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JOHN KING, USA

Interview With Iowa Senator Charles Grassley; Interview With U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; Mad Cow Disease in U.S.; Five States Hold Primaries

Aired April 24, 2012 - 18:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm John King.

Tonight: a confirmed case of mad cow disease in California. We will ask the agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, if your health is at risk.

Stunning testimony in the John Edwards trial. A former top aide details tens of thousands in hush money payments and the nasty language the one-time presidential hopeful allegedly used when told his mistress was pregnant.

And less drama, but still a turning point tonight in the presidential campaign. Mitt Romney banking on five more wins tonight and Newt Gingrich the latest challenger GOP to talk about packing it in.

Let's begin tonight with a breaking public health scare: a confirmed case of mad cow disease in California that has the Agriculture Department here in Washington on full alert. The fatal brain disease not only can be passed among cattle. Scientists think an equally deadly variation can be transmitted to humans who eat contaminated beef or dairy products.

Today's report, the first confirmed case here in the United States in six years.

Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, joins us from the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Elizabeth, one of the reasons people get so scared about this is the potential. What does this mean for the food supply?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, for this one cow, this really doesn't -- this one cow doesn't have that much importance for our food supply. The USDA doesn't appear to be panicked, even critics of the USDA don't appear to be panicked.

The reason why is this cow was never going to be eaten. This is a dairy cow. And experts say milk of an infected cow is not infectious. You can't get the disease from drinking the milk -- John.

KING: Elizabeth, how did they find out that this cow was sick?

COHEN: We don't know in this case but usually what happens is a cow stumbles around and so they then examine the cow and find out they're sick or perhaps the cow has died unexpectedly and then they find out upon examination that the cow is sick.

KING: And you know firsthand what can happen if someone, if, it's a big if, eats infected meat and gets the human form of mad cow disease. Tell us about the woman you interviewed.

COHEN: Right. In 2006, I entered a woman named Charlene who contracted mad cow disease in the United Kingdom but didn't know it. She didn't get sick immediately. She came to this country. You can see her there. She was incredibly ill and she died just a few months after we did that story.

The median incubation period for this disease is 15 years, so you eat the infected meat and 15 years pass until you have your symptoms. Then once you're sick, there is really nothing that doctors can do. It was devastating to see this woman, John.

KING: Elizabeth Cohen for us on this live breaking news, Elizabeth, thanks so much.

COHEN: Thanks.

KING: In about 10 minutes we will have an exclusive conversation with the agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack. He will answer your questions about mad cow disease and your health, as well as talk about the impact on the country's beef and dairy industries. An exclusive interview you will only here in just a few moments.

Now to some other news breaking this hour, still more resignations in the Secret Service prostitution scandal.

CNN senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash has the latest details on that -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John.

Tonight, two more Secret Service members have been forced to resign. One is -- had his security clearance permanently revoked, which effectively means that his career would ultimately be over if that stays. And two were cleared of serious charges.

So what this means is that the Secret Service investigation of the 12 members of its organization that were a part of the initial investigation, they have all been dealt with. So let me give you a broad picture of the fallout from the Secret Service scandal in Colombia; 12 have been investigated. Eight all told have been forced out.

One as I said is in the process of being forced out. That's what happens when you lose your security clearance, although he could appeal. Three all told have been cleared of serious charges but they could face -- two of them at least could face lesser sanctions or punishment. So this is -- they certainly move swiftly inside the Secret Service to deal with this, maybe not as swiftly as some would have liked, but no matter how you look at it, it is not a good day, not a good couple of weeks for this agency.

KING: The follow-up question to that point. The congressional hearings are coming pretty soon.

Has the swiftness of the investigation convinced people that the management of the agency, the Secret Service, has its act together?

BASH: So far the answer is yes.

I got to tell you being in Washington for a long time as you have as well, it's stunning. Usually, the way scandals work here in Washington is people here in Congress they immediately call for somebody at the helm of the agency to go. Not in the case of Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan.

I have talked to Democrats and Republicans at the top of the key committees, House and Senate. To a person, they say for right now they feel confident that he is the right person to stay in this job, but the investigations here in Congress, they're just starting, John.

KING: Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash with more new breaking details on that investigation. Dana, thanks. We will have more on this story at the bottom of the hour.

But now moving on to stinging new testimony in the trial of John Edwards. He's accused of illegally using campaign money to hide his mistress' pregnancy at a time he was running for president. A former aide took the stand again today and this time recounting the moment John Edwards found out about the pregnancy.

That witness, Andrew Young, excuse my language here, this is from testimony, says his boss called the mistress a "crazy slut" and said there was just a one in three chance the child was his.

