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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

New Hampshire Primary Begins; Assad Speaks as Syria Erupts; First Votes In New Hampshire

Aired January 10, 2012 - 05:00   ET

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


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: You've been watching the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad delivering a rare public speech. Our Nic Robertson is on the phone in Syria. He's going to join us live in a moment here with the latest developments.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: But in the meantime, good morning, everyone. It is 5:00 on the nose in the East. This is EARLY START. And I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're bringing you the news from A to Z.

And, of course, it is 5:00 a.m. So, let's get started here.

BANFIELD: Decision day. Yay. Or you might call it Independence Day, because a whole bunch of independent voters turned out at midnight.

This is the midnight primary and we've got the results. And you won't believe who won. Actually, it's not as exciting as it sounds. We're going to tell you anyway.

SAMBOLIN: It was kind of exciting that it started at midnight.

Mississippi governor, he pardoned four convicted killers on his way out from office -- all were serving life sentences in murder cases. All of them had also worked in a special program at the governor's mansion.

BANFIELD: And I'm not sure if you saw these pictures, but awesome. Check this out. This is a tanker with ice cutters trying to plow through the Alaskan ice because it's got a critical shipment of fuel. And it's headed towards an Alaskan city that really, really needs that fuel and could run out if they can't cut the ice in time.

SAMBOLIN: Things we take for granted, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: I know.

SAMBOLIN: And a 'Bama blowout, Crimson Tide wins the national title. It's a sweet revenge against LSU.

BANFIELD: I have no idea what she is talking about. I don't know anything about football.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, I follow this one.

BANFIELD: Did you?

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Well, I'm lying.

BANFIELD: Somebody says it was boring. Was it boring?

SAMBOLIN: No, I don't think it was boring.

BANFIELD: I guess it all depends on where you're from and what you think.

First up, the New Hampshire primary is finally officially underway which is weird, right? Because normally you wouldn't expect those ballot boxes to be open until 7:00 p.m. But not in Dixville Notch, my friends. No way, Jose.

Every time, they have the distinction of opening up the ballot boxes at midnight. And are you ready for the number of voters who turned out?

Nine. Nine people. But those are nine very special Americans because they respect their right to vote so much they will get up at midnight and go in.

SAMBOLIN: Can you believe that?

BANFIELD: I love it. And they get all the media attention, too.

But what might be most fascinating, though, is just how the numbers kind of shook out.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. So, on the Republican side, Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney with two votes each. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich with one vote each.

CNN political reporter Shannon Travis is live in Dixville Notch with us.

An indication of things to come today?

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, you know what? This could be a real good time for Jon Huntsman. I mean, he'll probably get a really big headline out of this. Because one really big thing about this is that the winner of this vote for the Republicans side since they've been doing this vote since 1960 has gone on to win the Republican nomination consistently since 1968. So, because I wasn't really a clear winner, I mean, it was tied between Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, but again, everybody is pretty much expecting from Mitt Romney to do well.

But this bodes very well for Jon Huntsman.

BANFIELD: There was a clear winner if you count actual votes. There were three votes for President Obama. So he actually had the highest tally.

But historically, Dixville Notch is not so good at picking the Democratic candidate. This year I think they're right, aren't they?

TRAVIS: That's right. I mean, they had been very good at picking the eventual Republican nominee. But they haven't been so good, as you just mentioned, at picking the Democratic nominee, or even for that matter the person to win the New Hampshire primary or even the White House.

So, it's kind of like a time honored tradition that they started back in 1960, primarily because there's no place around here really to vote. And so, one really wealthy man took it upon himself to say I'm going to incorporate this town just for the purpose of voting. And he's been doing that and having this midnight voting ever since 1960.

SAMBOLIN: Well, it's nice you have there to wrap it all up for us. Shannon Travis live in Dixville Notch, thank you.

And you can keep it on CNN now through November for the best political coverage on television.

Newt Gingrich live at 7:30 Eastern on "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien.

BANFIELD: We want to switch gears from our country to Syria.

We've been doing a lot of coverage on what's going on in Syria. It is not pretty. And in fact, the president of that country, Bashar al-Assad has finally decided to do something he rarely does -- speak publicly.

And this is him live at the mike. He's actually been that mike for about an hour now, addressing the national television audience there, but also a group of somewhat supportive folks because he breaks every so often for rousing applause.

Essentially what he's been saying is what's going on in Syria, the violence against protesters there, has made his heart cry. He's called it events not violence. But does he say it's all part of an external conspiracy and that the mask has fallen off these faces. All very sort of unusual euphemistic descriptions for what has been the most bloody crackdown of many of the spring uprisings in the Arab nations.

SAMBOLIN: And we have some new video from YouTube. It appears to show protesters being shot at as Arab League observers watch in the city of Homs. CNN has been shutout of the country for months.

Nic Robertson is among the first Western journalists to be granted permission to enter the country in months. He is phone from Damascus.

