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Interview with Eric Fehrnstrom; Interview with Stephanie Cutter; Interview With Rick Santorum

Aired August 19, 2012 - 09:00   ET


JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jim Acosta in for Candy Crowley, and this is State of the Union.

Today, Wisconsin could be in play, Florida is a gamble and the attacks are coming fast and furious.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: He put forward a plan to let Governor Romney pay less than 1 percent in taxes each year. Now, here's the kicker, he expects you to pick up the tab.

MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: His campaign strategy is to smash America apart and then try to cobble together 51 percent of the pieces.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: Campaign heat, tax records and Medicare politics with Romney campaign senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom and Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter.



SANTORUM: You're entitled to your opinion, Mitch, you're not entitled to the...

ROMNEY: I've heard that line before...

SANTORUM: ...misrepresent the facts. And you're misrepresenting the facts. You don't know what you are talking about.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: And Rick Santorum offers his insights on running against Romney and what looks to be a brutal fall campaign.

And has the Ryan pick altered the electoral map? USA Today's Jackie Kucinich and CNN's Mark Preston are all here today on State of the Union.

With Paul Ryan's pick to be on the GOP ticket, Medicare is suddenly a top campaign issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RYAN: This is my mom, Betty. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Refusing to yield any ground to Democrats, Congressman Ryan took his mom to work at the nation's largest retirement community in Florida. Standing in front of a group of senior citizens, Ryan insisted the GOP plan is intended to save, not end, Medicare. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: We think the best way to save Medicare is to empower 50 million senior, not 15 unelected bureaucrats, to make their decisions on how they get their health care.

Mitt Romney and I will protect and strengthen Medicare so that the promises that were made, that people organized their retirements around, like my mom, will be promises that are kept.


ACOSTA: The president took his turn in another important battleground state, New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Since I have been in office, I have strengthened Medicare. I've made reforms that have extended the life of the program that have saved millions of seniors with Medicare hundreds of dollars on the prescription drugs. The only changes to your benefits that I have made on Medicare is that Medicare now covers new preventive services like cancer screenings and wellness visits for free.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: Joining me now from Boston is Eric Fehrnstrom, senior adviser to the Romney campaign. Eric, thanks for joining us this morning.

FEHRNSTROM: Thank you for having me, Jim.

ACOSTA: And Eric, I wanted to ask you about some of the president's comments this week. He is accusing Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan of seeking a Medicare system that would end Medicare as we know it. We do know that Romney and Ryan would put in place a voucher-like system where people would receive a premium support payment as Republicans call it to buy into Medicare or buy a comparable plan. How does that not end Medicare as we know it?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, I think that it is important to understand, Jim, that going forward one of the principles that Romney, the Romney/Ryan ticket will follow in reforming Medicare is that none of the changes would affect current beneficiaries there. is only one candidate in the race who has made cuts to Medicare that have affected current seniors, and that is President Obama.

In order the pay for Obamacare, he raided the Medicare piggy bank, took $700 billion out of the Medicare program and shifted it to Obamacare. That's wrong. An Mitt Romney will restore that money to Medicare. And of course as I said, one of the important principles he will follow in reforming that entitlement is making sure that none of the changes affect current seniors and that is people age 55 and above. ACOSTA: It may not affect current seniors, Eric, but we are talking about a dramatically different Medicare system in the future, isn't that right?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, not dramatically different. For future workers, those who are under the age of 55, Medicare will still be there as an option, the existing program, but we are going to introduce choice and competition through more private plans. This is a good thing.

What President Obama did was to take $700 billion out of our existing Medicare program, affecting current beneficiaries, and shifted that over to Obamacare in order to pay for that massive new entitlement. We think that's wrong. That money will be restored under a Romney/Ryan administration.

ACOSTA: But about the $700 billion cuts, aren't those same cuts in the Ryan bucket? And hasn't Governor Romney said that his plan for Medicare is virtually the same as Ryan's plan? What is the difference here?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, I think if you have heard and been listened to Representative Ryan over the past few years -- or the past few days, excuse me, he has said that he has signed up for the Romney program, which is slightly different than what you saw Paul Ryan bring forward.

But look, in terms of the operating principles, they are the same. No changes to Medicare that will affect current seniors, and of course, when we introduce more choice and competition, we will preserve Medicare as an option for those who want it.

ACOSTA: So as president, Governor Romney would take the $700 billion and put it back over into Medicare that would be different from the Ryan budget?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, look, it would go back into Medicare. We think it was a mistake for President Obama to cut Medicare the way he did. I know you have Stephanie Cutter on the program after me. Last week, she said it was an achievement of the president to have made those cuts.

