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Tight Iowa Republican Race; Arrest in California Arsons

Aired January 2, 2012 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening tonight from the CNN election center, just 26 hours from the start of Iowa's caucuses. And the race is so tight, so unpredictable, the state's top Republican calls it unprecedented.

And this hour, we will hear from Congressman Ron Paul and his son, the senator. They say the surging candidate in Iowa, Rick Santorum, is too liberal. We will ask the Reverend Franklin Graham about his father's health and about who evangelical supporters should support in the 2012 presidential race.

Also in Los Angeles tonight, a possible break in the hunt for the arsonist who set 53 fires over the past few days.

We begin tonight with Rick Santorum. Momentum is with the former Pennsylvania senator and he is sticking to his conservative guns. Here's candidate Santorum this afternoon.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would just suggest that if you look at the history of Republican nominees, that moderate voters -- moderate candidates who were there to appeal to more moderates ended up losing.


KING: But is that tough enough? Listen to what Congressman Ron Paul had to say about Santorum earlier to CNN's Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Why would not he be a good Republican nominee?

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because he's very liberal. And --

BASH: Rick Santorum's liberal?

RON PAUL: Have you looked at his record? Go look at his record.


KING: CNN political correspondent Jim Acosta is in Boone, Iowa. He spent the day with Senator Santorum. Jim, I understand on this last day of campaigning, Senator Santorum got some interesting last-minute help.


Don't tell Jim Bob Duggar that Rick Santorum is too liberal, because the reality star is -- he is the star of the reality TV show "19 Kids and Counting." He's a prominent social conservative who backed Mike Huckabee back in 2008. He's been driving a Rick Santorum bus across the state of Iowa in support of the former Pennsylvania senator.

You won't find Rick Santorum getting inside that bus. He is still riding in his pickup truck to keep that down-to-earth image that he has cultivated in the months leading up to the Iowa caucuses. But I talked to Jim Bob Duggar earlier today about his endorsement of Rick Santorum.

He said now is the time for the splintered social conservative field in Iowa to basically come together and get behind the candidate that he says can win these Iowa caucuses. He points out, Santorum was in favor of a ban on partial-birth abortions. He ticked off really a laundry list of issues that he says makes Santorum the right pick for Christian conservatives -- John.

KING: As you watch Senator Santorum, it is very different. The crowds are bigger and the media is bigger. How is he handling the harpoons? You have robo-calls questioning him saying he supported Arlen Specter, a much more liberal Pennsylvania senator, back in the day. You have Rick Perry saying he is not electable.

With all the criticism, are they reacting from stop to stop?

ACOSTA: They're reacting from stop to stop. We heard Rick Santorum at this stop earlier today accuse the Ron Paul campaign of running negative robo-calls, accusing the former Pennsylvania senator of being against the Second Amendment. Santorum obviously said that is not true.

And at earlier stops today, he went right after Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney, as you know, has referred to Senator Santorum as being sort of a creature of Washington. Rick Santorum went right back at Mitt Romney earlier today, saying, you know, what we need in Washington is not a chief executive officer but a commander in chief.

He even went after Rick Perry earlier this morning when he ticked off some of the deductions in his tax plan. And he said, and I hope everybody in the crowd notices he didn't forget any of those talking points. So Rick Santorum is I think getting to the point where he understands he is a target now because he has so much momentum right now -- John.

KING: Jim Acosta live for us tonight on the eve of the caucuses in one of the favorite campaign places across the state of Iowa, the Pizza Ranch. Jim, thanks so much. We will have more of that interview Dana Bash had with Ron and Rand Paul coming up later in the hour, including whether Senator Paul would consider -- whether the senior Paul -- excuse me -- would consider running as a third-party candidate if he fails to win the nomination.

Cutting the debt, it's the number one issue, according to Iowa voters. Republican front-runner Mitt Romney jumping on the issue arguing voters should be disgusted with President Obama's performance.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This president has inherited a tough economy. But he didn't make it better. He made it worse. We will bring it back again by reapplying the principles that made us the great nation we have always been, by relying on free people and free enterprises, by remaining an opportunity society.


KING: But when it come to the Republicans, what are the differences between the former Massachusetts governor and his caucus opponents?

For that let's bring in Candy Crowley, our senior political correspondent and anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."

Candy, on that big issue, deficits, the debt, spending, do these candidates have significant disagreements?


Let's just take top three, at least in the polling here in Des Moines, according to "The Des Moines Register." When you look at their positions, all of them think the president is spending too much and has spent too much money. All of them think spending should be cut and that spending should be brought down to a percentage of gross domestic product, different percentages, but all in the same ballpark.

Where they do disagree, in the top three, Romney, Paul and Santorum, is that Ron Paul in his cuts would include military spending. He would put it on the table. The other two would not. And just to take one simple legislative issue that came up in Congress in December, remember that payroll tax extension?

