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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

"Person Of Interest" Sought In Calif. Arson Fires; Iran Says It Test Fired Long Range Missiles; Countdown to Iowa Caucuses

Aired January 2, 2012 - 05:00   ET

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


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. It's a very EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

We are bringing you the news from A to Z.

BANFIELD: Get it? Ashleigh, Zoraida?

I don't know if you're just waking up, and I think you're a little hung over from the New Year. But we're new here. So, we're just kind of getting started. It's really great to be aboard at CNN.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, we're very excited to be here. We hope you join us every weekday, Monday through Friday, 5:00 to 7:00 a.m. in the East.

So, it is 5:00 a.m. in the East. So, let's get started for you here.

A developing story: a person of interest now identified on surveillance video in California in those arson fires.

BANFIELD: Also, we've got something very unusual that's happening in Mt. Rainier. There's been a murder of a park ranger and they're looking for this person. They feel like he's escaped on foot at this point and they've had to actually rescue some of the people that have been camping. We're going to tell you more details about that.

SAMBOLIN: And the National Weather Service says blizzard conditions, folks, in the Great Lakes could make the travel that you're trying to execute impossible.

BANFIELD: Isn't this like one of the busiest days of the year for travel?

SAMBOLIN: It is. And you know what? I think a lot of people got used to all the warmer weather, you know, the nice conditions and --

BANFIELD: Snap out of it.

SAMBOLIN: Bam. Wake up.

BANFIELD: Hey, guess what? You'll have to snap out of that pre- election lull. Because we're down about 36 hours before vote time in Iowa.

Talk about shaking hands. I wish they had a shake-o-meter so we know how many hands had actually been shaken before the polls actually start opening tomorrow in the Iowa caucuses. We have some numbers for you. Some of them are actually kind of surprising.

SAMBOLIN: We're going to begin this morning with the developing story in southern California. A possible break in the series of arson fires. So, "The New York Times" says it is the worst Los Angeles has seen the 1992 riots.

Police are releasing surveillance video showing what they call a person of interest. You're seeing it right there on your screen.

Thirty-nine fires are said to be linked to a serial arsonist.

CNN's Casey Wian is following all of the developments for us. He is live in Hollywood this morning.

We understand that police actually executed a search warrant. Is that true?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's what's been reported, Zoraida. We have some new developments, though, to report on the actual suspected arson fires themselves. We arrived here at the command center about an hour ago, spoke with an arson investigator who said so far tonight, everything was quiet.

Well, in the last 45 minutes, things have definitely changed. Four confirmed fires we're told linked to automobiles near carports in the Los Angeles area. The fire department has responded to all four of those scenes. They're trying to determine if incendiary devices were used in those fires, which is what happened with those 39 other fires over the last couple of days.

And my producer Stan Wilson just informs me that there is another incident that they are -- that the fire department is responding to where several vehicles in one structure are on fire as we speak. So this night that began very, very quiet has now turned very different. Arson investigators are responding to multiple incidents, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And do we have a description on this person of interest?

WIAN: Well, the one person of interest that they have put out that video that you showed early is described as a white male, balding, but with a pony tail. He was seen emerging from a parking structure, an underground parking structure in the Hollywood area not too far from where I was standing. He walked with his right hand in his pocket and walked with what appeared to be a limp.

Now, it's interesting, this is the only person of interest that they have shown video of, but there has been some speculation, I guess, that maybe more than one person is involved and given the fact that they're looking at five different fires that they're responding to just in the last 45 minutes, that would seem to support that theory that they maybe looking at more than one person, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And we also understand that the police are asking the public for help and they're actually offering here a sizable reward. Can you tell us about that?

WIAN: So far, $60,000 reward is being offered and, of course, they are asking for the public's help. They're asking anyone who recognizes the image of this person that they've distributed to the local media here to contact police and they're also telling people to be careful and lock their cars overnight -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Casey Wian live in Hollywood for us. Thank you very much for those details.

BANFIELD: And we've got another developing story on the horizon right now, as well. This is really strange. There's killer on the loose in Washington's Mt. Rainier Park.

And listen to how this actually transpired. Routine traffic stop, ranger tries to stop a car, car won't stop. So, she wires ahead to set up a road block.

And the person who was setting up the road block was a female ranger, 34 years old, a mother of two, gets out of the car to stop the suspect. Suspect shoots her dead. Suspect shoots the ranger dead and then flees on foot.

They've got a suspect in mind. Here's the ranger, again, 34 years old, mother of two, apparently married to another park ranger in Mt. Rainier, as well.

The suspect they're thinking of at this point, a name that we've been given, Benjamin Colton Barnes. Here's what we know about him. He may also be connected to the shooting of four other people over the weekend at a party. We also hear that he's got survivalist skills and that he's got military experience. You can see from the pictures and surmise what else we know about him.

Here's something else, all the folks who have been in Mt. Rainier Park, camping, visiting over the holidays. Many of them had to be rounded up, taken to the visitors center and kept under police escort. We are being told, though, that they're being evacuated, but we don't know at this point if they've all been evacuated or how that's going or whether they're under guard because he's sniper style and they're very concerned he's still on the loose.

SAMBOLIN: That's a very scary situation there. Unbelievable.

BANFIELD: And there's like two feet of snow on the ground, too. So when they're able to use that to their advantage to track him or whether that's tougher because as the snow keeps falling, those tracks keep getting covered.

