vegas, Nevada.

The candidates tonight believe that cutting taxes will help America grow again. Grover Norquist is president and founder of Americans for Tax Reform and he joins us now. And Grover, it's good to see you. I appreciate your taking the time. I wanted to start off first of all by asking you something about Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan.

I've seen headlines. You're not a 9-9-9 fan. Then I've seen it that perhaps you think that the 9-9-9 plan would be consistent with your pledge to not raise taxes. What do you think of it?

GROVER NORQUIST, PRES., AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: Well, the pledge is constructed, I understand, is revenue neutral, so it doesn't violate the pledge, the taxpayer protection pledge that all of the presidential candidates except Huntsman have signed as a commitment to the American people that they'll veto any tax increase. They will not allow a net tax increase. Tax reform is fine. 9-9-9 is not a net tax increase. The concern about 9-9-9 is it sets up a nine percent value- added tax, Japanese-style value-added tax, a nine percent --

BURNETT: Right.

NORQUIST: -- sales tax and a nine percent income tax. Every one of these little things could begin to grow over time. I'm a little concerned that rather than taking the present, messy income tax and chopping it back, we're creating three entities, three little tapeworms that could decide to grow into big tapeworms.

BURNETT: Now there's an interesting analysis today that says that the vast majority of Americans would get a net tax increase under Herman Cain's plan even though overall, supposedly, and I know that's also a question, but supposedly, revenues would remain net neutral. Isn't that a tax increase?

NORQUIST: Well, the pledge is no net tax increase on the entire economy. Politically, you have to face, if you're shifting from taxes from one person to another, you have to make that case to the American people, but the pledge is simply no increasing the total tax burden on the American people. The other plan --

BURNETT: So I want to make sure -- sorry. I want to ask you about the other plans, but I just want to make sure I'm understanding completely and philosophically what you're saying because this is really important, vis-a-vis not just the Republicans plan, but the president's plan. No net tax increase would mean that if I closed all the corporate loopholes and changed the corporate rate, closing those loopholes is not a tax increase as long as my net revenue is the same, right?

NORQUIST: Correct -- yes -- absolutely. The pledge was designed to help pass the Tax Reform Act of '86. Lower rates broaden the base, tax reform, that's good.

BURNETT: OK. So now let's talk about the individual plans. We've gone through them. Obviously they all have a few things in common. They want to repeal Dodd-Frank. They want to repeal the president's health care bill and there's various moves in there for corporate taxes. What do you want to hear from -- oh, we're looking now at Newt Gingrich arriving. As you can see, we're just showing you the candidates as they come in, Grover, so pardon the interruption, but so viewers can see them all arriving. What do you think Rick Perry needs to do, sir, why has he not been more specific? I know he signed onto your pledge, but he hasn't come out with a very specific plan.

NORQUIST: Right. Rick Perry's advantage is that he was governor for 10 years. He has a track record. He opposed tax increases. He reduced taxes. He did a great deal of reduction of spending. He took on the trial lawyers, so if you want to know what Rick Perry would do, you look to his 10-year successful record as governor. He would play smash (ph) mouth with the trial lawyers.

He would rein in regulations, less spending and cut marginal tax rates, so that's what he's done. I think -- I would like to see his plans for the federal taxes, but I can pretty much outline what they'd be given his history as governor of Texas. He's been very good on size of government, pro-growth policy. Some of these guys have track records. Some, like Cain, doesn't have a track record so he needs a plan to make it clear who and what he is.

BURNETT: All right, Grover Norquist thanks so much, appreciate your taking the time tonight.

NORQUIST: Sure.

BURNETT: And still -- still OUTFRONT, we're going to talk about the Tea Party. The conservative movement takes credit for the tone of the debate, but how much influence does the Tea Party really have on the GOP right now? Well, they're going to come on. They are going to come OUTFRONT to talk about it.

And Las Vegas, tourism actually has been rising here for the past 18 months. The housing prices are down 60 percent from their highs. Sheldon Adelson is the owner of this hotel, the eighth richest man in America. He comes OUTFRONT to talk about solutions and the candidates.