Nic, Assad also spoke about foreign parties trying to destabilize Syria. What do you think he meant by that? And, you know, part of the reason that we don't see you is because your equipment was confiscated when you arrived -- is that right?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): We're banned from having any live broadcast equipment. The country that he's referring to and he won't say his name is Kata (ph). Kata is playing a big role in the Arab League, monitors who are here. Kata is widely believed by many countries, by many Syrians to be behind the violence that's going on in the country.

But the president's speech that's been going on for an hour now, the most important thing about is the fact he hasn't said anything that I've heard that would convince the opposition that he really means to actually build a government of national unity which is what -- which is what he's been talking about. He hasn't said that he's going to pull the troops or the tanks off the street. There's a no mention of that.

He's appealing here to his hardcore supporters and to some people in the middle ground who want reforms on, for example, corruption in the government. So he is not reaching across the divide here at the moment.

BANFIELD: It's so bizarre to hear that kind of a speech coming from a president when it sounds like sort of de facto policy as opposed to brutal violence and bloodshed. I think we got elections coming up in February in that nation.

Do we have any idea at this point if monitors are going to stay until elections and if these elections mean anything anyway given the fact that we've got government payment going to thugs to kill and brutalize people who are in the streets protesting?

ROBERTSON: There's no indication that the monitors will stay past their current deadline, which is nine days from how. They have increased them -- they are increasing their numbers. We were with the monitors this morning. They were having a briefing from the Sudanese general who's in charge of them.

I told one of the monitors who was in Homs yesterday where there were gun shots fired around the vehicle that he was in. He refused to say anything about it. It's a very, very sensitive subject for the monitors. They feel they're sort of in between two groups of people, pro and anti-government supporters that trusted by no one.

So it's not clear that their mission will go on.

However, the president's speech, Bashar al-Assad, he's just got another round of applause here. I'm on a cafe and I can see a lot of people -- a lot of people here are paying a lot of attention to it. But it doesn't appear that it's going to bring any change.

But he does seem to be preparing the people for the fact that Arab League monitors may stay longer. So I think perhaps indications are that although nothing firm that they will be here for some time to come. But if they get shot at again as appears to have been the case yesterday or shot by any of them, it's all in question.

BANFIELD: Nic, real quickly, I've got to ask you, we are real down on our reporting a lot of what's going on in Syria because we don't get access there. We can't get the other side very often. But one thing I was fascinated to hear about your movements is that so far you really have not been completely restricted.

When I was in Syria, I was completely restricted in where I can go. And I would have expected particularly now that you would have been. But you're able to move with those monitors pretty freely?

ROBERTSON: You know, you're so right. Normally, the government here is incredibly strict and tight that even a local producer here said that government officials have been more helpful. The government admits that it is letting journalists in for the first time.

But I don't think we're really going to get to see everything that's going on. We're not being -- given permission to go to Homs. We did go with the monitors yesterday. And we did go to a very strong anti-government demonstration where they were burying somebody, a young 32-year-old man who was killed the day before, they say, by government forces.

Lots of people showed bullet wounds and injuries they say were inflicted by government security forces.

So, I think we're getting some of the picture, some of the picture. But I think it's far from a sea change for this government. They just want to bow to a little bit of pressure from the Arab League, which has demanded not just monitors here in the country, but journalists --

SAMBOLIN: Nic, we're running out of time here. Be safe.

BANFIELD: It goes without saying, though, Nic, be safe as you continue your travels through Syria.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you for joining us this morning.

It is nine minutes past the hour. Good morning. We give you an EARLY START to your day by alerting you to the news that's happening later and the stories that are just developing right now, but will be the big story tonight.

So, here we go.

Humanity will find out whether it's closer to total destruction today. Scientists decide whether to nudge the hands of the infamous doomsday clock closer to midnight. The clock created during the Cold War now sits at six minutes to midnight.

BANFIELD: I have no idea what any of that means. I honestly really just don't know what any of it means. But I'm feeling a little more scared today than I did yesterday.

Let's talk about this. The indecency police are facing the Supreme Court today. The justices are set to decide whether the FCC policies toward language and nudity broadcast on your TV violates free speech.

SAMBOLIN: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is heading to China to try and convince that country it needs to turn up the pressure on Iran by squeezing its oil revenues.

BANFIELD: And we have a bit of a shake-up in President Obama's inner circle. Who is expecting this one? Bill Daley trotting out with the president, telling everybody he is stepping down. He doesn't want to be the chief of staff anymore. So, he wants to spend more time with his family in Chicago.

But I think, Zoraida and I were talking, he just wants to go back to Chicago. He just wants to go back to Chicago.

SAMBOLIN: You must just love it, right? I totally understand, right? But I don't believe it.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: I don't either. I remember, I think it was Wolf Blitzer saying yesterday that's code. When you say you want to spend more time with your family, it's code for something else is going on.

But, by the way, the president is saying without question, Daley's absence will be felt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no question that I'm going to deeply miss having Bill by my side here at the White House. But as he will soon find out, Chicago is only a phone call away and I'm going to be using that phone number quite a bit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So the man has a house there.