So, snow a problem and snow is a problem for us in the Northeast, as well.

SAMBOLIN: It is indeed. Apparently, this big chill is coming to the Northeast. And, you know, we have gotten so comfortable with warmer temperatures across the country, right, so over two feet of lake-effect snow on the way that may affect people who are trying to get home from the holidays.

BANFIELD: I always love that it makes news in January, that it's snowing.

SAMBOLIN: I know. So, guess who's joining us? Rob Marciano in the extreme weather center.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Welcome to CNN.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you very much. We're happy to be here.

BANFIELD: It's nice -- I swear to God --

(CROSSTALK)

MARCIANO: And full disclosure, we're just actually meeting right now.

BANFIELD: It's a big machine, CNN. We're all over the world.

MARCIANO: You've been working hard for the last several months actually out of New York. And now, finally on the air.

BANFIELD: No, we just showed up.

MARCIANO: No, you were just taken, whatever, whatever it takes.

SAMBOLIN: It's hard, too, because you're a new dad, too, right? We found out about this. This is my first e-mail picture when I was on the job was you with your newborn baby.

MARCIANO: Well, we try to keep everyone informed about the breaking news.

BANFIELD: How are things doing?

MARCIANO: We're fine. We're fine.

BANFIELD: Can we do this? We talk first --

MARCIANO: Yes, exactly.

Anyway, guys, great to have you onboard. And you're right -- it is news in January to have snow because it's been such a mild winter, hasn't it?

You would think that by this time of the winter, we would see some serious snowfall totals across, well, not only the Northeast but the Midwest, typical lake effect snow band area, Upstate New York, back to the U.P. of Michigan. This is the area where we're seeing blizzard conditions. You see the rotation of that white. We haven't seen much in the way of white as far as snow goes across the Northeast certainly the past two months.

It's still mild in New York, 42, 40 degrees right now in D.C., and 25 in Chicago. So, that cold air is going to be pouring down to the South and East. Blizzard warnings are up for parts of the U.P. of Michigan and the upper hand, as well. Over 12 inches of snow expected in some of these areas, and blowing snow with the winds blowing 30, 40, maybe more than that, miles per hour blizzard conditions blinding visibilities. Ten to 20 inches of snow in the favored lake-effect areas, maybe a couple of feet in places like Syracuse or Watertown.

Cleveland, you'll see some delays because of that snow and wind. Visibility will be bad. Windy conditions across New York metros and the wind chills will bring the temperatures down as will the actual temperatures be dropping throughout the day.

So, the high term of 40 in New York City, that will be short- lived as we go through time as cold air filters. Midsection looks good.

Pasadena Rose Bowl happening later. It's going to be toasty there. Another storm reeling into the Pacific Northwest.

And the Winter Classic NHL game happening outside of Philadelphia, temperatures there will be dropping throughout the day.

We're keeping an eye guys on that blizzard happening across parts of Michigan. And, finally, some snow winter weather across the Northeast.

Talk to you guys more in a little bit.

BANFIELD: All right. Rob, thank you for that. We'll have to talk more to you because we do love weather stories.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: Love you.

I'm trying to make nice with my new colleagues.

OK. So I don't know. Have you been doing the math? Have you been doing the countdown? It's like Christmas for us or holiday time or Hanukkah or anything else we celebrate. When the primaries and caucuses come, news people go bananas, you really like it.

How many hours left, 36, 34 1/2 -- it's two days until we're going to know who won the first caucus at least in this entire race. It's Iowa, folks. What did you get me?

You know, we might have a sneak peek, though. We got -- of course, we have polls coming out all the time. But we also have this really cool thing that we did, CNN surveying 64 Republican Iowa insiders, state politician, business leaders, politicos, all the people who are really in the know in that state and we got some numbers for you on who they think are going to finish first.

Are you ready?

Not a big surprise, Mitt Romney. However the number might be, 63 percent of them think that Romney is going to take the first spot, 27 percent think it's going to be Ron Paul. And are you ready for this? The guy who's been surging like mad in the polls, Rick Santorum, got nada, donut. That's a little odd because actually in the last two days of last week's polls, he soared right up to number two.

We have some of our own political insiders that we want to introduce to, to get the panel started: CNN contributor John Avlon, better known as best friend of Steph (ph). He's going to kill me for saying that. He's also a senior political columnist for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast."

Also, CNN contributor Erick Erickson. He's the editor in chief of Redstate.com.

Ruben Navarrette, CNN contributor and syndicated columnist and a "Washington Post" writer.

And Lenny McAllister, rounding up, conservative commentator, host of the radio show, "Get Right with Lenny McAlister."

Hello to you all. I'm so glad you woke up early.

John Avlon, want to start with you. I like that little insider thing that CNN did, but it's not reflective of the polls that everybody else was doing, including CNN.

So, what's a girl to think moving into the last 36 hours? Are the polls right? Are the insiders right? What's going to happen?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, as you just said, the insider poll is just that. It's a poll of insiders in the state about what they think is going to happen. It does reaffirm a large part of the polls that CNN and other organizations have been doing, which is that Mitt Romney is in poll position.

Ron Paul, however, can't be counted out because his supporters are so intense. They're going to show up.

And at the end of the day, caucuses are low turnout high intensity affairs.

Rick Santorum getting the donut hole, as you said, not a surprise because the evangelical vote in the past has been decisive in Iowa, 60 percent of the turnout last time around in 2008 which made Mike Huckabee the winner of the Iowa caucus in 2008.