Tonight's debate we're counting it down, less than an hour away. What do the three frontrunners need to accomplish tonight? Let us know what you think. Our panelists will be back and we'll see you in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: The number tonight, 45,000, that's the square footage of our debate set here in Las Vegas. You can watch it assemble here. Our crews worked 24 hours straight starting at 6:00 p.m. on Friday. They finished the build on Sunday night. We will have 1,500 people in the audience and those seated in the special red zone that you can see there will be able to talk and ask the candidates questions, but you can ask questions as well. Tweet your questions with the hashtag #CNNDebate or go to our site Facebook.com/OUTFRONT.

Well it's hard to overstate the influence that the Tea Party has had on the Republican Party. The conservative anti-tax movement takes credit for defining much of the debate among the Republican presidential candidates, all of whom are vying for the title of not just Republican, but Tea Party candidate. Amy Kremer is chairman of the Tea Party Express. She's been a grassroots activist since 2009. Amy, appreciate your taking the time.

AMY KREMER, CHAIRMAN, TEA PARTY EXPRESS: Thanks for having me.

BURNETT: All right, so it was a really -- I thought -- I actually have it over here -- a really interesting article in "The New York Times" this weekend -- don't know where I have it -- and the front of the magazine was about where is the GOP going --

KREMER: Right.

BURNETT: And this whole question as to whether the Tea Party would become more mainstream, more part of the establishment and it was talking about all of the candidate are vying for the Tea Party endorsement. Which of the candidates here tonight is most quote, unquote, "Tea Party"?

KREMER: Well you know, I think it's really too early to tell. Obviously, Herman Cain has a lot of momentum right now, but, you know, I wouldn't count anybody out. I mean we all know politics as fast as you rise up. You can fall much faster. The people in this movement are waiting to hear who has the best ideas and solutions to truly turn the economy around and get us back on track. Who is going to create the environment so that these businesses have the confidence to start jobs again, start hiring and bringing jobs back here from overseas, and that's what the people are looking for.

BURNETT: So the Tea Party has been defined perhaps over simplistically as it is all about cutting spending and that's really what it's all about and there's no room anywhere for taxes to increase on anybody. Is that fair?

KREMER: I think it is fair. Look, when you raise taxes you're asking to spend more. At some point you have to cut out the spending. You cannot raise enough taxes. If you taxed every -- all of the rich in this country all of their money it's not enough to pay for everybody. At some point, you have to cut the spending and that's what we want Washington to do, and we are absolutely driving that debate, not when in American history have you ever heard the Democratic Party talking about cutting spending. So not only are we hearing the Republicans, but the Democrats, too, and that's the direction we need to go, Erin.

BURNETT: So what about social issues? Do they have any part in the Tea Party or is that something where you would look beyond and say no we're really going to make this economic. We're not going to have gay marriage or immigration or abortion come into the Tea Party formal platform?

KREMER: Correct. We don't focus on the social issues. It's all about fiscal responsibility, limited government and free markets. When you delve into the social issues that's when people are divided. You're never going to get everybody to agree on that, but you can't deny that there are some people that the social issues are important. Ultimately, what's going to determine how much of an affect this movement has is how people vote on Election Day. Last election cycle people voted because based on the economy. This election cycle, I believe it will be the same thing. They're going to be voting based on the economy and you will have some that vote on the social issues, but it's the economy that's driving this movement and quite frankly, everybody across America.

BURNETT: All right, well thank you so much, Amy. I appreciate your taking the time out talking to us.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: All right. Well obviously we'll see what those candidates have to say and whether that gets a Tea Party -- full Tea Party backing tonight.

OUTFRONT next more than 35 million people come here to Las Vegas every year. Only 14 percent of them actually come to hit the casinos. Can you believe that? I wasn't sure that I did, but (INAUDIBLE) billion dollars that they spend on gaming.

Sheldon Adelson is the eighth richest man in America. He built this hotel behind us, the Venetian. He comes OUTFRONT next and it's the second day of the president's big jobs push. Just how much will that influence the debate tonight? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: And you can see our countdown clock. We are just under 40 minutes away from the beginning of our GOP debate right here in Las Vegas. Anderson Cooper is sprucing up and getting ready to take it away when that debate starts. But right now, a story we can't resister.