Our senior correspondent, Joe Johns, was in the courtroom in Greensboro today.

Joe, as you listened to Andrew Young's testimony, what was the most damaging part?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, that certainly was the most memorable, I think, from the entire day, because it shows a callous side of John Edwards, but, on the other hand, there was some testimony from Andrew Young that really sort of suggested John Edwards was living in a dream world, believing that all of this information about, you know, his girlfriend, the baby and so on was just going to blow over, if you will.

A good example of that came around December 14. This is something Andrew Young testified to. He said that when he was asked if John Edwards was kept apprised of all the money that was coming in to pay to cover up this affair, he said, no, we sort of talked in code. And Edwards really didn't want to know about it in case he had to be sworn in as attorney general.

So that sort of shows you the state of mind, if you believe Andrew Young, that John Edwards was in at the time leading right up to the 2008 primary in Iowa, you know, the caucuses in Iowa and the primaries, by the way, John.

KING: That's stunning testimony as the trial continues. We will keep in touch with Joe Johns as it does. Joe, thanks so much.

You might recall we once had tonight circled on the calendar as a major showdown night in the Republican race. Republicans Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum facing off in Santorum's home state of Pennsylvania. Well, as most of you know, Senator Santorum now gone from the race, so, yes, there is less drama. But it's nonetheless a major turning point in the race.

Five states are voting today, you see them right up here, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Here's why it matters. Let's look up here. Let's come up and take a look at this. Governor Romney enters the night by our estimate at CNN, 695 delegates, just short of 700. Needs to get to 1,144. If you notice, Speaker Gingrich is still in the race. He's in the 140s somewhere. Ron Paul still in the race and he is only half that. Santorum now out of the race.

So Governor Romney with an overwhelming lead. Let me clear the board. We are assuming Governor Romney will win roughly two-thirds of the delegates tonight. If that happens, here's what happens. If he wins all five states tonight, he gets to 875. Not all the way to the finish line, but look how much ahead of Speaker Gingrich and Congressman Paul. So much ahead that Speaker Gingrich is now saying that if he doesn't win Delaware or do very, very well in Delaware tonight, read that as a very close second, he will reassess his candidacy.

Governor Romney is in New Hampshire tonight. That's the signal for the general election. They're not voting tonight -- Speaker Gingrich now talking about getting out.

A quick point, Governor Romney can't get to this magic number, can't get there mathematically, until the end of may. But you see he could get very close tonight.

Since he can get so close, let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, on how tonight, Gloria, not drama, we're not looking to see if someone can be beat. However, it gets Romney -- if any Republicans doubt the inevitability, they will wake up tomorrow morning with not much of an answer.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I think it won't be a surprise to wake up and say Mitt Romney did very well.

He is the presumptive Republican nominee, although Newt Gingrich doesn't like when we use that word. But also I think when we look at the results tonight, we can also see among Republicans whether there still remains kind of a hard core, anti-Romney constituency out there. Let's see if he gets real supermajorities out there, because that would be one way to say, OK, the party may indeed be starting to unite around Mitt Romney and look towards the general election.

KING: And the fact that he is in New Hampshire, a small state when it comes to the Electoral College, but as we go through the electoral map, I can give you a scenario in which a New Hampshire or an Iowa or a state of that size could decide the election. Governor Romney essentially trying to start again. To go back to the big first primary he won and to frame the general election with a message of jobs, jobs, jobs, no more Obama.

BORGER: We have been talking a lot about the pivot this week and that seems to be our favorite phrase. And, yes, he's pivoting to the general election, to talking about women, for example, where he's not doing well, Hispanic voters not doing well, young voters on the student loan issue today where Romney is not doing well.

So, you know, he is kind of moving to say, OK, these are where I need to shore up my support. We have also learned today that some time in early May, Mitt Romney is going to meet with Rick Santorum. Hopefully, he can shore up his support within his own party and get the base enthusiastic.

KING: Delicate balance. Work on your right to shore up the issues while also trying to get a little bit more support in the center.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Right, and seeming authentic at the same time. Right?

KING: If you don't think there's drama in the voting tonight, very much worth listening to Governor Romney tonight just for the tone, the tone he brings to see if there's a pivot there.

Gloria, thank you.

In a moment, we will return to tonight's breaking news and we will ask the agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, about the first U.S. case of mad cow disease in six years.

And later, a top Republican senator who is unhappy with the investigation that cleared White House aides of any wrongdoing in that Secret Service sex scandal.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: More now on a breaking public health story we told you about first at the top of the hour, the U.S. Agriculture department confirms a case of mad cow disease in central California, the first case here in the United. States in six years.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is with us exclusively. Let me start with a very simple question. How did you find this cow?

