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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Iowa Caucus Countdown; Santorum's Surge; Suspected Arsonist Arrested in California

Aired January 2, 2012 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 on the East Coast, 9:00 p.m. here in Des Moines, Iowa.

Welcome to this special edition of 360, truly the eve of election 2012. Tomorrow, wit the first-in-the-nation caucuses here, it stops being hypothetical and it really starts to count.

Republicans will start choosing candidates after a campaign in which everyone you see here and a few whom you don't have either been the front-runner or the front-runner right now may soon become the front or may soon become the front-runner.

After tomorrow night that could change. Some of these boxes may soon be empty. "Politico's" Roger Simon said it best, Iowa caucuses don't pick winners, they eliminate losers. Although this time that could be different. A lot of people could continue on from here even if they don't place well. A loser here may take New Hampshire, someone else could win South Carolina and yet another may win Florida.

It's just been that kind of a campaign. And the polls here reflect it. Take a look. The latest from the "Des Moines Register." Mitt Romney and Ron Paul in a statistical tie. Rick Santorum close behind and rising. Newt Gingrich fourth and fading. Rick Perry fifth and climbing slowly. Iowa native Michele Bachmann in single digits tonight.

That poll came out over the weekend. This one from ARG came out today showing Romney out in front. Three candidates -- Paul, Santorum and Gingrich -- essentially tied for second place. In other words, it could be close, it won't be dull, and every move matters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): At this stage in the race there's no room for error.

GOV. TERRY BRANSTAD (R), IOWA: It's a wide open race. People have been watching the debates, and they're looking for the perfect candidate.

COOPER: Mitt Romney leading in the national polls all but ignoring Iowa, though, until the last few weeks. His late focus might be paying off. Keeping expectations low but a win now a very real possibility. MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This president has failed. He went on the "Today" show shortly after being inaugurated. And he said if I can't get this economy turned around in three years I will be looking at a one-term proposition.

I'm here to collect. We're going to take it back. We're going to take it back.

COOPER: Ron Paul is hoping to hold on to the momentum he's built here. The Texas congressman spent the past 10 days fighting back against questions about controversial newsletters with his name on them. Still Mr. Paul's supporters among the most dedicated in Iowa and could be the difference in a victory here.

REP. RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If liberty is the most important issue, the most important responsibility of government is to protect liberty and not to be the policeman of the world and not to have a runaway welfare state.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do have a Hawkeye jacket on.

COOPER: But if anyone has the momentum in these final days, it's former Pennsylvania senator, Rick Santorum.

(on camera): Senator Santorum has spent months here in Iowa. He's visited all 99 counties and held more than 350 events. Today his small staff in the campaign headquarters in Des Moines are working the phones. They're trying to capitalize on his sudden surge, trying to ensure that Santorum supporters actually show up to caucuses.

SANTORUM: I'm asking you to not settle for someone who -- as your nominee, who might be able to win the election, but the election would be a Pyrrhic victory. In other words, we wouldn't have a candidate who is going to be elected president who will do what's necessary of what America needs.

COOPER (voice-over): Santorum's surge comes mostly from evangelicals and has taken away some of the traction Newt Gingrich had been enjoying. The former Georgia congressman leading the stage just a month ago but relentless attacks from his opponents seemingly having an effect.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've gotten into a really sick system where people raise lots of money to hire very nasty people to run very vicious commercials. And it is sickening the whole process.

COOPER: It's been a volatile race for months with various candidates jumping to the lead only to fade weeks later. Michele Bachmann who won the Ames straw poll just four months ago tonight seems far back in the pack. The same for one-time front-runner Governor Rick Perry, hoping for a last-minute push in a caucus that can be as unpredictable as this race so far.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: And of course, what happens here in Iowa matters but it also doesn't matter. Think back to 2008, it was Mike Huckabee who won here in the state and the GOP caucuses back then. Rick Santorum has been comparing himself to Mike Huckabee, surging in the polls just in the last few days.

Over the four days that the "Des Moines Register" poll was taken, it was in the last few days that his numbers actually significantly began to increase. Again, it all remains up to who actually comes out, who goes to those caucuses tomorrow night. And Santorum is trying to get as many people, his supporters, his hardcore supporters to attend those events. Traditionally a lot of it may depend on the weather again.

Let's take a look back at 2008 and the field this year. John King, host of "JOHN KING, USA" is standing by.

John, for Santorum to be saying he could be like Huckabee, it's good for Iowa, it doesn't mean necessarily he has life beyond here.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Doesn't mean he has life beyond, Anderson. But it would make him at the moment anyway the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. That is what Rick Santorum wants us to be saying around this time tomorrow night.

Let's go back and look at Iowa. This is 2008 general election. But let's look at the Republican caucus because if you look at this, this is Mike Huckabee, all this orange in the middle. If we see Senator Santorum filling in this part of the state tomorrow night, that means he could be on his way to victory. Why? This is where you have conservative Christian evangelical voters. They were the key elements of Huckabee coalition four years ago. He won Iowa 35 percent of the vote.