One-liners, wise cracks, zingers, they are a big part of the debates. There have been some funny lines, you know Joe Stoffa (ph) the cost of a pizza, things like that. We've already gotten a few laughs this year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you take the 9-9-9 plan and you turn it upside down, I think the devil's in the details.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's a catchy phrase, in fact, I thought it was the price of a pizza when I first heard about it --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: All right. This is nothing new, though. In 2003, Howard Dean used this line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, if the percent of minorities that's in your state has anything to do with how you can connect with African- American voters then Trent Lott would be Martin Luther King.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: OK. The line was not really his, though. A few days later it was revealed the political consultant James Carville had actually given it to him while they were filming the HBO show "K Street". That was the first time most people realized the candidates aren't always that quick or that funny on their own. After all, you know, they are running for president. Many candidates hire professional writers to feed them lines ahead of time, so to get ready for all of tonight's one-liners, which we hope they are there because we love watching for them too, we can't resist watching some of our favorites from recent years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I hear your new ideas I'm reminded of that ad, where's the beef, you know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you don't try to compare George Bush to Harry Truman, I won't compare you to Jack Kennedy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George Bush taking credit for the Berlin Wall coming down is like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A few days ago Senator Clinton tried to spend $1 million on the Woodstock Concert Museum. Now, my friends, I wasn't there. I'm sure it was a cultural and pharmaceutical event.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rudy Giuliani, there are only three things he mentioned in a sentence, a noun, a verb and 9/11. I mean there's nothing else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: All right, we just couldn't resist. And there's something about watching them, I don't know go back in history and people like Al Gore looking so darn young. Well if you hear a particularly good one-liner tonight let us know about it, Facebook, of course you can also find us, or Twitter @OUTFRONTCNN.

Well investors are hearing (ph) reports that France and Germany might expand the size of its bailout fund. This is a big-time story for the United States of America and we have details in the "OutFront Five". We are just over 30 minutes until tonight's big debate. I'm very excited. It's nice, hot, steamy here. It's time for some good fights in Las Vegas and what about the candidate that isn't here? We're going to go to New Hampshire; Jon Huntsman is there for a town hall. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We start the second half of our show with stories we care about. We focus on our own reporting, make the calls, and find the "OutFront Five".

Number one tonight the search for baby Lisa, the Kansas City Police Department went on the offensive today, accusing the parents of avoiding questions. Police Department officials told OUTFRONT the couple's lack of cooperation is hurting the case. Officials said that Bradley Irwin became uncomfortable and stopped answering questions on October 8th. The detectives have not had unrestricted access since then. Baby Lisa is 11 months old.

Stocks ending the day on a high note, now the S&P rose 24 points. This puts it at its highest level since August. Reports that France and Germany might actually expand the size of the bailout fund for Greece gave investors something to cheer about. Robert Pavlik (ph) of Banyan Partners (ph) told OUTFRONT that despite the news out of Europe, earnings will continue to be out front for most investors.

And speaking of earnings Apple coming out with a rare miss -- actually its first miss since 2004. Apple was the second biggest company in the United States, 6.6 billion in the third quarter. The weakness came from iPhone sales, which may surprise you. Remember that the quarter does not include sales for the iPhone 4S, which went on sale last week. Will Power of Robert W. Baird says a lot of people were waiting to buy that phone, so this weakness may just be temporary.

Now, bank earnings are really important for the market. Bank of America and Goldman reported earnings as well. Goldman Sachs, a larger than expected loss. But when you look at details of the numbers, it came out pretty much in line which sent the stock higher. Bank of America also did better than expected, but it's no longer the largest bank in America.

JPMorgan's assets totaling $2.289 trillion.

Well, it has been 74 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating. Who's counting? We are -- every single of day -- because we want to know what they're doing to get it back.

Well, there is one candidate noticeably absent tonight. He was the author of the one liner about 9-9-9 being the cost for pizza. That's Jon Huntsman, boycotting the debate and the caucuses in Nevada, after Nevada leapfrogged New Hampshire on the calendar. He's put all of his bets on New Hampshire, obviously, and this is a live shot where Huntsman has chosen to focus most of his campaign time. It's all about New Hampshire for his campaign.