TOM VILSACK, U.S. SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE: Basically, John, tests were run. We confirmed tests, and this was a cow that was not going to go in the food system. We basically took it out of the food system and made sure that it was going to go rendering.

So, very rare circumstance. I can assure you and everyone who's watching this tonight that our food supply is safe and will continue to be safe.

KING: Now, people hear mad cow disease and they get a bit of fear, and justifiably so. When you say you're sure that this is one cow that was not going to be slaughtered for meat purposes, it's one. But what do they scientists tell you? If there's one, does that mean there's two, or do you not know the answer to that?

VILSACK: The reason why I'm certain about this is that we've taken steps since 2004 to assure that the types of products from animals that could potentially be the cause of mad cow disease in humans are not in the food system to begin with. We've taken out the brain, we've taken out the spinal column. None of that goes into the food system, so I'm very, very confident that we have a very safe supply of food here in the United States.

KING: What do we know about how and where?

VILSACK: California, a dairy operation. This is an atypical case, which means it is not connected in any way, shape, or form, to feed. We have a feed band, so that's reassuring. In very rare circumstances and situations, it can just sort of come up and pop up. Sometimes it's genetic. But in any event, this particular animal is contained and will be destroyed.

KING: Help somebody watching that might not understand the science here. You have - this is a dairy cow, so it was not going to be in the meat supply, if you will, but if somebody out there says, "Why? Why should I trust you say the food supply -" How do you know? How do you know?

VILSACK: We know because of taking out of the feed and out of the food supply those parts of the animal that could potentially cause the mad cow disease in humans. It's taken out to begin with. It's not put into the slaughter process, it's taken out.

And the same thing is true with dairy products. We know that those are safe as well.

People need to be reassured, John. Every time I hear one of these stories, I obviously think of an American family sitting down, and we want them to continue to be safe and secure about their food supply. I also think about that farm family who has to have the backing of the American public.

They know that their job and responsibility is to make sure the food is safe.

KING: As you know, both from your current job and your prior job as a governor, when these things have come up in the past, sometimes our trading partners have, in the view of the United States, and in the view of those farmers, overreacted, by putting bans on U.S. meat and other warnings, and the like.

What communications are happening to make sure that, if you're right about this and it's a small isolated case, that there's not a panic in the market, if you will.

VILSACK: Well, first of all, this is only the fourth case reported worldwide. And we've seen a substantial reduction in the number of cases. We've taken the steps of notifying our Canadian and Mexican partners in North America, and we've also taken the step of taking a look at our top 20 trading partners and reassuring them that this is the way the system is supposed to work. We're supposed to identify these circumstances and make sure that they don't get in the food supply.

So, our trading partners should be reassured, the domestic markets were reassured once they found out that it wasn't going to get in the food supply, the markets rebounded. And I think we're going to be in good shape tomorrow.

KING: Was this cow tested as part of a government program or did this dairy operator come to you and say "I think I have a problem"?

VILSACK: Well, this cow probably - evidence, indications or signs it gave people a sense of concern, and the testing went into place. We routinely test throughout the country, and the results, obviously, indicated the possibility. We then went through two confirmatory tests to make sure we were right about this. We're also going to send the results to the international OIE standards, as part of our agreement with international processes, to make sure that everybody understands it's a very transparent process, and that we are doing what we're supposed to do.

KING: As we speak tonight, you are 100 percent certain, no threat to the food supply.

VILSACK: I am going home. And I'm having beef tonight for dinner. And that's no lie.

KING: Mr. Secretary, I appreciate your time with us. Thank you for coming in.

VILSACK: You bet.

KING: Thank you, sir.

Tomorrow brings another major showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court. We will preview the fight over Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigration.

But, first, pictures you won't want to miss. A baby girl grows up right before your eyes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK) KING: Nine of the 12 Secret Service members implicated in the sex scandal now being forced out of the agency -- coming up, a senator who is not happy with a separate investigation that found no wrongdoing by White House aides.

Plus, explosive allegations that, get this, the New Orleans Saints bugged the opponents' locker room.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This half-hour: President Obama tonight calling the Secret Service members in the prostitution scandal "a couple of knuckleheads." That's not enough to satisfy a top Republican who wants to know if there's a White House link. We will ask him just what he's looking for.

And did the New Orleans Saints know the secrets of opposing coaches? We have the eavesdropping allegations that are rocking the NFL team.

Plus, President Obama and Mitt Romney zero in on young voters -- the truth about how they could rock the election.

