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Obama's Debate Performance Slammed; Reading Faces; Meningitis Outbreak

Aired October 4, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, President Obama shakes up the battle for the White House during a bruising debate performance that left many in his own party scratching their heads. Is it now Mitt Romney's race to lose? Is that premature? Our own John King is over at the magic wall with a much closer look at how it all adds up right now.

Plus, the president's firing back today. He wasn't last night. Just ahead, I'll ask his campaign press secretary what happened last night.

And a deadly meningitis attack spreading across six states. Ahead, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta with what you need to know right now to protect yourself.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Mitt Romney regains his momentum, hits the campaign trail, running on the heels of a huge victory in Denver. President Obama also fired up today. He's throwing some serious counterpunches he may have wished he used last night.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Last night I thought was a great opportunity for the American people to see two very different visions for the country. And, I think it was helpful to be able to describe those visions. I saw the president's vision as trickled down government. And I don't think that's what America believes in.

I see, instead, a prosperity that comes through freedom. And we have two very different courses for America, trickle down government or prosperity through freedom. And trickle down government that the president proposes is one where he will raise taxes on small business, which will kill jobs. I, instead, want to keep taxes down on small business so we can create jobs. This is about good jobs for the American people.


(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right. That was Mitt Romney earlier. You also heard from the president just a little while ago speaking at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. So, how much of a game changer was last night's debate? Our chief national correspondent, John King, is breaking it all down for us over at the magic wall. John, what does this mean for the candidates? What happened in Denver?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we know one thing that happened in Denver. Republicans received a lot of energy from the passionate performance of their candidate, Mitt Romney. How much does that matter in the end? We'll see. But in making phone calls today, now we have to wait. We'll see polling -- early next week, we'll see polling in the key battleground states.

Making phone calls today, I talked to both Republicans and Democrats, phone calls and e-mails, in Colorado where the debate was, in Ohio, one of the key battleground states, in Virginia, and in Florida. Universally, we were said, look, Romney won the debate. No question about it. What are the republicans saying?

Money is coming in, enthusiasm on the ground when they're calling people saying will you come and volunteer. Will you help us, register voters? They're getting more yeses today than they were 24 or 48 hour ago. So, this helps Governor Romney with the Republican base, Republican energy, Republican grassroots efforts, and Republican money.

What are the Democrats saying? Well, they say the president better show up next time, and they're hoping his campaign staff takes him in the room and shows him that tape and says Mr, President, you need to care more about this, you need to be passionate about it. You need to call Governor Romney when he leaves you openings like on the tax plan (ph) last night.

And you need to show people that you care and you want to be there. Now, Wolf, here's the key question, we know what will give Republicans energy in these states, but we also know this, going into the debate, Romney was down a handful in Florida, down a handful or more in Virginia, down a handful or more in Ohio, down a handful or more where you just showed the president moments ago in Wisconsin.

So, when you come up to the electoral map, this is the big question. It's the first of three debates. By no means, decisive. It gives Republicans energy, though, at a time many of them were beginning to worry about the top of the ticket. So, will it change the state of play? That is the thing to watch going forward into the vice presidential debate.

And then round two and three, I would say the state to watch most is this one, Ohio. Governor Romney needs to win it. Had the president had a decisive debate performance last night, a lot of Democrats are thinking he could have put Ohio away because he was up five, six, maybe seven points there.

That's not the case today, Wolf. That's the biggest change. The president could have maybe put away a couple of these battleground states, made Governor Romney's path to 270 even more narrow, he didn't do. So, a chance for Mitt Romney. The question now is, can he capitalize? And how will the president try to recover?

BLITZER: He certainly did miss a golden opportunity, I thought, to solidify that standing in some of those key battleground states, and he avoided some of the stuff he's saying today out there on the campaign trail, he avoided saying last night. And I think a lot of his own supporters are suggesting he missed that golden opportunity.

KING: The former vice president, Al Gore, suggested, and he insists he's not joking that the altitude had something to do with it. But the president flew into Colorado too late to adapt to the mile high city. Look, his own campaign team is trying to say, the president didn't want to be too combative, but they acknowledged he wasn't feisty enough.

And if you're -- the question here is this though. We're in an election where we know Governor Romney has the Republican vote, the president has the hard core Democratic vote. Governor Romney needed to energize his base. He did that last night. Will this have an impact on swing voters?