Our OUTFRONT team has learned that the former Utah governor just received $1,000 from New Hampshire voters in the third quarter, and he is $3 million in debt overall according to the FEC.

All right. We're less than 30 minutes away from the town hall for the CNN Western Republican Presidential Debate here in Las Vegas. As the crowd pours in, the candidates are busy putting on their game faces. You've been seeing them arrive over the past hour here. We've been showing you live pictures as they walk in.

The stakes are incredibly high before the Iowa caucus and there's a lot at stake for everyone, but particularly for the three topping the polls. Herman Cain obviously came in very strong in the last debate. He won over voters with the smooth pitch for the 9-9-9 economic plan which faced criticism today, and he is number one in likability.

But for Cain staying in the game means offering a whole lot more than salesmanship and tonight, he's going to be challenged on the substance, not just by Anderson, but also by the audience and by the likes of Ron Paul.

Meantime, Rick Perry could use some of the gift for gap. He has been noticeably absent during the debate so far. There have been some gaffes that have been hurting him.

Question: will he be able to become more than a late-night comedy show joke after these debaters or really hit a home run? That's the question.

And Mitt Romney, on the again/off again front runner who has been facing attacks from all sides. Can he fight them off? That's the big question.

Of course, you've got Newt Gingrich also on the stage, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum -- all of them trying to get a word in edgewise.

Well, let's walk through what's really at stake here, the dos and don'ts of a debate.

Former White House press secretary and CNN contributor Ari Fleischer, Republican strategist Kevin Madden, spokesperson for Mitt Romney in the 2008 campaign, and senior political analyst David Gergen.

OK. I got to take a deep breath. I had to go for a long time there. Whoo!

All right. David Gergen, let's start with you. Who has the most to gain tonight?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Most to gain -- I think Herman Cain, if he can take the punches tonight, if he can convince people that he's a serious candidate and not just sort of the flavor of the month, that he could -- he could become the anti-Romney candidate and that's been the name of the game all along, who can be the alternative to Romney? Nobody's been able to hold that second position yet.

BURNETT: Ari, what do you think Rick Perry needs to do tonight? ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Rick Perry needs to be aggressive. Rick Perry needs to be articulate and he needs to go after Mitt Romney. Rick Perry is the presumed number two. He's dropped from that assumption. Now, he has to retake that ground.

And he's got the ability to do it. He's got the vulnerabilities of Mitt Romney that he can expose and open up. And he just needs to be articulate and on point.

And it's been -- I can't understand why he has not done that yet in the debates.

BURNETT: All right. What about Mitt Romney himself? Your former guy?

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, look, I think, ultimately, these debates are -- they're a contest of who can be the most presidential. I think one of the reasons that Governor Romney has performed so well is because when he gets up on stage, the contrast emerge. He doesn't have to force them.

He looks the most presidential because he's the most articulate on the economy. He has the most command and control on all the issues that everybody cares about.

So, I don't think he has to do anything really different on this debate. He has to keep doing that and keep winning that presidential contest with all the other candidates on stage.

BURNETT: Does likability matter for him, David Gergen? I mean, he's done better. It proved on that count, but he's still --

GERGEN: Absolutely. And I think Rick Perry has done him a favor because I think Mitt Romney is a better debater now than he was on the beginning of the campaign.

But I think he needs to start going beyond where he's been. He's been sort of flat-lining in the polls. He needs to solidify his position in the Republicans, but I also think he needs to start looking over his shoulder to these other guys to the general, and he's got to start building up his likability among American voters in general.

The more he does that, the more I think that he becomes the, in effect, the candidate, the inevitable candidate for Republicans and the strength is in his polls against Obama. That's very, very important in the next few weeks.

BURNETT: And, Ari, in the recent polls, he's come out very well on electability which, I mean, I guess fundamentally is more important than likability. But you'd like it if the two went together.

FLEISCHER: Well, it's fun to get those two.