Mitt Romney had 25 percent. You see he won here in the eastern part of the state, Davenport, Cedar Rapids and Dubuque. He also won out here in the west. This is the key area to watch for Romney tomorrow night. This is a more conservative part of the state out here. If Romney is doing well out here again, then he could be on the way to winning Iowa. The big question is can he keep these conservative voters?

But this is evangelical country. One new thing in this campaign, Anderson, we don't know -- this is the first presidential election where we know the Tea Party is a force in the Republican Party. The darker the color, it's darker green or almost black, these are areas of Iowa where voters have said I identify with the Tea Party. So if you remember a lot of evangelical voters here four years ago, well, a lot of Tea Party voters in these areas as well.

Do evangelical and Tea Party voters come together around one candidate or are they fractured, are they split? That's what Mitt Romney is hoping for.

Couple of other quick points I want to make. One of the things you want to see here, candidate visits often make the difference in Iowa, yet Mitt Romney, that's his color, he's been in Iowa the least. Rick Santorum, he's the candidate who has visited all 99 counties. Which one of them will emerge tomorrow night? The old -- old- fashioned way, hand-touch-everybody retail or the Mitt Romney way, relying on the support?

One last thing Id like to show you here is TV ad count. Governor Rick Perry, who's struggling right now has actually up to today -- this is his color, the orange -- bought the most ads in Iowa. Will that work for him? You see Romney is -- Romney and Gingrich roughly in second there.

But Anderson, the key question -- I want to go back to that initial graphic we had, the key question is this. Can the evangelical voters come together, will they come together around one candidate or will it be split between Santorum, Perry, Bachmann, even Ron Paul? If there's a fractured evangelical vote, Romney benefits. If the evangelical vote decides at the last minute to coalesce as it did around Mike Huckabee four years ago, Santorum not only could do strong, some think, Anderson, he could even win.

COOPER: John, appreciate it. Fascinating. We'll talk to you again shortly.

I want to bring in our political panel who are also braving the icy temperatures here in Des Moines. Democrat strategist Donna Brazile, blogger Erick Erickson, editor in chief of RedState.com, and Republican strategist Mary Matalin.

It just a fascinating down to the wire as it often is. What do you think is behind this Santorum surge? Because in that "Des Moines Register" poll, over the days that they were polling, it really is in the last two days that his numbers increased dramatically.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, honestly, the CNN poll is behind the Santorum surge. I talked to a lot of campaigns and a lot of pollsters outside who also say Santorum trickling up, they saw crowds growing at his events, but after the CNN poll all of a sudden it spiked up dramatically and other campaigns and their tracking polls didn't see it spiking until after the poll.

So part of it I wonder is psychosomatic or something. Everyone sees that all of a sudden the last guy not to implode suddenly seemed viable, let's take a look at him.

COOPER: Well, is that, Mary, part of it, that he's the last guy who hasn't been the front-runner and hasn't had the attack ads against him? He's the last guy standing?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You ask Charlie Cook who is, by all equations, the best of the handicappers, says he's the remainder man. And people on the ground here in the campaign say the surge has stopped. So -- and he has -- he had problems coming in and those problems will come out. So the typical -- nothing's typical this year, but the late surge or the fluidity typically goes to the late surger, but he's really not surging, according to people on the ground anymore. So it's -- you know, we're still going down to the wire.

COOPER: And Donna, if you were Mitt Romney, you don't mind Santorum surge in Iowa. Keeps -- it keeps the conservative field divided.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's absolutely right. But look Rick Santorum has been for many, many months. He's campaigned in all 99 counties. He's probably -- he's probably identified people who will go to the caucuses tomorrow night, stand up, serve as his surrogate. So I think there's something real behind this momentum only because the Republicans are still sorting it out, they are looking for an alternative to Romney. And right now Santorum is the flavor of the week.

COOPER: How much does organization matter here in this final 24 hours? I mean, getting the people to actually go to the caucuses, because I mean, I was over at Santorum's headquarters and you know there were some very young people on the phones and --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: That's about it.

MATALIN: It used to be us.

(LAUGHTER)

ERICKSON: Certainly nontraditional campaigns, the Cain campaign, the Gingrich campaign have thought just going on national media doing book tours, a lot of media would compel people to go to the polls. Then you've got campaigns like Perry and Paul and Romney who were saying we need to have a ground game, who have spent time organizing in a way that Santorum up until recently nor Gingrich have had the money, time and resource to be able to do.

COOPER: Because yes, the caucuses, it's not just people going in and voting, you actually have people talking for the candidates, talking about the candidates, and the better organized field actually send in people.

MATALIN: It's necessary but insufficient. It's necessarily if it's closing in a tie because then organization will make the difference. But the sufficiency requires momentum. And it's not showing in the polls, the opposite is showing. But really Romney has more momentum here than is being reflected in the polls.

ERICKSON: Right.

MATALIN: So momentum plus organization I think is the equation.

COOPER: You think Romney will win here?

MATALIN: It doesn't matter if he doesn't and Paul and Santorum are the victors. But he will do better than expected and particularly given the fact that he didn't play here until late. He's doing better already than --

BRAZILE: And he ran before. He had an organization in place. And also remember, independents can go tomorrow to the Republican caucus, sign a form, register and declare their support for Romney.

COOPER: Well, Democrats can go and re-register, can't they?

