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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Gingrich/Romney Battle in the South Carolina Primary; Fake E- mail Alert Targets Gingrich

Aired January 20, 2012 - 20:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Erin, thank you very much. Good evening, everyone. I want to welcome our viewers to Charleston.

I got to say, it's one of the most beautiful colleges I've ever seen. A lot of enthusiasm here on campus tonight. A lot of enthusiasm in the state of South Carolina for what's going to take place tomorrow in this state.

Newt Gingrich right now is surging. Mitt Romney is now admitting that tomorrow may end in defeat for Mitt Romney. Barely a week ago, it was expected to be a coronation of source. That's how quickly things have changed in this election. Speaker Gingrich's comeback began with a strong performance in a debate Monday. Then came his firing performance on last night's debate here on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As you know, your ex-wife gave an interview with ABC news and "the Washington Post" and the story has now gone viral on the Internet. In it, she says that you came to her in 1999 at a time when you were having an affair. She said you asked her, sir, to enter into an open marriage. Would you like to take time to respond to that?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. But I will.

(APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Is that all you want to say, sir?

GINGRICH: Let me finish, please.

(APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: Every person in here knows personal pain. Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Last night David Gergen called that the most dramatic moment in debate history. ABC News is pushing back hard though tonight on another claim that speaker Gingrich made last night that he offered up friends from back then to refute the story. He said the network wasn't interested.

But ABC's senior vice president Jeffrey Schneider said, quote, "we would have been happy to interview anyone they put forward." In any case, the former speaker who talked another minute and a half on the subject in the clip you just saw, he's not talking anymore.

Here's Gary Tuchman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the day before the polls open in South Carolina, a new tactic from Newt Gingrich on the question of his relationship with his second wife.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Mr. Speaker, is it valid to bring up personal issues in a campaign?

TUCHMAN: A reporter tripped which seemed to take Gingrich's attention. So we tried again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Mr. Speaker, is personal issues valid in the campaign to bring up?

TUCHMAN: His refusal to answer is a 180 from yesterday. He was standing with his wife and was asked a similar question by a man attending a South Carolina rally.

GINGRICH: (inaudible). Going to god for forgiveness and the reconciliation.

TUCHMAN: And then he talked about it with reporters.

GINGRICH: It's an issue I confront every time it comes up. And I confront it exactly the same way every time that comes up and people seemed to be satisfied with it. You watched the audiences.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next president.

TUCHMAN: During the last two days Gingrich's crowds have grown bigger and louder as the stakes get higher. On the eve of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, Newt Gingrich knew he wasn't going to win. But now, he believes victory in South Carolina is within his grasp.

GINGRICH: If we win on Saturday, with your help, I believe I will become the nominee because I do think South Carolina, in fact, has an enormous impact. You picked the winner every single primary since 1980. And I believe that we will go on to win Florida and then we'll go on to win the nomination.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Do you think it's critical that you win here in South Carolina?

GINGRICH: I think it's critical that you win as often as you can. I think that this is -- the number one thing we now know is that when this becomes a two-person race then Romney has a problem because he's too liberal for most Republican voters.

TUCHMAN: As Gingrich's poll numbers increased so it appears have his spirits. He's eagerly belting out one-liners. In this case talking about President Obama's Thursday visit to Walt Disneyworld.

GINGRICH: Think about the president standing with Mickey mouse on one side and goofy on the other.

(LAUGHTER)

TUCHMAN: Gingrich doesn't want to be backed into a corner. But, if he doesn't have a strong performance in South Carolina which neighbors his home state of Georgia, it will be increasingly unlikely to hear things like this for real.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Mr. President --

GINGRICH: Not yet. But with your help.

TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN. Charleston, South Carolina.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Joining us now our political panel on the college campus with us. Political contributor and former George Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, Erick Erickson, editor in chief for redstate.com and political analyst Roland Martin.

Let's talk about what's happening right now today. Is this surge of Newt Gingrich so powerful he could win here tomorrow?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.

COOPER: Ari, do you think he will?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I do. I predict Newt Gingrich is going to win South Carolina. And, more than what I predict, I spoke to several leading South Carolina Republicans who know the state in and out. To a person they all thought Newt would win by a small margin. I spoke to a national pollster who knows South Carolina very well. He thinks Newt will win big.

Now, the ground has shifted. It started shifting Monday at the debate. The shift accelerated last night. I think Newt wins.

COOPER: Erick Erickson, do you agree with the prediction? Also, what went wrong for Romney?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think what went wrong for Romney largely was the debate on Monday. And then his debate last night sealed it for him. Newt Gingrich had huge momentum talking to a number of pollsters after Monday's debate. The polling shifted dramatically for Newt Gingrich. And then last night locked it in.