BANFIELD: All right. Erick Erickson, weigh on this one.

They often say and I'm just going to repeat it because I like doing math, that there are only three tickets out of Iowa and that third ticket is pretty highly sought after as you look at the polls right now. And most people were assuming that it was going to be either Rick Santorum vying for that spot or Gingrich. But now, we're not sure what to think anymore especially with the big fat donut on the insider poll.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right.

BANFIELD: What should we think about that third ticket?

ERICKSON: Well, it depends on Ron Paul. Remember, last time, John McCain came in fourth in Iowa and was the nominee for the Republicans. Ron Paul kind of discounted with his support.

It depends of where the support comes from and it depends on the other ground game. I have been told now there are several organizations on the outside and campaigns on the inside all showing that, really, the third slot is a three-way tie between Gingrich, Perry and Santorum. And it's going to depend on ground game.

Most of the people in Iowa --

BANFIELD: Perry, honestly? Perry at this point?

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: Well, he's got a strong ground game that Rick Santorum doesn't have.

BANFIELD: Yes, he does. But he doesn't have those numbers. They just -- I mean, he's really --

ERICKSON: Exactly. But the campaign internals from several of the campaigns have it really at a three-way tie. Even in the Des Moines poll, Perry, Santorum and Gingrich are within the margin of error.

Now, the odds are that it's Santorum because he has the evangelical support. He's probably going to surprise everyone, including the Iowa insiders. But you can't discount ground games in Iowa either, particularly when there's no snow on the ground right now.

BANFIELD: OK. Listen, I love that. And Iowa is a big proponent of figuring that anybody who works really hard and does retail politics is going to do really well in Iowa. And we have without question seeing Rick Santorum been the benefactor of that.

But, Ruben Navarrette, maybe you can weigh on why Rick Perry hasn't done better because at last count -- and I'm going to have to just round up these numbers. I think he said he had like a 1,000 captains who were going to be, you know, taking part in fewer than a thousand actual poll locations. So that's pretty good. And he's been to a lot of places, yet he is doing numbers nowhere near what Santorum is doing.

So, why is that? And, by the way, P.S. let me add, he's pretty conservative and pretty religious.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE, CNN.COM CONTRIBUTOR: Right. And most significantly as you mentioned, he has spent the most than any other candidate: He has outspent everybody else in Iowa and still poll numbers, I agree with you, are not moving up.

And I think they're not moving up precisely --

BANFIELD: Well, what's going wrong?

NAVARRETTE: I think the competition is too stiff. I think that once he surrendered the top spot because of his debate performances, I think that Paul began to surge and I think Santorum began to surge. And now, they're just elbowing him out of the way. He can't get back up into that inner circle.

I do think it's going to be the same three names we talked about before -- Paul, Romney and Santorum. But I think the order is going to be reversed. I think Rick Santorum will do very well, possibly win Iowa, with Romney in second and Paul will get the third ticket out of Iowa.

BANFIELD: All right. Lenny McAllister, I'm going to switch gears a little bit, but at the same time, I still want to work polls into this. And that is Newt Gingrich, who has really, you know, struggled. I mean, to put it mildly -- he's really struggled in the last week-and-a-half.

Is the great experiment of going nice a dumb idea? And why would you experiment in Iowa?

LENNY MCALLISTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Well, it's not a dumb idea. You have to understand that Newt Gingrich did not do a whole lot here for the straw poll in August. If you're going to experiment, experiment here.

Now, in regards to that strategy, it's a long-term strategy. It's not a short-term strategy. If you're going to play nice and move forward and try to be that presidential figure that's above the fray, you have to do that for the long haul. Newt Gingrich has sworn, yes, he hasn't been very disciplined lately.

What he needs to do is have the discipline to say, this is what I said I was going to do. I'm going to stay above the fray, I'm going to stay positive, but I want to do this going into New Hampshire, I'm going to do this going into South Carolina and I want to try to keep that momentum going forward with being positive and then regain those poll points hopefully with some better results, some better responses when it comes to dealing with the media --

BANFIELD: All right.

MCALLISTER: -- and not letting these other candidates get underneath his skin.

BANFIELD: Lenny, Ruben, Erick and John, not the last we're going to hear of you. We're going to touch base with you all morning long. Thanks very much to all four of you.

MCALLISTER: Thanks.

BANFIELD: Okie-dokie.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It's 5:15 in the East and time to check in on the stories that are making news.

BANFIELD: I've been up for hours, trust me.

SAMBOLIN: Police say in Los Angeles they have a person of interest they say in connection to more than three dozen suspected arson fires. This is in and around the city during the New Year's weekend.

Investigators say the man was spotted on surveillance video in several locations. There's a person right there where the fires were started. He is said to be in his 20s or 30s, dark hair, and wears a ponytail.

BANFIELD: And another suspect to talk about. There's a manhunt going on right now around Mt. Rainier, Washington. Actually that's in Washington state.

Police are looking for a man that they say shot and killed a park ranger while they were trying to stop him and then he took off into the woods.

There's the ranger. There's the suspect. His name, Benjamin Colton Barnes. He's believed to have military experience and survivalist skills. Also, they think he is a suspect in a Sunday morning shooting that injured four people outside of Seattle.

