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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Gingrich Super PAC Makes Anti-Romney Film; New Hampshire Primary Voting Begins; Violence Continues in Syria; Alabama Defeats LSU in College Football; Remembering the Angel of Tucson; Texas A&M's "12th Man"; Assad: External Conspiracy To Blame For Violence; Family Talking About FAMU Hazing Death; New Zealand Oil Spill; West Virginia Cave Rescue; The Race For New Hampshire; Attack Ads Abound; The Price of Politics; Battle For New Hampshire Begins; Newt Gingrich Appears to Expect Bad News in New Hampshire Primary. Mississippi Governor Pardons 4 Killers

Aired January 10, 2012 - 06:59   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody. Welcome to our new show "Starting Point" as we are a couple of days in today. Week number two, day number two. We are back at Chez Vachon this morning in Manchester, New Hampshire as we told you about yesterday. Sorry. We're serving breakfast, as well.

We told you about the specialty, which is poutine, although, some Canadian told me it's poutine. That was the French fries and cheese curd and gravy. Today, we have a new special. Here's what it is. It is boiled pork and potatoes in a pastry, then potatoes on the side. Toast and eggs. That's roughly 17,000 calories.

So, STARTING POINT this morning is not just on breakfast. It's also on the polls, of course. The first votes have already been counted in the New Hampshire primary. Tiny town. You know, we do this every single time. But this town has a knack for picking Republican presidents. And it's a tie. The real story, though, this morning is going to be South Carolina and Florida.

Challengers uniting in bashing Mitt Romney, and it seems to be working. If you look at the polls, Newt Gingrich is the guy leading the charge. That's not exactly a big surprise. The former speaker is going to join us live this morning.

This little girl, she was a 9/11 baby. You might remember she was killed in the Tucson massacre. Nine-year-old Kristina Taylor Green, now her mom is trying to keep her daughter's memory alive. She's got a new book. She's going to join us to talk about that this morning.

And then there's outrage in Mississippi as the governor has pardoned four killers. This is as he going out the door. We're going to talk to a family member of the victims who says they've been left now without any answers. No one is talking to them. And then, a tragedy. I'm not even a really big football fan. That was so sad to watch, the tide rolling over my favorite LSU. Of course, they were thrilled because it was revenge. We'll talk about that.

And former chief White House staff Wesley Jacob. Jon Huntsman's wife is going to join us to talk about the former governor's late surge. Texas A&M get into it with Tim Tebow. All that and much more ahead this morning on STARTING POINT. We begin right now.

Good morning. Welcome. That's what it looks like outside and then inside. We're talking about the battle for New Hampshire, which has now begun voting. Of course it started earlier in Dixville notch. There are nine registered voters there, six of them voting in the GOP primary.

Here's how it turned out. Huntsman and Romney tied, two-two. Gingrich and Paul got one vote apiece. And Obama got three votes. We're expecting some new poll numbers this morning from Suffolk University. We've been following the Suffolk poll day by day.

In the most recent one, we see Romney 13 points ahead of Ron Paul. Huntsman is 20 points behind in third place. And if you look at the American Research Poll, Romney is at 38 percent, Huntsman is at 18 percent, and then Ron Paul comes in third at 17 percent. So we're watching these poll numbers. We'll update those for you during this morning.

Let's get right to Dan Lothian this morning. He is at a polling center that just opened one-and-a-half minutes ago. Good morning, Dan. before I let you go, I'm going to also introduce the rest of the folks we're talking with. We've got David Frum joining us again this morning, Will Cain cane from "The Blaze," who did not finish breakfast I should point out, yesterday.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Hillary Rosen is with us, as well, Democrat strategist, Ron Brownstein joins us again, "National Journal." I'm getting better at getting lengthy titles in. But I want to begin with Dan Lothian. The polls just opened. Are there lines already, and you expecting a lot of folks at this early part of the day?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We are expecting a lot of folks showing up to the polls. Yes, they opened up a short time ago and a long line of folks coming here to cast their votes. As you were talking about at the polls, we've been looking at who is up and who is down. Mitt Romney has had a big lead here in the state of New Hampshire and the fight has been for second place.