But, there is another key detail here. To degree, this is also a proxy fight in South Carolina between the governor who endorsed Mitt Romney and the speaker of the house who endorsed Newt Gingrich.

The speaker, speaker Harrell, has a huge ground in a lot of counties and he's fired it up now for Newt Gingrich to get grassroots activists for the polls tomorrow. And we'll see this not just as a proxy fight and also between Mitt and Newt. I think Newt is going to win.

COOPER: If he does win here tomorrow, Roland. What do you think that means moving forward if he does win?

ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the same thing we see on the night of the Iowa caucus. And that is, this is going to be a fight to the end over a period of months. Far too many national journalists kept saying he wins two, three, four and it's over. Absolutely not. You look at what happened. Perry drops out this week. What happens if Santorum comes in fourth? Will he stay in? Of course, Ron Paul's not going anywhere. And so, this will go to April and May.

COOPER: When you said Ron Paul is not going anywhere, you mean Paul isn't leaving?

MARTIN: He's not leaving the race. At the end of the day, see, everyone keeps forgetting, this is a race for delegates. This is not about how many states you win. Can you get to 1445? And so, Mitt Romney, his focus should be on the long game. He might lose weak, but you still move on the Florida next.

COOPER: Do you, guys, think Santorum stays in, I mean, if he does place, do you think he's going to place - I mean, fourth? Is Paul strong enough for you at third?

ERICKSON: I think Ron Paul probably is strong enough for third. The interesting here is that the evangelicals come out this past week and endorsed Santorum who has got no bump out of it. Moving to Florida after that, suddenly Gingrich has the wind at his back, not Santorum. And I think you will see evangelicals start rallying towards Gingrich against Romney in Florida.

And remember, Florida has had its delegates cut. They will and try -- this is a race for delegates not for state. Because Florida had its delegates cut, you only have five percent of delegates selected by the end of this month. You've got 95 percent of delegates still out there.

COOPER: But both Santorum and Gingrich want to be the lone conservative standing and either one seems willing to blink on this.

FLEISCHER: Well, I think that Santorum has got no choice but to blink, especially if Newt wins. The difference is that Newt is of national stature. Newt is known everywhere. Newt can assemble something faster. Rick Santorum really just had a great night in Iowa. And then since then, no other state is like Iowa.

And so, I think it is going to come down to a Newt/Romney race with Ron Paul hanging in there. But the one area I disagree is if Mitt Romney could have delivered a knockout punch here in South Carolina, it wouldn't matter about the delegate count because he would have chased everybody else out of the race. Looks like he'll miss the opportunity now.

ERICKSON: The money will flow to Newt Gingrich. And remember, Santorum could go to all 99 counties in Iowa.

COOPER: But yes. But interesting to say that evangelicals now, you think Florida will move toward Gingrich. Evangelicals here do seem to be even well in the support Gingrich which, two weeks ago, not a lot of people thought that.

ERICKSON: The issue with his ex-wife, does that start turning evangelicals against him? Right now, the latest poll that I've seen he's beating Santorum among evangelicals, two to one. But it also helps that he's a southern evangelical or seen as a southern evangelicals when Santorum as not. That will differ as we move from across (inaudible).

MARTIN: Here's the deal. As of last night, we can forget this whole notion that the GOP as the party of family values, OK. If you're all of the sudden seeing evangelicals say, hey, Newt's OK. What they are saying is all the stuff they have been saying for the last 30 years is really irrelevant. So, throw that talk out. And so, the whole moral -- come on now. You can't stand here and talk about it's about morality and -

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Right. But you talk about morality, character, integrity, that tells me that what you always been saying, that's the most important thing the last 30 years obviously it's not the most important thing.

ERICKSON: In the field of law in candidates, they will go with the guy who does the best against Barack Obama in debates.

FLEISCHER: There is a big Florida curve ball lies ahead too. About 30 percent of Florida voters have already voted because of absentee ballots that have come in. So, whatever the bounce, its Newt gets out of here tomorrow, it will be submerged ballots. So, don't fight Mitt Romney in Florida. This thing keeps going.

COOPER: Right. It's just - I mean, this is a really has been a fascinating race. Everybody's been in the lead at one time or another. How far can it go? I mean, at what point will there be -- ERICKSON: Until it hits 1445.

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: Remember, after Florida a lot of initial races after Florida favor Mitt Romney. Then you get into super Tuesday with Texas, Rick Perry helping Gingrich. Georgia has the largest field outside of Texas which actually Texas has now moved beyond that so you have Georgia, Newt's home state, dominating super Tuesday.