SAMBOLIN: And new this morning, Iran says it successfully test- fired two long-range missiles on the final day of navy war games. Yesterday, Iran tested its first nuclear rod, strengthening fears that Iran is on its way to building nuclear weapons. The U.S. government stepped up sanctions against Iran in December. It has not ruled out military action to stop Iran's nuclear programs.

BANFIELD: So you always tell me you think I'm crazy for having two BlackBerrys, right?

SAMBOLIN: No, I think it's a great idea.

BANFIELD: So is everybody else who teases me about having two BlackBerrys, and an iPod and an iPad and MyFi.

SAMBOLIN: Well, you know, social media is all the craze, right? Would you think it is in Iowa?

BANFIELD: I do. I think you know what? I'm a prairie girl. So, I think that's the greatest thing in the world, to get sort of a disparate geographical area together.

SAMBOLIN: Well, I'm trying to figure how broadband works in the area. So, we're going to talk to some folks there and see some farmers as well and see how it's working for them.

BANFIELD: And also, something that we -- listen, this is going to be pretty funny stuff. It could be a disaster but we have a very --

SAMBOLIN: We'll try it.

BANFIELD: A very famous woman from a very famous political dynasty who's going to join us. But she doesn't know it. We're just going to actually call her and wake her up. And see if she answers her phone. We want to get her to weigh in.

SAMBOLIN: We're a little worried that folks are going to cuss. So, is there a button we can press?

BANFIELD: This could be your little secret. If you continue to watch, you may find exactly what we mean by this. Actually, you're just going to be in on the joke all the way along, because we have no idea if this thing is going to work or not.

But she is very cool and she is very famous. And her family even more so famous. And the politics story in that family -- I mean --

SAMBOLIN: We'll share that with you when we come back. Looking forward to it. Don't worry. Don't worry.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: You know, I'm trying to figure out is that Lenny Kravitz? Is that just our music library? That will wake you up.

SAMBOLIN: It's 5:21. We're getting an early read on local news that's making national headlines. And this morning, we have papers from Maryland and Utah.

BANFIELD: This is the kind of papers we have, but I know that they have them in their communities.

SAMBOLIN: There they are. From "The Baltimore Sun" -- Hawaii and Delaware began allowing same-sex civil unions on Sunday, how to spend your New Year's.

BANFIELD: Well, congratulations, but I there a lot of people who find that very controversial.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, they do. As a matter of fact, it was very controversial in that particular state. The governor there, a Democrat, signed the state's civil unions bill into law last February, calling it a prime example of exercising civic courage. It's about doing what is right no matter how difficult, no matter how much opposition. He did get a lot of opposition there.

BANFIELD: It's not even same-sex marriage. It's just civil unions.

SAMBOLIN: Civil unions, right.

BANFIELD: And they got the pushback.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

So, five states now recognize same-sex civil unions. Six other states, Washington, D.C., allow same-sex marriage.

BANFIELD: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: The other ones, Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island already recognized civil unions.

So, all right. Congratulations, I guess, right? So, some folks are very excited about that.

BANFIELD: You're going to learn a lot about us in the coming days, months, years and hopefully decades. We're both moms and so this story is actually quite --

SAMBOLIN: I haven't heard it yet.

BANFIELD: She doesn't know this one yet, so you better get your goosebumps ready, because there were three kids in a car in -- this comes from Logan Canyon, Utah, near Salt Lake City. Apparently, these three kids and the driver, look at the icy banks they went into the river. That car was actually over on its roof at one point.

The driver could get out but could not get the kids and kids were only 9 years old, two girls were 9 years old, and a 4-year-old boy, probably fell into the car seat, apparently passers-by helped this driver as he was struggling a way -- couldn't get the doors open, so he used a handgun to shoot open the windows of the car.

The passers-by all -- they all got three of these kids out of that car.

SAMBOLIN: Don't you love to hear that?

BANFIELD: And look, I'm telling you, get the goosebumps ready. They're right there.

All the kids got out. They were not in great condition, but we are told now that they're all expected to recover. But, Lord, can you imagine getting into that icy river? Passers-by --

SAMBOLIN: You should get awarded.

BANFIELD: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: That doesn't always happen.

OK, it is 5:23. You can knock on more doors and shake more hands and kiss more babies than any other candidate has in history but in a rural state, the best way to get people's votes may actually be the Internet.

So joining us now to talk about this: Michael Libbie, co-founder of Central Iowa Bloggers and members of the Des Moines Social Media Club; Deb Brown, she's the owner of the social media company "Deb Works"; Larry Seiler, an Iowa farmer and an undecided Republican caucusgoer who blogs on AgChat.org. And we have Claire Celsi, president of a Des Moines Social Media Club.

Thank you so much.

BANFIELD: They look freezing.

SAMBOLIN: It is a little chilly there.

So, Larry, we'd like to start with you. So, when people think of Iowa, they think of farms, not social media. You're a farmer.

Exactly how are you using the social media to assist you with farming?

LARRY SEILER, IOWA FARMER, BLOGS ON AGCHAT.ORG: We've got into social media as just a way of communication. And so, we started in coffee shops, we can just get on our computers or cell phones and communicate with each other. We can get ahold of our consumers and share ideas and start a dialogue.

SAMBOLIN: And do you talk politics?

SEILER: We talk politics a little bit. It's kind of hard to avoid politics. That kind of decides everything that we do. It's controlled by the government. We got a lot of regulation and we have to keep up with it.