Both Romney and Ron Paul said, yes, I think we should go ahead and extend that payroll tax cut. It was only Rick Santorum who said I don't think we should because I think it harms Social Security. Again these are not major differences. Every time we talk about something like this, I am reminded, as you well know, John, during the campaign last time around, Barack Obama was against individual mandates for health insurance.

And it became one of the signature pieces of the legislation -- of the health care legislation. So these are grand plans. These are things they put out on the campaign trail for political purposes to kind of outline their philosophy. But once you get in touch with reality, you have to sort of bend and shift with the wind.

KING: Getting elected is a lot different than campaigning. And abortion is not likely to be an issue we talk about in the general election. But in courting evangelical voters in Iowa, then we will move on to South Carolina after New Hampshire, any key differences on that issue?

CROWLEY: You know, again, I guess it depends on your real definition of key.

But by and large looking again at the top three, Romney, Paul and Santorum, probably the strictest on abortion issues is Rick Santorum, who believes there should be no abortions except in the case of the mother's life being in jeopardy.

He also believes that there ought to be a constitutional amendment to ban abortions. But if you look at both Paul and Romney, while both are anti-abortion, Paul saying only should there be abortion in the case of saving the mother's life, Mitt Romney also thinks there should be exceptions for rape and incest.

And both of them, interestingly, and I actually just learned this today looking at sort of the finer points of their positions, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul both believe that Roe v. Wade ought to be overturned and the issue ought be sent to the states -- John.

KING: Our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, live in Des Moines tonight -- Candy, thank you.

Michele Bachmann's campaign scraped up enough money to right now some last-minute ads on some but not all of Iowa's TV and cable outlets. The ads reflect her newly adopted the line that she can be America's iron lady.

Pay close attention to the pictures here.


NARRATOR: Born and raised in Iowa, only one candidate has been a consistent conservative fighter who fought Obamacare, fought increasing our debt ceiling, even as other Republicans were cutting deals with Obama. She will never back down. One of our own, Michele Bachmann for president.


KING: One of the most intriguing questions as we head into Iowa caucus night tomorrow is what faction of the Republican Party will emerge the strongest? Old guard moderates? Evangelicals? Or the newer conservative Tea Party activists?

At one stop today, Newt Gingrich pointed to Mitt Romney as proof, he says, a more moderate candidate can't build a winning coalition.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The most intriguing thing to me is that after five years of campaigning and what I think will be something like $20 million-plus in total spending, that Romney is proving decisively that the moderate vote is about 23 percent.


KING: Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger joins us now.

We're over at the magic wall.

One of the key questions we begin to answer in Iowa is how different will 2012 be from 2008. Here is the map from 2008. President Obama carried Iowa then. This is the general election. But let's go back and look at the Republican caucuses. Here's my big question for you first.


KING: Here's the middle of the state. This is Mike Huckabee. These are the small towns, rural evangelical voters. If you go into areas, can we say tonight with the split, will the evangelicals be as powerful this cycle as they were in this state last cycle?

BORGER: I think the question also is will as many turn out this cycle as they did last cycle?

Last cycle, 60 percent of the voters around were evangelicals. Some of the polls we're seeing now say only 37 percent or so might be evangelical. I think you would have to say Mike Huckabee -- wouldn't you say, Mike Huckabee brought out the evangelical voters. Now they're not a solid bloc.

A couple of key evangelicals have endorsed Rick Santorum. They're the kind of wind at his back. But we don't know whether they're going to eventually say, OK, we have one horse to ride. And that's Rick Santorum. That's what he wants, but so far that hasn't been the case.

KING: And you do have I will call them older guard, more not country club, but a traditional Chamber of Commerce, moderate, pragmatic, conservative Republican. That was the Romney vote. You see it here. He had the edges in the last election. He's counting. Romney could get this same number this time and actually win the state.

BORGER: Exactly. By the way, that's a lot like the number he seems to be getting in the national polls. That's been his number, 25 percent, 27 percent. Cannot seem to get above it. Doesn't go much below it.

I think they are counting on getting those voters. Again, the question is, will that number be enough to win this time around, right?

KING: It's a key question this time around, is -- this year, 2012.

I want to bring you to the clear map. You see our candidates here. Here's one of the issues here too if you come through here. Here's what we know. The darker the green is where you have a higher level of people in that part of the state. You see the darker here, the dark green, the higher percentage of people who say I affiliate with the Tea Party.

This is what you didn't have in 2008. We have Tea Party and we have the evangelicals, and we have sort of traditional moderate to conservative Republicans. We will learn a lot about intensity in the Republican Party. This is our first test.

BORGER: The question that I have -- and maybe you know the answer to this. I was trying to figure out about Ron Paul and the Tea Party voters.