MARTIN: This will turn into what I said early on. Who can win regions of the country? Who will do well in the west? Who will do well in the southwest and the southeast, the Midwest? So, it wasn't all about one person can knock it all out. That's what it boils down to.

FLEISCHER: On the other hand, everybody's predictions have been wrong. Who knows?

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: And they were every year and yet we keep making them because what else are going to talk about.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Ari Fleischer, Erick Erickson, Roland Martin. Guys, thanks very much.

Let us know what you think on facebook obviously, Google plus. Add us to your circle. Follow me on twitter @andersoncooper. I'll be tweeting tonight.

Ahead. We just got word from a top Gingrich adviser; predict a margin of victory tomorrow. He has predicted it. We'll tell you what he said.

And also tonight, we take a look at the tradition of dirty tricks here in South Carolina. Newt Gingrich is becoming the target of fake e-mails sent to Republican voters here in state claiming -- well, we'll tell you about it after the break.

As you will see, politics down here can be very, very rough. Plus, a lot more on Mitt Romney's eroding advantage and what may be responsible for it.

We'll also have new developments in the cruise ship disaster. Stunning details about what the captain was doing after the ship hit the rocks and that's not all. We're keeping him honest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And welcome back. We're here with a crowd on the campus of the college of Charleston. One of the most beautiful college campuses I have ever seen. We have late word from the Gingrich campaign tonight. In fact, you can call it boasting really. One of his top South Carolina advisers, a man named Richard Quinn, is predicting a win and is predicting the margin of the win by four to six points.

Now, we are feeling the aftershocks from last night's debate up the road from us. Newt Gingrich seemed to use it as a springboard as he had the debate on Monday. For Mitt Romney though, it may have been a stumbling block.

For months campaign watchers say governor Romney has struggled with two perceptions or allegations that he's out of touch with average Americans and that he is a flip-flopper. Fair or not, he's had a tough time shaking those charges and seemed to struggle again last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Back in 1967, your father set a groundbreaking, what was then a groundbreaking standard in American politics. He released his tax returns. He released them for not one year but for 12 years. Will you follow your father's example?

ROMNEY: Maybe. You know, I don't know how many years I'll release. I'll take a look at what the documents are. And I will release multiple years. I don't know how many years. I will be happy to do that.

Let me tell you, I know there are some who are very anxious to see if they can't make it more difficult for a campaign to be successful. I know Democrats want to go after the fact that I have been successful. I'm not going to apologize for being successful.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that was last night. CNN's Jim Acosta caught up with governor Romney today. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You were booed and jeered --

ROMNEY: Wait a minute. We have people from other campaigns in the audience.

ACOSTA: Are you concerned --

ROMNEY: They will boo people based on the interest of their campaign.

ACOSTA: If I could finish my question though, sir.

ROMNEY: Certainly. ACOSTA: Are you concerned that the varying ways you have answered that question might feed into the feeling that some Republicans have that you are a wafer?

ROMNEY: No. At the very beginning I indicated that I hadn't any plans to release my tax returns. Then it became clear that it was of great interest to everyone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Jim Acosta joins us along with last night's moderator, John King and chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

John, just a couple of days ago, the narrative within Mitt Romney was cruising to seal a nomination with three consecutive victories in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. Doesn't seem - well, it turns out he didn't win Iowa and he possibly could he could lose here in South Carolina and come in second. What happened?

KING: Number of things happened. Number one as you discussed on the previous segment, speaker Gingrich using debate performances to appeal to the conservative base attacking the news media. He's also as proven for months that he's the strongest of the candidates in the debate setting.

Number two. Governor Romney, if you ask his team privately, if you ask other campaign pollsters studying the data, not releasing tax returns, the mixed message on releasing tax returns has fed into the perception, doubts about governor Romney and his debate performances haven't been as steady.

So, Gingrich is more steady and he's feeding red meat to the base. Romney seems a little bit shaky playing it safe, perhaps because they thought a week ago. They had a double digit lead there.

When you add those two things up -- I talked to a top Romney campaign adviser who conceded that the momentum is going the other way. They still hope the organization can pull out a victory tomorrow but their expectation tonight, Anderson, is that Gingrich wins.

COOPER: And Jim, I want to play a clip of Mitt Romney trying to lower expectations here in South Carolina. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Speaker Gingrich is from a neighboring state, well known, popular in the state. So I knew we'd have a long road ahead of us and frankly to be in a neck and neck race at the last moment is exciting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: It sounds like he's trying to couple with a reason for a loss here.