SAMBOLIN: And, Deb, if we can talk to you for a minute here, you connect all the farmers and small businesses. Can you tell us how that works? And is this -- is this new to rural areas? Or have you done this in other areas, as well?

DEB BROWN, OWNER, SOCIAL MEDIA COMPANY "DEB WORKS": no, it's not really new to rural areas. We've been talking to each other for quite a while. The technology is a little bit new. Using Twitter, Facebook -- those are pretty popular.

And I think it's 57 percent of Franklin County where I live is on Facebook. It's the new party line.

SAMBOLIN: And, Claire, you're the president of the Des Moines Social Media Club. How is it different in what's largely a rural state?

CLAIRE CELSI, PRESIDENT, DES MOINES SOCIAL MEDIA CLUB: It's pretty amazing considering back in 2000, when there was the Internet but no social media. It's a lot more labor intensive, trying to get political support for your candidate without social media. So, I'm really interested in watching ever since probably 2004 on to now, how social media has really caught on as an organizing tool, a fund- raising tool, and really just kind of 24-hour, seven-day a week organizer.

I can imagine it's probably saving campaigns a lot of money and a lot of time.

SAMBOLIN: So, Michael, let's talk a little about that. Let's talk about how it has changed politics in the area.

MICHAEL LIBBIE, CO-FOUNDER, CENTRAL IOWA BLOGGERS: Well, social media is one of those tools that business and politicians use on a regular basis to connect with their constituency. You know, just a scant six or seven years ago, most of us thought a technorati tag was something that kids in Japan played with on the playground. And today, this is the purpose for so many of us that are engaged in social media for business and for politics.

No time in history have the consumers had more power in their hands to be able to connect with not only candidates, but also businesses worldwide. Large and small, I should say.

SAMBOLIN: Now, I can't let you go without asking you about the weather, because it looks like the wind is really blowing. It seems a little chilly in the area. Can you tell us a little about that before we let you go?

LIBBIE: You know what? Yes, just -- absolutely. You know, just a couple of days ago we had 53-degree weather. I think it was the day before yesterday and, of course, it turned off cold for this, the day just prior to the Iowa caucuses.

We expect there to be a great turnout here in Iowa. You know, we're pretty hearty folks here and we do enjoy this kind of weather, even though it might look like we're a little cold out here.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, you're sitting out there for us.

Well, Mike Libbie, Deb Brown, Larry Seiler, and Claire Celsi, thank you so much for joining us this morning. And good luck with the voting out there.

BANFIELD: And, young man, wear your coat. They look good. They do.

SAMBOLIN: They look good.

BANFIELD: OK. So LeBron James may not have a ring, a professional ring now. But guess what? He's going to get a real pretty one for his girlfriend real soon.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, she's going to get one. He hasn't got one already?

BANFIELD: We'll find out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Hello, everybody. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. Nice to have you with us. It's 32 minutes past the hour.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Here is what's on the agenda today.

Trying to get the votes and change minds in the last full day of campaigning in Iowa. How many are undecided versus how many can have their minds changed? We're going to talk about that.

BANFIELD: It's kind of like a half and halfy, really. I mean, some are sort of undecided. And by the way, since it's like the eve of the political season kicking off which we're just so excited about, we thought we'd wake somebody up to ask them about it. We're not telling you who, but we're going to give you a hint.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, we're not?

BANFIELD: No.

SAMBOLIN: What's the hint?

BANFIELD: OK. Here's the hint. I told you before it was somebody from a very, very prominent political family. It's a Kennedy.

SAMBOLIN: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: Oh, I'm going to wake up a Kennedy.

BANFIELD: But we're not going to tell you which one, and she doesn't know it either.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: Well, now, we know it's she.

BANFIELD: We know it she, and I'm not going to tell you if her dad was president. I'm not going to tell you if her dad was a senator. I can't tell you any of that, but it is a she.

SAMBOLIN: Stand by.

BANFIELD: But, I'm telling you, she doesn't know we're calling either.

SAMBOLIN: It's going to be surprised.

All right. Can we have other stories that are catching our attention this morning?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): A new lead in a string of arson fires in Southern California. Police do have a person of interest right there in that circle from surveillance video at two of the fire locations. So, this man is said to be in his late 20s to mid-30s with dark hair and a ponytail. Thirty-nine fires have been set in and around Los Angeles. They're investigating another eight additional fires now, as well.

BANFIELD (voice-over): And also, another bizarre crime story this one out of the northwest. Dozens of people being escorted out of Mt. Rainier National Park because of this guy, allegedly. The National Park Authorities say that they're on the hunt for this man. They say he shot and killed a park ranger. It happened yesterday. The suspect that you see here, apparently, escaping into the woods.

Just last hour, police escorted dozens and dozens, over a hundred visitors who are actually spending some of the holidays in that park.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD (on-camera): They had to escort them out. First, they had them in the visitor's center. Then, they had to get them out of the park. They said this guy could be a sniper. He's got military experience. They have no idea just how dangerous he is or where he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: All right. Iran's military says it has successfully test-fired two long-range missiles. That happened just this morning one day after the country claimed to have successfully tested its first nuclear fuel rod. U.S. officials say they have not ruled out military action to stop Iran's nuclear program.