It seems to me that he would appeal to them on the economic side, but would not appeal to them on the foreign policy side. He could get some Tea Party voters, but not an overwhelming amount. Maybe Newt Gingrich will get a number of Tea Party voters, maybe Santorum.


KING: I think they're split. It's the same as evangelicals. Rick Perry gets some of them too when you go to his events. I think that's the big dynamic, the splintering. Evangelicals are splintered, Tea Party voters splintering.

Tea Party voters splintering. If that holds us tomorrow -- remember, all the candidates make their case at the caucus to try to change people's minds, say come my way. Mitt Romney wins if they keep that splintering.

Just one last thing before we go. I just want to show this up here. Here's Iowa the people. About three million people live in Iowa, 89 percent white. A lot of people say why does this state go first in the process? Five percent Hispanics, about 3 percent African-Americans.

This is what make this great as a political state, turnout, 2008 turnout 118,696. Watch this tomorrow. 2006, 2008, Democrats had the intensity. In 2012, will Republicans have the intensity edge? In 2010 they did. Is this number higher tomorrow night? That's one way of knowing if Republicans are ginned up in this election.

Why do we care about Iowa? It's not just tomorrow. In the last 13 presidential elections, seven times won by Republicans, six times by Democrats. That's your ultimate swing state.

BORGER: I think it's your ultimate swing state. And by the way, 41 percent of them say they're still swinging. They're just not sure who they're going to vote for. They're very persuadable. You know. You go into the caucuses. People talk to you. They could change their mind.

KING: This time tomorrow night, they will be walking into those caucuses.

One of the people we're going to talk tomorrow is a candidate who needs to improve his standing in Iowa by tomorrow night. The Texas governor, Rick Perry, will be right with us tomorrow night. Join us 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow as we lead you into the special caucus coverage.

Also, the evangelicals are critical. The Reverend Franklin Graham keeping a very close eye on presidential politics. He's our live guest right after this break.

And later, one of the country's iconic singers announces life- changing plans for this summer.


KING: On the eve of Iowa's caucuses, one of the biggest questions tonight, whether evangelical voters will unite behind a single candidate on the Republican side or split their vote and risk losing some of their political clout.

Joining us to talk presidential politics tonight and more, the Reverend Franklin Graham.

Reverend Graham, thanks for your time tonight.

If you're an Iowa voter, an evangelical, a born again Christian, and you're torn tonight. Senator Rick Santorum, you agree with him on the issues. Governor Romney, you look at him and you think maybe this guy is a stronger, more electable candidate against President Obama. How would you counsel them? What should they do?

REV. FRANKLIN GRAHAM, SAMARITAN'S PURSE: Well, first, we're voting not for the pastor in chief of the United States. We're voting for the commander in chief.

And I think we have to look at the man or the woman who can best represent our nation, who can lead us economically, militarily. The foreign policy, these things are all very crucial, very important. And, yes, religion is a part of it. It has been a part of process since the beginning of our nation.

A lot of people will vote for someone who they feel is the strongest candidate as it concerns their faith. But I believe we should be for the most qualified person, and we ought to go with that.

KING: That's your approach.

As you know, there are some ministers who would disagree with you, saying the values should be front and center. Regardless, I appreciate your perspective. As you go back to Iowa, Pat Robertson campaigned back there in 1998, put the evangelical vote on the map. It has been a critical constituency in that state ever since, critical in South Carolina.

If you look at Iowa tonight, if you look at our most recent poll, and you ask born again Christians who do you favor, there is a split. Rick Santorum gets a decent slice, the biggest slice right now, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann. Santorum leads, but that's a pretty good split there, a bunch of people in the teens.

Is that a good thing, sir, to have them spread out throughout the candidates or does it dilute the influence of the evangelical voting bloc?

GRAHAM: Well, I don't think this dilutes the influence one bit.

I think, John, again, we're going into a caucus tomorrow. We're in the primaries. There's a lot that will come out, of course, when it is all sifted out. We will find out who -- in the next month most likely who the Republican candidate will be. And then, of course, they will be talking about Obama. And we will see whether the evangelicals will vote for Obama or will they vote for someone else.

But this is part of the process. It is very intriguing. It's interesting. But I am a Christian. We all have to make choices in life and we're getting ready to make choices about who will be our next president. But the greatest choice that a person will have to make in life is, are they going to choose to follow Jesus Christ as their lord and savior?

And for me, as a minister, that's the most important message for me. It's the Gospel, that God loves us, that he gave his son to die for our sins, that he rose from the grave. And to me, this is the message that I'm going to stay focused on.

But, yes, I am concerned about the politicians that are out there that they walk the talk, that they will say -- do what they say they're going to do. And unfortunately a lot of them make a lot of promises and when they get into office, they forget those promises. But the American people I think are fed up with this.

