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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript


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BLITZER: Rick Santorum certainly worked longer and harder than the other candidates did in Iowa. He left there this month thinking he had a strong second-place finish, only eight votes behind Mitt Romney. But now, the Iowa vote has been certified and by a razor-thin margin, Rick Santorum actually won. And that's a boost he certainly can use going to Saturday's vote here in South Carolina. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Senator Santorum, thanks very much for coming in.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's great to be back with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: First of all, congratulations. Apparently you won in Iowa.


BLITZER: Have they officially told you?

SANTORUM: Yes. I got an e-mail at 4:51 this morning saying the certified vote we won by 34 votes. If they include these other very, very small precincts that have not been officially certified, but we're phoned in election I actually won by more than 35, 34 votes. So either way you tally it, we were successful, and we feel good about that. We have a strong plan to continue that momentum and take it here to South Carolina now, and off to Florida.

As we saw from today, with the race narrowing eventually it will get down to conservative versus a moderate. And we, you know, we have won one of the two primaries. We hope to do well in South Carolina. We are running right now and according to the polls we're running second in Florida. So again, you know, we've beaten Newt Gingrich twice in two races. So, we feel like we're in pretty good shape coming out to South Carolina. We go to Florida beyond.

BLITZER: You must feel bad, though, that they took two weeks to make this official. If you had it won originally in Iowa, it may have given you some momentum going into New Hampshire.

SANTORUM: Well, with an eight vote. Look, I don't blame Iowa. I mean, you know, they had to go through the process. Actually, if you think about it, it moved from 8 votes to 34. Usually in an election that kind of change is insignificant, so I don't -- the state of Iowa did -- the Republican Party did a good job. I'm very happy that they got, you know, 99.9 percent of the polling places in. And we feel very, very good that we not only won, but we pulled off a huge upset.

BLITZER: I'm sure you're happy that Rick Perry dropped out of the race, because presumably he could have taken votes away from you, but you're probably not happy he's gone and endorsed Newt Gingrich.

SANTORUM: Yes. Look, I've grown to be fond of Rick Perry. I think he's a good man. I really like his wife Anita. Not that he is the good guy, but his wife, Anita's son, Griff with the kids to know. And the family's, you know, I think we were bonded in some respect. So, I know it's a tough decision. It was a tough day for him. And I just wish him the very, very best. And he came out. He did the best he could. And he had little bubbles at the beginning and then he was able sort of regain that.

As far as his endorsement, you know, that's his opinion. I feel very strongly we're the strong conservative in the race. We are the one that's been out there talking about a real solid conservative vision, and we're the one that can contrast with President Obama on really the key issues of the day. And Newt and Mitt, the other two left in this race that have a chance of winning this nomination, are bad matchups. You know, you talk about matchups. It's a bad matchup in the fall.

BLITZER: Bad matchup because --

SANTORUM: Because if you look at, for example, the three issues that the tea party started around, one was Obama care, the other was the Wall Street bailouts. And the third was cap and trade, and global warming. On all three of those issues, Romney and Gingrich are horribly compromised. You have Romney care and Newt supporting individual mandate of the federal level which is what Obamacare is based upon, you have both of them supporting the Wall Street big bank bailout, which I did not. And then, you have Newt sitting on the couch with Nancy Pelosi on global warming and Mitt Romney supporting a former cap in trade.

I mean, here, if we need the tea party to get excited about our candidate, the very existence of the tea party was motivated by three issues that our candidates are on the same side as Barack Obama. That's a very bad way to start a general election.

BLITZER: You have one ad that says Mitt Romney is just like Obama. You obviously approved that ad.

SANTORUM: Well, yes. I mean, absolutely.

BLITZER: He's just like Obama?

SANTORUM: He put the plan together in Massachusetts. That was the basis for Obamacare. It's blown health care cost to the roof. It's not Massachusetts now the most expensive state in the country for health care. Its added $8 billion to the cost of health care in Massachusetts, which all had to be paid for because they balanced budget amendment in their constitution like every other state does. Guess what? They've had increased taxes by $8 billion.

So, we saw, I didn't increase taxes. Yes, you did, because you dramatically expanded spending when taxes went up, in addition to the taxes he raised while he was there. So, if you look at Romney care and compared to Obama care, it's the same model, one on the state level, one on the federal level.

BLITZER: So, can Mitt Romney beat President Obama in November?

SANTORUM: I'm hoping any Republican can beat Barack Obama, but there are two issues here. Who has the best chance? Because the idea that the political situation is going to stay as it is today, we don't know. I mean, the economy can get better, it can get worse.

National security issue may come off and I have the best record on the national security and the most experience. There are a lot of things that can change. What we need is to put the strongest candidate out there that makes Obama the issue n the race, not the problem that your nominee has on the variety of different very important high profile issue, that, you know, lessen the wedge between the two candidates.

BLITZER: So, if Jon huntsman drops out this week, endorses Mitt Romney. Rick Perry drops out this week, endorses Newt Gingrich. Newt Gingrich says you should drop out so as not to divide up that conservative vote against Mitt Romney.

SANTORUM: That's pure and simple arrogance. I mean, the guy lost two races already. I mean, I won Iowa, he finished in fourth. I finished ahead of him in the state of New Hampshire where he finished fifth, and as a result of that, I should drop out of the race.

BLITZER: So, it is in South Carolina, he seems to be surging right now.

SANTORUM: You know what; we'll wait and see what happens on Saturday. But, you know, I've already got a win under our belt. You know, if he's fortunate to do better here in South Carolina, that's you know, we'll wait and see. But we feel very good about how things are going here. And I think that, again, the more people look at this race and realize the strong conservative, the one that presents the best contrast and the best chance of winning this election is Rick Santorum.