BURNETT: Yes. FLEISCHER: There's this ideology that Republican voters vote on, likeability that they vote on and electability. For one voter, it might be more of one, less of the other, but they all three add up to what you can historically look for in a nominee you say can deliver the White House for me. You don't vote for somebody because you like them and you believe in them if they can't win. All three go together.

BURNETT: Right. I was bringing it up earlier. I think "The New York Times" magazine and the whole issue of the Tea Party, what is establishment GOP? Do you think that -- how important is a Tea Party sign-on endorsement for Mitt Romney at this point?

MADDEN: Well, look, I think the Tea Party is not a model that they block. This is a force within the electorate right now that's very focused on reform elements within the party. They want to see everybody, and they're very animated about the issues of spending, deficits and the growth of government.

I think any candidate, if they're going to want to get Tea Party support, they don't necessarily have to go out and say, I'm a Tea Party. What they have to do is have a comprehensive vision on what they're going do to reduce spending, what they're going to do to reduce deficits, what they're going to do to get government out of the way of the private sector.

And I think Governor Romney has done very well on that and that's where eventually, you know, Wayne Gretzky used to have a saying. "I don't skate to where the puck is, I skate to where I think that puck is going to be."

BURNETT: Yes.

MADDEN: Ultimately, I think that's how you win campaigns, is that you trying and build up your support, how to make your message so therefore when people go in there and they make their decision on the day of the caucus or the day of the primary, that they're there with you.

BURNETT: It's like my nieces and nephews with the Gretzky comment.

FLEISCHER: Keep the hockey going. Romney has turned into a great goalie. Everybody who keeps shooting trying to score on Mitt Romney, he keeps knocking the puck back and skates out to center ice with it.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: He needs to take a good shot at him.

GERGEN: He needs to go on offense.

FLEISCHER: When you're the front-runner, everyone is coming at you.

GERGEN: You know, you don't elections --

FLEISCHER: My point is, but despite his vulnerabilities, that's to his credit.

GERGEN: Let me make point to what Kevin said and asked you this, my sense is that Perry tonight, instead of going after Romney he's got to go after Cain. He's got to puncture the balloon of Cain so that when Cain starts going down, there's Romney and Perry. The longer Romney has both Perry and Cain in the race, the better off he is.

FLEISCHER: If I'm Perry, I have to go up to Romney and I let everybody else go after Cain because he knows Santorum and Bachmann need to go after Cain. So, you got to count on them to make that fight for you and you concentrate on Romney.

CAIN: I wouldn't count (INAUDILBE).

(LAUGHTER)

BURNETT: Any fight would be good. I like watching them. Thanks to all three. We really appreciate it -- three people who really know what's going on out there.

Well, every year, as we said, more than 35 million people come here to Las Vegas and they bring it about $8 billion to the gaming table. Tourism may surprise you despite the fact that housing houses have plunged here by 60 percent from the peak, we have seen an increase in tourism in Las Vegas for each of the past 18 months.

Still, though, for this city and this state, it is one of the worst outlooks economically in the country. We went OUTFRONT with Sheldon Adelson. He is the eight richest man in this country. He owns the Venetian, where we're sitting right now, the host of tonight's debate.

And earlier today, he told me conditions are getting better after he met with all of the candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHELDON ADELSON, CHAIRMAN & CEO, LAS VEGAS SANDS: Things are actually getting better. There are, on the FIT side, the free and independent traveler, the leisure traveler typically comes to enjoy. By the way, you should know that only 14 percent of the people come to Las Vegas come to gamble. That means 86 percent come for something other.

So -- and we are the creators of what is now called the integrated resort which has a multi-amenity, multi-discipline package, cornucopia of different things to do, like shopping, the exhibition center, the meeting and ballroom center complex. Internationally, they call it congress center.

BURNETT: What about Asia, though? I saw 90 percent of your bottom line there. Your operation income comes from Asia, and you got huge resorts in Macau and in Singapore. Is Asia where all of the growth is now for you?

ADELSON: Yes. Asia is where the growth is. The Asian people have a very high propensity to game. There are -- I mean, it would take a lot longer than the time we have here to explain it all, but the concept of challenging luck is part of the culture in Asia.