We think it's a mistake. There are people out there right now, many of whom are probably watching your program, who are now shopping for new Medicare -- or new private healthcare because their Medicare Advantage program is being cut by this president.

As I said, whatever changes get made to Medicare under a Romney/Ryan administration, they will not affect the current seniors. This president cannot say the same. He went in and raided Medicare in order to pay for Obamacare. That was a mistake.

And by the way, Jim, this is first election cycle I can remember in a long time where Democrats are on the defensive because of Medicare. The reason they are on the defensive is because of the mistake that they made to go raid Medicare in order to pay for a massive new entitlement called Obamacare. ACOSTA: But this is a concern for your campaign. You wouldn't have Paul Ryan with his mother down there in the villages of Florida if you didn't have some selling to do. You do have some selling to do down in Florida, isn't that true?

FEHRNSTROM: Actually, it is not a concern.

ACOSTA: Not a concern?

FEHRNSTROM: In fact, if you look at the last few days of the campaign, you will see that Paul Ryan was down in Florida as you mentioned with his mother talking about the Romney/Ryan plan to strengthen and protect Medicare. Mitt Romney wrapped up a bus tour to five state where is he was out talking about our plans to strengthen the middle-class and create more jobs in this country.

Then you look at President Obama and Vice President Biden and where were they? Well, Vice President Biden was in Virginia suggesting that if the Republicans are elected, they are going to put everybody back in chains. President Obama was on a radio program down in New Mexico, not talking about jobs, not talking about the fiscal crisis in this country, not talking about the rapid increase in debt that has occurred under his administration, instead he was talking about his favorite chili peppers. look, we have

Look, we have some serious challenges in the country. We have a jobs crisis, we have a fiscal crisis. The Romney/Ryan ticket has plans that address both of those challenges. We have a sitting president who has no policy agenda at all for a second term.

ACOSTA: And Eric, one of the reasons why Paul Ryan wanted the $700 billion was to help balance the budget, but earlier in the week, Paul Ryan and one of the senior advisers Ed Gillespie had trouble saying when a President Romney would balance the budget. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RYAN: I don't know exactly when it balances, because I don't want to get wonky on you, but we haven't run the numbers on that specific plan. The plans that we've offered in the House balance the budget.

ED GILLESPIE, REPUBLICAN ADVISER: Wolf, I'm not sure of that myself actually. I'll get that to you, though. And I'm sure it's on our website. I should know it. I'm embarrassed on your air that I don't have that number at the top of my head.


ACOSTA: So, Eric, what's the answer to that question? When does the budget get balanced under President Romney.

FEHRNSTROM: Well, look, President Romney has published a deficit reduction plan which will cut the deficit by $500 billion in 2016. It is going to take a while for us to achieve full fiscal balance. This president has doubled the annual deficit, never before in our country before President Obama's election have we had a trillion dollar annual deficit. That is all we have had since he has been in office, four in a row. So it is going to take some while to balance that budget, but the governor has said that he will cut $500 billion from the deficit by the year 2016.

And I ask you, Jim...

ACOSTA: So you're not committing to balancing this budget by the end of the second term because Governor Romney has said that out on the campaign trail that he hopes to have that balanced by the end of his second term. You're not saying that -- that's not in the cards this morning?

FEHRNSTROM: I think that is an achievable objective by the end of his second term. What he has published is a deficit reduction plan that will cut the deficit by $500 billion by the year 2016. But I was going to say go back and look at Governor Romney's record in Massachusetts. He came in 2002 in Massachusetts, the circumstances were not that much different than what this country is experiencing now. The state was in recession. The budget was massively out of balance. We balanced that budget four years in a row without raising taxes. By the time the governor left, we were creating thousands of jobs every month. We created net new jobs on the order of 40,000.

This was a huge achievement. That's the type of fiscal management and economic management that Mitt Romney will bring to the White House.

ACOSTA: And Eric, very quickly, Mitt Romney came out and volunteered earlier this week that he hadn't paid less than 13 percent as an effective tax rate in his taxes. Why won't Mitt Romney prove it and just put his tax returns out there?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, I'll tell you, Mitt Romney put out -- he has said that he will put out two years worth of tax returns. He's put out his full 2010 return, hundreds of pages of tax return information that is on his website. He'll put out his 2011 returns once it is complete and filed. He has had financial disclosures going back to 2002 when he was governor of Massachusetts, and those, too, can be found on Mitt Romney's website.