BANFIELD (voice-over): And right now, if you're in the Great Lakes, get on. Check it out. There's your winter weather warning, a big storm coming first in 2012. Blizzard conditions expected to slam everywhere from Minnesota to New York today, tomorrow, just when you're trying to travel home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD (on-camera): Up to 20 inches of snow expected. Forty- mile-an-hour wind gusts.

I'm sorry to be the bearer of that news. National Weather Service, actually, the bearer, and they're saying that whiteout conditions could make travel, ready? I'm sorry, impossible. They said impossible, not us.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Maybe just delayed, right?

BANFIELD: I hope for everybody stay (ph) just delayed. Not the time you want to be -- well, maybe you do want to be late for work. I don't know. SAMBOLIN: Kind of our top story here. We are closing in on the Iowa caucuses, and we will soon know who gets there ticket punched, as they say. The saying is, there are only three tickets out of Iowa. Who gets them? We've got a great panel today to tell us what to expect.

CNN contributor, John Avlon. He's also a senior political columnist for "Newsweek" and "the daily beast." CNN contributor, Erick Erickson, also editor-in-chief of RedState.com, Ruben Navarrette, CNN.com contributor, syndicated columnist, "Washington Post" writer script, and Lenny McAllister, conservative commentator, hosts the radio show "Get Right With Lenny McAllister."

Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it. So, here, we have the latest Des Moines Register poll -- good morning -- that everyone is talking about. Let's take a look at it. Mitt Romney, 24 percent, Ron Paul, 22 percent, Rick Santorum, 15 percent, Newt Gingrich 12 percent.

And if you look at just the last two days, you see that Santorum's spike we've been talking about, he jumps to second place. So, John, let's start with you. How do you see this all playing out?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Zoraida, the first thing to keep in mind is the poll that matters is on caucus night. All of this is preliminary, so let's just remember that basic fact of our democracy. You see Mitt Romney in the poll position, however, he's the only guy in politics with a glass ceiling. He can't seem to break past 25 percent.

So, the question is how the rest of the deck is shuffled. Rick Santorum does seem to the big momentum behind him. Ron Paul supporters are going to turn out. These folks are deeply dedicated, and they are going to turn out for their guy. Wouldn't count out Newt or Rick Perry with his organizational ground game.

The big question is election. What's fascinating? It's the question of whether or not ground game, whether or not retail politics still matters as much as it historically has in Iowa.

SAMBOLIN: So, Lenny, let's move over to you. How do you this Iowa playing out? Is Romney actually going to win this? Most folks are saying, yes.

LENNY MCALLISTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: I can see him possibly winning on Tuesday, but here's the interesting thing. John mentioned Mitt Romney's ceiling. The real question coming out of Iowa is going to be, is this going to be Newt Gingrich's floor? Is this going to be Rick Perry's floor? Rick Perry has the money, and Newt Gingrich had the momentum coming out of the debates.

If this ends up being their floor, they can say this as their low water mark and start regaining momentum. For Romney, if he win, it's great, but if he still starts running into trouble in South Carolina and Florida, he's recovered there, but if he can't solidify his base in those two states, he still has the same problem he's had for the last several months.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Let's talk about somebody different here. Erick, you've had some pretty harsh words for Rick Santorum on RedState.com. You asked his supporters why they think he is the best candidate. You don't get why he's surging.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I get why he's surging and the other candidates who have appealed to evangelicals have fallen flat, and so, now it's Rick Santorum's time. I'm not sure if the surge has been overstated in the polls or if it's legit his crowds have been building in the past few days.

But we're talking about replacing a guy Republicans say doesn't have enough experience to be president with a guy who was out of office in 2006 with the largest margin of loss in the country in 2006, and he hasn't been back in elected politics nor did have the private sector experience that Mitt Romney trumps (ph) or some of the other candidates trump (ph) for job creation.

I give that evangelicals want an evangelical. I'm an evangelical. I totally get it. I'm just not sure that Rick Santorum is the guy to rally around given really what is it much more of a record than what they say Barack Obama never had.

SAMBOLIN: When we talk about retail politics, you know, this guy has really done it. Ruben, Santorum has all but moved to Iowa. He has spoken at nearly 400 events. He got the endorsement from Bob Vander Plaats from The Family Leader. The former head of the Iowa Republican Party said don't count Santorum out. So, people believe in him. Any chance that he actually pulls this off?

RUBEN NAVARRETTE, CNN.COM CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, a good chance, because I think he's picking up momentum at just the right moment. He's peaking at the right moment. And, again, the people on the ground, they sort of go with this establishment thinking that mitt Romney has this in the bag.

If that were true, you wouldn't have had this whole scenario play out for the last several weeks, really, where you had this up and down quality. Anybody but Romney phenomenon is a real thing. And so, I don't think that it's Romney at all.

And I think Rick Santorum, you know, despite I agree his weak resume -- I agree with Erick is a weak resume, something is resonating with people if that retail effort. He's been to all 99 counties. He's out there. He really wants it. I think that's going to carry him through. It's enthusiasm that gets him across the line.

SAMBOLIN: All right. John Avlon, Erick Erickson, Ruben Navarrette, Lenny McAllister, thank you very much. We'll talk to you again.

BANFIELD: OK. I don't want to be the keeper of doom and bloom here, but, well, we're giving you a culture loop tune up this morning. One of the first looks that's trending on the web and social media is a weird one. Ready? It's 2012, and for the second year in a row on New Year's Eve, 200 birds have been found dead in a small Arkansas City. Again, did I mention second year in a row?