We're also contemplating and we're pretty much -- while we're not finally committed and but we're on the way to being committed to build a half the equivalent of the Las Vegas Strip. Las Vegas Strip has 25 or 30 mega resorts. We're going to build 12 3,000-room mega resorts in Spain for the 50 countries surrounding Spain.

BURNETT: In Europe?

ADELSON: In a five-hour flight.

So, we're going to make a big bet on Europe and we've been doing a lot of studies and we've been getting second-opinion studies, and it all looks like one study says that even when we're fully built out with 36,000 rooms, we would have only penetrated 85 percent of the demand that there is today.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: We can only hope that he is right with that big bet on Europe. That is an enormous bet, and if it's right, it would mean -- well, frankly, the Europeans, the American, and the whole global economy is stronger than people bet.

All right. Well, still OUTFRONT, day two of the president's jobs push. What it means for his re-election chances and what it means for the debate. Just over 20 minute away, what do the candidates need to do tonight? Just heard some Ron Paul supporters drive by. If you didn't, I did.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: All right. We are just about 15 minutes away from the start of the debate here in Las Vegas. The GOP debate, Anderson Cooper is getting ready to take it away from us for that. Lots of questions tonight on the economy and a lot more.

Well, as we count you down, we want to do our "Outer Circle." We do this at the same time every night. We don't break tradition tonight. We take our sources around the world and give you some of the key headlines we are focused on.

We begin in Israel tonight where soldier Gilad Shalit celebrated his first day of freedom after more than five days in Hamas captivity. This after Israel agreed to release more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Fred Pleitgen is in Shalit's hometown tonight.

And, Fred, I know that hundreds turned out for the homecoming today. Describe the scene for us.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erin, there were scenes of absolute jubilation here in Gilad Shalit's hometown as the convoy with him inside rolled into the small village. Now, before coming here, he was actually brought to an Israeli military base where he met the Israeli prime minister and also was reunited with his family for the first time.

After leaving the convoy, after getting here, Gilad Shalit went directly into his house. His father later came out and said that Gilad would not be able to speak to reporters or the public simply because he's now entering a phase of recuperation -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you very much, Fred.

And now, let's go to Gaza where enormous crowds greeted the first of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners that were released by Israel in exchange for Shalit.

Matthew Chance is in Gaza City for us tonight.

And, Matthew, I know it was an emotional story there as well. How are the former inmates celebrating tonight?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, there have been huge celebrations in Gaza tonight, tens of thousands of Palestinians gathering in the main square, welcoming the released prisoners in an almost carnival-like atmosphere. The Hamas militant group which runs Gaza and which negotiated the exchange for Gilad Shalit is calling the prisoner swap a victory for all Palestinians and vowing to find ways to force the release of the thousands of other Palestinians still held in Israeli jails -- Erin.

BURNETT: Matthew, thank you.

And now to Italy where a Milan judge today cleared Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in a $45 million tax fraud case which centered on one of his companies.

Becky Anderson is in London tonight.

Now, Becky, obviously if Berlusconi escaped indictment today, that's good news for him, but does it put an end to his legal troubles?

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erin, the judge today decided there was not enough evidence to pursue this case against Mr. Berlusconi, although he still faces three active trials in Milan on charges, including corruption, tax fraud and accusations he paid for sex with underage girls.

Mr. Berlusconi himself proclaims his innocence in all three outstanding cases and continues to accuse his enemies of just waging a campaign to ouster him from power -- Erin.

BURNETT: Becky, thank you. While, meantime, we are just about 15 minutes away from the CNN GOP debate right here in Las Vegas. But it is also the president that we have seen going out to push his agenda. President Obama was out on the road pushing to pass his jobs bill today, urging an audience in a high school in Virginia to tell Congress to get to work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tell these members of Congress they're supposed to be working for you. Not working for special interests, not working for campaign contributions. They're working for you, the American people. And they need to deliver because they're not delivering right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Some harsh words for Republicans from the president, but with the GOP debate here in Las Vegas just a few minutes away. It's a safe bet that they'll be returning the favor.