ACOSTA: It does, Anderson. And you have to keep in mind last night during the CNN debate he called Newt Gingrich a creature of Washington essentially. And here he is today, saying that he hails from a neighboring state. So, he's trying to clean up what looks like may be a loss here in South Carolina.

And, you know, we should point out that he's had conflicting statements all week on the tax returns. First on Monday night, he said he might release them. Then on Tuesday he said, I'll release the 2011 returns. Then today he said I'll have multiple returns later on this spring. And then he tried to turn the tables on Newt Gingrich said hey, Newt Gingrich, you released the ethics report you had back in the mid 1990s. Well, that report, Anderson, is already online. It's already available online.

COOPER: And Gingrich blasted Mitt Romney for saying release anything. He said to be essentially, you have no business, Gloria, talking about releasing something if you won't release your tax returns.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and the irony to all of this is what does Mitt Romney have to hide? He's already told people he paid a 15 percent rate. In a Republican primary that's not terrible thing to say. People want to lower taxes, not raise taxes. People already know he tithes his income to the Mormon church. So there doesn't seem to be anything to hide here. Why make it seem as if there is?

I mean, the bottom line here is that Mitt Romney seems very uncomfortable in talking about his own personal wealth. And I think that has become a problem with him. He's trying to relate to middle class voters and he hasn't managed to make that connection.

COOPER: John, why do you think that is? I mean, to Gloria's point, the lack of comfort talking about it and it's - I mean, the question you asked last night and, you know, mentioning his father releasing 12 years of his returns, it certainly highlighted his discomfort.

KING: And they have known for years, Anderson, this was coming. It was a slight issue -- his wealth -- in the last campaign. The Obama campaign, before some of his Republican rivals took it up and that was it's complicated it. It was just the Obama campaign. Just the Democratic National Committee say release your tax as governor. Well, he could say in the Republican primary, I'm not going to bow to the demands of the Democrats.

The problem was when speaker Gingrich, senator Santorum and governor Perry who has now left the race, they added it on, too. Why? Because they were looking for something that will work to stop governor Romney's momentum. And that has been a part of it.

You asked why. I talked to a close friend of the governor today. And separately, one of his top campaign advisers. They both said the same thing. They said he has nothing to hide. They say he's a very private person and they are having a hard time at the staff level convincing him, he needs to be more transparent. Because he has released a financial disclosure form which has a ton of information on it. He views this as somehow of an invasion of privacy. They say they are having a hard time working it through with him but they stress to him the political urgency of figuring it out.

COOPER: Gloria, in Florida, where this race moves next, there are two debates scheduled for next week. I mean, it's amazing, the degree to which speaker Gingrich has been able to use these debates to propel himself forward.

BORGER: You know. The debates for Newt Gingrich have been the primaries that he's won. Because, you know, once he sort of got on the landscape there, he is a terrific debater. He's also a knife fighter. He's very good at attack politics. He knows how to do it in a debate. I mean, you saw what happened last night in our debate. Mitt Romney gave him kind a buy on the personal allegations against him. And then he went right back at Mitt Romney, didn't say thank you. Just started getting him on the taxes again.

So, you can assume that Newt Gingrich is going to continue doing this because he wants to show Republicans that he's a fighter and he can go up against Barack Obama. Mitt Romney has to show that he can do battle.

COOPER: But Jim, as you saw in the (inaudible), Mitt Romney still is the one who has the organization, who has the ground forces and the money.

ACOSTA: That's right. This race changes once it's out of South Carolina. I mean, Newt Gingrich can claim a victory tomorrow if he comes out on top. And it will be a big victory. I mean, Mitt Romney was Mr. Inevitable on Monday. He's not that person anymore. But, when it gets to Florida we are talking about multiple media markets. Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, the Panhandle, where it takes lots of money to campaign and Mitt Romney has the organization on the ground. He also has the super PAC that is going to flood the zone the way it has In South Carolina and other states.

BORGER: But, it turns out inevitability is not a campaign message.

COOPER: That's right. We've seen that. Jim, Thank you.

ACOSTA: We should mention both Gingrich and Romney may be at the same place tomorrow out on the campaign trail on the last day of primary day. this must be in Tommy's ham house in Greenville. South Carolina, sort of fitting - sort of the ham-handed way the Romney campaign has handled the week. Hopefully lots of ham on hand.

COOPER: We'll see if the ham house is big enough for the two of them. Appreciate it, Gloria. Jim, thanks very much. John, as well.

Still ahead, raw politics. The latest dirty tricks in South Carolina. A lot of history here in the state. Phony e-mails that were sent to Republicans on the eve of the primary. Newt Gingrich the target of the smear tonight.