BANFIELD: There is that, too.

The man on his left though if you were looking at that triumvirate standing beside the microphone was Jack Lew. If you don't know who he is, he's important. He was the White House budget director until yesterday. He's now the new White House chief of staff.

Our Brianna Keilar does this for a living. She watches the whole White House business going on.

I'm really glad that you got up early because when Wolf said that yesterday -- I think you were on air with him yesterday when he mentioned that, that it's code for something else going on. Are we any closer to finding out what else is going on and -- or will we know?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Ashleigh and Zoraida.

I think we are because that claim I'm going to back to Chicago in January, I want to go back -- I don't know. I'm a little dubious. But, you know, in all seriousness, when it comes to having the president's ear, there is only so much oxygen in the room.

And Bill Daley, while obviously very accomplished in his own right, part of that big heavy-hitting Chicago political family, he was competing for that oxygen with top aides like Valerie Jarrett, David Plouffe, David Axelrod and perhaps lacking some of that influence. He wasn't able to have the chance, the backing of the president to make some of the staff changes that he wanted.

And then there is another element to this and it has to do with Congress, because this is an administration that you guys are aware has had issues with Congress. You talk to sources on the Hill, not just Republicans, Democrats, too, and they say the relationship with the White House leaves something to be strived for. And Daley was at the helm, not just from the grand bargain fell apart with Speaker Boehner but also during more significant stumbles like that scheduling snafu over the state of the -- not the State of the Union, pardon me, but the address to a joint session of Congress this fall.

So, a few things are factoring in here.

SAMBOLIN: Well, I'm sure in the coming days we're going to hear more and more about this. Remember when Rahm Emanuel departed, and, you know, a lot of bickering behind that as well.

Brianna, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

BANFIELD: What happened to no drama Obama? I thought that was supposed to be the mantra of this White House? But you know who knows a lot about this? It's John Podesta. He was the former chief of staff under Clinton.

He's going to join us to talk to Soledad O'Brien at 8:00 a.m. Maybe he can give us some insight.

That is a really tough job, folks. Make no mistakes. If you don't know what the White House chief of staff does, he is gatekeeper or she is gatekeeper, and it is not fun. So, there's lots of room for, you know, angst.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, a lot of times not the popular person in the room, right?

All right. It is 13 minutes past the hour.

U.S. markets closed higher yesterday. The Dow gained 33 points, the S&P 500 and the NASDAQ were up just a bit, closing almost flat.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi there. It's interesting that a budget guy taking over, too, because it shows you how money is the thing -- the economy is the thing that's so front and center. So, chief of staff, the former budget guy --

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: I know, I know. I'm the geek. That could be it, too.

BANFIELD: I tend to think, you know, that is not a job that a lot of people want either. Or they do because it's a certain -- it's a real --

ROMANS: It's a tough job especially in an election year, too. I mean, things are going to get wild and woolly this year as well.

Talking about stocks this morning, stock futures are up, you guys. Oil is up as well. We'll be watching today to see how the meetings with Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, and France and Germany are going on the debt crisis. So we're still an eye to Europe, but also looking at home.

And these new numbers from the Fed you guys that shows the consumer borrowing is up. Consumer borrowing in this country is up by the biggest in one month since November 2001.

Remember what was happening then? We were recovering from the terrorist attacks of 2001 and people were rushing out and using more credit.

You can see the two shaded parts. This is Federal Reserve data. The two shaded parts are' recessions. You can see during recessions, people -- especially the most recent, people were deleveraging. That's the word we use.

People were like, wait a minute. I don't have enough money in the bank. I've got too much debt. So they were cutting debt and they were putting money in the bank.

BANFIELD: You mean they were being smart.

ROMANS: They were being smart. Now, what are they doing? They're taking on debt and they're not putting more money in the bank. Three and a half percent is now our savings rate.

I don't that's good enough or responsible.

BANFIELD: I don't get how you can have a job situation in this country where it is and a spending situation that seems to reflect the opposite.

ROMANS: So, a couple things happening. You saw auto loans and student loans, that's part of this debt number, those are going up for sometime. Student loans, that's a necessity for a lot of people, right?

So student loan debt was growing. Now it's the credit card debt that we're seeing growing.

And one of two things are happening here. People are more confident and that's good for the economy. They're more confident saying, hey, wait, at least in my job situation I'm secure. I'm going to put more money on a credit card.

Or they have very short memories. And they're putting more credit -- they're putting more debt on the credit cards because they have to.

BANFIELD: How about they're desperate?

SAMBOLIN: Perhaps they're not as scared as they used to be, either, right? I mean --

ROMANS: Time makes -- I don't know, that recession was bad. That financial crisis was bad. I mean, my advice to people is let someone else hold up the economy. You need to save more money. That's what I would say.

BANFIELD: Uh-oh, government is not going to want to hear you say that.