Look, taxes are not an issue. It is not what the American people are talking about. Just last month, we learned in July that 44 states saw their unemployment rates go up, and what is Obama's answer to that? Higher taxes and more spending. If you are unemployed in America, you must feel like a drowning person who has just been thrown an anchor.

ACOSTA: All right. Eric Fehrnstrom, thanks very much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

Up next, President Obama's deputy campaign manager makes the case for four more years. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Here now is Stephanie Cutter. She is the deputy campaign manager for President Obama. Stephanie, thanks for joining us this morning.

CUTTER: Thanks for having me. ACOSTA: You heard some of Eric Fehrnstrom's comments there, we are going to get to those in just a moment. But first of all, I wanted to show you -- you are from Massachusetts, you should know that "The Boston Globe" over the weekend ran an editorial that had the headline "Biden Should Apologize for 'Back in Chains' Remark." And I just want to read an excerpt from that editorial to you. "Imagine if Republican Paul Ryan" -- let's start with this -- "Stephanie Cutter, team Obama's deputy campaign manager, said the president would have no problem with those comments. But imagine if Republican Paul Ryan uttered comments like that. Mitt Romney's pick for vice president would be pilloried for racial insensitivity, and so would Romney. In the fight for civility and substance over pointless hyperbole, Biden may not be the worst offender, but he's an offender nonetheless and he should apologize." Should we expect an apology from the vice president, Stephanie?

CUTTER: No. No. I mean, let's look at what the vice president said. Speaker Boehner and even Paul Ryan have been traveling this country talking about the need to unshackle the private sector, to unshackle the financial industry, and the vice president was just taking that metaphor a step further and talking about wanting to put other people in shackles. And the word that he used, chains, is a distraction from the larger argument, and I think "The Boston Globe" agrees with this, that we should not deregulate Wall Street, we should not repeal Wall Street reform, we should not have Wall Street play by a different set of rules than Main Street. That is the point the vice president was making, and that's the point that the president wholeheartedly agrees with.

We cannot go back to the days where taxpayers end up bailing out people because of their own reckless behavior, and the president won't allow that, so that's the point that the vice president was making, and that's a point we will continue making.

ACOSTA: Was it at the very least a poor choice of words?

CUTTER: And if you want to talk about words -- if we want to talk about words on the campaign trail that are poor choices of words, let's talk about Mitt Romney's, when he has been traveling for the last two years basically calling the president un-American, saying that he wanted to -- the president wanted to make it a less Christian nation. Those are poor choices of words, and that is, you know, that we find completely offensive.

So this faux outrage by Mitt Romney, complaining and whining about the tone of this race is really completely hypocritical. I mean, even his own opponents during the Republican primary, said, you know, Santorum said, Rick Santorum said that the only way Mitt Romney is winning is because he is bludgeoning his opponents. You know, Newt Gingrich said that Mitt Romney was trying to destroy him with lies.

ACOSTA: But, Stephanie, at the very least--

CUTTER: So I appreciate that the tone of this campaign needs to stick to the issues, but we are not going to be lectured by Mitt Romney on that, because it is completely hypocritical. ACOSTA: And not to belabor this too long, but was it, at the very least, a poor choice of words?

CUTTER: I think it is a distraction. I think the word distracted from the larger point, and the point is that Wall Street shouldn't be unshackled. Wall Street shouldn't be deregulated. I think Wall Street and Main Street need to play by the same set of rules. The middle-class can't carry the burden any longer, that is what happened in the last decade. They had to bail out Wall Street.

ACOSTA: OK, Stephanie, let's move on to this Medicare discussion, because I am sure you saw what Paul Ryan had to say down there in Florida yesterday, but I want to play a sound bite for you, because I think it is very interesting that he brought up this Medicare advisory board that would look for savings in the Medicare program as part of the president's health care law. Let's listen to what Paul Ryan had to say and I'll talk to you about it on the other side.


REP. PAUL RYAN, R-WIS., VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He puts a board of 15 unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in charge of Medicare, who are required to cut Medicare in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors.


ACOSTA: So basically, Congressman Ryan there is accusing the president of having a health care program that would ration health care for seniors. Can you pledge right now that that is not a part of the president's health care law?

CUTTER: Well, by law, that board is not allowed to.

But, Jim, I want to take a second and talk about Medicare, and I think the most disappointing thing this week is that Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan, because he was the intellectual leader of the Republican Party. Because Paul Ryan decided to join Mitt Romney's ticket, he is completely reversed himself on some of the issue he has been very strong on, like the $716 billion in savings that are in two of his budgets.