New developments tonight: nine Secret Service members now essentially out of a job, that in the aftermath of a scandal involving soliciting prostitutes in Colombia.

Reports of the latest resignations came shortly after President Obama waded back into this controversy, telling the late-night host Jimmy Fallon when it comes to the men that protect him and his family -- quote -- "Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of them every day they put their life on the line. They do a great job. So a couple of knuckleheads shouldn't detract from what they do, but what those guys were thinking, I don't know. That's why they're not there anymore."

But one prominent Republican senator wants more answers from the White House, especially about the internal White House investigation the White House says cleared any of their staff of any wrongdoing. The ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, joins us now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, it's good to see you. The White House counsel's office said, when the Secret Service allegations came out -- and some military people were also allegedly involved in this -- that they went and they checked out with the staff. They say they have checked this out internally. No staff members had any involvement at all.

Why is that not acceptable?

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: It's not -- hopefully will be acceptable. But it hasn't been made public yet. It seems to me that that information ought to be public, particularly from a president who said three years ago when he was sworn in he was going to have the most transparent administration of any in history.

The other thing is I think it's very legitimate to have independent inspector, for instance, Homeland Security to go over that, because I think this is so serious, when it comes to national security, when it comes to the level of the presidency, of being protected, we need to know what the facts are and what the investigation is.

Now it is -- it seemed to me that this was kind of a hasty investigation, considering the fact that nobody was concerned about it until I wrote my letter Friday night, so they had Sunday -- Saturday and Sunday to do it, announced yesterday that everything was OK. I hope everything is OK. I hope these guys are a few knuckleheads.

But we've got to be certain that this isn't something that goes deeper into the culture of the Secret Service.

KING: Well, your chairman, Democrat Pat Leahy of Vermont, says the White House checked this out. You should take them at their word, and the fact that you don't and that you want more, he suggests, has something to do with your being a Republican and the president being a Democrat.

Listen here, sir.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: There are probably some disappointed that the White House is not involved. But having more investigations is not going to find somebody who was involved, when nobody was involved. Let's get this out of the politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: John...

KING: Is he playing politics, Senator?

GRASSLEY: John, my answer to that is I think you know my reputation of 25 or more years of oversight work. Checking on administrations. And I'm an equal opportunity overseer. And I take on Republican presidents just as much as I take on Democrat presidents. In fact, probably take on Republican presidents more than that Democrat presidents. So that's a cheap political shot.

KING: If the White House council called you and said, "Senator, this is a personnel matter. This is sensitive information. This is private information. We did ask everybody. We did check. Come on down, I'll give you a briefing. I'll tell you exactly how I did it and show you some of the work product, but we don't want to release the names. We don't want" -- would that be enough for you?

GRASSLEY: I feel better if people other than Chuck Grassley that are experts on investigation would -- that are known for their independence would make that judgment, as opposed to my being told something. I think that that's very important that we have that independence and that expertise. KING: You're going to have the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, at the judiciary committee for a hearing tomorrow. She, of course, oversees the Secret Service. It was moved from treasury into her department after 9/11.

What's your biggest question, Senator? And as you answer, are you satisfied that Director Sullivan has moved quickly in dealing with this?

GRASSLEY: At this point, yes. And I was very satisfied a week ago today when I got my first briefing about what he was doing, and I'm satisfied with what he's done since. My kind of benchmark on this gets back to the inspector general. I usually ask a lot of investigators. To what extent are they going to have the inspectors general of the various departments involved? In this case homeland security. And he said, well, we already have them involved.

Now there's some question raised to what extent. Is he just going by what the Secret Service says, or is he doing his own independent investigation? And I expect the latter, and that's what I'm going to try to get out of secretary -- the secretary tomorrow.

KING: Senator Chuck Grassley, we'll follow that here, and tomorrow night we'll continue this conversation in the days ahead. Appreciate your time tonight, sir.

There's new trouble for the NFL franchise the New Orleans Saints. The FBI and the Louisiana state police want to know -- get this -- if the team's general manager rigged a Super Dome suite so he'd be able to eavesdrop on rival teams' coaches.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is following all of this. Stunning developments.

Ed, a Saints spokesman says these allegations are, quote, "1,000 percent false," but you have both a state and federal investigation, right?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. In fact we've spoken with state -- the state police in Louisiana. They tell us they're joining an FBI investigation looking into these allegations.

And all of this stems from an ESPN report suggesting, according to their sources, which the network is not naming, that says that between the 2002 and 2004 seasons, the general manager of the New Orleans Saints, Mickey Loomis, was able to rig a hearing device in his suite overlooking the field, where he was able to listen to the coaches of the opposing teams during the game.