One thing Democrats are saying today that in their focus groups and their dial groups and their polling last night looking at swing voters, they say there was not a noticeable shift. Maybe a few of them said Governor Romney was impressive, but they didn't see any big flood toward Governor Romney.

That is their hope as they battle this up. But Wolf, make no question about this, the president went into this debate with a little wind at his back. Governor Romney comes out having taken that wind away.

BLITZER: And quickly, John, a lot of democrats said to me today they're really worried that the president's lackluster performance last night may have hurt down ticket candidate, Senate Democrats, for example, who may be having some serious problems. This could energize those Republicans in a state like Massachusetts, for example, Scott Brown in his race against Elizabeth Warren.

They're worried that the president's performance last night could hurt some of those vulnerable Senate Democrats.

KING: And that is, of course, the very same dynamic we were hearing from Republicans 24, 48, 72 hours before the debate. Would the guy at the top of the ticket be hurting the rest of us down ballot? Look, there's a month left in this election. The president has two debates to recover. He has other ways to recover, out campaigning, watch and see in the next week.

Does campaign ad spending and campaign ad content change in the next week? But, the Democrats have the jitters this morning that the Republicans had last week. So, that benefits the Republicans today. A long way to go, Wolf. But the big dynamic going in last night was there was some Democrats who thought with the strong first debate performance, the president could all but put this race away, because of that narrow lead he had. That didn't happen, and we've got quite a horse race.

BLITZER: We certainly do. We'll see what the polls in the next few days show as well. I suspect there will be a bounce for Mitt Romney. John, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty has his own take on last night's presidential debate. He's here with the "Cafferty File" -- jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: IF PRESIDENT Obama had been a Broadway show last night, it would have closed after one performance. Even the president's staunchest supporters were baffled by Mr. Obama's lackluster effort. MSNBCs Chris Matthews said, quote, "what was he doing?"

James Carville, quote,"Romney came in with a chainsaw." And Andrew Sullivan, "this was a disaster. He choked. He may have even lost the election tonight." That's quote. CNN did a poll debate watchers right after the debate showed a margin of almost three to one they thought Mitt Romney won the first debate, 67 percent to 25 percent.

What happened to the mesmerizing president who captivated audiences in Berlin and Cairo more than three years ago? Where was the visionary who saw a path for this country that was so compelling he became the first African-American president in our history? Watching the debate last night, I got the impression President Obama didn't even want to be there.

He seemed annoyed at times and disengaged. And he allowed Mitt Romney back in the race big time. When the debates now shift to foreign policy, it's not likely to get any easier for the president. The Middle East is a tinderbox. The murder of an American ambassador in Libya goes begging for an explanation as to why repeated requests for additional security in our consulate in Benghazi were turned down.

And the White House won't answer any questions about this except to say that the FBI is conducting an investigation. The FBI. That's not nearly enough.

Here's the question, why did President Obama do so poorly at last night's debate? Go to You can post a comment on the blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Jack. Tough question, good question.

Bored, aloof, even arrogant, just some of the words the critics are using to describe the president at last night's debate. Up next, I'll ask his campaign press secretary to explain the performance. What was going on?

Plus, pursed lips and raised eyebrows. We're going to show you how one expert uses special software to measure the candidates' expressions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The Obama campaign is fighting back today even as the president's most ardent supporters were criticizing his performance in last night's debate. So, what happened? Let's discuss what happened with Ben Labolt. He's the national press secretary for the Obama campaign. He's joining us from Chicago.

Very different President Obama today. We just heard him at the University of Wisconsin than what we heard last night. He seemed aloof at times and not all that interested. What happened there, Ben?

BEN LABOLT, OBAMA CAMPAIGN NATL. PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I don't think the president viewed the debates as a steel cage match. He came in with a goal of reaching that undecided voter in Tampa or Denver, turning on their TV from the couch at home for the first time this election cycle to really focus on the economic choice in this election.

And that's what he laid out, how he was going to create those good paying sustainable jobs for the middle class. For Mitt Romney, he delivered fine performance art, but he danced around his positions on the issues. And so, we wanted to make sure today that we're holding him accountable. That $5 trillion tax cut for the wealthiest Americans he never explained how he'd pay for that without raising taxes on the middle class.

He never said would he replace the Affordable Care Act with when he repeals it. And so, you've seen the president on the campaign trail today holding him accountable for that.