ROMANS: That's the truth. That's the truth. It may be good for the economy, but worry about your economy.

BANFIELD: All right. Thank you, Christine.

It is 16 minutes past the hour which is 5:00 if you're really an early riser in the East. Time to check top stories.

One precinct reporting -- Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman dead heat, a tie. Two votes apiece. Nine residents turned out in the tiny town of Dixville Notch for the midnight madness. They voted just after midnight in the nation's first primary election. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, one vote apiece -- for what that's worth.

SAMBOLIN: President Obama is losing his right-hand man, we just talked about this. The White House chief of staff Bill Daley who took over for Rahm Emanuel about a year ago is stepping down. He'll be replaced by the current White House budget director Jack Lew.

BANFIELD: OK. I'm just going to have to go with what my friends who work with me told me on this one. For the second time in three years, Alabama is the BCS national champs. The Crimson Tide shutout LSU 20-0 to win the title, avenging their only regular season loss this year. How about that?

I'm sorry. I don't know anything about football.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, still ahead, families are outraged after a governor lets four convicted killers off the hook.

BANFIELD: Bizarre. Absolutely bizarre story.

And also, talk about an ice breaker, literally an ice breaker. This is a big old tanker full of fuel and it is trying to get to a place that really, really needs it and it ain't easy. It is going to make it?

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: We'll take a look at that. Good morning to you, Tampa. Right now, 57 degrees. But guess what? Later, it's going to be sunny and 79 degrees.

Count your blessings. In the east, it's pretty cold. The temperatures are dipping.

It is 21 minutes past the hour. And we're getting an early read on your local news that's making national headlines.

And this morning, we have papers from Tampa, Florida, and Dayton, Ohio. Wondering why we're showing you the temperatures there?

So, this is from "The Tampa Tribune". The reports say a local Muslim man has been arrested for plotting to obtain guns and explosives to blow up clubs, bars, and a law enforcement agency. The suspect is identified as 25-year-old Sammy Osmakac, I think it is.

He has extreme views. The local Muslim community really concerned that he was a ticking time bomb. The feds actually say that it was the Muslim community that actually provided the information that led to his arrest.

BANFIELD: Which is critical because they oftentimes get a bad rap for protecting their own.

SAMBOLIN: Right.

BANFIELD: So that's huge.

Let's go to the colder climate, shall we? Dayton, Ohio. "Daily News" there reporting -- are you ready for this? If you want to go to the emergency room, make an appointment. I am not kidding.

SAMBOLIN: That makes sense, right? You need emergency services. Make an appointment.

BANFIELD: They truly are saying make an appointment. And, of course, this is for people who have, you know, things like migraines and sprained ankles -- things that aren't quite as serious. Those who need to get there via ambulance, of course, they're going to get treated.

But the truth of the matter is, it apparently, at least in this community, 70 percent of the E.R. patients are coming in with things like they can drive themselves, or their families can drive them. So, if it's that simple, let's alleviate all the congestion. It ain't fun to sit in the waiting room anyway even if you have a sprained ankle. So make an appointment in the E.R. in Dayton.

SAMBOLIN: I think more hospitals will adopt that. A lot of people are sitting there with supposed non-emergencies.

BANFIELD: At least they're not hanging up on you. Let's just put it that way. There's a silver lining there.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, this next story is kind of an outrageous one. Families of victims in total disbelief and shock this morning after Mississippi's governor pardons four convicted killers. All of them were serving life sentences in murder cases.

BANFIELD: You heard right.

SAMBOLIN: Unbelievable.

BANFIELD: It is such a bizarre story. We had to ask if it was a mistake or something was misprinted or rescinded story in a local paper. But, apparently these four guys all got a chance to sort of get out of the hoosegow and work in a program in the governor's mansion.

That's a bit of a gateway, too, to be able to get a pardon. One of these guys was just denied parole.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETTY ELLIS, VICTIM'S MOTHER: Is Governor Barbour going to pardon us for our aches and pains and heartache that we have to suffer? Is it going to pardon a child that had to grow up without a mother? Is he going to pardon me for never being able to feel her arms around my neck again?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: That is the victim's mother there that we're listening to.

Martin Savidge is joining us again. I got to tell you, our mouths wide open. Jaws dropped.

How does this happen? What's going on?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, let me begin by saying good morning, ladies. And welcome to both of you.

Ashleigh, wonderful to see you again.

BANFIELD: Thank you, Marty. It's the first time I haven't seen you in a war zone. It's pleasant to see you in a suit.

SAVIDGE: It's great to see you here.

BANFIELD: Listen, I got -- the nail on the head on this one -- that mother's daughter was 20 years old, was holding her 2-month-old baby when her estranged guy walks in and blows her away. And then shoots the guy with her who survives. These are not run-of-the-mill killers, hardened.

SAVIDGE: No, this was outrageous crime that took place.

Let me bring a little context here because I covered the South for a long time. I've been in Mississippi -- great state, fine people. Haley Barbour enjoys something that many politicians can't really understand. He is loved by the people of Mississippi -- Republican conservative.