But now is a chance for the real vote to take place. It's no longer a poll. And those undecideds who have been trying figure out who they're going to line up behind will finally come in here and get a chance to cast their vote.

Just to give you a snapshot of how busy this place was in 2008, we're told they had a big, large numbers here. In fact, they ran out of ballots and they had to request more ballots from the city clerk. By the way, the numbers at that time, John McCain got 799 votes here. And, of course, Mitt Romney got 731 votes.

Not only voters showing up here today though. Three of the candidates, Romney, Gingrich, and Huntsman, will also be coming by here to do some last-minute stomping. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: And it's always amazing because there's a TV camera there and then the candidates show up. Amazing. It's stunning. Thanks, Dan. We're going to include you in this conversation as we turn to our panel. First, New Hampshire is really about second place. Romney has been consistently far ahead.

HILLARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Although we're not only so great at predicting New Hampshire. Remember what happened in democratic primary.

O'BRIEN: Every poll shows him ahead by 15 plus points, really?

ROSEN: There was a 10-point swing in 2008, too. But I'll give you Romney's going to win today.

O'BRIEN: Then second place. What do we think about?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: First of all, margin will matter. Second place will matter and third place will matter. Iowa seems to be that Romney could be beaten, but it wasn't clear whether anybody in the field could actually beat him. New Hampshire could give you the same kind of effect, especially if Romney's overall vote total is relatively low. It shows consistent resistance to him, but a field is having trouble coalescing around one alternative in part because Ron Paul who has a ceiling on his support really seems to be a blocking back position if he comes in second.

O'BRIEN: There's an argument that says having the other people in the field is helping Romney.

BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: How so?

WILL CAIN, COLUMNIST, "THE BLAZE": Well, because fracturing out the alternative vote. As long as Romney doesn't have one challenger he remains in a good position. The actual delegates in New Hampshire, for that matter Iowa, are meaningless. What they're climbing for is your attention, media's attention.

O'BRIEN: I'm in. I'm giving attention.

CAIN: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: So will Huntsman do enough to remain in the conversation, to remain in the race? And will Santorum do so little he falls out of the conversation?

O'BRIEN: They really have to look toward South Carolina.

CAIN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: For example, speaking of people like Santorum, and many people have said what a big mistake to focus on New Hampshire. He should have gone right to South Carolina where he's polling strongly. Ultimately you try to see, does it matter by the time you get to South Carolina.

DAVID FRUM, FRUMFORUM.COM: I think the fourth and fifth in this case matters because the question is going to come out of New Hampshire is how dead is Perry, who is the only person who could have taken this thing away from Romney. If Perry is in fifth place he's just dead.

BROWNSTEIN: Fifth might be good.

FRUM: Fifth might be good.

And meanwhile, Gingrich, who is not in the top three again, is about to launch the most amazing self-immolation in America political history.

O'BRIEN: As he brings down Mitt Romney, potentially.

FRUM: Murder suicide.

But South Carolina, which is a very regular party machine, when they see someone who cannot possibly win the nomination going after the guy who can, cutting President Obama's campaign ads for him, that that is going to hurt Gingrich and it's going to -- it is going to lock things up even more.

WHITFIELD: I asked Mitt Romney about this yesterday, his events. The Bain attacks really is what everybody is expecting as we head into South Carolina. Here's what he said. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Newt Gingrich is now being funded by a super pact with a Bill of something like $5 million to his name and he says he's going to go after your work at Bain.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Gee, I thought he apologized for going after my record. Wasn't that just a couple weeks ago? I thought it was going to come from the president and the Democrats from the left, but instead it's coming from speaker Gingrich and apparently others.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So there are some people who say, right, this is -- he's doing the work, Newt Gingrich, doing the work of the Democrats. But there's another theory that says floated out ahead of time. Have the Bain conversation ahead of time so that by the time you get into the general election, everyone has heard it.