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

ERICKSON: Right. Yes.

BRAZILE: Some Democrats might --

ERICKSON: They can also go for Paul, too, which is the wild card factor.

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

COOPER: As a Democrat, what are you hoping for here tonight? As an Obama supporter, what are you hoping for?

BRAZILE: Well, the Obama have people on the ground. They're organizing tomorrow for the Democratic caucus. He has to win the Democratic nomination. He's unopposed. So I'm hoping that the Obama campaign will organize the Republicans tomorrow to show that they will be ready to win the state --

COOPER: So the Democrats who are here and the Obama people have sent some people here to monitor what's going on, to try to --

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

COOPER: They have their own war room, I understand, set up. I read that in the "Times" today. What are they going to be looking at? Who has the best organization on the ground?

BRAZILE: They're going to look for signs of life from some of the other candidates. The -- what I call the anti-Romney, is Perry still alive? But right now their focus is clearly on Mitt Romney because they think he has momentum, he has the money to go on beyond the Iowa caucuses tomorrow night.

COOPER: And the polls show that he's the one who's most capable of competing against and beating President Obama at this point.

BRAZILE: Well, that's just a theory. But we'll see what happens.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: It has a lot to do with name I.D. as well.

COOPER: How much life is there for some of these other candidates? Someone on our area the other night was saying some of these candidates can kind of, you know, forage off the land. You know, that they don't necessarily need a big organization to continue to stay in the race, whether or not they have a chance of winning.

ERICKSON: They don't -- this is different from prior years. We keep treating Iowa as the Super Bowl when this is preseason this year. We've got proportional delegations. You're only going to get 10 delegates out of New Hampshire and Iowa, you're going to get 75 out of South Carolina and Florida. You've got some states in April where -- 400 and 500 in --

COOPER: So the significance of that is that it could be a very long race.

ERICKSON: You can drag this out for a while.

COOPER: If it becomes about delegates.

ERICKSON: Remember that after Barack Obama people thought he was going to be the nominee in 2008, you had Kentucky, West Virginia, a number of states that all went for Hillary Clinton. He still got the nomination but it dragged it out.

COOPER: Yes.

MATALIN: I think we're different, though. I think as much as the process is different, we don't know because we've never had front- loaded proportionality. We're still Republicans and we still like order. And if it gets to Florida and Romney is knocking it out, it's going to be very difficult for the other contenders to --

ERICKSON: There's going to be no money.

MATALIN: -- justify their existence.

COOPER: Is it possible it could be essentially over tomorrow if Romney has a significant --

ERICKSON: If it's a blowout, yes.

COOPER: If it's a blowout.

BRAZILE: If it's a blowout, but look -- I mean, Erick is absolutely right, you have a situation on the Republican side now that the bulk of the delegates will not be chosen until March or April. So it could play itself out. What you need is an alternative to Romney and then the conservatives have to get behind one candidate.

MATALIN: You know Obama and Hillary were evenly matched. This is not -- this is going to separate the men from the boys.

ERICKSON: Right.

MATALIN: In the next couple of contests.

BRAZILE: We still have a woman in the race, though.

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: I would say they --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: We're going to check in back with our panel a little bit later on. Donna Brazile, Erick Erickson, Mary Matalin. We'll also have Paul Begala and others coming in. We're going to check back with all of them.

Let us know what you think, we're on Facebook of course, Google+. Add us to your -- to your circles. Also on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will try to tweet tonight, though my hands are frozen, so I'm not sure I will be able to.

Just ahead, Mitt Romney is saying, we're going to win this thing. He said that tonight. But just exactly what thing was he talking about? We'll tell you.

And a very surprising admission from Newt Gingrich, the former front-runner talking about his own chances tomorrow.

And later Rick Santorum takes pride in his staunch conservative views. He's under fire for some of what he said but he's also taking heat from Ron Paul who's calling him too liberal.

We'll explain as our coverage continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, what sounded like a stunning show of confidence from Mitt Romney turns out to be not quite. As we showed you at the top of the hour, he stands as the narrow front-runner in late polling here but is by no means assured of victory. Yet early this evening he sounded like a man clearly predicting a win tomorrow. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: We're going to win this thing with all of our passion and strength and do everything we can to get this campaign on the right track to go across the nation and to pick up other states and to get the balance I need, the votes I need to become our nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, it sounds like a clear departure from the cautious tone that he's been taking. Turns out, though, it actually wasn't. A Romney spokesperson telling reporters that the remarks only referred to winning the nomination, not a victory tomorrow.

Newt Gingrich meantime is quickly losing some of the swagger, in fact referring to tomorrow, he came right out and said it. Today he said -- quote -- I don't think I'm going to win. Earlier today he said that he might and just a few weeks ago he said he expected to win it all, to be the Republican nominee.

What a short, strange trip it has been. Here's Gary Tuchman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Newt Gingrich started this final full campaign day before the Iowa caucuses --

(on camera): Mr. Gingrich, do you still think the caucuses are winnable?

GINGRICH: Sure.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): He expressed confidence he could still leave Iowa victorious, but later his opinion evolved.