Last year it was 5,000 blackbirds that fell from the sky -- I'm not sure if it's Beebe or Beebe, Arkansas. Anyone know? Beebe, Arkansas. I am so sorry that I don't know that, but I will definitely read up on that pronunciation. I think it's fireworks which makes sense, because it was New Year's Eve, right?

But, they are saying that somebody may have actually set them off just a little too close to a wildlife preserve, I think.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, no!

BANFIELD: Yes. That wouldn't be nice. But it is a little weird, isn't it? doo-doo-doo. Welcome to 2012.

SAMBOLIN: here's the story that we're talking about earlier. LeBron James and the ring. Apparently, he's popped to the question there. She is. He proposed to long-time girlfriend, Savannah Brinson, at a Miami nightclub on New Year's Eve.

BANFIELD: Oh, LeBron, nightclub, seriously?

SAMBOLIN: I know. The mother of his two children. The news set off a string of Twitter jokes about how she has a ring, but he doesn't.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: I'm surprised they didn't know this earlier.

BANFIELD: I know. I don't really follow -- is he a basketball player?

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: Yes. I knew that was going to get your goad. I don't really follow basketball. I'm worry about curling --

SAMBOLIN: Oh, he's a superstar. Superstar.

BANFIELD: OK. So, I've been telling you all morning I'm going to wake up a Kennedy. I figured it wouldn't be fair if I didn't tell you who which Kennedy it really was. It's Bobby's daughter, Bobby Kennedy's daughter, Kerry Kennedy. Don't call her to warn her, please, if you're a friend of hers --

SAMBOLIN: You happen to have her phone number.

BANFIELD: Yes. If you've been wondering, in just a couple of minutes now, I'm going to be dialing her up. And like I said, this is just an experiment and a brand-new show. It could be a total disaster. I can't promise anything.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, she's going to answer the phone. BANFIELD: I hope so.

SAMBOLIN: What will she say is the question.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: Because you know what, big dynasties, political campaigns, family's campaigning, ain't east. You'll hear it from EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Hey, London. Good morning to you. This is a live picture from London. It is 10:44 right there now. Big Ben, I was there not too long ago.

BANFIELD: I wonder if it's as cool there as it is in the northeast, commensurate parallel.

SAMBOLIN: I don't know. We didn't see those shots to the folks walking around, so we have no idea. I'll check for you.

BANFIELD: Lovely this time of year.

So, basically, on occasion, on this program, as we move forward and try out crazy ideas, essentially, we're going to wake some poor soul up. Somebody who's really connected to the news in some way, but really has no idea that -- we're basically exercising our Rolodexes is what I'm telling you.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: And we decided today's rolodex would be Kerry Kennedy.

(PHONE RINGING)

BANFIELD: I hope she actually is awake. OK, this is getting embarrassing.

She's going to answer. I'm sure she will.

BANFIELD: Come on, Kerry. Come on.

VOICE OF KERRY KENNEDY, ESTABLISHED RFK FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN 1988: Hello.

BANFIELD: Hi. Is Kerry there?

KENNEDY: Yes, this is me.

BANFIELD: Hi, Kerry. It's Ashleigh Banfield calling.

KENNEDY: Good morning, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: You're on the air so no "F" bombs.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: How are you?

KENNEDY: I'm OK.

BANFIELD: I'm doing my best to imitate Howard Stern by calling you and waking you up, but you know what, I wanted to call you particularly on our inaugural show because we're really sort of on the eve of the big political kickoff with Iowa tomorrow, and I wanted to know what it was like for you in the political dynasty that you grew up in with all of the campaigns that you've gone through.

I did a quick piece of math, and I think it's like one, two, three, four, five, six, seven members of your family have been in elected office. Is that right?

KENNEDY: Oh, I've never counted.

BANFIELD: You had to do --

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: You had to do -- so, what was it like going through all the campaigns that you did? We're seeing some beautiful pictures of your father, so handsome and so endearing, and it was such a tragic story in his campaign, and I just wanted to know what it was like going through these campaigns for you.

KENNEDY: Well, you know, we just loved -- I have great memories of campaigning with him around New York and then across the country, of course, when he was running for president. He took us everywhere and he made an enormous effort to make it a good time for the kids. So, we went to the Bronx Zoo. We camped (INAUDIBLE) riding on little ponies and --

BANFIELD: You were eight years old when he was killed, right?

KENNEDY: I was eight, yes.

BANFIELD: And do you still have haunting memories of every campaign?

KENNEDY: Well -- haunting, did you say?

BANFIELD: Haunting memories. I mean, this has --

(CROSSTALK)

KENNEDY: Yes. I mean, I have great memories of him, and I think that it's an amazing thing to be through campaigns because you get to see parts of the country or parts of the city that you would never, you know, that you wouldn't normally see, and people invite you into their homes, and they talk about the problems that they see in their daily lives, you know?

BANFIELD: I want to really just quickly, I have 30 seconds left, but I definitely want to ask you about the RFK Foundation you've been so intricate in working on projects for children and education and give me a quick 15-second tease on what you've been up to the RFK Foundation and the work it's doing.

KENNEDY: Well, we have the, of course, power to education program curriculum for middle and high school students and that -- and that's available online to anybody interested in learning about human right, not just (INAUDIBLE) but also the practice. We invite everybody to come look at our website, rfkcenter.org.

