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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

"Person Of Interest" In California Arson Fires; Manhunt After Park Ranger Killed; Blizzard Conditions To Slow Travel Plans; Countdown To Iowa Caucuses; South Korea Hopes For "New Era" With North; Latino in Iowa; Countdown to Iowa Caucuses; Person of Interest Detained in California Arson Fire

Aired January 2, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning to you. Welcome to "EARLY START" everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We are bringing you the news from A to Z. We're coming to you from the CNN Election Center this morning. We're very excited to be here with you.

BANFIELD: Our giant flag in the background. Feeling very American, and you know what? It's a good thing. We got like 30 hours or so until things get opened up and Iowa caucuses get underway.

SAMBOLIN: And incredible coverage headed your way as well. It is 6:01 in the east. Let's get started here.

New surveillance tape identifies a person of interest in the California arson fires. The new fires may be a part of an arson spree. Eight of them they're looking into now.

BANFIELD: Also another very strange story going on in Washington State. This man is apparently a suspect in a killing of a ranger in Mount Rainier National Park.

Apparently, supposed to be a routine traffic stop, but if the allegations are true, the man in this picture took off and when a road block was set up, he decided instead allegedly to shoot the 34- year-old mother of two who was the park ranger. We got more on that story coming up.

SAMBOLIN: And the National Weather Service says weather conditions in the Great Lakes could make your travel a bit impossible there. Mr. Marciano is standing by to give us the very latest on that.

BANFIELD: And one day to go. It's the Iowa caucuses. Has did you get me? What did you get him? Ron Paul, Rick Perry and a whole lot of them really gunning for the number one, two and three spots. Who's going to get them? Polls are out and they're shifting like crazy. We will have great stories coming up for you in the next half hour. SAMBOLIN: All right, we're going to begin here with news in Southern California. A possible break in the investigation of more than three dozen arson fires in and around the Los Angeles area there so police have released this.

It is a surveillance video showing that person of interest, as they're calling him. Right now the fire department is responding to at least eight vehicle fires. They're trying to figure out if this is all related.

CNN's Casey Wian is following the latest developments for us. He is live in Hollywood. We talked to you in the last hour. What's changed?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's just gotten busier, Zoraida. As you mentioned, Los Angeles Fire Department and arson investigators are now looking at eight different vehicle fires that spread out through the Los Angeles area just in the last two hours.

They are at six locations. Four of those locations are in a, sort of a cluster with a two-mile radius in the San Fernando Valley that section of Los Angeles. Also, we've been monitoring the radio scanner that the Los Angeles Fire Department uses.

Just in the last couple of minutes, we've heard a report of another fire in the West Hollywood, in the city of West Hollywood, just to the west of where I'm standing at the command center, described as an auto structure commercial fire.

We also hear through that radio scanner traffic, that all of those incidents have been visited by arson investigators at this point except for one. These fires are all happening so quickly.

There are not enough arson investigators to be at all of them at the same time so a very busy night so far. If any of these or all of these incidents are tied to the string of arson fires over the last several days, that brings the numbers well into the 40s -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: If we can go back to that surveillance video because they do have a description of this person now. Can you share that with us?

WIAN: Yes, they've got a person of interest. They're not calling him a suspect at this point. But very near here near the Hollywood Highland Complex, for people familiar with this area of Los Angeles.

There's surveillance tape of a white male emerging from an underground parking structure. He has a receding hairline, a ponytail, dark hair, dressed in all black clothing.

Walking with what appears to be a limp. He's got his right hand in his pocket the entire time. So the fire department and the police investigators are asking the public to give them a call if, in fact, they recognize this person -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, there's a $50,000 reward there. Casey Wian, thank you so much for those latest developments.

BANFIELD: And another big and strange, actually, strange crime story that's developing in the northwest, in Mount Rainier National Park. Police are actually after a suspect who approached a road block and shot the park ranger dead.

She is 34 years old and a mother of two. This is the woman that we're talking about. It was just supposed to be a routine traffic stop. She set up a road block and this suspect shot her dead and took off on foot.

The suspect they believe they're after at this point is Benjamin Colton Barnes. Take a good look. He's expected to have military experience, apparently survival skills. These are the photos that we have of him.

You can surmise what you will. He's got some serious gear, obviously. He may be also connected to a shooting in Seattle in which four people were shot on Saturday night. I don't know if that was a New Year's Eve party or what it was.

But the weirder thing was that the people who went for their holiday to Mount Rainier National Park had to be rounded up and protected. So think this guy could be a sniper as well and he's on the loose.

So they're watching for him, looking for him. They got everybody into the visitor center and then there were over like 100 people escorting them out. I don't know if they're all out, but they've been -- you know, they've been on that job all morning long trying to get these people to safety.

SAMBOLIN: And all that snow in that area potentially creating a problem for them finding him -- perhaps making it easier because of the tracks. Rob Marciano is in with us now. Talk about the weather.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: They finally saw a little bit of snow there. We're seeing some big snow across the northeast finally as well. It's been a mild winter, hasn't it? Welcome to 2012 and welcome to CNN, once again ladies. Doing a great job.