And now investigators at the state and federal level say that they have been told about these allegations and this information. They're looking into whether or not any kind of eavesdropping or wire- tapping laws have been violated in all of this. They say it's far too early to get into whether or not any charges could be filed, but they are starting the factual process of gathering information, John. KING: And, Ed, this investigation comes in the wake of the Saints being front and center in the bounty scandal. Their head coach suspended, their former defensive coordinator suspended. This team has meant so much to post-Katrina New Orleans. What's the reaction there?

LAVANDERA: The reaction is just another bizarre story involving this beloved franchise that really came to symbolize so much for the city of New Orleans.

Remember, Mickey Loomis, the general manager, now the man at the center of this story, was also implicated in that Bounty-gate. He himself is suspended eight games so far of this upcoming football season so he's someone already under a great deal of scrutiny. As to what his future will be like in the NFL. So all of that they will continue to do. We've just heard word from the Saints that Mickey Loomis will address these allegations on Thursday afternoon -- John.

KING: We look forward to hearing his answers. Ed Lavandera tracking this one. Thanks so much.

Shifting now to the Supreme Court where the justices will decide, a big case, if Arizona overstepped its authority with a tough and very, very controversial immigration law. The justices hear arguments starting tomorrow.

Our Kate Bolduan went to the front lines of this immigration fight, right down to the Arizona/Mexico border.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So is there a lot of crossings through the mountains?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, a lot.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Two men on the front lines, both fighting illegal immigration, but they couldn't be farther apart. David Salgado is a 20-year Phoenix veteran. He's supposed to enforce Arizona's immigration law. Instead he's trying to stop it, and his lawsuit helped trigger a Supreme Court battle.

DAVID SALGADO, POLICE OFFICER: I think it's a racist law. When I took an oath 20 years ago that said I'm going to enforce all laws and treat everyone equally, I can't treat Hispanics equally because I'm going to profile them.

BOLDUAN: Glenn Spencer heads a private group that patrols the border along his 104-acre ranch with high-tech equipment. Planes, cameras, even testing a sonic barrier.

GLENN SPENCER, PROPERTY OWNER: So this flashing here would indicate -- OK, here we go.

BOLDUAN: Spencer says he and the state are stepping in where Washington has failed.

SPENCER: This is a wholesale invasion of Arizona. And our federal government is not protecting the state. We're going to make sure that they get all the help and the federal government gets all the help that it needs to do the job.

BOLDUAN: It's an old fight but a new battleground and it all comes down to this. The U.S./Mexico border and the Arizona law known as SB-1070, meant to crack down on illegal border crossings. But the question dividing this state is who should be enforcing illegal immigration laws?

SB-1070 requires local police like Officer Salgado to check people's immigration status while enforcing other laws if the police have, quote, "reasonable suspicion they're in the country illegally." All in an effort, the state's governor says, to help federal authorities deal with illegal immigration.

GOV. JAN BREWER (R), ARIZONA: They're coming across our borders in huge numbers.

BOLDUAN: But the Obama administration and the law's opponents argue the federal government alone has power over immigration enforcement.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: Now, what happens here in the Supreme Court case is being closely watched by states across the country: Georgia, Utah, Indiana, just to name a few. This comes down to states' rights versus federal authority. A classic battle before the Supreme Court and a constitutional battle now left for the justices to decide.

And happening in the middle of an election year, John, I don't have to tell you means the political stakes are even higher with the outcome of this case.

KING: And so you have the legal constitutional questions. But as we've all seen in recent years and know in this presidential campaign, this becomes a hotly contested political issue. Where are the voters?

BOLDUAN: Very interesting. In the most recent nationwide poll, this coming from Quinnipiac University, it shows that a majority of Americans seem to support the Arizona law.

According to this poll, 68 percent, almost seven in ten said they approved of the law. Specifically also talking about the provision requiring police to check a person's immigration status while they're enforcing other laws.

Take it from a broader view, though. Our CNN polling has shown that illegal immigration, this issue is very important to voters. But when you compare it to other issues, like the economy, it's not as high up there in terms of a priority when it comes to their vote.

KING: Much like the health-care case. How the justices rule will impact the campaign between now and November.

BOLDUAN: It's going to be an interesting Supreme Court term.

KING: We'll talk more about this tomorrow after the arguments. We'll also talk to Arizona's governor, Jan Brewer. Remember, she's the one who signed SB-1070 into law. She's at the front of this fight. She'll be among our guests on this issue tomorrow.