GINGRICH: I don't think I'm going to win. I think if you look at the numbers, I think that volume of negativity has done enough damage.

TUCHMAN: The former history professor and speaker of the House has loudly and proudly stated he will not run a negative campaign, but a change is looming.

(on camera): Do you tweak your campaign message after Iowa?

GINGRICH: Sure. I think you'll see us Wednesday morning in New Hampshire being much clearer about the choice between a conservative and a moderate.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): And Newt Gingrich says that moderate is Mitt Romney, the man he blames for most of the negative campaigning against him.

GINGRICH: He's giving me no choice except to make clear the difference between the two of us because I would have been perfectly happy to have run a totally positive campaign and never mentioned it. He's made that impossible.

TUCHMAN: Gingrich is clearly angry. But on the stop at the agriculture museum in Independence, Iowa, he stays professorial and rather monotone.

GINGRICH: I wish frankly that the people running all these negative ads would adopt a very simple rule. If you won't show your ad to your grandchildren, don't run it.

TUCHMAN: Gingrich's own grandson was by his side in the state, or actually in this case inside the wheel well of Big Bud, what they said to be a 14-foot-tall, the largest tractor in the world. An ideal backdrop in a state where agriculture is so important.

GINGRICH: My position on ethanol is very simple. If I have to choose between the next billion dollars going to Iran or going to Iowa, I would pick Iowa.

TUCHMAN: While campaigning Gingrich took some time to plug his wife Callista's children's history book which features an elephant as the main character.

GINGRICH: And we actually have Ellis the elephant here this afternoon. It is his only visit to Iowa this trip.

TUCHMAN: Children were encouraged to take pictures with the character, which is notably an elephant and not a donkey.

(on camera): Gingrich seems to have accepted the likelihood he will not win in Iowa, but he rests his hopes for a good showing on voters who are undecided or unsure. Voters he hopes see the light and come home to him.

(voice-over): Newt Gingrich says he doesn't need to be president.

GINGRICH: This is exciting, it's interesting, it's fascinating, but it's not at the center of my being. It's at the center of my duty.

TUCHMAN: He does believe, the country needs him.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Independence, Iowa.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Let's dig deeper now with chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, also senior political analyst David Gergen who is, sensibly, somewhere else, warm.

Candy, there's been a lot of talk about how these attack ads have hurt Newt Gingrich. He just did not have the money to respond, right?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He -- yes, he didn't. I mean, and also, you know, what you do is you have a campaign debt but you try to turn it into an asset. He didn't have enough money to respond pound for pound to what he was getting hit with, because this was an outside group as well as Mitt -- Ron Paul was also doing some negative ads.

So no, he couldn't respond pound for pound. But it wasn't until recently even responding on the campaign trail. And he tried to turn it into a positive. Boy, don't we all hate those negative ads? If you really hate negative ads you better go to those caucuses and vote for me. So it was a combination of things. I mean, it became a campaign strategy, but it really was a campaign necessity. He just didn't have the money to do it.

COOPER: And, David, as much as one hopes campaign ads don't work, clearly they do at least in this case.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: They sure did. And I don't think he saw it coming.

Anderson, he told me back in December he fully expected to be heavily vetted by the media, and he thought that that vetting would be tough on him and the big question was would he be standing in early January. What I don't think he foresaw was the onslaught of negative ads coming from within the Republican Party. He's clearly furious about that.

I do think he's going to be much, much tougher as he goes -- heads towards South Carolina. He know he's in the second tier now. One of the interesting questions is, will his anger be so intense coming out of this that in fact he may really want to inflict real damage on Mitt Romney as a potential nominee of the party.

COOPER: Candy, in terms of -- how does this race differ than others you've covered thus far? I mean, how is Iowa different this year?

CROWLEY: Well, I -- first of all, it's far more fluid. And just throughout the year, you know, we saw those --

COOPER: Right. Everybody has been a front-runner.

CROWLEY: Everybody got their shot at it. Now it appears to be Rick Santorum's shot and maybe Jon Huntsman will get one in New Hampshire. But even beyond that, it's still fluid. Those 41 percent that say, you know, I could -- I could be persuaded to vote for someone else. And it matters.

If this were a primary and people just go in and vote in a little booth by their own, I would say don't pay any attention to that 41 percent. They're just trying to stay open minded. And that's what sounds good to pollster. But in Iowa you go and listen to your neighbors give a speech about a guy. And that can be persuasive. You've got a friend that says no, no, listen to me about Ron Paul or Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich.

So you know, when 41 percent says I'm persuadable, there's going to be time in there for people to give speeches that actually persuade them. So it has -- it has been fluid in terms of who's been up and who's been down, and it remain that way.

COOPER: And, David, even among Santorum's supporters who are considered this year among the most dedicated, the most likely to actually go out to caucuses, even a significant amount of them are fluid, are changeable.

GERGEN: They sure seem to be. And I was fascinated by Mary Matalin's report tonight that she thought that the surge that he was enjoying had crested, which would leave Romney the very likely winner tomorrow night.

But Anderson, going back to this fluidity, if somebody doesn't break out tomorrow, if Romney has to sort of -- I think increasingly because he's raised the stakes so much, I think it's important for him to win now. I don't think just coming in second is -- it's going to look like, you know, he lost the expectations game. So I think it's important for him to sort of start breaking out and see if he can get above this lid of 25 percent that he's running into in various places.