Come on over the maps, we'll show what's going on. Some snows across parts of the northeast. You bet, finally, but mostly near the lake effect favored areas, strong winds across the U.P. of Michigan.

We've got blizzard warnings in through this area. Blinding conditions at times and those snows obviously are making their way into parts of upstate New York and Western Pennsylvania. Five to ten inches across the U.P. expected today.

Twelve plus in some spots across north western Michigan with again, blizzard warnings that are posted for this area through today so that means winds gusting at times 30, 40 miles an hour or better and that will reduce the visibilities. Cleveland up through Buffalo, Syracuse, the classic lake affects our favorite cities will be getting it today at times.

You could see one to two feet in some of these spot before it's all said and done. So Cleveland, if you are travelling today the snow and the wind are going to be issue. The winds in New York City, blustery conditions, finally getting colder as well tonight.

Temperatures tomorrow will be a whole lot different than they are right now or have been across parts of the northeast. The midsection of the country, not too shabby. The West Coast not too bad with a couple of storms coming into the Pacific Northwest.

But check out some of the temperatures tomorrow, finally, 30 degrees in New York City, 26 degrees in Chicago. It will be 46 degree in Kansas City.

One note on what's going on in Iowa, right now, wind chills are in the single digits, breezy, cold. Tomorrow will be breezy as well, a little bit milder with high temperatures getting actually about average into the 30s. So all in all, election weather looks to be pretty decent.

BANFIELD: All right, Rob, thank you for that.

You know, this morning -- thank you. We're still getting used to our camera. Camera shot. It is a big travel day. Check in with you later.

We are on the eve of caucus time and primary time and this is a pretty good time if you're a politician or you're exhausted one of the two. In less than two days now, really like 30 hours or something, we're going to know, who won the world, or at least who won Iowa because it's kind of the world at this point to these politicians.

CNN has a little sneak peek of some insider information that we've been canvassing all the top state politicians, business leaders, all people in the Republican know, politicos, et cetera and we've asked them the question, who's going to be first?

Who's going to be first in Iowa? And here how the numbers shake out, 63 percent say Mitt Romney, maybe not a big surprise. But what might be more surprising, 27 percent say Ron Paul, and no one, zero, said Rick Santorum.

That just does not jive with what the polls have been saying the last couple of weeks. It's been Ron Paul and Rick Santorum really jockeying for number two and number three. We've got a totally crack team of insiders as well.

CNN contributor, John Avlon is a senior political columnist for "The Daily Beast." Full disclosure, a good friend of mine. CNN contributor Eric Erickson as well, editor and chief of redstate.com, Rub and syndicated columnist for "The Washington Post" writer's group and Lenny McAllister, conservative commentator, host of the radio show "Get Right with Lenny McAllister."

John Avlon, I want to start with you because I find it fascinating that we have so many undecided at this point or people that are sort of considered to be undecided. Officially, there's only seven percent who are undecided, but there's something like 41 percent who call themselves persuadable.

I think that's really interesting going into a very persuading process. Because when you get into all those churches basements and local community centers, that's what they're doing. All of those captains trying to persuade you.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's right. At the beginning of the caucus, Tuesday night, 8:00, there's going to be a chance for every sort of team leader from different campaigns to make the case for why they're supporting their guy.

So it opens up the door for people calling (INAUDIBLE) in effect saying, you know, I've been on the fence, but I'm going this way down the road. Here's what we know. Insider poll aside, Rick Santorum has been surging in every poll across the board in the last several days.

Frequently, it is people making up their mind in the last minute who can make a difference. Ron Paul supporters are hard core. They aren't going anywhere. The question is whether Mitt Romney being considered the most electable can take him over the finish line.

In the model of (INAUDIBLE) on Governor Terry Branston, he's seen sort of the center-right candidate and the most electable. But this is going to be a photo finish. Don't let anybody fool you. This is a long way from over.

BANFIELD: I think you're right. Particularly an interested in Erick Erickson, get you to weigh in on this, on Governor Perry and also Rick Santorum, because these guys are very organized.

Like, I don't know if most people know this, but they are very organized. I think Santorum has basically been living in Iowa for a year. I think Rick Perry said he's got about 1,000 different captains who are in the various polling centers.

And Rick Santorum said he's got somewhere around 2,000. So they've got the men on the ground. Men and women on the ground in those centers who will be arguing for them and trying to pitch their cause, does that, perhaps, bode really well for Santorum and Perry, because they have the boots on the ground?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: To a degree it does. It depends on how well the organization is. To an extent, Rick Santorum has been in Iowa a long time, but he hasn't had the money to put into to Iowa to build a ground game.

And he's been depending on Evangelical resources in Iowa to help him. That helped Mike Huckabee in 2008 when a lot of insiders in Iowa then -- BANFIELD: Erick, money or not, he's been there. He's been to every one of those 99 counties. I think he's met every Iowan at this point.