And I think when it comes to the evangelicals, they will be looking for the man or the woman that is best going to represent this nation. We have a very difficult world that we live in. And we have to have a man or a woman who can lead this nation and deal with the complexities that we're facing worldwide.

KING: As you know, sir, there were some evangelical ministers back in 2008 and some in this campaign who have said they could never support Mitt Romney because he's a Mormon. They call that faith, some of them do, a cult.

I want you to listen to -- your take is quite different. Here's an interview you gave to the Christian Broadcasting Network some time ago.


GRAHAM: The fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon doesn't bother me. I think when we're voting for president, we need to get the person who is absolutely the most qualified. You can have the nicest guy and he can could a Christian and just wonderful, but have absolutely no clue as to how to run a country. You don't want that.


KING: If there's an evangelical in Iowa watching tonight, Mitt Romney says, yes, he is a Mormon and a Christian. Do you consider him to be a Christian?

GRAHAM: Well, first of all, I have personally big differences between the Mormon faith and what I believe.

But yet, again, we're not voting for the person who is going to be the pastor in chief of this country. I'm looking for a man or woman who can best lead this nation. And of course, I know all the candidates except Ron Paul. I haven't met him. But the candidates that I have met so far, every one of them I think can be a good president.

KING: I want to ask you, sir, in closing, your dad, the Reverend Billy Graham, was hospitalized a bit back briefly, a bout with pneumonia. How is he doing?

GRAHAM: Oh, I had lunch with him yesterday. He is doing much better. Thank you for asking.

He is recovering and he is getting a little stronger every day. He is 93. So we're just grateful that he is still with us and his mind is so clear and he's getting stronger. Thank you.

KING: We're so glad to hear that.

The Reverend Franklin Graham, thank you so much.

Send along our thoughts and prayers to your father as well, sir. Thanks for your time tonight.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

KING: And this reminder. Tomorrow night, you will want to be right here. The country's first real votes, the candidates' first true test takes place in the Iowa caucuses. We will be live 6:00 p.m. Eastern following the candidates as they make their last-minute efforts in Iowa. Then, at 7:00 p.m., join us for America's Choice 2012, live coverage of the first votes of 2012, the Iowa caucuses.

Congressman Ron Paul on a whistle-stop tour of Iowa today, along with a favorite of the Tea Party conservatives, his son, the senator from Kentucky. Before they climbed aboard the train, they stopped to talk with our Dana Bash and had some surprising criticism of Rick Santorum.

Before we hear from them, though, the very latest on the hunt for the arsonists who set 53 fires across the L.A. area the past 53 days.


KING: Welcome back.


KING: In a moment, we will hear from Congressman Ron Paul and his son Rand Paul taking aim at Senator Rick Santorum.


KING: This half-hour of JOHN KING, USA: the man who could win the Iowa caucuses, Ron Paul, who has the money, the organization, and now help from his son, the U.S. senator who is a Tea Party favorite. We will hear from both of them in just a moment.

Also, the top strategist for the man they're attacking -- we will ask what's ahead for Rick Santorum's suddenly surging campaign.

And in Washington state, an important find tonight in the hunt for a killer.

Just now, though, on a campaign stop in Iowa, both Rick Santorum and his wife broke down while discussing their son, Gabriel, who lived only a short time after being born.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... for all of us was that it was so important to recognize for the family, to recognize the life of that child. And for all the children to know that they had a brother and sister. And they did.


KING: You see a very emotional Rick Santorum there.

A very different Ron Paul today on the stump: more candidate, less professorial. Plus, he had a partner on the trail today, his son, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

CNN senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, tonight, where she caught up with both of them early this afternoon.

Dana, let's start with what the congressman said about Rick Santorum. Let's listen.


DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rick Santorum is a former senator. You know what it's like to serve in the Senate. You know what it's like to serve in the Congress. Why wouldn't he be a good Republican nominee?

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because he's very liberal. And he... BASH: Rick Santorum is liberal?

RON PAUL: Have you ever looked at his records? Go look at his record. I mean...

BASH: Why is he a liberal?

RON PAUL: He spends too much money. I mean, he wasn't leading the charge to slash the budgets and vote against big government.

BASH: What do you think?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Well, he voted to double the size of the Department of Education. He voted to expand Medicare and add free drugs for senior citizens. And he's voted for foreign aid. Those are not conservative principles. Seventy-seven percent of the American people are opposed to foreign aid, and Rick Santorum voted for it every time it's come down.


KING: Polite words there, Dana. Polite tone. But that's essentially saying to any Tea Party voter out there, don't vote for Rick Santorum.

BASH: There's no question about it. You can probably tell, I almost fell over when they called Rick Santorum liberal.

But Rand Paul, actually, they just wrapped up an event where I am here. And Rand Paul took what he just told me in an interview to the stump, which he did not do earlier today. He didn't say Rick Santorum's name, but it was very clear who he was talking about and very interesting that it was Ron Paul who, of course, is a Tea Party favorite, who gave that message instead of his father.