There's an awful lot on the line for him tomorrow. If he wins big, a lot of us are going to be saying, he'll be very hard to stop and very likely the nominee. If he does not, it could get much more interesting.

COOPER: So, David, you even think a second place finish for Romney would reflect badly on him?

GERGEN: Well, I do -- I think clearly that if he came in behind Paul and Santorum, even if it were bunched and clustered, I think he would be hurt. If he comes in second after all this, especially if he's second to Santorum, then I think that it's unpredictable what happens after that. Everyone thinks, well, Santorum is just going to go

away. But coming in second to Santorum would be a sign of weakness. Coming in second to Paul would not be so much a sign of weakness as coming in second to Santorum.

COOPER: David Gergen, thank you.

Candy Crowley, thanks so much.

It's going to be interesting.

Still ahead tonight: more on the Santorum surge, whether or not -- whether it has crested or not. The former Pennsylvania senator gains or has gained major momentum here in Iowa in the last couple of days.

Also ahead "Crime & Punishment." A four-day arson spree in Los Angeles seems to be over. Cars being firebombed in their parking lots. There's a man who have been arrested. Investigators counted 53 fires, parked cars, most of them where those the fires started with fire bombs, at least $2 million in damage. We'll have the latest ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello. I'm Isha Sesay.

We will have more from Anderson on the Iowa caucuses in just a moment.

First, some of the other stories we're following tonight.

In "Crime & Punishment: finally an end to the Los Angeles arson spree -- 53 fires were set over four days, causing about $3 million in damage. The mayor says 24-year-old Harry Burkhart is in custody, charged with one count of arson and will likely face more charges. One city official described the fires as the work of an arsonist who struck like lightning.

Casey Wian reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just after 1:00 a.m. Monday, Los Angeles fire crews and arson investigators responded to nearly a dozen car fires in the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood and West Hollywood.

On day four of L.A.'s arson spree, the number of cars set on fire exceeded 50. Some of those blazes spread to structures, including apartments. Residents were terrified.

MAYOR JOHN DURAN, WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA: It's a new form of urban terrorism that we are seeing in our community.

WIAN: Sunday a task force of local and federal officials released this surveillance video of a man emerging from an underground parking garage in Hollywood, announcing they wanted to speak with him.

CAPTAIN JAMIE MOORE, LOS ANGELES FIRE DEPARTMENT: The task force has worked together seamlessly around the clock and currently reviewing more than 100 clues, mapping out the sequence of the fires that occurred, interviewing hundreds of witnesses, and canvassing the 53 fire scenes as part of this active investigation.

WIAN: Monday morning a man resembling the one in the tape was spotted by a sheriff's deputy. Fire officials say the man was driving a van similar to one spotted near suspected arson sites. He was taken into custody for questioning. Then the arson spree stopped.

CECCO SECCI, LOS ANGELES FIRE DEPARTMENT: We have not had any additional fires within the last two to three hours.

WIAN: What inference can we draw from that?

SECCI: Again, it's too early. That would be purely speculative.

WIAN: As he sat smiling in the back of a patrol car, investigators examined the van and eventually placed him under arrest. "The Los Angeles Times" reports that the man may have had a dispute with immigration officials over an issue involving a relative.

One firefighter was injured during the four-day spree. No civilians were hurt. Authorities say they will continue excess patrols Monday night.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: That was Casey Wian.

Now a "360 Bulletin."

A bloody day in Syria. At least 26 people were killed, according to opposition activists. The violence comes as more than 70 Arab League monitors in the country. They say Syrian tanks have pulled out of cities, but snipers remain a threat, and the killings continue.

New York City police are investigating a Molotov cocktail bombing at a Queens home serving as a Hindu temple. Similar attacks happened at a mosque and bodega. No one was injured.

Nearly two months after the death of drum major Robert Champion, there's a new plan to tackle hazing at Florida A&M University. This actually includes a campus memorial to Champion and a scholarship in his name. The board of trustees also approved setting up an independent panel of experts to examine hazing on campus.

Two hundred birds have been found dead in the small Arkansas town of Beebe. A wildlife official says someone likely deliberately set off fireworks near them on New Year's Eve. Now, you may remember last year, 5,000 black birds fell from the sky on the same night in the same town.

The man best known for performing Darth Vader's swordfights in "Star Wars" has died. Former Olympic fencer Bob Anderson was a stunt double in the movie and many others. Anderson was 89 years old.

And legendary singer Aretha Franklin is engaged to her long-time friend Willie Wilkerson. The couple is considering getting married this summer in Miami Beach. Franklin, who's 69 years old, joked, she's not pregnant -- Anderson.

COOPER: Isha, thanks. We'll check in with you a little later on.