So let's talk about the president's Medicare plan versus Mitt Romney's Medicare plan. President Obama, through health care reform, strengthened Medicare. How did he do that? Well, he found savings by cutting subsidies to insurance companies, ensuring we were rooting out waste and fraud, and he used those savings to put it back into Medicare. And this is not just from us, this is from independent analysis, that because of the steps that the president took, we extended the life of Medicare by eight years, and we expanded benefits. 75 percent of today's seniors have taken advantage of preventive care, whether it is a mammogram or cancer screenings or wellness visits, because of the health care law, with no out-of-pocket costs. Seniors all over this country are saving $600 a year on their prescription drugs because the president is closing the donut hole. CUTTER: Those are real and tangible benefits as a result of the actions the president took.

Now they know that the $716 billion in savings has nothing to do with seniors' benefits, all it did was expand senior benefits.

ACOSTA: How do you cut...

CUTTER: ...$716 billion back into the system here's what it means. It means they're going to use taxpayer dollars to give subsidies to insurance companies, overpayments to insurance companies. It means they're going to allow for fraudsters to take advantage of the Medicare system. Is that what we want?

The last point on this, if they put that money -- put that savings back into the system, it means that Medicare will go bankrupt in just four years. So if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan get elected to the White House, Medicare will be bankrupt by the end of their first term, that is what that means.

These are facts. And it is a complete distortion to say that the president is taking anything away from seniors.

ACOSTA: Let's get to the tone of the campaign. We are running out of time. We have some other issues to talk about. And one is the tone of this campaign.

I want the play for you some of what the president said in Iowa earlier this week. And he talked about when Mitt Romney as a young father strapped the family dog Seamus to the roof of the family's car. He mentioned it at three different events in Iowa earlier this week.

Let's play that for our viewers.


OBAMA: Governor Romney even explained his energy policy this way, I'm quoting here, "you can't drive a car with a windmill on it." That is what he said about wind power. Maybe he has tried it. He has put other things on the roof.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: Stephanie, is the president running a serious campaign when he talks about dogs being strapped to roofs?

CUTTER: Well, Jim, that was a light-hearted comment to play off of what Mitt Romney said about strapping...

ACOSTA: It wasn't so light-hearted, though, he brought it up three times. It sounds as if this was a serious attempt to inject that into the president's remarks at three different occasions. It sounds like he is making a mockery out of his opponent. Is that what he is doing?

CUTTER: Well, Jim, I am sure that you saw the president's entirety -- the entirety of his remarks where he talked about the importance of clean energy to the people of Iowa, because it has created thousands of jobs on the ground there through the wind energy tax credit. Wind energy has boomed in the state of Iowa because of the wind energy tax credit, because of the policies that the president has put in place. Mitt Romney wants to repeal the wind energy tax credit.

ACOSTA: So why go after Seamus. Can't you make that point without going after the dog Seamus.

CUTTER: Jim, he made that point. I'm sure you saw the president's remarks. He made that point. He made that point very forcefully.

But Mitt Romney, in discrediting the wind energy tax credit and discrediting the importance of wind energy for the all of the above strategy to make this country energy independent made fun of wind energy and said that you can't put a windmill on the top of your car. So that is what the president was repeating that remark and he made a light-hearted comment about Mitt Romney strapping his dog Seamus to the top of the car many, many years ago.

ACOSTA: As a young father, though, I have to say we all make our mistakes.

But let me ask you this, Stephanie, let me ask you this you know... CUTTER: Have you strapped your dog to your car, Jim?

ACOSTA: I have not done that, no, I have not. But let me ask you this, Stephanie.

CUTTER: So that is a mistake you haven't made.

ACOSTA: Let's draw some contrast -- well, let's draw another contrast here. Mitt Romney this week had two news conferences. President Obama had zero. As a matter of fact, the president hasn't had any news conferences in two months. When should we expect one?

CUTTER: Well, the president was talking to reporters on the ground in Iowa. Do you think that that is less important than talking to somebody like you? Everywhere that the president goes he is talking to reporters. ACOSTA: Well, I think it's in addition to.

CUTTER: And I think it is important. He is traveling the country. We're running for re-election. Iowa is a critical state. We are going to spend our time talking to media all over this country. And I don't think...

ACOSTA: Entertainment Tonight, People magazine, he did that as well. Is that -- are they more important than the national news media?

CUTTER: I don't think that they're more important, but I think they are equally important. I think that's where -- a lot of Americans get their news. And I think the president is going to continue doing that. You know, Mitt Romney might have had two media availabilities, but what did he tell you, Jim, in those media availabilities? He told you he wasn't going to release the taxes, because he was afraid of getting attacked. And then he, you know, spouted off lies about the president's Medicare system. So do you find that media availability really useful if he is not being transparent about his own policies and distorting the presidents?