Look, they are very worried about Rick Santorum. There's no question about it. And they should be. I talked to several voters earlier today, and here, John, who said that they voted for Mike Huckabee or others last time, and now they are now deciding between Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.

KING: And you tried to get Ron Paul to put to rest, finally, this question. If he doesn't win the Republican nomination, would he consider running as a libertarian or some other third-party candidate? Get an answer?

BASH: Sort of. I tried to ask him, because actually, I was told by his campaign that they really felt that there was no question in their minds that he was not going to leave the party. So I tried to ask him. He maybe went a little bit further. You decide. Take a listen.


BASH: Once and for all, if you do not succeed in this Republican contest -- contest, will you continue to be a Republican? RON PAUL: I have no plans doing that. Tomorrow is a big day. We're going to see what happens, but I have no intention of doing that. No plans and no desire, and flat out I don't want to.

BASH: OK. Before you've been a little bit circumspect. You have -- you've run as a libertarian before.

RON PAUL: Right. And I've never spoken in absolutes. I mean, I have no plans of -- no intention of doing it. And I would not see myself doing that.


BASH: Now, for now, obviously, they are very much focused on getting out as many voters to the caucus sites across the state as possible tomorrow. I'm still -- I'm hearing from Republicans, John, who are affiliated with other campaigns that they are amazed at how wonderful, frankly, that they say the Ron Paul organization is. We'll see if that actually bears out tomorrow.

But in terms of the long term, there's no question. I'm sure you talked to Republicans who are worried, as well, just as I am, that Ron Paul will continue on long into the -- into the spring and summer, even further, even if he runs as a Republican or as an independent. He could really hurt whomever the Republican nominee is, because still, nobody thinks, even if he does well here in New Hampshire, that he will ultimately be the nominee.

KING: A fascinating player here, 24 hours from the vote in Iowa. Dana Bash, both Ron Paul and the big help you got from Rand Paul today, Dana. Thank you.

And with us, let's put the question from Iowa to three of CNN's top political contributors: Republican consultant Alex Castellanos; Erick Erickson, editor in chief of the conservative political blog and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.

I want to start with you, Alex, in the sense that there are new rules this time. And they're pretty complex, too. In the old days you win a state in the Republican primaries and caucuses, you win the state and you get all the delegates. Now there will be some proportional rules, so winner gets most. But if you're Ron Paul, you're coming in a strong second and a strong third, there is every incentive now to stay in the race to get to the convention in Tampa and to be for the Republicans maybe what Jesse Jackson was for the Democrats back in the '80s. And if you're the nominee, that word would be nuisance. No?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think that's right. If you're Ron Paul, you want to speak at the Republican convention. You want that national audience. You want to have some impact on the platform that the party and the Republican candidate are going to carry into the general election. So you hang in there a long time.

If you're Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry, even if you lose to Santorum in Iowa, you want to wait and see if he collapses in two weeks like Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich did. You might stay in. So I think there's an incentive for all these candidates to hang around a while.

KING: Donna, let me bring the Democrat into the conversation. This is the first vote tomorrow. The very first vote. President Obama is unopposed. If you're the Democrat, you ran Al Gore's campaign. So you know the notepad David Axelrod has. He's taking notes tomorrow night. What is your biggest question when you watch the Republicans? Is it turnout and intensity? Is it whether the evangelicals split? If you're team Obama and you're trying to figure out what lesson do we need to learn, what's at the top of the list?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, there's no question they're going to look at the organization of the top three candidates to see how well they did in turning out their voters.

Although President Obama is unopposed on the Democratic side, as you all know, he has teams of organizers here, because this is, after all, a very competitive state in the general election. So they intend to do a dry run tomorrow.

Also in the Democratic precinct caucuses to ensure that the organization, their voters are enthusiastic, and that they understand the importance of this state in the general election.

But I want to say one thing about the rules on the Republican side. Because of course, as a Democrat, I like the rules. Because this time there's no winner take all until what? April. That means that half the delegates will not be chosen until sometime in mid- March, early April. That gives candidates like Ron Paul and perhaps Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich a second chance if they don't do well tomorrow night.

KING: A second chance. Erick Erickson -- go ahead.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. We're treating this as almost the Super Bowl. It seems like every campaign season the media treats Iowa as the Super Bowl. Really, this year this really is the preseason. We've got proportional delegate -- proportional representation of the delegates. We're going to go into South Carolina. Some of them are going to skip New Hampshire. I mean, I think we're going on get 10 or 11 real delegates out of Iowa, New Hampshire, and then 75, and then into April we'll finally get all the delegates.

KING: But as you know, if you have a long race, if you have Obama-Clinton, if you have Obama-Clinton, then it becomes about delegates. If you don't, though, it can often become about momentum. If Mitt Romney comes in first or a very strong second in Iowa and then goes on and wins New Hampshire, does momentum win this race? Not delegates?