Up next, the man of the moment here in Iowa, Rick Santorum, surging the polls and coming under attack. The question is, will he win tomorrow night? And if so, what would that mean for his opponents and what about after Iowa? We're "Digging Deeper" when we continue. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Rick Santorum appears to be the GOP candidate with the most momentum going into tomorrow's caucuses here in Iowa. He has jumped from near the bottom to third place in the latest polls and is finding himself under attack from his opponents. Today, Dana Bash talked with Ron Paul about Santorum's rise. He had some choice words.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, Santorum's staunch social conservative certainly doesn't see it that way. The ex-senator from Pennsylvania is hoping to ride the last-minute momentum into something meaningful. Here's Jim Acosta.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Welcome to Rick Santorum's moment.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good to see you.

ACOSTA: Just one day to go before the Iowa caucuses, the surging GOP contender noted the crush of cameras following his every move wasn't even there a week ago. That might explain why Iowans have their doubts whether any of this is real.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm one of those people here in Iowa that's sitting on the edge, trying to make up my mind.

SANTORUM: Come on. Come on.

ACOSTA: Santorum's message, it's real, all right.

SANTORUM: We've raised more money in the last few days than we have in the last few months. And, you know, going from zero to 60 in the polls, if you will, will help those resources a lot.

ACOSTA: Now, when GOP front-runner Mitt Romney punches...

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Like Speaker Gingrich, Senator Santorum has spent his career in the government, in Washington.

ACOSTA: Santorum punches back.

SANTORUM: We are not looking for a chief executive officer for this country. We're looking for a commander in chief.

He's a fine man and he'll do a fine job for Pennsylvania.

ACOSTA: But Santorum has some convincing to do. Republicans remember how he lost his Senate seat five years ago by an astounding 18 points.

(on camera) What do you say to those voters that are concerned about that loss you had in 2006 and whether you're viable in a general election?

SANTORUM: I lost an election in the worst election year for Republicans in the history of our state.

ACOSTA: A key factor in Santorum's loss was his controversial vote to have the courts intervene in the case of Terri Schiavo, a woman in a vegetative state whose family was over war over whether to remove her feeding tube. Santorum has no regrets.

SANTORUM: What I carried about with Terri Schiavo was to make sure that a judge looked fairly at the case. They did, and they made their decision.

ACOSTA: Santorum outraged gay rights activists when he seemed to compare homosexuality to bestiality to an Associated Press reporter in 2006. "In every society," Santorum said, "the definition of marriage has not ever, to my knowledge, included homosexually. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who has the best chance to beat Obama? Rick Santorum.

ACOSTA: Santorum isn't running from those comments. In fact, he boasts he's a full-spectrum conservative in his new ad.

He also has the support of Christian conservative reality TV star Jim Bob Duggar, who's driving the Santorum bus across Iowa. Duggar backed caucus-winner Mike Huckabee in '08. He's urging evangelical voters to rally behind Santorum now.

JIM BOB DUGGAR, REALITY TV STAR: He has a proven track record. He's a Christian conservative that has just always stood for what's right.

SANTORUM: The Chuck Truck!

ACOSTA: Santorum doesn't ride in the Duggar bus. He does his campaigning in a pickup truck, a better fit for Santorum's down-to- earth pitch.

Jim Acosta, CNN, Boone, Iowa.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: All right. Let's "Dig Deeper" into Santorum's surge. Joining me is Dana Loesch, St. Louis Tea Party organizer and editor and chief of BigJournalism.com; political contributor Ari Fleischer; and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who joins me in Des Moines.

The Santorum surge, how surprising is it to you? What do you make of it?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's stunning. There have been seven front-runners in Iowa. Three of them are not even in the race any more. And Santorum seemed like the only guy who never did lead. And I see him as the Frank Finkel of the race.

COOPER: All right. Now who's Frank Finkel?

BEGALA: Frank Finkel is the only guy who survived the battle of little Big Horn. He survived -- on the white guy side. He survived because his horse couldn't get him there on time. And so he got wounded, but he didn't get killed.

Santorum just wasn't in the fire. He was too far back, so nobody was shooting at him. And now, God bless him, he's surging. I actually think he's going to win.

COOPER: Do you really?

BEGALA: I do.

COOPER: Jerry Malen (ph) said she thought her -- his surge had kind of stopped.

BEGALA: It would suggest I'm probably wrong. But -- she knows her party better than I do. But I -- in polling I would say trust the trend. And so, in Ann Seltzer's poll for "The Des Moines Register" -- she's the gold standard...

COOPER: There was a poll taken over four days.

BEGALA: Four days. He went from ten on the first night to 21 on the fourth night. There's no reason for me to believe that he has crested. But May, she's more -- knowledgeable about her party. But I trust that trend. I think he's going to win here.

COOPER: Dana, what do you think? How surprised are you by Santorum's surge? And does it have any life? Regardless of how he does, assuming he's in the top three here, does he have a campaign beyond Iowa?

DANA LOESCH, ST. LOUIS TEA PARTY ORGANIZER: No, I don't think that he does. Rick Santorum, one of the reasons that he's surging right now in Iowa is because all of the other non-Romney contenders have fallen at some point. Newt Gingrich being the latest one. Now we're watching his popularity drop off. And so now Rick Santorum is whom everyone is looking.

But beyond Iowa, he doesn't have the same level of groundwork. He definitely doesn't have enough money in the bank. And I realize now that they're getting some fund-raising, but it says quite a lot when the funds that you're getting in in the past three days are more or equal to what you've received in six months total. That says quite a lot.