And coming up here, Mitt Romney may not be able to win the youth vote, but he's working to make a dent. The "Truth" about how that tactic could swing at least one state back into the red column.

And at the top of the hour, CNN exclusive. Erin Burnett sets down with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and he says he knows sanctions on Iran are not working. At least, not yet.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Sometimes just one event can tell you a lot about a candidate and the state of the campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The thing about North Carolina is even the folks who don't vote for me are nice to me. You know, I can't say that about every place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, to be clear, that was officially President Obama speaking, not candidate Obama. His two campus stops today and one tomorrow are on the schedule as official events, meaning taxpayers pick up the tab as the president, by design in three 2012 battleground states, calls for Congress to extend approves a program to keep student loans lower.

That is one of today's truths, or lessons. This president is as aggressive as any of his predecessors, if not more so, in using, legal, mind you, the levers of the presidency and incumbency for political gain. "Truth" or lesson to, is more proof President Obama views Mitt Romney, as well, as a campaign issue that cuts in his favor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I didn't just read about this. I didn't just -- I didn't just -- I didn't just get some talking points about this. I didn't just get a policy briefing on this. Michelle and I, we've been in your shoes. Like I said, we didn't come from wealthy families.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, the images there give away the president's focus. Younger voters, and I would add their parents, those who have to help pay those kids' college costs. In 2008, two-thirds of voters under 30 backed then-Senator Obama. In North Carolina, the margin is even greater. Seventy-four percent backed then-Senator Obama.

In those numbers is today's most important "Truth." Both campaigns believe this election could be won on the margins. Now, what do I mean by that? First Governor Romney's pitch to younger voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He promised bringing the country together. That sure hasn't happened. He promised a future with good jobs and good opportunity. That hasn't happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, Governor Romney is not expecting to win the youth vote, but he is banking on trimming the president's margins.

Think of it this way. The president carried North Carolina by 14,177 votes back in 2008. Now fast forward to 2012. More North Carolinians at the moment disapprove of his job performance than approve. That's according to a statewide poll just last month.

Governor Romney's challenge is to swing the 2008 margins his way. Changing the margins of the youth vote is one way to do that. Meaning if some young voters just stay home this year because they're disillusioned, and then a tiny percentage more decide to vote Republican, then that could be enough to put North Carolina back in the red column.

It's clear the president gets that. Three campus stops in two days is all the proof of that you need.

Here to talk truth tonight, "TIME" magazine deputy Washington bureau chief, Michael Crowley; the Obama campaign's pollster, Cornell Belcher; and Romney campaign advisor Bay Buchanan.

Cornell, winning on the margins, my way of doing this and my question tonight, as Mitt Romney becomes even more inevitable, is has the president in his campaign, have they spent their time wisely in the sense that on the margins, I mean African-American unemployment is high. If a tiny percentage say home, if a tiny percentage of the youth vote drops a little bit or a little bit more go Republican, if the Latino vote is 65 percent instead of 66 percent, that could swing a Colorado, a North Carolina, a Virginia back.

Is the time being well spent identifying getting those voters and what will become the turnout operation down the road?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: I think it absolutely is. I mean, you can see it. And both sides do this. I mean, they target voters that are important to us.

I mean, the youth vote was central to the Obama campaign last time around. And as the youth vote grows, particularly when you look at states out west where it's growing, that Latino youth vote and the minority youth vote is growing more and more important there, you're going to have to start targeting more younger voters.

And the question becomes, quite frankly, when you look at him running 32 points ahead of Romney, in your CNN polling, you know, that's a margin that Republicans can't allow him to carry over. They have to pull that back.

KING: And so Governor Romney yesterday preempted the president by saying, "I agree with him. I agree with him. We should keep those interest rates low for now." That was a temporary program.

In doing that Governor Romney put congressional Republicans in a box. They now have no choice but to agree with the president to extend that. And they say, "OK, we're willing to do that." There's going to be a fight over how to pay for it.

Does Governor Romney, when he does things like that, does he risk on the other side having conservatives say, "No, that's not the government's job"?

BAY BUCHANAN, MITT ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: I don't think he does, because he did make it very clear. "I'm not only going to pay for it, but I'm going to do it in a way that does not in any way jeopardize the creation of jobs in the economy." Because that's what the young people need most.

I think the key here is Obama has a real problem, the president has a real problem because it's his own failed policies driving the youth away from him. Polls show they have dropped. His support has dropped, and it will continue to drop as they become more and more aware of the fact that there's no jobs for them. They go to college. The costs are more, up 25 percent under the president, and over 50 percent of them are either underemployed or unemployed when they graduate. Huge numbers.