BLITZER: Why didn't the president say some of the things that your campaign has been using and advertising so effectively? For example, Romney's very controversial 47 percent remark about half the country, basically, being victims, if you will, dependent on the government. We didn't hear any of that from the president last night.

LABOLT: Well, you've seen the polling. I think the 47 percent remark was the remark heard across the country and around the world. And we've got advertisements up on the air right now. I think that's most effective when you hear it from Mitt Romney in his own words writing off half the population, saying that they're victims, saying that they won't take personal responsibility for their lives.

But the core question on the ballot in November is, how do we break the economic stalemate in Washington? Should we continue to build the economy from the middle class out, invest in education and manufacturing, research and development, reduce the deficit in a balanced way? Or should we do what Mitt Romney wants to do, which is return to the same policies that caused the economic crisis in the first place? And that's the choice he laid out last night.

BLITZER: I guess the question a lot of your own supporters are asking, if Mitt Romney was hammering away at the president as he was last night, why didn't the president respond in kind bring up for example the Cayman Islands or the Swiss bank accounts or Bain Capital, outsourcing jobs, any of those things that we've heard so much about? That was a moment where 50 or 60 people were watching. LABOLT: Well, I know that pundits like to keep a score card of how many punches the candidates land. You know, that was the Republicans goal for the republican convention in Tampa, repeating the same widely debunked attacks against the president. You saw what the impact of the race was after that. It didn't move voters.

But the president, the president's convention speech was criticized. But a week later, you saw that polling and it reached the Americans that we needed to reach with his plans to restore economic security for the middle class. If we need to tweak anything or change anything, I think we're a little bit surprised by how dishonest Mitt Romney was last night about his record.

The Mitt Romney who campaigned in the Republican primary was touting those $5 trillion tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and talking about repealing Obamacare and will hold him responsible for those positions.

BLITZER: Why do you think the polling, though, showed overwhelmingly the American people, our polls, the CBS poll, ours by three to one, showed that the president lost and Romney won?

LABOLT: Well, you know what the history is here of the first debate against an incumbent president. Five out of the last six times, the challenger was perceived as winning. The first time you're on stage next to the president of the United States, it adds stature. We haven't seen any fundamental shift in the dynamic of this race.

It's been close and competitive for a year and a half. It will be won in key states. That's where the president is today in Denver, in Wisconsin, making his case about the economic choice in this election.

BLITZER: I thought Romney was pretty effective in turning around what could have been a liability into an asset last night on the whole issue of healthcare reform. Listen to this. Watch this.


ROMNEY: I like the way we did it in Massachusetts. I liked the fact that, in my state, we had Republicans and Democrats come together and work together. What you did, instead, was to push through a plan without a single Republican vote. As a matter of fact, when Massachusetts did something quite extraordinary, elected a Republican senator to stop Obamacare, you pushed it through anyway.

So, entirely on a partisan basis instead of bringing America together and having a discussion on this important topic.


BLITZER: You can see the president's face. You know, he was obviously upset when he heard that Romney worked with Democrats and Republicans in Massachusetts, but the president failed in his ability to score some sort of bipartisan healthcare reform in Washington.

LABOLT: Because it simply isn't credible coming from Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney is the godfather of Obamacare. He passed health care reform in Massachusetts. He said it should serve as a model for the nation. It did. The president enlisted his same advisors to develop healthcare reform at a national level.

But now that he's running for a different office, Mitt Romney apparently doesn't believe we should be taking on rising healthcare costs and providing affordable, accessible coverage to the American people. And, again, he wasn't telling the truth about his position. He said he'd cover you if you have a pre-existing condition.

What he left out is, if you don't currently have coverage, if you're between plans or between job, he returns you to this status quo. You won't have coverage when Mitt Romney repeals the Affordable Care Act.

BLITZER: Well, he did say that he wants states to go ahead and enact healthcare reform just as Massachusetts did. And in Massachusetts, he does have the legislation that he signed into law does protect people with pre-existing conditions.

LABOLT: It will leave millions and millions without coverage.

BLITZER: If the states don't want that. Here's what Chris Christie said over the weekend before the debate. He got a lot of grief for this, but let me play it for you.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: We have a candidate who is going to do extraordinarily well on Wednesday night. He's going to lay out his vision for America. He's going to contrast what his view is with what the president's record is and the president's view for the future. And this whole race is going to be turned upside down come Thursday morning.