ACOSTA: Well, Stephanie I'm going to take a pass on answering your questions and say that we're out of time. But thanks very much for joining us this morning. Stephanie Cutter in Chicago. Good talking to you.

The attacks are getting stronger as you heard there. And it is only August. Rick Santorum spent the early part of the year under the gun. And he will be here with us on his take on this harsh war of words.


ACOSTA: We say it every four years, the campaign rhetoric has reached a new low, but this time around the insults and out of context attacks seem to have gotten nastier earlier than in elections past. Consider what Vice President Joe Biden told a crowd of supporters that included many African-Americans when he used this choice of words to slam Mitt Romney's plan for Wall Street reform.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's going to let the big banks once again write their own rules, unchain Wall Street. They are going to put y'all back in chains.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: Later that day at a campaign rally in Ohio, Romney fired back, condemning the Obama campaign's tactics with a razor sharp speech of his own.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: Take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago and let us get about rebuilding and reuniting America.


ACOSTA: Obama campaign spokesman Ben LeBolt offered no apologies for Biden's comments and had this to say about Romney's response. "Governor Romney's comments seem unhinged and particularly strange coming at a time when he's pouring tens of millions of dollars into negative ads that are demonstrably false." Romney swung back in an interview the next morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: The president's campaign is all about division and attack and hatred. It's designed to bring a sense of enmity and jealousy and anger.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: Three months to go until election day. Up next former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a man who at one time was on the receiving end of some of those tough Mitt Romney attacks.


ACOSTA: And joining me now is Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.

Senator Santorum, thanks so much for joining us.

SANTORUM: Thank you, Jim.

ACOSTA: This week the Mitt Romney campaign, Mitt Romney himself accused the president of waging a campaign of hatred. It has been nasty out there, it's been tough, but you know perhaps more than any other Republican candidate, perhaps next to Newt Gingrich, how tough they can dish out over at the Romney campaign.

I want to play for you an ad that Mitt Romney ran about you in the primaries and get your per perspective on everything we are seeing these days. Let's roll the tape.


ANNOUNCER: Rick Santorum, another economic lightweight.

ANNOUNCER: Is Rick Santorum ready to be president? He has never run a business. He's never run a state. A Washington politician who proudly voted for the bridge to nowhere.

ANNOUNCER: We fired him as senator, why promote him to president?

ROMNEY: I'm Mitt Romney. And I approve this message.


ACOSTA: Now as we know, senator, you are a top surrogate for the...

SANTORUM: Let me catch my breath there for a minute.

ACOSTA: You're a top surrogate for the Romney campaign. Now isn't it a bit much for Governor Romney to be complaining about negative attacks?

SANTORUM: I don't get the sense that Governor Romney is complaining about negative attacks, I think he will tell you as much as anyone else, I mean, you are in a political race and you are going to take your blows, you're going to go after each other, and that's all fair game. I think what's he's talking about is the tone of the Obama campaign, which is divisive.

It's one thing to go out and attack Governor Romney's record. Fair game, go for it. But to go out and do what he's doing as far as dividing this country, and he is. And it's class warfare at its worst, and then you saw Vice President Biden, you know, play the race card in Virginia. This... ACOSTA: Did he play the race card?

SANTORUM: There's no -- y'all? I mean, y'all is y'all. And when you are in a group, I have been in groups like that, and you know, it is very easy when you are in a group of people that, you know, when you are in a south or in up in different areas of the country and different groups of people, and you develop an affinity with the group that you are speaking in front of, that is what president -- Vice President Obama was doing. He was trying to develop that affinity and he did so in a very horrendous way. And he should apologize for it, but it is exactly the tone of this campaign. Governor Romney is like any other candidate, you want to go after my record, you want to go after things I've said and done, fine. That's not what he's -- that's not the complaint of the Romney campaign. The complaint -- the legitimate complaint is that President Obama is dividing this country to try to win this election.

ACOSTA: And let me ask you about Paul Ryan, because obviously he was selected over you as Mitt Romney's -- you weren't surprised I guess, but you had some critical things to say about the Ryan budget. At one point back in March of this year, you talked about the Ryan budget and said it is $5 trillion in cuts over ten years and it should be $5 trillion over five years.

Did they go far enough?