Mississippi probably the most conservative state in the entire country. So you know that if you let four murders free, people are going to be outraged. And they are.

And really this is a WTW moment to be polite, what in the world was Governor Barbour thinking? That's what people in Mississippi are saying right now.

BANFIELD: This is his last day so it doesn't really matter.

SAVIDGE: Well, but he has a legacy. And, you know, he rose to prominence, of course, after hurricane Katrina. And so, many people thought look at the great he's done with the state of Mississippi. But now they're saying, all of that is negated by what he's done in the last final moments of letting these four men free.

And, you know, I can't talk about all of them. But David Gatlin, this is the case you're talking about. 1993, walks in a his estranged wife's trailer, shoots her pointblank in the head. She's holding the baby in her arms.

BANFIELD: Three months old, I mean, the baby was a newborn.

SAVIDGE: So, this is why you got this tremendous outrage and why people are saying, you know, how can it happen? And the injury that the salt is rubbed in the wounds for the families is the fact that this has gone on the quiet. They don't learn about the pardons. There is no way for them to intercede. There was no way for them to argue to a parole board.

Instead, these men are set free. And they hear about it only after their out of prison.

SAMBOLIN: And what are these men doing in the governor's mansion to begin with?

SAVIDGE: Well, you know, this is an interesting program. And it's a program that I guarantee you is now going to get a lot of focus and attention. But it dates back decades. And it is part of the tradition in the state of many Mississippi that you can work as a trustee in the governor's mansion.

Now, whether you work directly in the house or working connected with the governor's mansion is not quite clear. But it appears that this is one way to get a ticket out of jail for even the most heinous of crimes. And so, people are just outrage in Mississippi.

SAMBOLIN: And they don't pick and choose who they allow to be part of this program. Perhaps it is a way to get out.

SAVIDGE: Well, I mean to be honest, this is really an early time that I'm looking into this program. But there are a lot of questions.

BANFIELD: Do you know what your assignment is today?

SAVIDGE: And we put in a request to the governor to say, well, what is going on here? How could you make this kind of decision?

He has not spoken. And you can understand why given the fact that people are just jaw dropping.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my gosh.

BANFIELD: I thought it was a mistake.

SAMBOLIN: The poor families. The poor families -- to have to get that phone call.

SAVIDGE: Anyway --

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Good to se you. Thank you so much.

Marty Savidge reporting for us live in studio.

Just want to get you up on the EARLY START ahead moment. The New Hampshire primary has already begun. Believe it or not, the voting has begun. Dixville Notch starts at midnight, folks, and they were finished within minutes. And we have a winner or two. We'll tell who those are and how many people actually voted.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BANFIELD: Hi. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's such an exciting day today, because it is primary day. And they've already begun, believe it or not. We got some top stories we want to get you to right away.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): All right. It is around two in the Republican presidential primary race. The first vote to New Hampshire, they were cast just after midnight in tiny Dixville notch. One of the nine -- of the nine registered voters, two went for Mitt Romney and two for Jon Huntsman. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul received one each.

BANFIELD (voice-over): And in a very rare public appearance and speech, the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, has blamed, quote, "an external conspiracy" for all that violence that's been plaguing his country. He claims hundreds of media outlets are working against his regime. SAMBOLIN: And for LSU fans, it wasn't a game. It was a shame, right? The Tigers were thoroughly beaten by Alabama 21-0 in the BCS National Championship game. It's Alabama's second college football title, that in the last three years.

BANFIELD: Wow, how about that? I can't believe it. No, I totally can believe it, because I have no idea what the stats were anyway.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD (on-camera): All right. So, let's get you up on the politics story, because it's been going on all night, and if you were sleeping and you're up now at 5:32, America's first primary has begun in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire.

SAMBOLIN: Small, small, small.

BANFIELD: Itty-bitty, teeny-weeny, and right up next to the Canadian border, but man, they are hearty folk. They get up at midnight, and they actually go out and vote. So, that's a lot of fun. Let me give you some of the results, OK? They do have a reputation, by the way, for picking Republican winners, well, candidates, anyway.

They have a good track record for the Republican nominee, but they don't have such a good one for the Democratic nominee. And this has been going on since 1968. They have made these sort of predictions with an itty-bitty sampling of the voters. Are you ready? It's a tie. Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney with two, not percent, two votes each.

Gingrich with one vote, Ron Paul with one vote. Nobody turned out for Rick Santorum. Nobody turned out for Rick Perry. But if you do the math there, two, four, six voters, that leaves three more. There were nine total, and those three votes went to Obama. So, you might actually say Obama kind of won that thing.

John Avlon is a senior columnist for "Newsweek" and the "Daily Beast." He joins us live and Democratic strategist, Kiki McLean, is joining us live as well this morning. Oh, you got the memo on the pink shirt. I'm glad.

KIKI MCLEAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, I did.