BANFIELD: You are the bomb, my friend. And can I just tell you that when you wake up, you sound a little like me and also Demi Moore in the mornings.

(LAUGHTER)

KENNEDY: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Kerry, thank you, sweetie pie.

KENNEDY: OK. Take care.

BANFIELD: Talk to you soon, I hope, at a later hour.

(LAUGHTER)

KENNEDY: OK, thanks.

BANFIELD: That's great.

SAMBOLIN: She has a rather sexy voice. She's good.

BANFIELD: Very Demi Moore.

SAMBOLIN: Our first one answered the phone. This is good news.

BANFIELD: Whew. Boss is happy.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Forty-eight minutes after the hour here.

Some stories making news this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): A developing story this hour from Mt. Rainier National Park where an intense manhunt is underway right now for a man suspected of killing a park ranger. Police say the suspect, Benjamin Colton Barnes, may be armed, military trained, and also responsible for shooting four people in Seattle.

BANFIELD (voice-over): Have some surveillance video, apparently, that suggests a person of interest, take a peek, kind of hard to make out who that person is, but police to talk to them because they think he may be connected to more than three dozen arson fires in and around the Los Angeles area just over the weekend. The pictures have been outrageous. Investigators say that guy was spotted in several locations where this fire was happened, and this morning, firefighters are responding to at least eight, eight new fires, but still trying to figure out if they're connected to this particular story.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD (on-camera): Apparently, this suspect is 20 to 30 years old, dark hair, ponytail.

SAMBOLIN: So, they're offering $50,000 reward now is offer information there.

South Korea is offering economic aid to North Korea. That's if the north gives up its nuclear program.

BANFIELD: So, good luck.

SAMBOLIN: South Korea's president says he is hoping for a, quote, "new era" of relations following the death of Kim Jong-Il. Meantime, North Korea says it wants nothing to do with the South. The North says it feels insulted because South Koreans did not attend or more South Koreans did not attend the funeral of Kim Jong-Il.

BANFIELD: And if you're just waking up and getting ready for your flight, call the airline. There is a blizzard and it's brutal and it's really threatening some travel, and we're going to tell you how, why, where, all of it.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Whiteout conditions for you there. We'll be right back.

BANFIELD: Back in a flash (ph).

SAMBOLIN: Much more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Extremely bad. The big chill coming to the northeast we're talking about. Is it extremely good or extremely bad, because Rob Marciano is joining us now in the Extreme Weather Center.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's always extreme when -- we had extreme mildness in December. Now, we're turning the corner in 2012. I want to show you the radar as far as what's going on snow wise across the northeast, Great Lakes. This is cold air that's barreling south and east. We're going to have wind chill advisories as far south as West Palm Beach.

Right now, the snow is coming down across the Great Lakes. Here are some of the advisories. Blizzard warnings up for parts of northwestern Michigan through today, 12 plus inches. Wind chills near zero, visibility at times near zero as well. Cleveland to Syracuse, lake-effect snows with winds gusting over 40 miles an hour, blinding conditions there. you could see a couple of feet of snow in those lake-effects favored spots.

If you are traveling today, New York metro and Cleveland will be the hot spots as far as delays are concerned and Chicago and Detroit as well, and as mentioned, that cold air will be pouring south and east.

Right now, 48 in New York for the high, but temperatures will be plummeting throughout the day to finally feel like -- you guys arrive and things now finally act the way they should weather wise.

SAMBOLIN: It's a cold weather.

BANFIELD: Yes. Those were big hubs that we're expecting delays when everyone is coming back from --

MARCIANO: It's true. Today is like -- you know, we've been working so hard I forget that today is a big holiday still and lot of people traveling --

BANFIELD: Not a holiday for journalists or people campaigning, let's just say that.

MARCIANO: That is true. That is true.

BANFIELD: Are you a sports fan?

MARCIANO: Of course.

BANFIELD: They say God works in mysterious ways.

MARCIANO: What do you got for us?

BANFIELD: Tim Tebow. It's kind of a weird story, right?

MARCIANO: I know he lost. Is that the weird part of it?

BANFIELD: But did he really lose in the big picture? Doesn't he still get into the big game? That's what I'm saying. God works in mysterious ways.

MARCIANO: That's true.

(LAUGHTER)

MARCIANO: They still are in the playoffs.

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: The story after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: A football fan?

(LAUGHTER) SAMBOLIN: Yes, apparently, neither one of us is a football fan, but football is all the rage. While the whole country was wondering if there was going to be some Tim Tebow magic to get the Broncos into the playoffs, the answer turned out to be yes, but not thanks to him. The Broncos made the playoffs despite losing to the Kansas City Chief Sunday, 7 to 3.

Tebow finished the season losing a three straight after a series of spectacular fourth quarter comebacks earlier in the season. A loss by the Oakland Raiders pushed the Broncos into the post-season now. Denver will host the Pittsburgh Steelers in a wild card playoff game that is happening next Sunday.

BANFIELD: Yes, football, but do they get goals or baskets?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, come on, seriously.

BANFIELD: No, I'm kidding. I'm kidding. I do have a couple of things to update for you coming at the top of the hour. You won't believe what's been going on in Southern California, arson fires nonstop. Eight more they're looking at this morning. More in a minute.

SAMBOLIN: Latinos in Iowa. There are only five percent of Latino population. The Republican candidates making a mistake ignoring them, however? We're going to talk all things Latino in Iowa when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)