ROSEN: Well, I think two things. First of all, the reason why this is going to be effective against Romney regardless of whether it's in the primary or the general is because Romney is out there saying I'm a turnaround guy. I can fix the economy. And here the Bain experience is going to be when he turned companies around, people lost their jobs. That's what he would do as president.

Wait, one more point, which is that in a primary right now, this is different. The Republican establishment, it may not be right about Mitt Romney on this. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman are finding economic populist, blue-collar workers who want to vote Republican who are uncomfortable with Mitt Romney's elitist Wall Street background. He might -- might be --

O'BRIEN: Literally, physically, Will is writhing in pain.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: So people are going to continue to feel that vibe. And that's why, you know, it's not necessarily, you know, only killing Obama. It may be helping an alternative Republican that has a better shot with those voters.

O'BRIEN: We've got to go to Christine Romans who has updates with other stories. Christine, we know that this morning there was this major speech made by the Syrian president Assad. What did he say, and what has the reaction been to his speech?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. President Bashar al Assad making a rare speech this morning, and he's blaming the media, Soledad, and foreign conspiracies for trying to destabilize his country, and he's trying to get the Arab world on his side.

Meantime, more people are dying, protestors accusing the government of committing organized massacres on villages. CNN has been shut out of this country for months. Nic Robertson, though, is among the first western journalists allowed in but had his equipment taken away which is why he's joining me on phone from Damascus. Good morning, Nic. What can you tell us about what's happening there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, we know the demonstrations, anti-government demonstrations, are continuing today. Nothing that President Assad said in an almost two- hour speech will appeal to the opposition. He didn't say that he was going to take his gun, tanks, and soldiers off the streets, which has been a demand of the Arab League here. He appealed to his already steady large support base. He's trying to boost the country for the fact that this present situation is going to go on for a long time. That was the first of his speech.

And he also put the Arab League monitors here in grave danger by saying and vilifying the Arab League as trying to destabilize his government here and trying to overthrow the regime in Syria. So we've already heard today that Arab League monitors were shut out by them yesterday. A Kuwaiti press agency saying their monitors were fired at today. I spoke to the head of the Arab league mission here in such a sensitive subject he wouldn't comment but he was at that moment, I saw him rushing off for a meeting with the Syrian prime minister. Christine?

ROMANS: Thank you, Nic. We'll talk to you again very soon.

Meantime, the U.S. is condemning the Iranian's government's death sentence for an American accused of spying for the CIA. Amir Hekmati has 21 days to appeal his case. Just a bit earlier this morning CNN's Zain Verjee spoke to his family's attorney, a former war crimes ambassador.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PIERRE PROSPER, ATTORNEY FOR AMIR HEKMATI: I hear from them easily five, six times a day. As you can imagine, the stress is very, very high. The news is not positive. But we try to reassure them that it's not over. We will engage the government and hope that they will show compassion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: And President Obama is replacing his gatekeeper chief of staff. Bill Daley abruptly resigned, saying he wants to spend more time with his family. But is there more to Daley's departure than meets the eye? CNN's Brianna Keilar following this story for us. She is live in Washington. Good morning, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. You're not buying it, going back to Chicago in the middle of January, that's something he wants to do? The truth is there is a little more to it than this, although the White House trying to make it clear that this was Daley's decision. It sounds like this wasn't necessarily the best fit and that when it comes to getting the president's ear, there's only so much oxygen in the room. And Daley was competing, of course, with top advisers like Valerie Jarrett, David Plouffe, David Axelrod, and lacking some of the influence.

It appears he didn't have the ability or the backing of the president to make some of the staff changes that he might have wanted to make.