ERICKSON: He probably has met every Iowan. In fact, he's probably met a lot of people, their families coming in from vacation, from other states as well, which may be helping.

But there's one thing, that you have a lot of organization in Iowa, but remember, a caucus is different from a primary. You're not just going and pushing a button. You're going, staying for an hour. You're being participatory.

You're going to go one and right now the polls are showing that people really want to go vote for Rick Santorum, which means this could be an upset on Tuesday night.

We're not going to know until after the vote is over what exactly happened. I'm not really trusting the polls in Iowa because you have a hard time getting an accurate poll out of a caucus.

BANFIELD: I'm a big fan of crocodile tears in the campaign trail so every time somebody cries I love it when Gingrich did it. I liked it when Hillary did it.

And now there's a guy named Matthew Schultz, he's the secretary of state for Iowa who has been endorsing Rick Santorum and showed up at one of the town hall meetings yesterday.

It was like kind of adorable. He actually said, I'm going John Boehner on you. Have a look. It's transpired. It's sweet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEW SCHULTZ, IOWA'S SECRETARY OF STATE: The two most important reasons I have are my kids. It's important to me -- I'm going all John Boehner. I love my country. It's important to me that I leave a country stronger with more freedom to them than was left to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: I'm telling you, I get all tearing eyed myself when I see that. I don't know if I'm sort of a sucker for this stuff, but weigh in on this for me.

I saw Rick Santorum standing off to the left while he's being introduced with tears. It's a very personal thing. These meetings are like literally shoulder to shoulder. You get to know these people up close and personal. Don't you?

RUBEN NAVARRETTE, CNN.COM CONTRIBUTOR: Right, absolutely. And if they reject you, if they vote for somebody else, if you come in lower in the polling for the final vote than you thought you would, it is very personal. I think one of the big stories, who doesn't survive Iowa? Who drops out after Iowa or perhaps after New Hampshire next week? And you know, right now Michele Bachmann's not doing well in Iowa. This may be her last go-around.

This is a very personal thing. You're absolutely right. People respond differently to this kind of pressure.

BANFIELD: Lenny McAllister jump in quickly. I've only got about 40 seconds left. But you know, we've been talking about 60 percent of the caucus goers refer to themselves as Evangelicals. But other people are saying, you know what, it could be closer to 40 percent this time around. What is it and what will that effect be?

LENNY MCALLISTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Well, the effect, if it's not the Evangelical vote that's going to be out there, people may start trying to pick the most electable candidate and ignore that aspect of what the candidate is all about.

If that's the case, that's the reason why you see Mitt Romney going up to the top of the polls. What we're going to find out on Tuesday is, are Iowans going to pick who they would like to see be the candidate or are they going it try to send the message to the rest of the country as to who should be the candidate.

BANFIELD: Good point.

MCALLISTER: If it's Romney, it's who it should be.

If it's Iowa, then it may end up being a Rick Santorum, who they like personally and they can care less about what the rest of the country's going to do.

BANFIELD: I got to leave it there. Lenny, you went 47 seconds. Not 45.

Thank you for that. Lenny McAllister, Ruben Navarrette, Erick Erickson --

MCALLISTER: I'm sorry.

BANFIELD: -- John Avlon, you'll get plenty of time in the next half hour. Thanks.

SAMBOLIN: It is now 6:15 in the East. Time to check in on the stories making news this morning -- authorities in Los Angeles have a person of interest in connection with more than three dozen suspected arson fires. This is in and around the city during the New Year's weekend. They're looking at eight additional fires now to see if they're connected somehow.

BANFIELD: Also, manhunt going on in the Pacific Northwest. In Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state. Authorities are looking for a man they say fatally shot and killed a park ranger and then took off on foot into the woods. His name -- well, let me show a picture first of all of the woman who he killed or he allegedly killed at this point. They his name is Benjamin Colton and his victim was only a 34-year-old park ranger, also a mother of two.

Mr. Colton is expected to have military experience, survivalist skills. He's also a suspect in a shooting on Sunday morning, late Saturday night-Sunday morning, in Seattle, that hurt four people in that community. So, obviously dangerous situation.

SAMBOLIN: Very scary photos there.

And new this morning as well, Iran says it has test-fired two long-range missiles on the last day of its military exercises. Iran successfully tested its first nuclear fuel rod yesterday. Strengthening U.S. fears that Iran is working to build nuclear weapons. The U.S. government stepped up sanctions against Iran in December and says it will not rule out military action.

And still ahead, GOP candidates ignoring Latino voters in Iowa? Are they? Aren't they? We're going to find out for you.

BANFIELD: And are there a lot of them?

SAMBOLIN: I think you'd be surprised.

BANFIELD: In Iowa.

SAMBOLIN: I think most people would be surprised.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: It is 6:20 in the East, and we're getting an early read on your local news making national headlines this morning. We have papers from Maryland and Utah. And we're going to start here with the "Baltimore Sun." Hawaii and Delaware began allowing same-sex civil unions on Sunday. And some folks, that's how they rang in the New Year.