CASTELLANOS: I think it does. I think -- I think Romney could effectively win this whole thing tomorrow. And, you know, what this means is if he wins Iowa, he could win Iowa with fewer votes than he lost with last time. That springboards him into New Hampshire, which is a home game for him. That's a state where he's lived and nearly been governor. Next door to Massachusetts.

Then all he has to do is endure South Carolina with still having all these other Republican candidates in the field a little bit. Get to Florida, where he bounces back. And I think that's the end of the game. So there's a pretty clear path for him.

ERICKSON: We can't underestimate the money factor here, because they're going to -- it's going to take a while to sustain it. If Mitt Romney is sweeping through these early states, no one is going to give these other candidates money. We've seen their campaign donations rise and fall with her poll numbers. And if they're all bottoming out, then why does anyone want to invest in these candidates?

CASTELLANOS: Yes. Florida is an expensive state just to lose in, much less to mount a comeback against Mitt Romney.

KING: And Donna, you want this to drag on a good long time, right?

BRAZILE: ... handful of candidates. Absolutely. Look, on the Democratic side, it really helped President Obama to have a long process, because throughout the entire season, of course, Democrats did a lot of work and registered new voters, so it really helped us in the fall.

KING: Alex, Donna, Erick, thank you for your insights tonight. They'll be part of our big team tomorrow night. And you be sure to join us tomorrow night for the country's first real votes. We've been talking about this a long time. The candidates' first true test takes place 24 hours from now. The Iowa caucuses will be live at 6 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. Then at 7 p.m. join us at for America's choice, 2012 live coverage of the Iowa caucuses.

Coming up here, is Santorum the latest GOP flash in the pan or is he the one? We'll dig deeper in tonight's "Truth." Plus, a routine traffic stop turns deadly in Washington state. New details on the manhunt for a killer.


KING: Rick Santorum is the man of the moment, and the candidate with momentum as Iowa prepares to officially open Campaign 2012. Here's the question. Is Senator Santorum the latest GOP flash in the pan, or is he the one? As in the contender to emerge as the serious and lasting conservative alternative to Mitt Romney?

Senator Santorum relishes the challenge, though no one paid much attention when he took aim earlier in the campaign.


SANTORUM: You just don't have credibility, Mitt, when it come to repealing Obama care. Your -- your plan was the basis for Obama care. Your consultants helped Obama craft Obama care, and to say that you're going to repeal it, you just -- you have no track record on that that we can trust you that you're going to do that.


KING: Well, people are paying attention now. And here's tonight's "Truth."

Senator Santorum has the potential and the background to be more than Mike Huckabee. That is, more than a candidate confined to a Christian conservative evangelical base. But it won't be easy. Senator Santorum is way behind Governor Romney when it comes to money and organization and truth is, the bigger Santorum challenge is getting back to his blue-collar political roots and becoming less defined as a culture warrior.


SANTORUM: If you think about it, having that strong foundation of the faith and family allows America to be in a position where we can be more free. We can be free because we are good, decent, moral people.


KING: Now don't get me wrong: a big factor in the Santorum surge in Iowa is that evangelicals don't question this commitment to opposing abortion and opposing same-sex marriage. Try a quick Internet search, on the other hand, and you will see liberals mock him for saying things like this to the Associated Press back in 2003 on why, in his view, marriage must be defined as a bond between a man and a woman, period. This is Senator Santorum.

Quote, "It is not, you know, man on child, man on dog or whatever the case may be. It is one thing."

Now Senator Santorum knows he cannot succeed as a one-dimensional candidate. Evangelicals are hard to find in New Hampshire, for example. And to emerge as a lasting earn in places like Florida and Arizona, Santorum will need to prove he can go head to head with Romney and President Obama on the economy.

The challenge is enormous. But it would be a mistake to dismiss Santorum out of hand.

For starters, the appetite on the right for an alternate to Romney is considerable. Plus, back at the beginning of his political career, Santorum was much more a blue-collar struggle candidate than about culture wars. He's the grandson of an immigrant coal miner. He first came to Congress after upsetting a seven-term incumbent back in 1990 to win a blue-collar western Republican House district. You'll hear more about steel mills and jobs as Senator Santorum moves on from Iowa. Will he lead the leading presidential contender? That's improbable, yes. But is it impossible?

Most people talking on television tonight would say, yes, it's impossible. But the truth is, it's finally the voter's turn. And sometimes the voters surprise us. Let's dig deeper on the Santorum surge in the final hours of the Iowa campaign with John Brabender. He's Senator Santorum's senior strategist. With me here in the CNN Election Center, longtime Christian conservative activist and organizer, Ralph Reed.