SANTORUM: Yes, the complaint I have is that Paul Ryan's budget was a good start, that it needed to go further. And the complaint of course that Barack Obama saying that it goes way too far. It doesn't go way too far. It is a reasonable plan. It is a plan that I believe is one that Paul Ryan designed to try to put a, you know, a marker out there to try to bring bipartisanship. And as you know, he did. He got Ron Wyden, who is a senator from Oregon to join him in his Medicare proposal.

So you have a proposal from Paul Ryan that is a bipartisan proposal.

ACOSTA: One Democrat doesn't make it bipartisan.

SANTORUM: Well, of course, it does. I mean, you know, it does make it bipartisan. And I can guarantee you there are other Democrats out there who are quietly saying, you know, this probably isn't a bad idea. It is better than cutting $716 billion out of the Medicare program. And I just listened the Obama spokesperson before this, I mean my head was spinning. To suggest that adding $700 billion back to the Medicare program is going to cause its financial collapse, that -- you can only make that statement if you have been in Washington way too long.

I mean, the idea that President Obama is strengthening Medicare by ripping money out of it, by eliminating Medicare Advantage, by putting the patient advisory board that Paul Ryan talked about in a position to cut reimbursements to doctors and hospitals which will end up rationing care to seniors, that that is strengthening Medicare, only in the fantasy world of Washington does that make sense.

ACOSTA: I remember during the campaign, senator, you said that Mitt Romney would be the worst person to go up against the president on the issue of health care reform. And in the last few weeks, the Romney campaign caused a bit of a controversy when one of their spokespersons Andrea Saul had this to say about that Priorities USA ad, the gentleman whose wife died from cancer. Here's what she had to say about that ad.


ANDREA SAUL, PRESS SECRETARY TO MITT ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: this is a plant that was closed years after Governor Romney left the company. And to that point, you know, if, if people had been in Massachusetts under Governor Romney's health care plan, they would have had health care. There are a lot of people losing their jobs and losing their health care in President Obama's economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: What did you think, Senator, when you heard the comments? Did that concern you at all, because one of your big concerns as I know was that Mitt Romney would sort of move to the middle for health care reform just in time for the general election. Was that a sign of that movement to the middle?

SANTORUM: That was in my opinion an unfortunate statement. But I think it is pretty clear that the central issue in this campaign right now, and I think will be going forward because it is a big issue is Medicare. What I said about Mitt Romney had to do with Obamacare versus his health care plan in Massachusetts. But I have no concern about what Mitt Romney will do and his plans on the issue of Medicare. I think that his plans are consistent.

ACOSTA: You're confident he will repeal the president's healthcare?

SANTORUM: I'm confident he's going to repeal Obamacare, number one.

Number two -- my argument was who is the best to make that case, who is better on health care reform? But he has been very clear that he will repeal Obamacare. The other thing he has been very clear about is that his Medicare is consistent with what Paul Ryan wants to do. And what Paul Ryan wants to do, and people have to understand this, in spite of this incredible obfuscation that we've seen just from the -- I just witnessed from the Obama campaign, want he wants to do is take the Medicare system right now which is 25 percent of seniors last year were in Medicare Advantage, which is a private sector health system within Medicare. All he wants to do is to basically take that system to expand it so everybody has that opportunity.

This is not a radical reform, this is exactly how the Medicare prescription drug program is run. Seniors like that program now. This is common sense. Why? Medicare prescription drugs save 40 percent of what was projected. We need to get involved. Consumers in helping to reduce costs instead of patient advisory boards and the president mandating what the costs will be.

ACOSTA: All right, Senator Santorum, it was a pleasure watching you out on the campaign trail. Good to see you here on State of the Union. Thanks for joining us. Good to talking to you.

And next the electoral map and the generational divide. Be right back.


ACOSTA: Welcome back. Republicans see a generational fix for Medicare. Whether younger and older voters buy it may determine who wins in November.

Joining me now is our CNN political director, Mark Preston, and Jackie Kucinich from USA Today.

Guys, thanks for joining us this morning. Appreciate it.

You know, one of the things that stands out for me with this Paul Ryan pick, just from a pure strategy standpoint, is Florida. I was down there in Florida earlier this week, talked to Marco Rubio about it. He said, no, we're going to win Florida, no doubt about it.

But I don't know if it's that -- if it's going to be that easy.

Let's show you some polling numbers. Quinnipiac University poll: 51 percent, 45 percent, Barack Obama beating the president -- or Barack Obama beating Mitt Romney right now in Florida -- excuse me. And among senior voters, Mitt Romney's up by seven points among voters over 65. You take Paul Ryan's plan and try to win Florida, it's not going to be easy, is it, Mark Preston?