BANFIELD: Live from Chicago also, conservative commentator, Lenny McAllister. All right. Folks, while I love the whole Dixville Notch thing, you know, it's not necessarily completely representative of what's going to happen as we move forward. So, I want to move to money, because I love to follow the money.

And if you look at where the money has been spent in the ad campaigns, and by the way, these are not Super PACs. These are just the campaigns spending their money. Take a look at this. This is all of 2011 right through until Sunday of this week. Mitt Romney has spent $2.5 million. Perry come in and close with $2.3 million, and Ron Paul sending $1.8 million. And you can see how the totals get lower from there. That's fascinating, but perhaps, what's more fascinating panel is what the Super PACs have been spending. And we can't even tell you because there's so much secrecy and it's difficult to track some of these ads that keep getting placed. So much so that Senator John McCain came and said this about Super PACs and where he thinks they're headed. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: It's now that the system under which we operate which leads to this kind of campaigning and will lead to corruption and scandals I guarantee it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: John Avlon, he guarantees it. I want you to weigh in on whether we're going to have one term of Super PACs or whether they're just a thing of the future?

JOHN AVLON, SENIOR COLUMNIST, NEWSWEEK AND THE DAILY BEAST: McCain is right. I mean, remember, there's a reason. You know, McCain/Feingold was the landmark campaign finance legislation. They tried to clean up the system, and Citizens United was a review cup (ph). Look, this is a Supreme Court decision which is created this environment where we have these quasi anonymous entities that are going to release avalanches of negative ads just like the one that, you know, basically cut Newt Gingrich's numbers in half in Iowa.

I think it's going to increase disgust with the political process. It's going to get worse during the cycle, and then, we're going to have to decide as a country whether we want to remedy it or whether we want Democracy to look like this. In the long run, I think it's really going to turn people off the process, and that becomes a civic problem. A real one.

BANFIELD: OK. Well, let's stick with the money theme. Kiki, I want you to weigh in on this one. Dana Bash, our phenomenal political correspondent, was trailing Ron Paul yesterday, and she was talking to him about skipping ahead and actually just skipping Florida altogether.

And he kind of tempered what he had been considering and suggested that if he gets a good bump out of New Hampshire and if he's able to bring in some serious dough out of New Hampshire, he may revisit the whole notion of spending some time in Florida.

In fact, I think he put out a note just overnight to his supporters asking for a big old money bomb this Saturday. Do you think it was a dumb idea to start with, to suggest even at the beginning, to skip Florida?

MCLEAN: No. I don't think so, because he's got a regular base that will feed him. He's got a big base of small donors who will come back to him because they are loyal time and time again. And what's really interesting is you see the progression from New Hampshire where you're talking about advising (ph) the $2 to $3 million dollar neighborhood, moving into South Carolina where it takes more, Florida where it takes, you know, the equivalent of a national campaign to run media there is that what makes saturation and what does a candidate need to do what they need to to turn votes out?

In New Hampshire, those numbers of $2 million to $3, you really have saturation. There's only so much you can buy. And by the same token tonight, we could see big surprises. Don't forget, four years ago, every pollster was off by ten points in the Democratic primary. So, it becomes a matter of volume and capacity and what you need to do to turn out your vote.

Ron Paul won't need as much money in Florida, but he'll need more than he's had in South Carolina or New Hampshire.

BANFIELD: I love that you bring up the fallibility of the polls, because that's a favorite with politicians who aren't doing so well in the polls, and since we're speaking --

(CROSSTALK)

MCLEAN: It's proven true. It's proven true.

BANFIELD: You're right. You're right. Absolutely, especially in this particular race. We've had a new frontrunner every ten minutes. Florida's come out with a good poll. The (INAUDIBLE) come out with a good poll on Florida. It has Romney leading at 36. Newt coming in at 24, Santorum at 16, Paul at 10%, Perry at 5. Huntsman, man, what happened? He's at two percent.

And it leads me to think, if this is the way things are polling, Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum, would it have been -- and this is going to sound crazy, Lenny McAllister, but would it have been a possibility or would it have been a notion to not maybe pay so much attention to the other three, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina? Because by my math, Florida has 50 delegates. And those three states combined have only 65.

LENNY MCALLISTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Well, you could take that approach, but you also have to have momentum, and you have to look like a winner. People vote for a winner. And if you don't have that win underneath your belt, for example, for Romney, in Iowa, he could say, I won the conservative vote in Iowa. Without it, he can't go into the South and say, I got the conservative vote.

Rick Santorum without showing so strong in Iowa cannot say, hey, listen, I can actually win a race. Remember, this was the guy in September that was waving at the end of the debate panel saying, hey, remember me over here. You haven't talked to me in 50 minutes. Now, he's at center of attention. He's getting the publicity that he needs, and he's rising in the polls.

You to have to have these first three contests to be able to move into Florida and say that listen, I can win not only the nomination, but I can win the White House back. If you don't have that, you can't really get the money that you need to move into the general election.