So I don't think that he's really going to be able to go beyond Iowa. And that's just because he's a good candidate for Iowa. And his surge is working right now, because he's the non-Romney. But after that, I don't think he can do it.

COOPER: Ari, I mean, how much does money mean this time around? There's a number of them, Gingrich one of them, who's been able to exist without a lot of money. Someone said the other day on this show, like living off the land, basically.

FLEISCHER: Well, that is the good thing about having small states go first. And I think Rick Santorum is proving that. Money at this stage of the race doesn't matter. It certainly will matter as you get down into the bigger states and you have multiple primaries on one day.

You know, Anderson, I hate to agree with Frank Finkel -- I mean, Paul Begala, but I do -- I think Rick Santorum is going to win Iowa. You can just feel it. There is something exquisitely timed about the fact he's going up without having the burden of being shot at, which is what took Newt down. It took others down. And it's not such a referendum on Rick Santorum as much as.

Still Mitt Romney is yet to have been able to get above the crucial mathematical threshold in which he can box out somebody and take first place.

Now, the real test, of course, for Rick Santorum will come next. I don't think he can win in New Hampshire. But then this race goes on. I see this working out in a victory for Rick Santorum in Iowa, I've got to say.

COOPER: Fascinating.

Paul, if you were Mitt Romney, you want Rick Santorum -- not necessarily to win but you want him in the top three for as long as possible, I assume, because he takes away from Gingrich and others.

BEGALA: I'm quite sure the Romney people would rather -- somebody's going to be the anti-Romney. And I think they'd rather it be Santorum than, say, a Rick Perry or Gingrich or guys who they think -- I talked to some Romney people, people they think had higher potential.

FLEISCHER: In an actual campaign they thought they had higher potential than...

BEGALA: Greater ability to organize the way Dana talked about, the greater ability to fundraise. But also, more range. You know, this thing is not a marathon. It's a decathlon. So one day you run the mile. The next day you do the, you know, the Frisbee thing, and the next day you get a speary thing. You know, this is technical. But...

COOPER: The speary thing?

BEGALA: Yes. I think that's what they call it now.

COOPER: Someone needs to go in from the cold.

BEGALA: No, but he's not as good with all the other range, I think, of issues and talents that a presidential...

COOPER: Dana, do you agree with that, that in terms of a national race, that Rick Santorum can't do as many -- can't appeal to as many people?

LOESCH: Rick Santorum is a good politician. He didn't win re- election in his own state. He lost by double digits. That's quite -- it's quite a lot. He's the wrong candidate for this election. He seems to be campaigning more on social issues. And that's not to say anything bad about social issues, but this isn't a social issues election. This is an election where the two most major concerns with conservatives are the economy and immigration.

And while Rick Santorum talks really well about those, he's known really for his stances on social issues. And his remarks on those have received the most media coverage and the most controversy. I don't think that he can get that wide appeal after Iowa.

COOPER: Paul, I'm sorry. Ari, I want to play sound from Rick Santorum in Iowa just from earlier today. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP))

SANTORUM: I think what I'm telling you to do is to pick the more conservative of the candidates. And it's not to settle for something less than what you believe is the best. And yet sometimes the best isn't that great, but it's the best.

And as I've said, I'm not a perfect candidate. But I would make the argument that I believe that we're the best alternative out there. In the case of Governor Romney and John McCain, I settled for what I thought was the best alternative out there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Ari, I mean that line of don't settle, that used to be Michele Bachmann's line, that he's now using it. Do you believe, if he won here -- as you think he's going t -- that he has life in New Hampshire or South Carolina or Florida?

ARI F HER: I don't think he has much life in New Hampshire. I think that's a real fort for Romney Mr. I think you have to keep your eye on him. Here is where I disagree, he's tailor-made for Iowa because he likes social issues. That's his core, his strength. He can talk about it fluently. But he can talk about economics fluently. He was a U.S. Senator for many year years.

So he'll be able to make that pivot, because of his ability to make that pivot . He's smart enough to know he has to make that pivot because this is economic year, jobs year, a debt year, spending year. He has good credentials on those issues. So I do think he'll do that. I think his real problem is going to be how does he adopt to the growth? How can he put it all together all of a sudden with all the burdens that are going to come on him now? That's very hard for a campaign to grow. It's a great problem to have, but that's going to be the test he's going to have next.

COOPER: Right. Paul Begala, Dana Loesch, fascinating stuff. Ari Fleischer, as always, thank you so much. We'll be back. Coverage continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Let's take a look at some other headlines. Isha is back with a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

SESAY: Anderson, yes, national park officials say they found the body of a man suspected of killing a park ranger in Washington's Mt. Rainier National Park. Benjamin Colton Barnes' dead body was found in the park today. Officials say he may have died from exposure. He's suspected of fatally shooting Park Ranger Margaret Anderson yesterday. Barnes is also wanted in connection with another shooting yesterday that left four people wounded in a Seattle suburb.

The father of a missing toddler in Maine is speaking out, telling "The Today Show" he just want his daughter back and would never do anything to harm her. Ayla Reynolds was last seen December 16. Police say the case has evolved from a missing child search to a criminal investigation.