BLITZER: He sounds pretty smart right there, but do you think the president and his advisors, those helping him whether John Kerry was playing Mitt Romney or some of the other aides, underestimated Mitt Romney?

LABOLT: I don't think so at all. We knew that Mitt Romney was preparing for this debate. The earliest candidate on record to do so started preparations in July, did five mock sessions within 48 hours, took the entire week of the Democratic convention down. And we saw him last year, remember, he participated in 20 debates last year.

He bragged about winning 16 of them. And after he mowed down his Republican primary opponents, he'd tell them to stop whining. So, I think everybody knew what we were in for. We expected a good performance from Mitt Romney, but that's what it was. It was performance art.

He locked himself into some bad positions that he took during the Republican primary, tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, refusing that to the wealthiest for dime to reduce the deficit. And those give us big opening to talk about on the campaign trail in key states in the weeks ahead.

BLITZER: I assume in the next presidential debate, the president will be certainly much more aggressive, but that's just my assumption. We'll see what happens. Ben Labolt, thanks very much for joining us.

LABOLT: Thanks, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: And in our next hour, I want to alert our viewers, Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior advisor to Mitt Romney, he's going to be joining us. We'll go through the debate with him as well.

After last night's debate, is Big Bird really an endangered species? We're going to have a reality check.


BLITZER: President Obama's talking about Mitt Romney's debate remark that he'd cut funding for public broadcasting even though he loves Big Bird. Turns out lots of people love Big Bird, and Romney's promise really set them off. Lisa Sylvester's back. She's got more on the reaction, which has been intense.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has, Wolf. You know, this was a topic that even came up within the last hour. President Obama mentioning it during a rally at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. And the president essentially mocking Mitt Romney over this issue.


SYLVESTER: Most of the debate Has expected focused on the core issues of the day.


SYLVESTER: And then, there was this.

ROMNEY: I'm sorry, Jim. I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too, but I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.


SYLVESTER: The mere mention of cutting funds to Big Bird sent the social media world into high gear. Pictures like this with Big Bird on the ropes. President Obama on the campaign trail --

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I mean, thank goodness somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird.

SYLVESTER: The pentagon, which has been a close ally of the eight- foot tall bird, was asked about it at the briefing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to get into politics here. I wouldn't want to ruffle any feathers so to speak. SYLVESTER: But Big Bird has some conservatives a little plucked. They argue that it's time to stop funding public broadcast programs like "Sesame Street," NPR and the PBS news hour. Brian Darling is with the conservative, Heritage Foundation.

BRIAN DARLING, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: It's not well spent at all. I mean, using public funds to fund different news outlets, to fund entertainment programs is not what the federal government should be doing, and furthermore, it's a waste of money when there are so many private resources that are doing very similar functions.

We all love Big Bird, but maybe it's time for him to go out and find a real job in the private sector and stop sponging off the federal government.

SYLVESTER: Is big bird part of the infamous 47 percent? Well, here's how it breaks down. The corporation for public broadcasting receives about $445 million a year. Seventy percent of that goes directly to local PBS stations that rely on federal funds and private donations to stay in business.

But Big Bird and the rest of the Sesame Street gang actually stand on their own feet. Ninety-three percent of that program is paid for by licensing fees and corporate underwriting. So, who could be hurt? PBS president, paula Kerger, says stations, particularly those in rural parts of the country, will go dark without the federal dollars.

PAULA KERGER, PBS PRESIDENT: For many families that do not have access to computers, that may not have books in the home, they have televisions and public broadcasting is really their way of accessing content that will help their children have the basic skills that will enable them to be successful in school.

SYLVESTER: PBS says what they receive is less than a 100th of a percentage point of the federal budget.


SYLVESTER (on-camera): OK. And even Big Bird weighed in today with this tweet saying, quote, "my bedtime is usually 7:45, but I was really tired yesterday and I fell asleep at 7:00. Did I miss anything last night?" So, clearly, some folks having fun with this, but it is a serious issue because they could potentially lose funding.

BLITZER: If a lot of people say that if Big Bird were to lose its PBS home, there would be plenty of other networks like Nickelodeon, for example, private networks that'd be more than happy to pick up Big bird.