Roland Martin joins us now, CNN political analyst. And once again, Kevin Madden, Republican strategist and former campaign strategist for Mitt Romney; and senior political analyst, David Gergen.

All right. Great to see you all.

Roland, you've just come into the conversation, so let me start with you.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure.

BURNETT: The president's coming out swinging.

MARTIN: Well, he should. And, frankly, he had to take an aggressive tact. He has to sound more populist, because if you actually think back to March 2009, I thought the White House made a serious mistake when they were tone deaf, people were angry with AIG bonuses. Everybody was upset, Democrats, Republicans, you name it and they sort of was trying to figure out what was going on.

So, he has to frame it as such because that's where the anger is right now in the country. The question then: how do you move people to affect the members of Congress when poll numbers become your job and they're on your side? But we haven't seen that reaction yet. That's the problem that he has.

BURNETT: It's interesting, Kevin. He's still going after Congress, not yet, specifically at any of the candidates who are here tonight. Still letting them fight amongst themselves.

MADDEN: Well, the strategy is pretty obvious -- there's only one entity more popular than President Obama in Washington and that's Congress. So, he's going to try and run against Congress.

BURNETT: A senator on the other night, he said, hey, our popularity is at 8 percent. That's pretty good. I'm thinking, whoo!

MADDEN: What's wrong with that 8 percent, right?

BURNETT: Yes.

MADDEN: Yes. But I think the problem here is why it's a jarring message is that he had three years before he even proposed a jobs plan and the American people wanted action for the last three years and they haven't seen it. The economy has been in bad shape. He's failed on economic leadership, and I think that's why you're going to see so many of these Republicans go after that issue because it's a huge vulnerability.

MARTIN: That's not true. The first stimulus bill, you had job attached to that. So, it's not like you didn't have any jobs in there. So, there's a whole difference --

BURNETT: He said multiple stimulus plans and unemployment benefit isn't insurance extension. Semantics on how you talk about it. But --

GERGEN: I have to tell you, Roland, I think right now he's just treading water publicly. He's not connecting the way he once was. And I think he's sort of waiting now for the next sort of big event to come that he can shape. And that may be response to whatever happens to the Euro zone this weekend and he has to work on next week. It will more likely be what comes out of the supercommittee, that's working on the deficit.

Something is shaping up there -- I talked to a member today, said it could be big. They don't know yet.

But the president is going to have to be right in the middle of that fight. And then he's going to have to work with Congress because he could potentially get a compromise. It would really help him on a lot of different ways. Potentially, it's going to be hard.

The other issue I think that's out there that he's sort of been pulling at and taking a cover off is the question of inequality of income in the country. These "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations, and they're spreading -- they're starting to be taken more seriously by the mainstream media. And they're starting to put on the table the issue of inequality.

And the president has to play this very carefully. He's clearly coming out for the demonstrators, but he's got to be careful how he does it. But I frankly think it's a legitimate set of conversations.

MARTIN: It is. But the trouble that he has, though, is that the economic team that he should have hired, the folks who wanted to deal with the inequality, he bypassed them for Geithner and Summers. And that has been his problem.

It's hard right now when you have Volcker and when you have others who want to make substantive systemic changes to Wall Street to get rid of all the crap that we saw and he chose not to go with them but he chose to go with the team that's put him in a position. So, how can he say, you know what, the first guys were right, I should have brought my "A" advisers in, but I went with the other ones. It's hard for him to make the argument right now.

MADDEN: That's right. And that's his fault. He's the president of the United States. He can't blame anybody but himself. It all goes to the top.

The other point that David made is, you know, waiting for moments to take place so that your fortune is in a better place is a very, very difficult place for a president to be. You want to be in control. You want to be able to drive your message. You want to be able to define the parameters of this debate. But right now, he's not.

GERGEN: I agree with that. But that's because he's weak and he's wounded. And that's why he's got to find something to turn around if they can bring strength to him again.

MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE) right now. They have not simple been strong at going on the offensive with communications wise. We talk all the time by him giving a great speech, but his communications folks, frankly, have been weak. He's even said we've done great things that nobody knows. Guess whose fault that is.