John, let's go right out to you first. I want you to listen here. I don't pretend to have been ahead of this, but if we were out there in Iowa back in November -- back in November, we started to pick up the inklings of something. Listen here.


KING: If there is a big surprise this year -- emphasis on if -- conservative activists in this state do say keep an eye on Senator Santorum.


KING: How did you do it?

JOHN BRABENDER, SENIOR STRATEGIST, RICK SANTORUM CAMPAIGN: Well, I think what's happened's people has had an opportunity to look at all the candidates and what they bring to the table. And I think there's two things that Rick Santorum has shown that -- has demonstrated consistently, is why he's rising.

No. 1, he's a trusted conservative. He's not somebody in conservative rhetoric only. He's not somebody who used to be very liberal and now says they're a conservative. His rhetoric and his actions match.

I think the second thing is, as you know, there's a strong desire in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Republicans all over this country to defeat Barack Obama. And I think when they started to look at the resumes of all the candidates, they realized that Rick Santorum actually has that resume. Not only does he have the conservative credentials, but he's one of the only people in this race with the extensive foreign policy, particularly in the area of Iran. He's the only one here in this race that has really overhauled an entitlement program, which did he with welfare.

He took on his own party leaders to fight for a balanced budget amendment. He -- the "Washington Post" described him as a Tea Party guy before the Tea Party even existed, because he fought corruption and waste in Washington.

So I think what people are understanding is it will take a unique candidate to beat Barack Obama. Not somebody like Mitt Romney, who helped pass -- you know, wrote Romney care or Obama care. Not somebody, you know, like Perry who has no foreign policy experience. Rick Santorum is uniquely positioned.

In fact, the only thing that people say is holding him back is he doesn't have as much money as the other people, and that shouldn't be the criteria. Although I will say this. If anybody wants to help, all they've got to do is go to KING: Why did I -- why did I know that was coming? Why am I surprised that that came in?

Ralph Reed, you made your name back in the late '80s with the Christian Coalition. But you're also plugged into other conservatives around the country. Is Rick Santorum viewed as a credible lasting conservative alternative to Mitt Romney?

RALPH REED, FAITH AND FREEDOM COALITION: Well, I don't want to juxtapose him against somebody else. But let me say this. He is a serious substantive candidate. You know, 16 years in the Congress, served in leadership in the Senate. John just mentioned some of his many credentials.

I mean, John, he was the author of the most sweeping reform of an entitlement program since the Great Depression and welfare reform. He carried the partial-birth abortion bill in the Senate over multiple Congresses and over multiple Clinton vetoes. He's somebody of real policy substance. He's been talking about Iran for years, not just since they were on the verge of having a weapon.

So we'll see what happens tomorrow night. But if, as I expect, he over-performs, even the expectation that's we see in "The Des Moines Register" poll, the Public Policy Polling poll which came out today, which basically shows a three-way tie at the top. If he can raise the money, build the organization and not run too far ahead his supply lines, you may see Rick Santorum in this race for a long time.

KING: And another guy we'll see, John Brabender, for a while is Ron Paul, who sees your candidate clearly as a threat. Listen to this conversation he had with Dana Bash earlier today, where he says Rick Santorum is no conservative.


RON PAUL: He's very liberal. And he...

BASH: Rick Santorum is liberal?

RON PAUL: Have you ever looked at his records? Go look at his record. I mean...

BASH: Why is he a liberal?

RON PAUL: He spends too much money. I mean, he wasn't leading the charge to slash the budgets and vote against big government.


KING: He did have, he was an earmarker, John Brabender, when he was in the Senate and the House. And he did vote for the Medicare prescription drug benefit, which to a lot of conservatives, Tea Party voters, they say Ralph just mentioned he'd reformed welfare. To many people, that was a very wasteful entitlement.

BRABENDER: Yes, well, first of all, Rick Santorum said that what they should have done with that is paid for it. He thought that the program is good. In fact, if you look the program has officially run, it's come way under budget.

On the earmarks, Rick Santorum has said that, now that we know about all the abuses that have happened, he agreed with people that they had to shut those things down. Rick Santorum has a plan that greatly reduces spending.

As a member of Congress in one year, in fact, he introduced more legislation, original bills cutting the deficit than any other member of Congress. You know, you listen to Ron Paul, talked about describing Rick Santorum as a liberal, I think most people would use that as evidence that they probably need to start random drug testing in that -- in Congress.

Because if there's anybody that has serious conservative credentials that the conservatives rally behind because of everything he's done to help families, on national defense, and as a fiscal conservative, it's Rick Santorum.

KING: I want to ask you, John, a question, and during your answer, Ralph and I are going to walk over to the map, because I want to point something out. But when you look at Mitt Romney, and John and Rick Santorum -- excuse me -- on the economy, John, what is the most significant difference in your view that you will make as you move from Iowa into New Hampshire?