Also tonight, disturbing details about how long it took the crew on the Italian cruise ship to react to the life-threatening disaster that's unfolding. There is new video where you actually see crew members telling folks to go back to their rooms because everything is under control. We're keeping them honest. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. We are here at the college of Charleston tonight in South Carolina. A huge crowd here. Hundreds of people actually. Lots of people turning out. A lot of excitement in this state about what's going to happen here tomorrow.

We want to focus though on the raw politics and I mean raw. Dirty tricks in South Carolina aimed at stopping Newt Gingrich's momentum. A phony e-mail that was actually made to look like a CNN news alert was sent to Republicans in South Carolina from a fake e- mail account. Here's what it said. And again, this was completely fake.

"A source close to Marianne Gingrich," this is the fake e-mail, " tells CNN that former house speaker Newt Gingrich forced her to abort a pregnancy conceived during the affair that preceeded (sic) her marriage to Gingrich." "Preceded" by the way is misspelled.

Again, CNN did not send this e-mail. It is not true, it is false. It comes on the heels of Marianne Gingrich giving that interview to ABC news which has caused so much controversy.

Now, a second fake e-mail was sent also out. That e-mail that its headline was Newt Gingrich responds to abortion allegations. It's made to look like it's from the Gingrich campaign and it starts by saying, "I have said many times including on the debate stage last night that I am not a perfect human being and I have made mistakes in my life. This was one of them. I have had to apologize to God and seek reconciliation." Again, this is all fake. It sounds like a confession but it's fake. Here's what Gingrich said about the e-mails today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: I am sick of the kind of dishonest campaigns that we see where people who fake somebody else's material for the purpose of causing trouble 24 hours before a primary. This is not worthy of our children and grandchildren and it's not worthy of America. It's not funny. It's not a game. It undermines our capacity to govern ourselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Dirty politics most definitely. Surprising in South Carolina? Not all that surprising. Here's Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Rick Santorum --

FOREMAN: With the race tightening, robo calls are making sure South Carolinians know. Rick Santorum went on Laura Ingraham's radio show and endorsed Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM, R-PA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is only one place to go right now and that's Mitt Romney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Problem is, that was in 2008. The robocall says so but Santorum calls it another case of dirty pool in a state famous for that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney. He can't be trusted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ron Paul is not a Reagan Republican.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Newt attacks because he has more baggage than the airlines.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Ads filled with half truths and innuendoes are filling the air waves and Internet there now. Just this week, Santorum's wife was attacked in a flyer, about a long ago relationship with a doctor before she met Santorum.

It says, "Did you know Rick Santorum's wife, Karen, had a six- year affair with an abortionist?" In 2008, fake Christmas cards supposedly from Mitt Romney and his wife appeared, reminding Christian conservatives of the family's Mormon faith.

That same year Bill Clinton stepped into scandal by drawing a parallel between Barack Obama's campaign and that of another black politician -- Jesse Jackson. And in 2000, as George W. Bush battled John McCain, an anonymous rumor arose that McCain's adopted daughter was from an illicit affair with a black woman -- not true.

So why do things get so rough in the Palmetto State? Political analysts say it is simple. Those candidates who are leading want to knock everybody else out of the race, and those who are trailing see it as their last chance to throw some punches, no matter how dirty it gets -- Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

COOPER: Well, a lot of mud flying around South Carolina over the years. Joining me is CNN political analyst David Gergen and also Gloria Borger here. It's -- it is pretty remarkable, the history of dirty politics in this state.

GERGEN: It is. Politics has always been a contact sport in South Carolina. And we are seeing a lot of it this year. But, Anderson, overall I have to tell you, I think we are seeing less this year than we have in some past years. You know, there's not as much race injected into this campaign as we have seen in the past. And, you know, often candidates are attacked because they're too close to blacks, or they're intermarried or they have a child, or all these other things. We're not seeing as much of that. What we are seeing is a barrage of negative advertising.

COOPER: What do you make of the surge of Newt Gingrich? We talked to the other panel about it. I'd like to hear your thoughts.

GERGEN: Well, I'm struck that not only is he surging here but what -- Gallup came out today with a national tracking poll among Republicans.

And what they've shown is that in the course of a week, that Mitt Romney's lead over Newt Gingrich nationwide has gone from 23 points to 10 points and the head of Gallup said today, he said, Mitt Romney's nationwide lead is collapsing. He used the word collapsing. That's very striking. It means that there's something bigger going on than beyond what's going on here.

COOPER: It is interesting, Gloria, in this day and age to suddenly, you know, see this e-mail circulating today to realize that there are these kind of darker political arts (ph) which are still out there.