PRESTON: No, it's a tough sell, and that's why we saw Paul Ryan flanked by his mother yesterday, who's a part-time Florida resident, herself a Medicare recipient.

This is why Florida's so important, Jim. If Mitt Romney loses Florida, he pretty much loses the election. Right now, CNN has eight toss-up states that we're looking at, at this point right now, to see who's going to determine the election. Mitt Romney would have to sweep seven of those states if he were to lose Florida, and that's why it has become so crucial, and that's why we saw him down there this weekend and expect tens of millions of dollars in SuperPAC ads to be flooding into that state in the coming months.

ACOSTA: And, Jackie, is this is a roll of the dice?

KUCINICH: Well, I think it's important to say where he went, too. The Villages is a very Republican community.

ACOSTA: Yes, it is.

KUCINICH: And so it -- it was a safe place to go to talk about this issue that could be -- I mean, it depends on who you talk to, but it seems decidedly unsafe for Republicans if you look at the Ryan plan. But he's not talking about the Ryan plan. He's essentially saying some of the things that are actually in the Ryan plan are, you know, not what Mitt Romney would be for.

So they're being -- they're trying to walk the line here, but they haven't quite said what they would do yet.

ACOSTA: And they're trying to turn this against the president, Mark. They've been talking about the $700 billion that he would take out of Medicare to pay for the president's health care law. They do at least have some ammunition in this case.

PRESTON: Sure. And, certainly living in the now. Because, you know, when we look, as you showed that Quinnipiac poll -- but if we go back to 2008, look at the exit polls, John McCain won voters 65 and over, right? So living in the now, right now, Mitt Romney needs to keep those voters. President Obama barely won -- at the time when he was running -- barely won voters over the age of 45, and of course he swept the young kids, right?

So right now, the Romney campaign, living in the now, trying to get their base out. Part of their base is going to be those older voters, especially in Florida.

KUCINICH: And they did well in the primary. I mean, if you look at the exit polling from the primary, Romney did consistently well across the board with -- with older voters. I mean, no matter what state you went to, that was a very reliable constituency. So, yeah, he has to keep them.

ACOSTA: All right. We're going to pick this up after we take a quick break. We'll be right back. Stay with us.


ACOSTA: And we're back with CNN political director Mark Preston and Jackie Kucinich from USA Today. It might just be my imagination, but it seems like it's gotten nastier earlier in this campaign cycle. Let's put on the screen this quote from Dan Balz out of one of his pieces in The Washington Post earlier this week because it was perfect. "What is most striking about the campaign at this point is not just the negativity or the sheer volume of attack ads raining down on voters in the swing states. It is the sense that all... restraints are gone, the guardrails have disappeared and there is no incentive for anyone to hold back. The other guy does it, so we're going to do it, too."

It does sound a lot like this campaign. They're just going to both go at it like this all the way to November.

KUCINICH: I mean, the primary was a good indicator of that, I think.


ACOSTA: Yeah. I mean, it was -- they -- the gloves were off throughout most of the primary. And I think, you know, this is a good -- this is an extension of that. I mean, it's not going to get any better.

ACOSTA: And you heard Stephanie Cutter, during our interview, Mark, saying that the president's reference to Seamus the dog at three different events in Iowa was just a light-hearted comment?

PRESTON: Yeah, and you know, I wrote about this, this past week, in our political "Gut Check," about how three words really framed the campaign.

PRESTON: Seamus was one of the words. The fact that Mitt Romney described the Obama campaign as a campaign driven by anger, and of course Joe Biden in his comments down in Virginia.

So I think what we've seen now happen in August is what we would normally see happen, maybe, in the last two weeks of the campaign, but there's so much at stake -- as we always say every four years -- but there's so much at stake, and more importantly there's so much money on the line right now, especially from outside groups.


ACOSTA: And, you know, do we have any chance of seeing this get any better before the debates?

I mean, one of the things that, you know, we asked Stephanie Cutter about is why the president has not held a news conference in so long. He'll talk to People magazine and "Entertainment Tonight," I think she said, doing an interview. Well, that's where some people get their news from.

And she asked, you know, do we think we, the national news media, feel that we're more important than local reporters who are out there? Is that really the point?

KUCINICH: No, I don't think that's the point at all. I think, you know, once you have a news conference, then you have spontaneity. If you have spontaneity, then there's a chance for the margin for error is larger. And so I think, you know, they're looking to avoid that.

Because, no, I don't think -- there's no -- exactly what Dan Balz said, there's no incentive to start being nice all of a sudden.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And Jonathan Martin at Politico had an interesting piece talking about how the vice president's office was trying to influence pool reports. We've had problems with the Romney campaign with rope-line restrictions. So it's really both campaigns.