I saw even 85 percent of them and they're headed back to mom's home instead of the dream they had to use that knowledge and talent that they gained. They are now underemployed or unemployed. This is devastating, and he promised something much brighter for the young people.

KING: Michael, when I see the president, that Governor Romney does this to, I call it niche marketing. Events so clearly focused at one slice of the constituency. It is the proof to me. And you have this conversation for smart people like Mr. Belcher, who are working behind the scenes.

They understand we don't know what October and November is going to look like, but if it's that close, that some of those states, whether it's a Colorado, whether it's a Virginia, whether it's a North Carolina, whether it's an Iowa or New Hampshire where Governor Romney is tonight could swing by the narrowest of margins.

MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME" MAGAZINE: No, that's right. So you're going to see very targeted campaign appeals. But I also think that you also struck an important point in the intro when you noted that it's not just the balance of how these voters split but what is the turnout going to be?

And I think for Obama the youth vote is really going to be a challenge. Because you had this very special alchemy in 2008. You had Obama was promising to end the war that was incredibly dramatic and just grabbed anyone, even if they weren't particularly interested in politics.

He himself was this new, exciting outsider who had movie stars and rock stars celebrating him. And there was this talk that he was really going to change Washington and be something completely different.

That's the kind of thing that I think gets, you know, college kids up off the couch and to go cast votes; gets young people involved in the system. Outsiders came in for the first time.

I think it's going to be really hard to replicate. So he's got to do this kind of thing, to try to do it, but it's going to be a challenge.

KING: We'll continue the conversation in just a moment. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is coming up at the top of the hour and Erin is in Jerusalem tonight with an exclusive conversation with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. What did you learn?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, we learned a lot, John. Obviously, you're talking about the election, Mitt Romney moving ahead. That was on the list of things we talked about, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, the U.S. election.

But also, his first interview since talks with Iran began. It's a crucial election issue. And sanctions, whether they're working, what Israel will do. A crucial issue. He's a quick bit of what he had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Do you think that sanctions are working? I mean, I saw a story today that I think it was 56 percent of Iranian -- of Iran's fleet tankers sitting off the coast with oil, full of oil because they can't sell it. It would appear that sanctions are working.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Well, they're certainly taking a bite out of the Iranian economy, but so far they haven't rolled back the Iranian program or even stopped it by one iota. I mean, I hope that changes.

But so far I can tell you the centrifuges are spinning. They were spinning before the talks began recently with Iran. They were spinning during the talks. They're spinning as we speak. So if the sanctions are going to work, they better work soon.

BURNETT: How do you know what they're doing? NETANYAHU: Oh, we know.

BURNETT: You know?

NETANYAHU: We know and others know, and we share what we know. This is not the case of the questions that people had about Saddam Hussein.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Very interesting, John, when we -- that conversation, that kind of pause of, "Oh, we know." It was an interesting moment. Then we talked about what exactly he knows, what he thinks Iran is doing right now. And all that comes up at the top of the hour from Jerusalem.

Back to you.

KING: Consequential conversation. A very special "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up in just a few minutes. Erin, thanks. We'll see you here in just a few.

Still ahead here, we'll get back to tonight's night in politics, five states voting right now. Our group will tell us what it means.

And get this: if you're shopping for a home, they're cheap right now. Why are prices at their lowest in a decade?

And President Obama calls the teacher of the year goofy. Don't worry, she did not take offense. We'll explain in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: As we speak now, five states finishing up their voting in what we thought would be a big dramatic night in the Republican presidential race. Instead, Governor Mitt Romney has some sense of inevitability tonight.

Pennsylvania was supposed to be the big showdown. And Rick Santorum got out of the race. So does tonight matter? Let's continue our conversation with Michael Crowley, Cornell Belcher, and Bay Buchanan.

When Governor Romney speaks tonight, he expects to win all five of these states. He expects it will put him well above the 800 delegate count and nobody can be even close.

He believes tonight he can speak to the American people as the nominee of the Republican Party, and he will say this: "After 43 primaries and caucuses, many long days and not a few long nights, I can say with confidence and gratitude that you have given me a great honor and solemn responsibility and together, we will win on November 6."

Bay Buchanan, you still see some conservatives grumbling. You see some endorsements that are delivered. Well, yes, I guess he is the guy, so I'm for him, but I wish it were somebody else.

Is your party ready, especially the conservatives, who doubt Governor Romney, ready to say, "He's our guy, forget about past grievances, forward"?

BUCHANAN: I think they are. Overwhelmingly, people are coming around. I meet with conservatives regularly now, large groups of them, and they're coming around. They're telling me, "I used to be with Gingrich. I was with Santorum. You guys have won this thing. What can I do to help?"