BANFIELD: And if I hadn't run flat out of time, you know, John Avlon, I would have gotten you to weigh in on this, because I know that your man, Giuliani, you were his chief speechwriter. He pulled the Florida strategy, but, dang, I'm out of time, my friend.

AVLON: Florida strategy did not work.

BANFIELD: It did not work so well. You're right. OK, guys. Thanks so much. I know we're going to hear from you coming up in the next hour.

And make sure, folks, that you keep it right here on CNN, too, because from now right through until November, we've got the best political coverage on TV. Yes, I'm biased. Of course, I work for CNN, but it is really good. This is how good it is.

At 7:30 in the morning, our Soledad O'Brien has Newt Gingrich. She's going to speak to him about his strategies and how about those Dixville Notch result.

SAMBOLIN: We're looking forward to that. And still to come on EARLY START, we're going to continue to look beyond New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida coming up next. The GOP nominee decided by them, perhaps? We're going to talk to voters and vote safe. You are watching EARLY START.

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SAMBOLIN: It is not over until all the votes are counted, but a lot of people predicted the New Hampshire primary will be a battle for second place. Mitt Romney expected to rule. So, let's look ahead to the next two primaries.

BANFIELD: We got one coming up on the 21st of January. That's South Carolina. And then, just ten days later, 31st of January, we're going to head to Florida. I want that assignment. Nice and toasty. You know, Mitt Romney is doing pretty well. He's ahead in both of those states.

And a lot of folks in the GOP are suggesting that it's possible that the nominee might actually be decided by then. I love that line. It's never over until it's over.

SAMBOLIN: That is true.

BANFIELD: John Zarrella is live in Plantation, Florida. We're going to go to John Zarella in a minute, but first, we want to get to David Mattingly who has been, basically, looking at voter registration, I think, in South Carolina. It's nice to see you both. David, let's start with you. Talk to me a little bit about what's going on there, poll wise and what you're seeing. The saturation on TV must be awful.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Poll wise, let's look at that first. Romney leading here double digits over his closest competitor, Santorum, but that was last week. And the one thing we saw that was really surprising with the poll results here is that half the people who have a preference right now could easily change their mind by the time they go to the polls just 11 days from now.

So, very volatile here. We're already seeing millions of dollars being spent on television time. Expect to see the airwaves completely saturated here by this weekend. So, South Carolina is going to be really a crunch time for all the candidates, even Mitt Romney who is leading here and leading among the conservative evangelical voters here who make up more than half of the votes who are going to be cast here.

So, this is going to be the place where Romney could establish himself as the solid frontrunner and the favorite to beat here in this campaign or could be the game changer for one of his competitors. So, in other words, wait and see. We still have a lot of time here.

BANFIELD: OK. Let's get over to Florida now. Sunshine State holding its first primary just three weeks from now. And like you heard, Mitt Romney double digit lead in the poll there as well.

SAMBOLIN: Here is how it's shaping up in the latest poll. Romney, 12 points ahead of Gingrich with Santorum, a distant third. John Zarrella live in Plantation, Florida. How are things looking there?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, just as David said in South Carolina, there's 54 percent of those Republicans who were polled in Florida saying, you know, we're not really set completely on who we're going to vote for. So, the numbers could switch.

Another interesting thing, I know, Ashleigh, when you were talking to your guest, they're talking about the money. It's going to cost $10 million is what the experts say to run an effective TV campaign in Florida. That is a lot of coin. And more than any of the candidates spent in both states, so far.

So, right now, you're not seeing much at all of any television advertising here in South Florida from the candidates, because it's just so costly, when you have Miami here, Orlando here, Tampa there, such diverse markets, Jacksonville. It's so much money that they have to spend down here. You're not going to see a lot spent until everybody knows where they stand coming out of South Carolina -- Ashleigh, Zoraida

BANFIELD: $10 million?

ZARRELLA: $10 million.

BANFIELD: How does Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman? How are they supposed to pay for that?

ZARRELLA: They're not. They're not.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

And still to come, sea ice. It's delaying fuel delivery to an Alaska town. We're going to talk to an Alaska reporter and find out what's happening there. Are they really in dire straits right now? You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin along with with Ashleigh Banfield. You know how we take our oil for granted, and we go to the gas station and just fill up, right?

BANFIELD: Yes. It never run short, right?

SAMBOLIN: No. Listen to this. Thick ice is threatening an emergency shipment to fuel to the isolated town of Nome, Alaska. Let's take a look here. A tanker carrying over a million gallons of diesel stranded 100 miles away in the icing baring sea. The U.S. coast guard's only ice breaker -- only ice breaker is working to cut a path for the tanker to actually get through.

So, we're talking to Ben Matheson. He's on the phone with us live this morning from Nome, Alaska. And, he's a reporter there. And, you know, I'm reading here, are you there, first of all? Let me make sure you're -- hello?