Now, one of the other issues here has to do with Congress. This is a White House that has struggled in its relationship with Congress. It's not just the Republican on the Hill that will tell you that. Democrats will as well. And Daley was at the helm, of course, as that grand bargain fell apart with House Speaker John Boehner. And there were more symbolic stumbles, like that snafu over scheduling the president's address to a joint session of Congress in the fall, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, so now the budget guy is in charge. Brianna Keilar in Washington, thank you. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Christine, I thank you very much. Oh, I can't believe I have to do this segment. Alabama wins the BCS championship. I really like the Giants, too. I believe you should root for the local team but so that's usually where I put all my focus. But I was really cheering for -- in college, local LSU, because I also love New Orleans. But, wow, yesterday they just killed them, killed them. It's Alabama second national tight until three years. It is the first shutout. It's like not only bad, it's terrible. Joe Carter is in New Orleans this morning. At least you're in a nice city. Joe, good morning.

JOE CARTER, HLN SPORTS ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. Yes, it's a beautiful city. And critics have said that Alabama didn't even belong in this game because they didn't win the division, didn't win the conference championship. They proved their critics wrong last night by dominating the LSU Tigers from wire to wire. The defense played amazing.

You know the last time these two teams played field goals were a major issue for Alabama. They couldn't make very many. Last night they only needed one because their defense played so well. They actually kicked five which tied a bowl record. They beat LSU 21-0. It's their second national championship ship in three years. This one is a little extra special considering what the town of Tuscaloosa went through back in April when the tornadoes tore through that town.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRENT RICHARDSON, ALABAMA RUNNING BACK: To Tuscaloosa, it means a lot because, like I said, we lost a lot of people in the tornado. And I told the team before, you know, the season that it's going to mean a lot to a lot of people that we do make it to the championship. And I said before the season, I said, we're going to win the national championship.

DONT'A HIGHTOWER, ALABAMA LINEBACKER: For us to bring back the crystal ball to us Tuscaloosa, that brings a lot of hope and dreams to the community of Tuscaloosa.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARTER: Coming up, Soledad, we have a story about Carson Tinker, the long snapper for Alabama. It was an extra special night for him last night because back when those tornadoes ripped through Tuscaloosa in April he actually lost his girlfriend. So was it was a bittersweet night for him. His girlfriend's parents were in the stands. We'll tell you more about his story and what it meant for him and her family to win the championship last night.

O'BRIEN: That's so sad. The damage there, still there, is pretty remarkable. Joe, we'll look for that. We can move on out of this conversation because it's a sad day.

Ahead this morning, let's just talk about football because I'm so strong in football. The whole show should just be football. My husband is watching like, oh, my god, she's talking football.

(LAUGHTER) (CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: That is right. But you hear the story. Everybody thought Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos next opponent would be the New England Patriots. But, no, it turns out the big problem will be the legal department. We'll tell you what that's about.

Also, Mississippi's governor -- this is a serious story -- is now pardoning four convicted killers. All of them worked for him at the governor's mansion. Families of their victims say they are outraged. We're going to talk to a family member straight ahead.

Of course, you will recall a terrible anniversary. It's been one year since the Tucson shooting rampage. A little girl, nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green was among those who were killed that day. Straight ahead this morning, I'm going to talk to her mom. Her mom has written a new book about her daughter and her daughter's legacy as well.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We've got a short break and then we're back right after that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody, to STARTING POINT.

We've just marked one year since the Tucson shooting rampage that injured Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and killed six people, including 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green. She had headed to go see Giffords speak, a remarkable little girl.

Her mom has now written a book about her daughter. And I had a chance to talk with her about it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: And Roxanna Green joins us this morning. Roxanna, your book is terrific. It's called "As Good As She Imagined." Then I have to imagine for you for the one-year anniversary how hard is it for you to deal with the day?

ROXANNA GREEN, AUTHOR, "AS GOOD AS SHE IMAGINED": It's been very challenging. But, you know, my faith has got me through it and my friends and family and a lot of praying.