BORGER: Yes, and they are out there. And I agree with David. It's not the way it used to be.

I mean, Lee Atwater was sort of a Republican -- famous Republican operative who prided himself on understanding how to deal with those kinds of dirty tricks. I think we are seeing more transparent campaigns.

On the other hand, the super PACs have come in, and they have kind of replaced all the old sort of negative dirty tricks, because they don't have to disclose who they are. They say, oh, we're Restore our Future or Great for America PAC, whatever it is. And I think that they have essentially taken up where the dirty tricks left off. It's just different.

COOPER: You know, David, for -- let's talk about the race. For months now people have been saying, look, Romney is really set up for the long game, for a long war. He has got the organization, he's got the money.

Can Gingrich, I mean, if he's is really a viable candidate, which people in the state are saying, yes, he seems to be, is he set up for a long game?

GERGEN: He's not. He's not. But -- and I think you have to say whatever happens here that Mitt Romney remains the front-runner.

But there is something going on, Anderson, that I think is bigger, and that is if Newt Gingrich wins here tomorrow and Santorum doesn't do well, which it looks like we are heading toward, then it could become a two-man race, which is what Gingrich has always wanted. He always felt if we could get it into a two-man, I can beat him, and the money will start coming in, that sort of thing, support from a strong conservative group.

That conceivably could happen, come (inaudible).

COOPER: Let's talk about Ron Paul. Where does he move from here?

BORGER: He moves right along. I mean, Ron Paul's support has been consistent. And he's got the organization. He's got the organization in states coming up, particularly a state like Nevada.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: And enthusiasm, younger voters, for example. So I think Ron Paul is going to continue to remain a constant here, and he may take it to the convention, for example.

And I think that the race between Newt and Romney is going to get darker and nastier, because I think the Romney people have a stack this big of opposition research on Newt Gingrich. I think they are going to start throwing it back at him. And they haven't done that so far.

GERGEN: Yes. It's going to be fascinating.

COOPER: David Gergen, Gloria Borger, thank you very much.

A programming note: CNN is going to replay last night's GOP debate at 4:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow and CNN's live coverage of tomorrow's primary starts at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. We're going to have all the latest live from what's gone on in this state.

Coming up, disturbing new developments as we piece together what happened when the Costa Concordia cruise ship ran aground. Crew members on board downplaying the incident to the Coast Guard and telling passengers to go back to their cabins. Could deaths have been prevented? We'll keeping them honest tonight.

Also ahead, four members of Florida A&M University's marching band arrested on hazing charges. The case has nothing to do with the death of that drum major. We'll have the latest coming up. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. Keeping them honest now with 48 hours worth of disturbing new developments in the cruise ship disaster, the disaster that is really almost impossible to believe.

Disturbing, the details are, because it's looking more and more like the 11 people who died there and the 21 people who are still trapped, still missing, might all be alive today if the captain and the crew -- if the captain and the crew of the Costa Concordia had reacted differently, had reacted better after the captain's risky course steered the ship into a massive rock.

Now that rock opened up the ship's hull like a tin can. Look at that, that rock still lodged in the hull. Looking at it now, it's hard to imagine downplaying the seriousness of the situation. But according to Coast Guard logs published in the Italian press, at 14 minutes past 10:00 p.m. local time, more than half an hour after impact, no one on board had even called the Italian Coast Guard.

That's not entirely true. People on shore had called the Coast Guard after worried relatives on board called them. So the Coast Guard actually reached out to the Concordia. It wasn't the other way around. As you're going to hear, a crew member actually downplays the problem. Listen.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So as you can hear him, the crew member seems to be downplaying the incident, and the Concordia, by the way, is taking on water fast. The passengers had been told to put on life vests. The newly released amateur video, broadcast on Italian television, shows this, take a look.

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COOPER: Crew member there saying nothing to worry about. Not for the Coast Guard, apparently, not for passengers. It's remarkable to see that video.

Yet within an hour or so, those same passengers were scrambling for their lives, having climbed up the inside of the ship, and down the outside of the ship. That's night vision cameras you're looking at, of the passengers crawling down the side of the ship.

The question is did some never make it because they listened to that announcement and went to their cabin, deep below deck, and never made it out again? Some of them may still be in those cabins.

Where was the captain, Francisco Schettino, after his ship hit the rock and was lurching around, crippled in the water? He was allegedly with a woman ordering dinner. Here's what a cook told a Filipino television network.

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ROGELIO BARISTA, COSTA CONCORDIA COOK (through translator): The captain insisted on having a meal at around 10:30. He arrived with a woman, who I didn't recognize. At that time, I was with a colleague, another cook, Jason Belasco (ph), and we wondered what was going on.