BRABENDER: Manufacturing. What -- what people have to understand is that this country is never going to have a strong economy again and be a superpower economically again, unless we make a real commitment to bring manufacturing back to America.

Not only does it hurt us from a job standpoint that we've sent so much manufacturing to China and other places. It's beginning to be a national security risk.

Rick Santorum's manufacturing plan takes the tax rate to 0 to companies that bring back manufacturing jobs from overseas back to here. Obama's plan is to create more government jobs, temporary, public works programs, those types of things. Those are temporary Band-Aid fixes. Rick Santorum's manufacturing plan will really restart the economy of this country.

And believe me you put the American people on an even playing field, getting rid of regulations, getting rid of high taxes that are job crushers. Put them on an even keel, even playing field. We'll beat anybody on jobs and creating products here.

KING: Ralph, you hear John make the case "we'll beat anybody on jobs." That will be the challenge. Because we're looking at the 2008 Iowa map here. This orange in the middle, that's Mike Huckabee. Those small, rural towns where you find the Christian conservatives, the evangelicals, and today where you find the Tea Party votes. Huckabee did that here, and he beats Romney in Iowa.

But if you come out to the map and you move on from there, you go up to New Hampshire next. You'll notice, there's not a lot of orange up there. You pull out here, Huckabee did very poorly in New Hampshire. You have independents, more moderates, more libertarians. But you don't find your Christian conservative voters here.

Now you do down in South Carolina. But even down in South Carolina last time, McCain was able to eke out a win, in large part because of Thompson's numbers.

What is the challenge? If you're viewed and identified as the Christian conservative candidate coming out of Iowa, how do you pivot into a broader-based coalition Republican candidate?

REED: Well, I think you just turned, John, talking about how he plans to do it. I mean, in Iowa, you're going to have probably tomorrow night, John, you're going to have somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of caucus attenders will be self-identified evangelicals.

When you get to New Hampshire, that number is going to fall to 12 to 17 percent. Then you have Santorum. Let's assume he does well tomorrow night. If he hangs in there in New Hampshire and puts together a credible showing, he then goes to South Carolina. And there you're going to have about 45 percent of the vote is evangelical.

Now, here's what's interesting about this historically. What would happen if a Roman Catholic, somebody who I don't know that he would self-identify this way. But a John Paul Catholic, if you would, John Paul I Catholic becomes the favorite of the evangelicals.

Now here's the danger for Santorum if we can go ahead to South Carolina. If you look at the South Carolina '08 results, what you're going to see is Huckabee losing by only 15,000 votes in a state where Fred Thompson got almost 70,000. Now what happened...

KING: Michele Bachmann will still be there waiting for him.

REED: Right. And if you look at the red up here, which is Greenville, Spartanburg, over here to the far -- my far left, that's where, that's where -- this is where Thompson -- really, essentially, I don't want to say took Huckabee.

KING: That's where he started getting the high teens.

REED: This is what Romney is hoping for. He's hoping that he can win New Hampshire. Go to South Carolina. And you'll have '08 redux. You'll have Perry, Gingrich, Bachmann and Santorum all splitting that social conservative vote.

KING: That's fascinating. Votes start tomorrow. Ralph Reed, thanks for joining us and helping. John Brabender, thanks, as well. We'll watch the Santorum campaign in Iowa tomorrow.

Ahead here, one of the most famous fight scenes in movie history. Next, why "Star Wars" is making a comeback in this campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Welcome back. This is Lisa Sylvester with the latest news you need to know right now -- Lisa.


Well, national park officials confirm a man found dead in Mt. Rainier National Park is 24-year-old Benjamin Colton Barnes, who was wanted in yesterday's shooting death of a park ranger. CNN affiliate KCPQ reports Barnes also was wanted in connection with a New Year's Eve shooting outside Seattle that injured four people.

And remember the light saber fights in the second and third "Star Wars" movies? Yes. Well, the guy in the Darth Vader costume for those fights was actually Bob Anderson, a one-time Olympic fencer who taught generations of actors how to sword fight. Well, Anderson died yesterday. He was 89 years old -- John.

KING: That's sad. I liked those movies. Lisa Sylvester, thank you.

Finally, here's a moment you may have missed. On New Year's Eve we started seeing tweets from someone named Rupert Murdoch. Well, today News Corporation officials confirmed yes, it's the Rupert Murdoch. He already has more than 65,000 followers. Among the 17 tweets so far, thoughts about movies, books and, of course, politics. Here's one: "Good to see Santorum surging in Iowa. Regardless of policies all debates show principles, consistency and humility like no other."

Rick Santorum winning the FOX primary. We'll see how he does in the Iowa caucuses, 24 hours from now. Expect to see you right back here tomorrow night at 6. and then join us for "America's Choice," our live coverage of Iowa the first votes in 2012. We'll see you then.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" takes it away right now.