O'BRIEN: I want you to tell me a little bit about Christina Taylor. Because, you know, honestly, you -- it's almost unbelievable what a remarkable kid she was at such a young age. She was into sports. She was into politics. Tell me a little bit about her.

GREEN: Well, she was an extraordinary child. She was an exceptional child in every way. She was beyond her nine years. Very mature for her age. She was very patriotic, loved her country. She really wanted to give back, make a difference in her community. And she was aware of people that were less fortunate and she always wanted to do charity work and to help those that weren't as blessed as she was.

O'BRIEN: Where did that come from? And I can see you getting upset as you talk to me and I'm sorry. But I mean, for people who didn't know her, she's like -- and it's going to sound cheesy, but she was a great citizen.

I mean, what happened that day was she was going to see Gabby Giffords because she had a love of politics. Is that something that you instilled in her?

GREEN: Yes, I instilled that in her as well as my parents. So growing up I was very involved in student council and charity work with my parents. And I taught both my kids that we have to give back. And so she probably got that from my side of the family.

O'BRIEN: She ran for student council, student council president in third grade. Did she ever talk to you about what her dreams were, I mean, you know, for when she was a grown-up, not just fourth grade, but when she was a grown-up, did she want to be a politician, which I think sometimes today is not exactly a career path anybody wants, much less a little kid?

GREEN: Well, ever since she was two years old she always told me she wanted to be a star, and she was very talented. She was a talented dancer and a musician and a singer. And she wanted to be a doctor. She wanted to help and make a difference in the world.

She also said that she possibly for a female president and the first Major League baseball player -- female baseball player. But she had high dreams and high hopes. And I know whatever, you know, she would have chosen, she would have -- she'd be great at it.

O'BRIEN: Yes. No question about that. What -- what was she hoping to get out of seeing Gabby Giffords? I mean, that's really that day that was the plan to go around the corner and get to meet, you know, somebody who was really working in politics. What did she want to get out of that?

GREEN: Well, she just wanted to learn more about our government and how she could give back and make a difference in our local community and she had some questions prepared. And she wanted to meet her role model. She wanted to meet someone that she admired, a strong, intelligent woman. And those are the kind of people that she admired.

O'BRIEN: When you look back over the last year, how do you think you've changed? What's changed in you?

GREEN: I'm more appreciative of just the small things, little things in life. I realize that every day is so precious and we're so lucky to have every day. And to do everything you want to do in life because there might not be a tomorrow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: That's Roxanna Green, Christina Taylor Green's mom who has written a really nice book about her daughter. Just lovely.

Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT as we continue through our morning, our "Get Real" segment, the Denver Broncos might have some legal problems. We'll tell you why Texas A&M lawyers weren't happy with the Broncos last weekend.

Then, Newt Gingrich will join us live. He's tangling with Mitt Romney over super PACs funding of negative ads. We'll see where their fight goes next.

You're watching STARTING POINT with Soledad O'Brien. We're back right after a short break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody.

We're at Chez Vachon this morning where they are making breakfast. Wow. Those pancakes look really, really, really good, although our table is covered with food. We've got the specialty of pork pie this morning and the maple syrup bacon. All of us will just be on the treadmill for the rest of the day.

Welcome back, everybody. Time to "Get Real" this morning.

Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos thought that after they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime on Sunday, up next will be the New England Patriots. But, no, up next is the Texas A&M legal department. Before the Sunday's game, the Broncos -- this is what everybody loves in the game of sports.

But before the game, the Broncos had a guy parachute in to the stadium with a flag that had the words "12th Man" on it. Now, of course, in football, you only have 11 players on the field at any time. And the "12th man" refers to the role that the fans play.

So, big deal. What's the issue? Ah, here's the issue. For our lawyers at the table, here is the issue. Texas A&M has -- owns a copyright on the "12th Man." No joke. They own the copyright.

So Jason Cook, who's A&M's Vice President for Marketing and Communication tweeted this. And to add insult to injury, right, it's a threat and he tweeted it. It goes like this, "FYI, Broncos. The "12th man" belongs to Texas A&M. We saw the flag today and will defend our trademark." No joke. Fighting words, of course.