But, Mark, we're getting close to the Republican National Convention down in Tampa. We know you've been working hard, making preparations for our coverage here at CNN, and that you've also gotten some insights as to what we'll be seeing those first couple of nights at the convention? PRESTON: You know, Jim, they've done a really good job of having this slow rollout of who the convention speakers are going to be, not telling us what nights the speakers will be, rolling them up.

Chris Christie did a big interview for USA Today.


PRESTON: I mean, it just was -- they've done a terrific job at at least keeping us suspenseful. What we're going to learn tomorrow, now, that they will now unveil the first night of the convention. They'll give us the theme and they'll tell us who the speakers are.

And what they're going to do is that each corresponding day going forward this week will be that day next week. And what I'm told is that the person who will be the top headliner now, no surprise, is Ann Romney.

And you know why this is important, though, Jim? It's important because this convention is really the only time for a campaign right now to focus on and be able to control the message. Ann Romney kicks it off Monday night. That could change, but we expect that to happen.

ACOSTA: And, Jackie, you know from covering this campaign extensively that the Romney campaign loves to put that family out there. They love to have that Norman Rockwell, you know, all the brothers and the grandchildren out there. So I think that's going to be a big part of the imagery that we're going to see during this convention?

KUCINICH: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we both know Ann Romney -- people love her. And she's a really good face for this campaign, and she's a positive face for this campaign. So why wouldn't they put out -- put her out in a very prominent way? And, yeah, I think the family imagery is going to be very big.

ACOSTA: All right. Jackie Kucinich, Mark Preston, thanks for joining us this morning on "State of the Union." Appreciate it.

KUCINICH: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Good to see you guys.

Well, late night comedians are back from summer vacation and having fun with the candidates. Thank goodness. That's next.


ACOSTA: Before we leave, a look back on the week in politics. The campaign trail felt more like the low road, and the airwaves offered no relief, all the more reason to look back at the week through the lens of comedy.


JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": Mitt Romney is hoping to energize Republicans by announcing Paul Ryan as his running mate.





And it's so daring. I mean, white, Christian, and male?


That's a triple not-threatening to me.


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": Wait, what? That -- that guy next to Romney's not already a Romney?


You sure that's not like Brick Romney or Chad or...


... Fudge Romney?



REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF., HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I don't really know him well because I -- I've never been to the gym.


(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: That's right, jokes from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

One late night comic, though, was not laughing.


JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Paul Ryan, like Mitt Romney and like President Obama and like Joe Biden, is a good family man. We have four good family men in this presidential race.


What about me? I don't need family men. I have a monologue. I need more Herman Cains. I need John Edwards.


I don't need family men. That's what I need. Let's get Herman Cain; let's get John Edwards back in this race.


ACOSTA: Or maybe Donald Trump?


LENO: Donald Trump says he has a big surprise in store for everyone at the Republican National Convention this year, a surprise he says people will love. So apparently he's not going.



FALLON: Senator John McCain said it would be wise for President Obama to drop Joe Biden from the ticket.

Wait, John McCain's giving advice about choosing a running mate?


That's like Donald Trump giving advice about choosing a barber. That's like...



ACOSTA: Speaking of the vice president...


FALLON: President Obama said that he is sticking with Joe Biden as his running mate, even though Biden made a series of major gaffes this week. In response, Joe Biden was like, this is (BLEEP) great!




LENO: It was so hot today Joe Biden put his foot in his mouth just to cool it off.




DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW": President Obama called Mitt Romney and asked Mitt -- Mitch -- if he would fire...


... asked him if he would fire Biden. True story.



ACOSTA: Makes you wonder why anyone would ever run for president.


LETTERMAN: It's the worst job in the world. And you have to run -- you have to beat yourself up before you get in to take over the worst job in the world. I mean, would you be surprised if nobody ran for president?

No, I wouldn't be surprised. Nope, sorry. I got a gig at Dairy Queen. That's where I'll be.


LETTERMAN: I'm not running for nothing!



ACOSTA: After this week, we could all use a good laugh.

Thanks for watching "State of the Union." I'm Jim Acosta in Washington. Special thanks to Candy for letting me cover while she's on vacation, and congratulations for her selection to moderate the second presidential debate on October 16th. Candy returns next Sunday with a special edition of "State of the Union" from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, and I will be down there as well, covering all the action on the floor. And if you missed any part of today's show, find us on iTunes. Just search "State of the Union."