BANFIELD: I always like seeing the pictures. Call me crazy, but when you see the pictures, the outfits that people decide to wear, these are same sex weddings, so the same sex unions are kind of fascinating. Some come in double bridal gowns, some come in double tuxedos, women or men. It's always kind of fascinating picture. No matter how feel about it.

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: -- as well, right? So, now, we have five states that recognize same-sex civil unions. While six other states, Washington, D.C., allows same-sex marriage.

BANFIELD: My state, Connecticut, same-sex marriage, allows it. And my former country where I was born, Canada, has had same-sex marriage for quite some time.

SAMBOLIN: So, there's a lot of controversy surrounding that. But the governor said, you know, it was time. It was necessary.

BANFIELD: And it's definitely something you hear about on the campaign trail and it's not the last you're going to hear of it.

All right. Let me get you to the "Salt Lake City Tribune." "Salt Lake Tribune" has this amazing story of a rescue.

See the picture? There were three children in that car and that water is very, very cold. The kids were two 9-year-old girls, one 4- year-old. The driver got out, but could not get the door open to get the kids out. Eventually, the driver used a handgun to blow the windows and three passersby, actually --

SAMBOLIN: Makes you cold thinking about it.

BANFIELD: I don't know if you can see goosebumps on TV, but three passengers jumped into action to help those kids. They weren't doing very well at the beginning, but we are told now that they're all expected to recover. They had hyperthermia and clearly, they had some stress from the incident.

But whoever those people are, I'm here to say, thank you.

SAMBOLIN: God bless them.

BANFIELD: God bless you. Incredible. Just remarkable stuff. Happy that it's a happy ending, right?

SAMBOLIN: I know.

All right. Folks, so whoever wins the presidency in 2012, they'll likely need the Latino vote to put them over the top.

It's one day to go before the Iowa caucuses. So, let's check in on the folks in Iowa. The population there is over 91 percent white.

So, GOP candidates ignoring Latino voters in Iowa?

Live from Des Moines, Iowa, we have Lena Robison. She is founder and president of Latinos Unidos.

It's a very nice to have you this morning. Oh, you're outside. So, you're kind of chilly this morning?

LENA ROBISON, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, LATINOS UNIDOS: Freezing, actually.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, I'm so sorry. So, let's try to get through this here.

The Latino population in Iowa, you know, some folks say it's not significant, but in the last 10 years, it has actually doubled and nearly half of them are registered to vote. So how are the candidates faring there with Latino voters?

ROBISON: Actually, they've missed their mark. They actually have not contacted very many Latinos at all. As a matter of fact, I was contacted by one, and that was the Gingrich staff who contacted me, and as soon as they found out that I could not -- I wasn't supporting him, they kind of gave up, but then they picked up the realm by asking if Latinos Unidos could do anything to help them out and I suggested that they could do a presentation, and we no longer had any -- what -- availability for them to present in 2011, she just, (INAUDIBLE), just decided not speak to us any further and hung up.

SAMBOLIN: Let me ask you about this, Lena.

ROBISON: And another individual --

SAMBOLIN: If I can ask you about this.

ROBISON: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: A lot of people believe that for Latinos, the most important issue would be immigration. Is that true?

ROBISON: Well, immigration reform. Yes. We are very interested in that.

SAMBOLIN: According to the Pew Hispanic Research, that's actually not the most important issue. That really, the economy is most important to Latinos, and it seemed like actually immigration reform came in number six. But if we focus in on Iowa here in particular, what kind of immigration reform are Latinos looking for?

ROBISON: Well, we absolutely need to have immigration reform in order to establish an economy that's going to help out all of Iowa, all of the United States. That will bring -- help out with jobs, the economy, education, health care, everything. Everything will lead to -- if we can get immigration reform, everything will come under that.

SAMBOLIN: Le's focus here on the DREAM Act, because it's legislation that's been sitting before Congress numerous times now. It has not passed. We do know that President Obama does support the DREAM Act.

And Mitt Romney actually had this to say about the DREAM Act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The question is, if I were elected and Congress were to pass the DREAM Act, would I veto it? And the answer is yes. For those that come here illegally, the idea of giving them in-state tuition credits or other special benefits, I find to be contrary to the idea of a nation of laws.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So the DREAM Act for those who don't know is actually a path to citizenship for young people who obviously were brought here by their parents and not a decision that they actually -- that they made. Is this a hot button issue for folks in Iowa?

ROBISON: Absolutely. Absolutely. We are all struggling for success. We all want a piece of the pie that is offered in the United States, which is opportunity.

And opportunity begins with having a great education. The fact that the DREAM Act has stumbled over and over again doesn't mean that we're going give up. We're going to continue to fight for it, and we will succeed at one point.

The candidates need to understand that they need the Latino vote. They haven't come across to reach us. They do not realize that our vote is substantial here in Iowa and all over the United States, and they need to reach out to us.