SYLVESTER: But the point being that there's -- you know, you have to have cable television for that. And remember, there are a lot of people in this country that don't have cable. They can't afford it.

And so -- and you know, many of these families may not have books, and so, that's the point that you hear PBS making which is for many kids, particularly, young kids from low income families, Sesame Street is where they get their first introduction to things like phonics and the alphabet and numbers and so forth.

BLITZER: What if a broadcast network picked up Sesame Street, like ABC or NBC or CBS. That just goes over the air for free.

SYLVESTER: Yes. That's a potential. But you know again, the concern is that something will be lost in terms of the educational value if you have a private company that's going to now be running this children's programming, because the whole concept -- you know, they said it's like public parks, public libraries. That's why we provide a public service. That's the argument that we're hearing them make, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. I'm sure we're going to hear a lot more about that argument in the weeks and months to come. Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.

After critics and supporters alike slammed the president's performance last night in the debate, the pressure is on his running mate right now. Standby.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Most people have seen that really geeks have changed the world so much in the past ten or 20 years that they haven't changed government yet. We get people to take a year off. It's geeks, it's also designers, it's also product managers, the people from the technical industries. And, we get them to work with people in city hall to solve problems in the cities for a year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She wants to fix local government one Smartphone app at a time. Sunday on the "Next List."



BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now. Joining us our CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, the Republican strategist, former Huntsman 2012 Hispanic co- chairwoman Ana Navarro -- ladies, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: I'll play a clip -- this is Mitt Romney during the debate last night talking about why the president's agenda is not working.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And what we're seeing right now is in my view a trickle down government approach which has government thinking it can do a better job than free people pursuing their dreams. And it's not working. And the proof of that is 23 million people out of work. The proof of that is one out of six people in poverty. The proof of that is we've gone from 32 million on food stamps to 47 million on food stamps. The proof of that is that 50 percent of college graduates this year can't find work. We know that the path we're taking is not working. It's time for a new path.


BLITZER: Now, according to our poll that we did right out of this debate, that aggressive tone that he took, Donna, is working. Fifty- eight percent thought Romney would be the stronger leader. We asked who would be a stronger leader, 37 percent said President Obama would be a stronger leader. How much of a problem going forward in the coming days is this right now for the president?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know, President Obama should look at him and say, you know, Mitt Romney, those same people you're talking about, they lost their jobs, they lost their homes because, you know what, Wall Street, Wall Street. He should have just took the ball straight into Mitt Romney's --

BLITZER: Why didn't he?

BRAZILE: Because, I think -- you know I had an opportunity to analyze it all day. I think the president was just trying to stay above the fray. Not look like he was part of the partisan bickering in Washington, D.C., pointing fingers. In hindsight, when we look at this in probably five or 10 days, I think President Obama will come out of this OK. But for right now a lot of people woke up upset. But I'm telling everybody just hold on. We still have 33 days left.

BLITZER: A little heartburn. Chris Christie was right in that prediction, that bold prediction he made over the weekend that we would wake up Thursday morning and have a whole new ball game. He was pretty right about that.

ANA NAVARRO, NATIONAL HISPANIC CO-CHAIR FOR JON HUNTSMAN 2012: He was absolutely on point. He took a little heat over it --

BLITZER: He did.

NAVARRO: -- over the weekend when you know it seemed like he was off script. Everybody else was trying to lower expectations. And I think part of the problem that President Obama had last night was precisely the expectations game. Even though his campaign tried to lower them, we saw polls just before this debate where the vast majority of Americans were expecting him to win and dominate this debate. So when that didn't happen, it looked even worse. And, yes, I think we need another prediction from Chris Christie for next week, Wolf.

BLITZER: How much pressure is the vice president under right now? He has got a debate against Paul Ryan coming up next Thursday, a week from today. And everybody's going to be watching that one as well.

BRAZILE: Well, I would advise the vice president what I tried to tell the president's team, look, you don't know which candidate will show up, the severe conservative or the mild moderate. So prepare yourself for both candidates. A candidate that will continue to talk about the, you know, government waste and government fraud, government abuse. But the candidate that also will go out there and say, well, government's on your side. We want to be on your side. So I think the vice president will be well versed and well rehearsed --

BLITZER: He's a very good debater, Joe Biden. I moderated four years ago when he was running for the Democratic nomination. Several debates he participated in those debates. I thought a lot of times he or Chris Dodd for that matter who was also running, they did better than Barack Obama, maybe even Hillary Clinton in some of those debates that I moderated, so he's tough. The question is this, which Paul Ryan will show up? The new Paul Ryan we've seen since he got the nomination, much more reserved, or the older Paul Ryan when he was strictly the House Budget Committee chairman, very tough, very feisty.