VOICE OF BEN MATHESON, NOME, AL: Yes, good morning.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, good morning to you. All right. So, this town is about 3,500 people on the Western Alaska coastline, and I'm reading some reports here that say the tanker is not going to be able to arrive in Nome this morning which is when you were expecting it. So, what does this do to the community? Are they in dire straits expecting this delivery?

MATHESON: Dire strait isn't quite the right phrase there. We do have a buffer of about two or three months of fuel. We would be getting short in about the month of March, but we do have adequate supplies for the time being. It's not an emergency at this point.

SAMBOLIN: So, can you explain this for us who never have to really receive our fuel this way? What exactly is happening?

MATHESON: Well, we typically receive our fuel by barge during the summer season. The oceans have frozen over most of the area, but we do have a short summer shipping season. The last barge of the season, however, was delayed by storm and some miscommunication and some goof ups with the companies doing that, and that was not able to come in during the short sipping season.

So, it's turned into a very unconventional delivery with the use of this Russian tanker, this ice clash Russian tanker that's has done business all over the Arctic plus the help of sort of an unlikely partner, the U.S. coast guard and its only ice breaker that has extended the working season by about six weeks now to make this really unconventional (ph) journey through the ice, the first ever winter fuel delivery in Western Alaska.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. And some people are asking, well, you know, if you really get yourself into some sort of an emergency situation, is there another way to deliver?

MATHESON: There are proven methods for flying in fuel. And before the pieces came together on this Russian tanker delivery, they were in discussions to fly in fuel. That would add $3 or $4 dollars to the price of the gallon of gas or diesel with gas currently at $5.43, diesel at $5.93, that could be pushing gas up towards $9 a gallon.

SAMBOLIN: Wow! That's an expensive proposition. We're running out of time here, but the folks that are really expecting this fuel, hospitals, I understand?

MATHESON: Everyone's a customer of fuel in this town, and everyone, eventually, has to buy fuel. It's not heating fuel, it's automotive, but everyone needs it.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. All right. Well, Ben Matheson, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it, and good luck.

MATHESON: Thank you very much.

BANFIELD: Do you remember like over a decade ago, there was a story about Dolly the Sheep? Cloning Dolly the Sheep.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BANFIELD: Yes. I guess, since then, the technology has gotten kind of homie, because, apparently, now, you can clone your own dog, but you are going to pay for it. And this woman, apparently, plans to pay big. We're going to tell you why she's trending on Google this morning and why she wants to do this, coming up.

SAMBOLIN: I always wanted to clone myself.

BANFIELD: Oh, great!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: All right. We were just talking about this before we went to break. I'd want to clone myself, but maybe not. I'm not quite sure yet.

BANFIELD: Only in a matter of speaking, because moms have so much work to do at home.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, gosh! Yes.

BANFIELD: We need a wife. And we think we would be our best wives.

SAMBOLIN: She would cook and clean. So, we're taking you a closer look this morning by taking a look what is trending on the web and in social media. So, trending on Yahoo!, making double trouble.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): A woman from the TLC special, "I Cloned my Dog," I didn't even know it existed. There's a clone right there.

BANFIELD (voice-over): That's a clone puppy.

SAMBOLIN: She paid $50,000 to clone her dog, Trouble. She was actually on Anderson's talk show yesterday. This is what she did, folks. She went to South Korea where they offer commercial dog cloning. All of Trouble's clothes hoping one day that he'd come back.

BANFIELD: OK. Wait, all of Trouble's clothes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD (on-camera): That is weird. That is really weird.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): A lot of people like dressing up their pets, right?

BANFIELD: Matching outfits. OK. Are you ready for this one?

SAMBOLIN: I know you are more than I am. I like Spanish music.

BANFIELD: I like it, too. I just want it, you know, playing in my house. I don't want to have to go somewhere to listen to it, but there are a lot of people who dig Coachella, the music festival, so much so that they'll go out and brave the crowds and the craziness. This is California fun thing to do, folks, and apparently, it's one of the big trends on Google. It's number one on Google today, trending.

Because the Twitter alert went out to fans saying that the remaining three-day passes are going on sale on Friday for $285 which, to me, is a very expensive ticket, however. So, apparently, everybody went bananas and Black Eyed -- no, I thought it was the Black Eyed Peas. It's not. It's the Black Keys, Radiohead, Snoop Dog, Dr. Dre, all night lining to that show.

SAMBOLIN: That's cool!

BANFIELD: It's a good show. All the celebrities go out.

SAMBOLIN: Just a lot of people.

BANFIELD: Drew Barrymore, I think, I saw last year wearing her like, you know, crazy outfits from, you know --

SAMBOLIN: I don't know.

BANFIELD: Hippy land. Yes. It always looks like it's a grateful dead concert, but it's a big concert. People love it. And they expanded it this year.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Relatively inexpensive, I think, for all of the different bands.

So, ahead in the next hour, DNA links a killer to a pilgrim. A bizarre break in a 20-year-old murder/mystery of a high school cheerleader. We've got that and so much more. You are watching EARLY START.

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