We are entitled to our vote and our opinion. We're going to look for someone that's going to support the Latinos.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Lena Avila Robison, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate that.

BANFIELD: So you know how --

SAMBOLIN: I wish it could be endorsed.

BANFIELD: I know. Our wonderful guest and contributor, sitting outside in Iowa.

You know how we had that segment last hour when you were awake at 5:00 a.m. Eastern that woke up a Kennedy and got her out of bed to ask her about the campaign? We decided it went so well we're going to do it again.

SAMBOLIN: But it's not a Kennedy this time.

BANFIELD: I'm very excited about this person we're waking up. You know what I figured, since we're new? Maybe we should endear ourselves to our colleagues and call them at 6:00 a.m. and wake them up?

SAMBOLIN: Is it a guy? Is it a gal?

BANFIELD: You'll find out which one of our colleagues we're about to do this to, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Twenty-eight minutes after the hour here.

The Iranians are making the world very nervous this morning. They say that they have test fired two long-range missile as few hours ago in the Gulf and they may be preparing to shut down the Strait of Hormuz and cut off a big chunk of the world's oil supply.

EARLY START back in a flash.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Hi, everybody. Welcome.

I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

Here is what's on the agenda:

The last full day of campaigning in Iowa. Who will be number one, two, three? Now, it doesn't matter.

BANFIELD: Right.

SAMBOLIN: One through three is all they're talking about. We're going to talk to a team of panelists, and see what they think.

BANFIELD: Yes. Not only that, but since we had such success with Kerry Kennedy, waking up her up in the 5:00 a.m. Eastern Hour, we decided we do it al over again and this time somebody we work with.

We'll give you a hint. He has a beard. He went beat box on the Soul Train Awards and the third hint is, he said, don't ever call me early.

SAMBOLIN: He said no about five times and then, you know --

BANFIELD: No. But, you know, I don't know if he knows we're calling him or not at this point because I did hint several times, I need your number where you're staying right now at the election center city.

Anyway -- it's Wolf Blitzer. I'll give it away. It's Wolf Blitzer. We're going to call him and wake him up. He works very --

SAMBOLIN: You gave it away when you said "beard."

BANFIELD: I think so. It couldn't have been like -- yes.

SAMBOLIN: All right. On a far more serious note here, investigators in southern California have a new lead in a string of suspected arson fires. The city, this is just coming to us, police say a person of interest was spotted on surveillance video at several locations where the fires started. The man is said to be in his late 20s to mid-30s with dark hair and a ponytail. There he is in that circle.

BANFIELD: Hard to see.

SAMBOLIN: Officials say 39 fires have been set in and around Los Angeles. It is hard to see but that's the description.

BANFIELD: And he has his hand in his pocket and walks with a limp.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, that's what somebody was seeing it and (INAUDIBLE).

Right now, officials say firefighters are responding to at least eight new vehicle fires, investigating if these are actually related to the arson spree.

BANFIELD: And, you know, I hate to say we have another manhunt. But we got another manhunt. And this one for someone who's considered armed and dangerous. Take a close look.

This guy is believed to have shot and killed a park ranger Sunday at Mount Rainier National Park. Dozens of tourists were held overnight at the visitor's center. In fact, they think somewhere upwards of about 125 of them had to be escorted out of the park by park police while they looked for that man who is supposedly a survivalist and is armed and dangerous. So, it's not a good situation developing there.

SAMBOLIN: In fact, this one probably isn't either.

Iran says it's successfully test-fired two long-range missiles this morning, this just after a day after Iran tested its first nuclear fuel rod. The tests have strengthened U.S. fears that Iran is on its way to building atomic bombs now. Iran insists its nuclear program is for the purpose of developing energy and medical technology.

The U.S. government has increased sanctions against Iran and has not ruled out military action, they say.

BANFIELD: And the Great Lakes, really, really great right now, if you like snow. They're gearing up for the first major snowstorm of 2012. Blizzards expected to slam everything from Minnesota to New York. So, get your shovels ready. All of this today into tomorrow. Apparently, up to 20 inches of snow expected and 40 mile-an-hour wind gusts takes your temperatures down a little bit, doesn't it?

The National Weather Service says whiteout conditions can make travel -- I'm sorry to say it -- impossible. And I know this is a holiday for many of you and that you'll be traveling back from your holiday, holiday. So, sorry. Check your airline before --

SAMBOLIN: Before you fly, as usual.

All right. It's no snow, but windy with a high of 31 today in Des Moines, Iowa. All eyes on Iowa ahead of tomorrow night's caucuses. Will weather matter there?

We saw some folks we were talking to earlier. They're freezing outdoors. Can Santorum actually win there? Can Michele Bachmann pull off a miracle, as she says?

We got a great panel to help us through it all. CNN contributor John Avlon. He's also senior political columnist for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast." Lenny McAllister, conservative commentator, host of the radio show, "Get Right with Lenny McAllister." And our very own CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser.