NAVARRO: I think that the Paul Ryan that's going to show up is one that's briefed, that's prepared, that's ready to go, ready to build on this momentum. I agree with you. Joe Biden is an excellent debater, but he's also rusty. He also hasn't debated in four years and the last debate he had you'll remember was against Sarah Palin. I think debating Paul Ryan and debating Sarah Palin are two completely different animals. And we haven't seen him do a lot of debating. So, you know, let's hope that he doesn't show up as rusty, because if not, it will really build on Republican momentum. And I think it will change the tone of this race, two debate wins where the Republicans could really change it.

BLITZER: Because a lot of the president's supporters didn't think he spent enough time preparing for this debate. Romney spent a lot more time preparing than the president did. How much time between now and next Thursday should the vice president spend? Get rid of his campaigning out there and just start practicing, practicing, practicing a debate against Paul Ryan?

BRAZILE: You know look, first of all I have to say Mitt Romney's been in dress rehearsal for opening night on Broadway for five years. There's no way you can take that much time off. But that aside he had a great debate performance and I don't want to downplay that because it really was a good debate performance. But I think the vice president should have put enough time on his schedule to be well- rested and well-versed in how these Republicans can do this etch-a- sketch thing. I think what catches liberals off guard is that we assume that you're going to walk in there and defend your record, defend what you've been saying on the campaign trail and not make some stuff up that we have to now figure out like (INAUDIBLE) come from? Because that -- I think the president last night was stunned. It looked like he was stunned.

BLITZER: Ana, you live in Florida. Is this debate last night going to help -- how much is it going to help? I think it will help Romney a little bit, but how much will it help him in Florida?

NAVARRO: I think it helps him some, Wolf. I think it helps him some everywhere. I think it helps him some with the Republican Party. There was a lot of grumbling going on and nervousness -- let's be honest -- within our own party --

BLITZER: It could have been game over last night --

NAVARRO: This -- look -- BLITZER: -- if he wouldn't have done a good job.

NAVARRO: If he had not performed the way he did, we would be here today talking about his political obituary. Instead we're seeing a political resurrection. So this is a very helpful thing for Mitt Romney --

BLITZER: Conservative base of the GOP, they are energized today. They're raising money galore at this moment. And they were demoralized going into the debate.

BRAZILE: Wolf, when conservatives get angry, when they get demoralized, then we have to talk about race, then we have to talk about welfare. I'm glad they got something else to talk about today. And if they need some more Kleenex after the next debate, I promise I'm going to Costco and get a whole six-pack.

NAVARRO: You may need --


NAVARRO: You may need some for yourself, my friend.

BRAZILE: No, I did that last night. I'm over it.

BLITZER: Ladies, looking forward to the debates, one vice- presidential debate, two more presidential debates.


BLITZER: We'll watch them here on CNN. I'm also getting new information about how the president is feeling after last night's debate. Up next what my sources are telling me -- that's coming up by the way at the top of the next hour.


BLITZER: -- monitoring some of the other top stories IN THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well 91 people are facing criminal charges accused of defrauding Medicare out of $430 million. The Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder say doctors, nurses and others in seven cities came up with schemes to bill Medicare for unnecessary treatments and ones patient never even got. One doctor is charged with writing 30,000 prescriptions resulting in $100 million in fraud.

And Detroit Tigers' third baseman Miguel Cabrera (ph) has done something that hasn't happened in 45 years. He's won baseball's Triple Crown. He ended the season leading the American League in batting average, homeruns and runs batted in, and it all came down to yesterday's game. And he was able to hold onto his leads despite going O for two. Now the question is, will he be the MVP?

And Kitchenaid is doing damage control after a staffer tweeted this from the company's Twitter handle during the debate. Quote, "Obama's grandma even knew it was going to be bad. She died three days before he became president." Ouch. It was sent after the president mentioned his grandmother's death. Kitchenaid immediately apologized explaining the employee meant to send it from her personal account. Kitchenaid also said that person won't be tweeting for them anymore. That has got to be so embarrassing though, Wolf, for Kitchenaid.