At that time, we really felt something was wrong. The stuff in the kitchen was falling off shelves and we realized how grave the situation was. You would not believe it. I have had 12 years of experience as a cook on a cruise ship.

I have even witnessed fires, so I wasn't that scared, but I did wonder, though, what the captain was doing, why was he still there? Anyway, we gave him his drink. After that he was also still waiting for the dessert to be served to the woman he was with.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Waiting for dessert. So the cook claims the captain was waiting for dessert, while his ship was sinking. He would later abandon his ship with crew and passengers still aboard. Remember, his last explanation was he tripped and fell into the lifeboat.

First he denied it. Then he tried to tell a Coast Guard commander, talking to him from a lifeboat, that he could better coordinate from there. That's what his attorney was claiming. The commander went ballistic, ordered him to get back on board. He never did.

Finally there were reports the captain told Italian investigators the ship lurched, he tripped, stumbled, fell into the lifeboat, along with his top crew members, by the way. No one seems to be buying that.

We are now learning that authorities are testing his hair and reportedly his urine to see if he was drunk, or high or otherwise chemically impaired. Then there is the woman he was allegedly dining with, a young Costa employee who was traveling on vacation.

She's denying any romantic connection with the captain, but is defending him. She says he stayed on board until midnight and that she stayed with him in case he needed a translator.

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DOMENICA CEMORTAN, COSTA CONCORDIA EMPLOYEE (through translator): I was asked to remain on deck because I speak five languages, just so I was there in case I was needed to make the last announcement.

I was next to the captain, 20 officers and the director of this trip, who was quite an important person on the ship. We were waiting for orders from the captain so we could pass information to the passengers.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Well, that's what she's telling authorities. I want to get a passenger's take on all these developments. We spoke by phone earlier this week with Georgia Ananias, who was one of the last passengers, along with her husband, Arthur, to leave the Concordia. She joins us now from Los Angeles.

Georgia, thanks for being with us. Since we spoke the other night, new details have emerged about the disaster and what you and thousands of others went through. I want to get your reaction first to a letter that an employee of Costa Cruises apparently wrote to an Italian newspaper. This is an employee who wasn't actually on the ship.

And we can't independently confirm the letter's authenticity, but according to our translation, one portion reads, quote, "I have read, seen and heard so much nonsense with bitterness just from these survivors, who resorted to sensationalism rather than information." He's essentially saying that the survivors are making a bigger deal of this. What do you think of that?

GEORGIA ANANIAS, COSTA CONCORDIA SURVIVOR: I was most angry when I read that and heard that. I just cannot believe that they would make a statement like that.

Actually, words can't even adequately describe the story. It's a lot more sensational than has even been reported by word of mouth. And I think it is absolutely a crime to be talking this way about people that have died and people that are injured. And for them to do this, I was very, very angry when I heard it yesterday.

But I am just incensed by all of this. This is ridiculous. But it has been typical of the response, that Costa Cruise line, Carnival Cruise line and the staff have done all along. This is really hurtful and it's got to stop. It's a defamation of the character of those people that died there and a defamation of all of us that suffered through this horrendous event.

COOPER: And I mean, and you and multiple times -- I remember the last time we talked -- you actually had said goodbye to your family members. You actually had somebody hand you their baby because they didn't think they were going to make it.

ANANIAS: That's right. That's exactly what happened. That was just one incident of four incidents, where we did say our goodbyes and we thought it was the end. And the only way that people got off that ship is that each person helped each other. We pulled people to safety. People pulled us to safety. And for them to make statements like that is so hurtful.

COOPER: What do you make, too, of this claim now by one of the ship's cooks that the captain actually ordered dinner and was waiting for dessert while the ship was filling up with water?

ANANIAS: Well, I'm going to tell you. After we got on the island of Giglio, we conversed with some of the waiters and some of the people on there that were on the island. And they said he was a person that partied hard. They weren't surprised that he wasn't being -- having a party at the time this happened.

And another thing that upsets me is a statement that was made that there were 20 other officers where -- there while that lady was trying to interpret. Why weren't they out on the deck, trying to help people and giving orders and directions? And I never heard an order to put on your life jacket. Never.

COOPER: Georgia Ananias, I appreciate you being with us. And, again, I'm so happy that you and your family are safe. We'll continue to talk with you as these -- as new developments keep coming in. Georgia, appreciate it.

ANANIAS: Thank you.

COOPER: New developments also tonight in Syria. It is getting so dangerous, the State Department is considering closing the U.S. embassy in Damascus.

Also tonight, arrests at Florida A&M University, four members of the school's marching band facing charges tonight in a hazing incident, but it's not the case that's made headlines around the world. We'll explain ahead.