Three children are out of hospital and back home in Utah today after they were rescued Saturday from a car accident that trapped them underwater. Eight bystanders jumped into the frigid river to help the dad rescue the children, who were trapped after his car slid down an embankment and into the water.

And in Minneapolis, a set of twins born in different years. Baby Beckett was born on New Year's Eve and a few hours later his twin sister arrived in 2012. Isn't that pretty cool?

COOPER: That's cool. Congratulations to the family.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is ahead at 11 p.m. Erin, what's up?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Anderson, you've been covering this from every single angle out in Des Moines. Tonight from CNN's election headquarters I'm going to be joined by Michele Bachmann. As you know, of course, she was the winner of the straw poll and the leader for a while this summer in Iowa. Now polls show in "The Des Moines Register," she could come in last plate. What are her plans now? What are her plans for tomorrow. And the big question, will she continue from here? She's going to answer all of that out front tonight.

Also Mitt Romney. You know, just sticking right there, never below 23 percent even in Iowa but never above 26 percent. Is that a floor they should celebrate or a ceiling that they should be really depressed about? Well, his chief advisor for 2008 going to be our special guest "OUTFRONT" tonight.

Back to you, Anderson.

COOPER: Coming up, back with our panel for some quick final thoughts on who they think is going to win tomorrow night. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: By this time tomorrow night the voting results will be coming in from caucus locations across Iowa. In just a moment, we're going to get final predictions from our panel, find out what they think those results are going to show. But first, some candidates already have contingency plans for how to move forward if they don't do well here in Iowa. John King has that part of the story -- John.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Anderson, a crowded field of candidates in Iowa. We, of course, know they've been blanketing the airwaves. Rick Perry has advertised the most; hasn't benefited from that just yet. Mitt Romney and a political action committee that supports Mitt Romney doing much of the attack ads on Gingrich here in Iowa along with Ron Paul.

The question is what happens after Iowa? So let's bring the map down.

Now, we know the campaign moves next up to New Hampshire right up here. You see Boston television markets, some of the campaigns already advertising here. Then it goes down here. You see ads down here in South Carolina.

Here is what is most fascinating. The state of Florida votes fourth, right? One color. One color. On television here, Restore Our Future. That is the political action committee that supports Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. He expects to do well in Iowa. He could win. He expects to win New Hampshire. He needs to win New Hampshire. South Carolina is where Romney went off the rails in 2008. So what is this? In Florida Romney's friends already, even before Iowa votes, building a future fire wall -- Anderson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Interesting stuff, John. Thanks very much.

Let's get some quick predictions on tomorrow night from our panel. Mary Matalin, one, two, three, who do you think?

MATALIN: Romney. I think Romney's going to win. I think -- I think Santorum may outperform his current expectation...

COOPER: But you think his surge has stopped?

MATALIN: I'm talking the people on the ground here, unaffiliated, and he's -- he's weighted down by -- Michele Bachmann has the preachers. The Newt people are sticking with him to some extent. There's too many like candidates for him to exceed 20.

COOPER: So you think Romney in one, Santorum in...

MATALIN: Santorum, Paul.

COOPER: Santorum, Paul. Erick?

ERICKSON: I think probably Romney and Paul and then third, either Santorum or Perry. I think Perry's organization will pull through.

COOPER: Donna? BRAZILE: I think it's Romney. I think it's Romney because he can attract independents. But I also think Rick Perry will live to fight another day, possibly in South Carolina.

BEGALA: I'm the lone ranger. I think Santorum's surge holds, and I think that Romney will be within two points of the 25 percent that he got four years and $20 million ago. Most expensive two points in America.

COOPER: So you think Romney in two?

BEGALA: Second place. Right where he was last time, 25 percent. And then Ron Paul, probably 18 to 20.

COOPER: And in terms of -- will anyone drop out, do you think, after tomorrow?

BRAZILE: No.

BEGALA: No.

MATALIN: Probably not.

ERICKSON: Probably Bachmann if she doesn't do well.

COOPER: You don't think she'll try at least to get to South Carolina?

ERICKSON: If she's out of money, I don't know that she can. If Romney comes in second, I mean, people are going to have to have a serious look at his candidacy that he can't, after five years of campaigning, can't go up from where he started five years ago?

MATALIN: Let me be contrary here. He hasn't broken the ceiling, but no one has broken his jaw. The point that Paul made earlier, this is not a marathon. It's a spirit thrower (ph). Whatever you were talking about.

But there's only one candidate built for the new RNC rules, which go on and on for months and months. And Romney is the only guy. And if you look at "The Des Moines Register" poll, gold standard, the attributes (ph) for Romney, the best general election candidate, Romney, and he has no enthusiasm gap. He is likely to maintain.

ERICKSON: And Mary is not mentioning gold standard for Ron Paul people.

COOPER: Donna Brazile, Mary Matalin, Erick Erickson, Paul Begala, thanks very much. Go get warm.

The Iowa caucuses now less than 24 hours away. We're going to have all the results and analysis right here on CNN, of course, live tomorrow night. Be sure to tune in, 7 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night.

That does it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.