BLITZER: Shouldn't even be sending that kind of stuff from a personal --

SYLVESTER: Exactly. It's just nasty and it's just unwarranted.

BLITZER: Right. Thanks, Lisa. Their expressions may tell more than their words sometimes. We're taking a close look at special face reading software. What it reveals about the presidential debate.


BLITZER: Political observers were certainly poring over every word the candidates said at the presidential debate. A special software program was actually -- get this -- analyzing their expressions, facial expressions, to be sure. Brian Todd is here. He spoke with some of the folks involved in this. What's going on here?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is all about how we watched these debates these days. We pay attention to every little thing, tone of voice, body language, facial expressions are also often very telling. And one analyst says software used to measure that, software that he used, can tell us who came out on top.


TODD (voice-over): Chris Kowel wasn't focusing on policies, tax plans or track records in Wednesday's debate. He was looking at, well, how they looked.

PROF. CHRIS KOWEL, PURDUE UNIVERSITY: Governor Romney was much more expressive than President Obama was.

TODD: Kowel is an expert in the communication of emotions, an assistant professor at Purdue University.

(on camera): He employs software called Face Reader (ph) traditionally used by marketers to measure people's responses to products and he applies it to political candidates. The software creates superimposed mesh masks on their faces which Kowel says measure the movements of hundreds of muscle points on the face.

(voice-over): What did he measure on Mitt Romney's face?

KOWEL: In this feature here you can see his eyebrows are slightly up. And this would suggest an emotion of surprise. But at the same time when you look at how his lips and nose are, that might represent something about a negative type of emotion of disgust or something like that. TODD: The clinched lips combined with the surprised eyebrows Kowel says he saw consistently from Romney. He says that helped Romney with his supporters who are angry over the economy.

KOWEL: By communicating specifically that type of anger and that type of scorn, Romney is building a bridge that connects to those voters.

TODD: By contrast, Kowel says President Obama was expression neutral aside from the occasional raised eyebrow, smile or smirk which the Romney campaign leveraged into a new video ad.

KOWEL: In a sales term Obama can't close the sale. We're seeing that if he were to be more expressive and express the emotion that his voters are feeling, his voters then would start rating him as more charismatic.

TODD: What about body language? We measured that with Karen Bradley, a movement analyst at the University of Maryland. She says President Obama had the edge there at the beginning. A strong handshake, a clasp of Romney's arm that projected dominance, but within an hour she says the president wilted.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: See, he's blinking here. He's tired here.

TODD: Also illustrated with one camera angle from behind them, Romney's upright Bradley says still energetic.

PROF. KAREN BRADLEY, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: Here Barack Obama is dropping his focus. He's beginning to drop away from Mitt Romney. And here he comes down to his paper.


TODD: She says President Obama dropped his posture like that quite often especially late in the debate. She says that was a signal to many viewers that Romney got the better of him. Wolf, everybody -- I watched your telecast last night. Just about everybody thought that Romney had gotten the better of him coming right out of the gate, after it was over and I think a lot of it had to do with the expressions, you know just all the body language.

BLITZER: And throughout the debate we showed both faces --

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: The individual speaking, the candidate speaking --

TODD: Yes.

BLITZER: Plus the other one who was just listening and people were watching --

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: -- both of those faces and that split screen, as we call it. So what did this woman say that both of these candidates need to do in their next debate?

TODD: Well she says President Obama can get his mojo back but she says he's got to get more rest before the debate. Now that's easier said than done for a president with a schedule. Romney she says has to try to kind of sustain his bearing, that what he showed in that debate was very strong and a departure from previous debates in the Republican primary, says he can't revert back to some of the awkwardness that he showed in those debates in the Republican primary. Let's see if he can keep this bearing up. If he can, he'll be in good shape.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, interesting stuff, thanks very, very much. Who knew?

Jack Cafferty is back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Our viewers have actually all the answers to this. The question is, why did President Obama do so poorly at last night's debate?

P. writes "as has happened before in his presidency, President Obama looked very poor and took poor advice from his staff. He was advised to be modest, humble, non-confrontational, et cetera. Apparently Obama and staff forget that Americans want to see a president who is confident, in command of every situation, fearless and a strong leader. Instead, he came across as a feckless wimp."