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COOPER: Hey, welcome back to the campus of the College of Charleston. I keep telling the students they should be studying, but they seem determined to stay here. We are just hours away from the South Carolina primary. We're going to have a lot more from here coming up.

But, first, we want to get the latest on some of the other stories we are following tonight. Isha's back with a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha?

ISHA SESAY, CNN REPORTER: Anderson, the United States is considering closing its embassy in Syria because of security concerns. That's according to senior U.S. officials who said only a handful of embassy staffers remain in Damascus.

In Georgia, the autopsy results are in for the killer of Jorelys Rivera, a 7-year old murdered by a maintenance worker at her apartment complex. Ryan Brunn hanged himself with his sweatshirt in a prison cell, according to the medical examiner. Brunn was sentenced to life after confessing to the murder.

Four members of Florida A&M's marching band have been arrested on hazing charges that date back to September. A school spokeswoman said the charges are unrelated to the November hazing death of drum major Robert Champion. That investigation is ongoing.

And singer Etta James has died.

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(END VIDEO CLIP, "AT LAST") SESAY: Her amazing voice landed her in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame. Etta James was 73.

And (inaudible) as Reverend Al Green performed last night at a campaign event for President Obama, who then paid homage to Green. Take a look.

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OBAMA: And then to know that Reverend Al Green was here --

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: "I'm so in love with you -- "

(APPLAUSE)

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SESAY: Not bad. Anderson, those lines of course from Green's hit song "Let's Stay Together".

COOPER: There you go. Are you a crooner, Isha?

SESAY: Oh, yes, I can croon. Can you croon?

COOPER: Really? No, no. No, no.

SESAY: Why do you sound surprised?

COOPER: I don't really know. I don't know. You're -- you have got many talents. I shouldn't be surprised at all.

Coming up next, a cougar controversy claws its way onto "The RidicuList." We'll explain that ahead.

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COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList." And tonight we're adding a cougar controversy that has sunk its teeth into one town in Utah. In Draper, Utah, a new high school is opening next year and students were asked to choose a mascot. The future students of Corner Canyon High School took a vote, and they decided they wanted be the Cougars. And that's when the claws came out.

The school district superintendent said he got a lot of e-mails and phone calls from parents with varying complaints about the new mascot including, quote, "Many also have commented on the negative double entendre of the word cougar."

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: The negative double entendre of the word "cougar," as all students here know -- I take it they are not talking about John Mellencamp. And, yes, I realize I'm dating myself. Students here don't even -- they weren't even born when "Jack and Diane" was released. Do you even know what "Jack and Diane" is? You don't know anything. They don't teach you anything these days.

Anyway, this is a little ditty about parents getting freaked out about their kids going to a high school where the mascot is the cougar because it also happens to be a slang term for an older woman dating a younger man. In other words, the parents are thinking not so much about this kind of cougar, but this kind of cougar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, I'm Toni, and welcome to the cougar den. I treated myself to a Jonas Brothers concert as a pre- Valentine's Day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, you deserve it, honey.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I was thrown out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Toni, what happened?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, what happened?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was really rocking out, you know, pumping my fist when my menopause patch flew up off my arm and into a young girl's mouth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: "SNL's 'Cougar Den,'" which is a classic. So the school board at Utah decided to scrap the kids' choice for their mascot. They're not going to be the Cougars. They're going to be the Chargers instead. Now, to me, Charger just makes me think of my BlackBerry. But I guess in the eyes of the school board, it's not as sexually charged a name as Cougars.

There are plenty of mascots that are far more Beavis-and-Butthead worthy than Cougars, by the way, Trojans, Beavers, Gamecocks, just to name a few. And it's -- (inaudible) really excited -- it's not like the kids wanted to call themselves the Corner Canyon Crack Pipes or anything. Still, now that I think about it, what kind of a stupid mascot is cougar anyway? I mean, what kind of a school --

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Wait a minute. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. All right. (Inaudible).

All right. (Inaudible).

OK, we are, indeed, broadcasting from the College of Charleston, home of -- you guessed it -- The Cougars. That's right. The cougar is the mascot here. This Cougar's name is Clyde, and it seems to be working out just fine for South Carolina. Clyde, thanks very much for being with us. I appreciate it.

So good citizens of Draper, Utah, I beseech you, do not fear the cougar, the proud mascot of many schools and (inaudible). That's it for us tonight on 360, thanks a lot. We'll see you again tonight at 10 o'clock, one hour from now, another edition of 360. Piers Morgan starts now.

That was great, Clyde. Thanks.