Paul, let's look at these "Des Moines Register" polls that everyone is talking about. First, we're going to start with the full poll. Mitt Romney, 24 percent. Ron Paul, 22 percent. Rick Santorum at 15 percent. Newt Gingrich, 12 percent.

And here's what happens if you look at just the last two days of their polling. You see that Santorum spike that we've been talking about? Caucuses, we understand, are hard to predict. What do you make of these polls?

We're going to start with John there.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I'll tell you, I mean, first of all, Rick Santorum's got what George H.W. Bush once calmed the big mo. He's got momentum at his back, and that can be critical in the caucus. Again, you got a high number of people who are undecided, who are going to get into the caucus room and actually make up their mind right there. So, that's positive.

But Mitt Romney has been holding pretty steady. Big picture, amazing.

This has been the most volatile GOP primary on record. Seven people have held the poll position at one point over the past year.

So, this is far from over. This is going to be a photo finish.

SAMBOLIN: So, John, listen to what Michele Bachmann said the other day on ABC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you look at my past races, polling data showed me actually losing and eight points behind in previous races that I've had when I've run for Congress and yet I win by eight and 13 points. So, polls are sometimes, belie the truth on the ground, and that's what we see.

This isn't just about polling. This is about what we're seeing in reality. And I think Tuesday night, people are going to see a miracle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Lenny, any chance of a miracle?

MCALLISTER: There's a chance for a miracle. I mean, she won the straw poll here.

Here's the thing, though. She hasn't done much since. She's been caught in some bad comments. She's been not doing that great with debates, and she's been effective, but she's been effective against candidates that are now lower in the polls as well.

She's been effective against, you know, for example, she's gone after Newt Gingrich. He's fallen down. He's been very effective -- she's been very effective going against Rick Perry. He's lower in the polls now.

So what has she been able to do against Romney? Not much. What has she been able to do against Ron Paul? Obviously not much here in Iowa.

She has a chance for a miracle. Did I think it's going to happen? No. Do I think she may be the one leaving the race Tuesday night? It's very possible.

SAMBOLIN: And, John, everyone talks about the three tickets out of Iowa. You got a great story up today on CNN that looks at what happens next. Tell us, what does happen next in your opinion?

AVLON: Well, in looking at my crystal ball, here's what I can tell you -- the stereotype is you get three tickets out of Iowa. That doesn't hold if you look at the record. Fred Thompson came in third last time and he limped through South Carolina and then was done.

If Ron Paul pulls out of an upset, that ends up being a good thing for Mitt Romney. If Rick Santorum or another candidate who represents social conservatives can pull off an upset, that narrows the long game to a two-man race. And that's where Mitt Romney has got a real problem, because he's had this 25 percent glass ceiling.

And if any other candidate can coalesce, if folks are looking for alternative, that's when it can get interesting and last a long time.

SAMBOLIN: And, Paul, we have you on the ground there. It was getting a little ugly yesterday. What are you following for us today?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Yes, you're right. It was getting a little ugly. One of the first times we saw Mitt Romney actually firing back a little at Rick Santorum. And it goes to John's point that maybe the Romney campaign is starting to take Santorum a little more serious.

Romney criticizing Rick Santorum and Gingrich, as he's done before, as a career politician and Washington insider. You know, Romney tries to paint himself as an insider and Romney also thanks Santorum for endorsing him four years ago. Of course, Santorum says, "The only reason I did that, Mitt, was because I didn't like John McCain."

But I'll take issue with John at one point, though. I think they're on the campaign, yes, I agree with you, John, they would love to see Ron Paul win Iowa if they don't. But I don't think they're that nervous about Santorum and here's why -- he's rising in the polls, but he doesn't have much of an operation elsewhere and he doesn't have a lot of fund-raising right now. Now, that could come together if he wins Iowa.

But it's a long shot for Santorum, even if he comes out on top. He needs the boots on the ground in the other states which he doesn't have yet.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Keep on working for us.

MCALLISTER: Thank you.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BANFIELD: We want to get you live out to Hollywood, California, right now, because police say they may have detained a person of interest at this point in that California arson story that we've been following.

CNN's Casey Wian is in California for us.

This is a big deal, Casey. We are talking about dozens of fires at this point, right?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And there have been about a dozen more so far tonight, just in the last couple of hours, and we've been hearing traffic over the radio scanner, the Los Angeles Fire Department uses, and they mentioned that they had a person in custody.

And my colleague/producer Stan Wilson went to that area which is very near here, and he saw a white male with a ponytail in the back of a sheriff's department vehicle. We asked a captain with the Los Angeles Fire Department here's at the command center, and he said they are speaking with a person of interest. That's all they would tell us.

We don't know if police or the fire department believe that this is the same individual who was shown in that surveillance video. It does seem to match in terms of the general description -- a white male with a ponytail receding hairline.

But developments very fast-moving in this case. We do know investigators are speaking with this person as we speak, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: So, Casey, I just want to jump on that and dovetail off. The video we saw, apparently, there were other videos as well, other surveillance videos showing that same figure. Hard to make out what he looks like other than he's got a strange gait and he keeps his hand in his pocket.