Bob says "is governing to him merely an academic exercise? Is he willing to fight for anything? It sure didn't look like it. He looked as though that he's satisfied he has his place in history locked up and that's good enough. His performance was appalling. Anyone working hard for his reelection should just quit. I don't believe he's in this to win it."

Terry in Virginia says "I wish I knew. To be fair Mr. Romney actually did well, granted the media set the bar for him so low that if he didn't fall through a hole in the stage, he met expectations. Perhaps the bar for the president was set too high or perhaps the man that some thought they knew back in 2008 never really existed. Back then words like messiah and the new JFK were put on him. They weren't used by him. Last night we saw Mr. Obama for what he really is, human. To think he's anything above that is unfair to the man."

Lisa in Connecticut says "I'm hoping that there is a plan to lull them and then crush them the next time with real facts, figures, and no stumbling or stammering. Mitt Romney still running on 'trust me' and his positions keep changing. So I'm not sure he gets credit for the message but the delivery was good."

Steve in New York says "very simply answer, Obama didn't have his teleprompter. He looked confused and lost without it. Second reason is Obama has a poor record the last four years. Romney finally had a chance to attack it without the liberal press protecting Obama."

And Pete in Georgia says "don't you know? I'm sure it was all Bush's fault. If you want to read more on this you go to the blog, or to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you. I'm also hearing, by the way, some -- from some of my sources about how the president actually feels about his debate performance last night. We have details of that coming up in our next hour.


BLITZER: The outbreak of meningitis is spreading and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announces there are 35 cases in six states that at least five people have died, but that number could rise. Officials are tying the outbreak to contaminated vials of a drug that may have been given to patients in 23 states. And our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is joining us now. Sanjay, there are different types of meningitis. What type is this?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is something known as a fungal meningitis caused by a fungus, which I will tell you at the start, Wolf, is very unusual in people who are healthy. It typically is something you see in people who have weakened immune systems, but the meningitis that we typically hear about is usually caused by a virus. Those are the more mild cases. You can have bacterial meningitis which is caused by bacteria and those can be treated with antibiotics, but again these fungal cases are pretty unusual. Meningitis means an inflammation of the meninges (ph), which is the lining around the spinal cord and the brain and people can become quite sick from this, Wolf, as you know.

BLITZER: How serious -- how fatal is this particular type of meningitis?

GUPTA: Well, you know, with fungal meningitis because it often happens in people who already have weakened immune systems it can be quite serious. It can be fatal and as we're hearing, Wolf, even in this situation, these people who were otherwise healthy or at least did not have weakened immune systems I think five of them, at least by today's count have died. So this is you know pretty significant and I think it's also one of these things that is more difficult to treat. With the bacterial meningitis, there are good antibiotics out there. With the fungal meningitis it's harder to diagnosis and harder to treatment as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: How was it discovered? What is the source of this particular form of meningitis?

GUPTA: Yes, this is really interesting, Wolf. And I think it's almost like a medical detective story in some ways. There were -- it can take a while for people to develop symptoms. It can take up to 28 days, for example. So, when people started having this sickness, fungal meningitis wasn't the first thing people were looking for because, again, it's not that common. But once they figured it out, they had to literally trace back why are all these people getting fungal meningitis and what do they have in common?

Again, a real detective story and what they found was that they had -- they had all received epidural injections of a type of steroid medication. Now, that's often given because people have back pain or some other symptom you know in their lower back and that medication is given at that time and they went back and they looked at the lots of these medications. You know, the lots in which they come and tried to find if there was a contaminant specifically. What they have done now is they've said stop using this particular medication from these particular lot numbers, but that's sort of how they piece it all together, Wolf. And they're still working on it now.

BLITZER: And so back pain, is that the major symptom folks should be concerned about? What else is there?

GUPTA: Well you know I think the back pain is typically what took them probably to their doctors, their pain clinics in the first place and then that's the epidural injection was what was recommended. I think at this point you know people who maybe getting epidural injections because of back pain or for other reasons do need to talk to their doctor specifically about this and most hospitals are going to be made aware now that there are potentially contaminated lots of this steroid medication. We believe -- they believe that it was a steroid medication that is possibly contaminated and that's how the fungus is getting into these people's bodies.

BLITZER: It's a serious, serious issue out there. Sanjay, thanks very much for explaining what's going on.

GUPTA: You got it, Wolf, any time. Thank you.