A lot of endorsements. We're seeing Republican endorsements coming.

I think, given another 60 days and you're going to see a very united front moving into that convention. I have no question about it.

KING: When you look at the numbers, you're smiling. You're smirking, actually. But when you look at -- when you look at the national polls have changed. Some state polls go back and forth. Has Governor Romney been able to consolidate at a quicker pace than you had anticipated?

BELCHER: Well, I don't know. Well, certainly, he's consolidating that, but there's still a big enthusiasm gap.

The interesting thing I found, you're seeing polling, and it reminded me of Kerry versus Bush. And that is that you have more -- a majority of Romney's voters right now saying they're vote -- not voting for Romney but against -- but against Obama.

The same problem we had with Kerry was most didn't say they were voting for Kerry. They were voting against Bush. Now Democrats say they will be fine, because they hate Bush so much and all galvanized. It is hard to galvanize and energize people simple to say vote against that guy.

At some point, you got to give these people something to vote for. You've got to make them fall in love with you. And he hasn't done that, and I doubt he'll ever really make those true conservatives believe that he's a conservative.

KING: I put this one, Michael, in the "with friends like these file." Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who is a Romney guy, they're friends. Romney was very helpful to him even winning his election. He's running against Elizabeth Warren, and he's demanding she release five years of tax returns, saying that what she's agreed to do is not good enough, not transparent enough. Has Senator Brown put his friend, Governor Romney, in a box here?

CROWLEY: Well, I don't know if Romney has to react to Brown specifically, but I think it does underscore the degree which this election across the country is revolving in large measure around wealth, equality, who's paying what in taxes, and what are fair and appropriate tax rates and how much are the rich paying. At the end of the day, John, as you know, basically that's what this election is coming down to. There are a lot of other issues: foreign policy, but basically, how much should we tax and how much should we spend to get ourselves out of this deficit, get the economy going again? So that's the key question. We're seeing that reflected.

KING: And who is on -- and who's on your side. We've got to stop the conversation for that, unfortunately. Bay, Cornell, Michael. We've got a ways to go. We've got a lot of fun. Lot of fun.

Kate Bolduan is back with the latest news you need to know.

BOLDUAN: New details, John, in the Mad Cow Disease case are just coming in, and we want to bring them to you. We now know that the cow that tested positive is at a Baker Commodities facility in Hanford, California.

An official there says the animal is being held in quarantine while they wait for instructions from the government. The company offers services in rendering, grease collection and more, according to its Web site. We'll be following up on that.

Other headlines we're watching, the watchful eyes of U.N. observers are keeping the Syrian military in line, but the violence reportedly picks back up once the monitors leave. That's according to a spokesman for U.N. envoy Kofi Annan.

Activists say at least 35 people were killed across Syria today. Annan called the situation, quote, "unacceptable" and says he'll approach the Syrian government at an appropriate time.

And James Murdoch, son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, says he wasn't aware of the large-scale phone hacking at "The News of the World" tabloid. He testified before a British press ethics inquiry today, contradicting statements by former employees who say he did know.

Rupert Murdoch is scheduled to appear before the inquiry tomorrow. That continues to unfold.

And homes are the cheapest they've been in a decade. They hit a new low in February, according to the S&P Case-Shiller Index, which says prices are down 3.5 percent from a year earlier. Analysts say foreclosures and late payments are still dragging the market down.

Bad news for some, John, but if you're in the market to buy, that is good news for you.

KING: Bad news for some is usually good news for somebody else.

All right. Kate, stay put. Don't go anywhere.

BOLDUAN: All right.

KING: Tonight's "Moment You May Have Missed," played out at the White House today. A seventh grade teacher from southern California has been named America's best. Rebecca Milwaukee beat out about 3.5 million educators -- it's a good contest there -- to become teacher of the year.

Then she wins, and what happens? The president of the United States calls her goofy. But it's all in good fun. Just listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: She's got high expectations for her seventh graders and for herself, but she also knows that school can be fun, and that fits a personality that she describes as a 12-year-old goofball dying to get out. And I have to say, she was a little goofy when I met her. She was...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: "The L.A. Daily News," Kate, says she uses an iPod, card deck, contests and unique field trips to keep her students interested. Good for her.

BOLDUAN: Good for her. And you know what this always does? It always reminds me of the great teachers that you've had in your life. And I was just thinking back to some of the great, great teachers that put me on, well, some might say the wrong path, getting into TV, but on the right path, I would say.

KING: Time to get to a very special "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT," live in Jerusalem. It starts right now.

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