Are they suggesting that's the trail that may have led them to this particular person or was it that $60,000 reward?

WIAN: We don't know. We don't know.

What we do know is there have been clusters are fires for the last two hours in the general area where we are standing -- a couple miles to the east of here, a couple miles to the north of here. We know there have been law enforcement helicopters overhead, lots of sirens, lots of activity.

We don't know if they were -- had conducted surveillance operations and were following this person. We don't know the circumstances of him being detained.

All we know is they have a person that they are speaking with tonight, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Unbelievable. Casey, thank you. I know when we went to air about an hour and 40 minutes ago, the count was at 39 fires. And just over the course of the last few hours of broadcasting, we've upped that count by about nine that they're investigating.

So, we'll keep up with you, Casey. Let us know if you find something out.

But now we're now about, 48 of these fires. It's remarkable.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

All right. So, Jon Huntsman live at 8:00. We haven't heard much from him lately, right? He's 1,200 miles from Iowa in New Hampshire on the eve of the Iowa caucuses. Why? Because he says they pick corn in Iowa, but they pick presidents in New Hampshire.

BANFIELD: Well, he's also doing well in New Hampshire, right? It's kind of his goalpost for his whole campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: It is 44 minutes past hour at CNN's election center.

We have a developing story this hour from Mount Rainier National Park where an intense manhunt is under way right now for this guy right here -- a man suspected of killing a park ranger. Police say the suspect, Benjamin Colton Barnes, may be armed and -- you can tell there -- perhaps has training in the military.

BANFIELD: We're also following a breaking story with some new details for you. This is surveillance video of a man that is suspected of setting a string of arson fires in California. They number 39 just an hour and a half ago.

Nine more this morning that are being investigated add connected, and now, police there say they got a person of interest in custody being questioned, matching the description of the man with the ponytail. We don't know if it is the man that you just saw in the surveillance video, but what a mess.

Forty-eight fires now in total. Again, nine of them not conformed yet to be connected to the string of fires, but they're mostly vehicles that have been set on fire and lot of underneath apartment buildings. It's a very dangerous situation.

SAMBOLIN: At least they have somebody in custody now that they're talking to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): And South Korea here is offering economic aid to North Korea. That's if the North gives up its nuclear program. Good luck with that. Today, South Korea's president says he is hoping for a, quote, "new era of relations between the countries" following the death of Kim Jong-Il. North Korea says it wants nothing to do with the South. The North said it feels insulted now because more South Koreans did not attend to the funeral for Kim Jong-Il.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: So, now, again, on this program if you're going to following us, and we do hope you do, we've got this little project that we took on called "Wake Them Up." And it basically, is waking people up to ask them questions literally out of their sleep.

And we thought since we were new kids on the block at CNN, that we would endear ourselves to our colleagues by calling them at 6:00 a.m. and asking them questions. And we decided that who would be better to talk about --

SAMBOLIN: Did he already answer? Don't you love that?

BANFIELD: Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (on the phone): Hi.

BANFIELD: I wanted to actually dial and hear you wake up. Have you been waiting on the phone?

BLITZER: No.

BANFIELD: You don't sound like you've been up for long, my friend.

BLITZER: No, no.

BANFIELD: Thank you for answering the phone.

BLITZER: Well, congratulations. This is so exciting.

BANFIELD: We're pretty thrilled, and actually, we're not only thrilled to have day one on the air with EARLY START, but we're also thrilled to sort of join the program and join the giant worldwide network at a time that is so critical to what you do for a living, and it's all politics all the time.

BLITZER: We're so glad that you guys are with us. This is going to be a great for everybody. How's the first day going?

SAMBOLIN: I think it's going well.

BANFIELD: So far so good.

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: Par for the course. So, you worked pretty late last night?

BLITZER: We did a special that we did from 8:00 to 10:00, and it was good. I liked it.

BANFIELD: You know, I have to be honest with you --

BLITZER: You guys were sleeping. I know.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: I was trying to. I was trying. Actually, I took a sleeping pill, because I had not done this shift before, and we get up at 1:30 in the morning to do this work. Appreciate this now. Avoid the rush. And so, I was starting to really, really doze off at about 8:45, and it had nothing to do with you.

You were awesome, my friend. Can I ask you a question?

BLITZER: Yes.

BANFIELD: It doesn't have to do with the politics game because we've been doing a lot of that for the last hour and 48 minutes, and I know that you weren't watching because you were up late, but I want to ask you about just the campaigns in general. What year are you at at CNN now? 28?

BLITZER: Twenty-two.

BANFIELD: Sorry. Twenty-two.

BLITZER: Twenty-two.

BANFIELD: OK. In 22 years of coverage, Mr. Blitz, have you ever seen anything so volatile, the roller coaster that we've been watching? And, by the way, you are adorable in these early pictures.

BLITZER: Let me turn on the TV. Hold on.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: Yes. We did wake him up, guys.