MADDEN: All the communications in the world won't help somebody who doesn't have the right plan to put the nation in the right direction.

BURNETT: All right. We've got to leave it there.

Thanks to all three of you.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: All right. Thanks to all of you. Appreciate it.

All right. We're just a few minutes away from the GOP debate. Wolf Blitzer and John Avlon are going to come OUTFRONT next to count us down. We're getting excited.

The audio level is rising out here in Las Vegas and we'll be back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: All right. We are minutes away from tonight's debate. You can see the countdown clock that we'll put up.

You can also probably hear the protesters. There have been various people protesting. These people are singing "banks got bailed out, we got sold out." There have been other groups here protesting immigration, protesting gay rights, protesting a variety of issues.

These obviously are -- there's racism protesting and this, obviously, is protesting about the banks and taxation. Well, let's bring in Wolf Blitzer, anchor of CNN's "THE SITUATION ROOM"; John Avlon, CNN contributor and columnist for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast"; and Gloria Borger, CNN chief political analyst.

All right. Good to see you all of you.

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Nice to see you.

BURNETT: And we're seeing the American system in full swing on all sides.

BLITZER: Occupy Las Vegas, that's what they're doing.

BURNETT: That's right.

BLITZER: They're protesting, which is their right.

BURNETT: That's right. It absolutely is.

And it's nice to see all the different things that they're talking about here. But let me ask you, who do you think tonight has the most approval? We'll go through it each of you and, I have the chance to think, (INAUDIBLE), but do you think?

BLITZER: I think it's obvious Rick Perry, he's got a lot to prove.

BURNETT: Yes.

BLITZER: If he wants to come back. He can come back. He's got millions of millions of dollar. And he's never lost a race in Texas all these years.

He's got to prove he can stand up to the other Republican candidates, let alone if he were to get the Republican nomination for president of the United States. He's got a lot to prove.

BURNETT: What do you think, Gloria?

GLORIA: Obviously, Herman Cain has to prove that he's a plausible president, but I also think that Mitt Romney has to start romancing Republicans a little bit to get above that 25 percent level. He's got to show them a little bit more.

And they have to learn to like Mitt Romney. If they don't love him, they have to like him.

BURNETT: I like that, romance from Mitt Romney.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He has not been able to close that deal to date. I mean, that 25 percent ceiling he's got is a fascinating dynamic in this race.

But I've actually been looking for something different. I think the whole Republican field is going to have to be out there in one specific way. They're going to need to put forward specific policy plans that don't simply do bumper sticker, "play to the base" politics, but actually offer solutions that could pass the Congress, and innovative ideas that actually can help shape the debate.

These people here in Nevada, they got 14 percent unemployment. I think they should be sick of the kind of typical bumper sticker politics they've been getting from these folks. For as long as you play to the base, that's conservative politics. That's not smart politics at the end of the day.

BORGER: Barack Obama had a lot of plans that couldn't pass the Congress also. And when he became president, he kind of realized that.

ALVON: I think we are at that point where it's time for specifics, it's time ideas, if not just the play to the base slop that we get too often.

BLITZER: Let's see how many ideas they come put with tonight. You know, it's hard, as someone who moderated the Republican debates, the last one I did back in Tampa, you give these candidates one minute to basically lay out their investigation, 30 seconds for reply. So, it's not that easy when you think about it.

BURNETT: Well, I thought the high points of all these debates is when you got them talking about what they would do if someone lost -- had no medical insurance and had a life threatening illness and had to make the decision.

BLITZER: Not to buy medical insurance. They needed it.

BURNETT: It may sound inhumane but there's an answer that's consistent with the policy and you put them in a position to have to answer it.

BORGER: I think the audience was so interesting in that because we got somebody screaming, you know, "Let him die," and then you had people responding to that. These audiences have been raucous, clearly conservative Republicans (INAUDIBLE).

AVLON: And what we know is not only that this is the most conservative Republicans we've seen in a long time, but these debates have real impact on the other process.

BURNETT: And we'll leave it there. Thanks to all three of you.

The GOP debate starts now.