BLITZER: So you're definitely, no matter what happens Saturday, going to Florida.

SANTORUM: Absolutely.

BLITZER: You got the money? You got the money?

SANTORUM: Actually we're starting our buy today.

BLITZER: But when you say, they starting buy, what is that mean.

SANTORUM: Well, we're starting to buy in Florida bail on television.

BLITZER: You're starting to buy advertising?

SANTORUM: Yes, we are starting to buy advertising.

BLITZER: You have enough money?

SANTORUM: We do. We've done very, very well since the Iowa win. And we feel very good that the actual certification of our win, and the energy and the fact that the field is narrowing, that's a bunch of other people supporting the candidate, who was conservative, that hopefully will come on our, at least some of them. If not all of them will come on our team and help us out.

BLITZER: Because I understand that poll shows, you're trailing here in South Carolina behind Romney, Gingrich and even the Ron Paul and some of these polls. You have seen a whole bunch of polls though. If you come out last in South Carolina Saturday, what does that say?

SANTORUM: You know what? We'll work harder and do our best to win this, and, you know, we came in first in one state. Someone else came in first and another. Newt Gingrich -- this is sort of natural state for him to do well. He's from a neighboring state of Georgia. And he's invested a lot of time and money down here, certainly a lot more than we have. We are going to afford. Right now, your CNN poll says we're running second.

So, I feel pretty good that we'll do better than expected. We've always done better than expected. No one expected us to win Iowa. No one expected us to finish ahead of Gingrich in New Hampshire. And guess what? We did it twice. And so, let's wait and see who has the energy enthusiasm heading into Saturday and who is going to turn out the vote.

BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the issues that plague Mitt Romney. For example, the refusal to release his tax returns in recent year. You haven't released yours, either?

SANTORUM: No, I haven't particularly sexy returns. First up, I think it's not unreasonable for someone to say, you know, you don't want to release your tax returns, they are private issues. You do fill out a financial disclosure form. I don't know of any tax form that was ever, ever foot forward after an ethics disclosure was done. That was any kind of newsworthy item.

So I think it's a lot about gotcha. I've said when I get back home -- and I haven't been home for a few weeks -- I do their own taxes, they're on my computer. I'm not going to fly home to get my taxes to release them. Eventually when I get home, I'll do that, and be happy to release them and let me assure that you there's not a lot of sexiness in my taxes.

BLITZER: But in terms of the percentage of taxes paid, apparently Mitt Romney paying 15 percent, because a lot of capital gains, long- term capital gains. Newt Gingrich says his is about 31 percent, his federal income tax rate. What about yours?

SANTORUM: I don't know. I'm sure I know it's more than 15. I don't know if it's 30. I've got a bunch of kids. That does lower your rate because you get the deductions. But, I can't tell you off the top of my head. But I do, I know it's more than 15. I have no idea whether it's 30 or somewhere in between.

BLITZER: But you will release them?


BLITZER: OK. Let's talk about that other issue that's come up. When Rick Perry endorsed Newt Gingrich today, he said, I support him. He's a conservative. He is not perfect. But as a Christian, he said, I believe in redemption. I think he was referring to this new allegations that's about to come out in this ABC interview about his second wife, Newt Gingrich's second wife making suggestions. You know all about this. This is a real issue that should be discussed in this campaign at this late, late date.

SANTORUM: You know, look. I always believe when you're an electing a leader, your character counts. And, you know, particularly when you are serving in a public office, the things you do in public office matter. And I don't know the specifics about what she is alleging, but certainly anything that interacts and interferes with your role as a public official and what you did in behaving in that office with people who you work with, that's an issue that's certainly one the public should consider.

BLITZER: But when he says, yes, I made a lot of mistakes. But I'm a 68-year-old grandfather right now, and Rick Perry says I believe in redemption, I assume you do too?

SANTORUM: Of course I believe in redemption. I believe in forgiveness. But I also believe that you are accountable for what you did, and it does provide insights into what's goes on up here and what's in here.

And, you know, when I see Newt Gingrich, you know go off the handle and say things, like attacking the private equity business and attacking capitalism, when I see him propose a brand-new entitlement program and fund it the way Obamacare was funded, by taking money from here and shifting it over here to create a brand-new entitlement program.

When I see he's out there saying to me, after having lost two elections to me that I should resign. I think that just shows that, you know, we don't need a nominee that every day you have to worry about picking up the paper and seeing what he's going to say. And that's the concern with Newt Gingrich that he simply is not the kind of reliable, consistent, stable -- not just conservative, but candidate.

BLITZER: One final thought on Ron Paul, where does he fit into this whole Republican primary election?

SANTORUM: Well, Ron Paul has already admitted he's not going to win the presidency. He's already said that, I don't think I'm going to win. He's trying to change the Republican Party. He's on a mission to try to move the Republican Party toward a more libertarian bent. And that's his right to do that, but it's not a serious run for the presidency.

It's a run to try to change the party. And people run for different reasons. And I think Ron Paul is going to be in this race probably to the very end, because he has folks who want to realign the Republican Party in a different way than the part of Ronald Reagan. He has every right to do that, but I don't see him as someone who is seriously competing for the nomination.

BLITZER: You've got a fashion statement. You're wearing it right now. How does it feel to be sort of a fashion guru?

SANTORUM: I'm not too sure this is necessarily avant-garde kind of stuff here. We - you know, again, I go back to if you want someone who will make Barack Obama the issue in this race, you want the stable, solid, consistent conservative with a proven track record that been able to attract Democratic votes to win key states. That's what I've been able to do in my political career. I'm not the flashiest guy, not the guy getting the big applause lines. I'm the guy who is going to go out there and make him the issue, not me the issue, and that's what we want in this election.

BLITZER: Good luck.

SANTORUM: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

SANTORUM: Appreciate it.


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