BLITZER: Let's see -- it's pretty volatile. I don't remember anything, you know, that four or five frontrunners, and then all of a sudden, they collapsed, and then, somebody else comes up. I don't remember anything like that. This is pretty unique.

BANFIELD: Do we have anything to do with that? I mean, just the incredible --

BLITZER: I think the debates have really been significant and changed a lot of people's attitudes.

BANFIELD: You've done, what, four of them, haven't you?

BLITZER: I've done two so far.

BANFIELD: OK. But CNN's done four?

BLITZER: CNN's done four. Yes. BANFIELD: And I think, I don't know, I think I was at 13 when I lost count of these current debates and I think there's another one next week, isn't there?

BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE) I haven't seen him in a while.

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: All right. So, you're going to work late tonight as well?

BLITZER: Tonight, we're going to be rehearsing late tonight. My show's on from 4:00 to 6:00, "THE SITUATION ROOM." You see it, right?

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: Every day, my friend. And I'm not available like Tebow (ph) view. I am your number one fan.

BLITZER: "THE SITUATION ROOM" is late-night TV.

SAMBOLIN: It is. We were talking about that, actually. We will watch it right before we go to bed.

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: You're our "NIGHTLINE." By the way, can we call you every morning at 6:45?

BLITZER: No.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: It was that bad?

SAMBOLIN: We really appreciate it, though, Wolf. We know that this is tough on you, early in the morning.

BLITZER: Let me just say this, both of you look fabulous when I see you on TV. You look great.

BANFIELD: Thank you, Blitz. In the words of Herman Cain, thank you, Blitz.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you, guys.

BANFIELD: Talk to you later.

BLITZER: Bye-bye.

BANFIELD: What a nice guy.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So when we come back, we are going to talk to our other colleague, Soledad O'Brien. We're going to check with her on her new show, "STARTING POINT."

BANFIELD: We have a brand-new big all line-up. Four hours in the morning TV, all girls.

SAMBOLIN: And she's working very hard for us right now. So, we'll talk to her when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: And our colleague, Soledad O'Brien, is standing by live for us with her brand new program "Starting Point."

SAMBOLIN: Hi, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, "STARTING POINT": Hey. Good morning, ladies. Good morning to you. And our starting point this morning is starting "STARTING POINT." I guess, here in the Waveline (ph) Diner, and our focus, of course, is the undecided. That's a huge group of voters who could make every single poll that has happened, so far, until now absolutely, positively irrelevant.

We're live in Des Moines. And last full day of campaigns, of course. And also, we're going to be talking about the candidate who said Iowans pick corn not presidents. That's kind of snitty, isn't it? Well, that's what Jon Huntsman said. Is he going to pay the price for that?

He's going to join us live at eight o'clock this morning Eastern Time telling us why he thinks actually the state of New Hampshire matters much, much more. We've got all that and much more coming up at the top of the hour as we start "Starting Point." Back to you guys.

BANFIELD: We'll be watching. You got a guaranteed audience right here. Thank you, Soledad. And I'm glad you were born in Iowa, too.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: Guaranteed. Guaranteed.

BANFIELD: I said warm in Iowa, because it's been cold there. We're going to talk weather in just a moment with another favorite colleague, Rob Marciano. He's dreamy. Did I say that? He's dreamy.

SAMBOLIN: No, I remember that.

BANFIELD: He is dreamy.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: It's a big chill coming to the northeast. Holiday travel is in jeopardy if more than two feet of lake-effect snow arise as is expected. And Rob, I'm going to call you Mr. Dreamy now.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Senor Dreamy, please.

(CROSSTALK)

I have 30 seconds. I'm going to cut you off right there.

BANFIELD: Or you're just too embarrassed if we call you Mr. Dreamy on TV.

MARCIANO: That could be, too. Radar, here it is. We've got snow and lots of it. It's going to be piling up across the northeast, and we've got Iowa today that's going to see single digit numbers. Tomorrow, they'll rebound nicely to the 30s. Six to 12 maybe more inches of snow across parts of Michigan.

Blizzard warnings up. Lake-effect snow warnings from Cleveland to Syracuse, finally. Blinding travel conditions if you're traveling by car viewer today. Big travel day for the holiday. Get home back to work tomorrow for most folks. Cleveland, snow problems. New York City, metros will be wind problems.

If it's not windy, it will be chilly all the way down to the south. Wind chill advisories as far south as West Palm Beach. So, winter has finally arrived as have you to CNN.

BANFIELD: It's nice to work with you, my friend. I've been watching you forever and ever on end.

So, if you are a politician, would you not think you'd be in Iowa right about now if the contest starts in 30 hours or so? Not Jon Huntsman. Huh-uh. He is in New Hampshire and is dissing Iowa. What, what? We'll tell you why.

SAMBOLIN: And actor and filmmaker, Matthew Modin flew in Iowa. In the next hour, we'll talk to him about his trio of provocative political short films.

BANFIELD: Ooh. He looks different.

SAMBOLIN: Not dreamy, too?

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)