It isn't the first time that A&M has gone after a football team over that term, "12th Man." Back in 2006, they sue the Seattle Seahawks and they forced the Seahawks to pay a licensing fee to Texas A&M, which they now have to do.

So apparently Texas A&M getting very real for us this morning and letting us know who their 12th man is, that would be their attorney.

Still to come this morning on STARTING POINT, lots to talk about. Outrage in Mississippi as the outgoing governor pardons four killers. We're going to talk with what has happened there with the victims' relatives straight ahead this morning.

And then Newt Gingrich is going to join us live. He's getting some super PAC help as he leads us into South Carolina. We'll talk about what his southern strategy is going to be.

STARTING POINT is back right after this short break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT this morning. We're live at Chez Bouchon in Manchester, New Hampshire.

This is an interview. While I'm doing my show, there's other journalism being committed in the same building. That's French- Canadian television doing an interview because, of course, here in Chez Bouchon we're in a neighborhood that is full of French-Canadians.

And we have French-Canadian cuisine, which includes the pork pie that we had. The poutine that we had yesterday. Lots of debate about that. You are any French-Canadian expert.

We've got the bacon slathered in maple sauce. The crepe is very, very good this morning. This is what we had yesterday. On Twitter, people were attacking me for pronouncing that wrong.

Apparently, it's disco snack food back in the '70s. They brought this to New York. The whole thing started in the '50s when the customer said put my fries in a bag and throw cheese on it. Started a trend, big deal. That's what's happening here food wise.

Ahead in the next half hour, Newt Gingrich is going to join us live to talk about the nastiness in New Hampshire and what that is going to mean ahead in South Carolina and Florida as opponents are picking up their attacks on the frontrunner, Mitt Romney.

And then we'll turn to Mississippi where four killers, four convicted murderers are now off the hook as the governor pardoned him. And last minute move, we're going to be speaking to a family member of one of those victims straight ahead this morning.

Other news to get to first though, let's get right to Christine Romans. She's at CNN with an update. Hi, Christine. Good morning again.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. Good morning to you again. A defiant Syrian President Bashir Al-Assad is blaming western and Arab elements for the growing unrest in his country. He calls protesters against his regime terrorists, but he denied that Syrian security forces have opened fire on them.

The family of Robert Champion, that Florida A&M drum major who was hazed to death, his family says they'll share more information about his death at a news conference later this morning. Champion's family has sued the university claiming school officials did nothing to prevent a culture of hazing there.

A new concern this morning about a cargo ship that ran aground on a reef off the coast of New Zealand last year. Officials say the stern of that ship has slipped further under water spewing an additional 10 tons of oil right into the water.

And three men were rescued from a West Virginia cave late last night. They went missing Saturday after heading into a 13-mile long cave complex. One of the cavers says they had quite a scare.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When 7:00 rolls around and we're like, there's people, there's people.

GRANT BLAISDELL, WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY STUDENT: Do not underestimate the cave and do not over estimate their abilities. And that's typical college behavior, you know. You think you're invisible, but when you get in a situation like this and, you know, humbles you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: All right, now let's check in on the markets. U.S. stock futures pointing to a higher open this morning. Dow future is up around 100 points. Nasdaq, S&P 500 futures are also pointing higher right now.

You know attention turning back to Europe this week. The leaders of France and Germany are putting more pressure on Greece and Greece's prime minister to make deeper cuts to avoid default.

And, Soledad, in this country it's earning season. So I expect things will be pretty chappy. Don't hold me to it that stocks close higher.

O'BRIEN: All right, Christine, thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Well, as we've been telling you, voting in New Hampshire -- the New Hampshire primary has begun and what we're really looking at right now is the race for second place.

There's brand new Suffolk University news poll out today that says that Mitt Romney is leading Ron Paul 37 percent to 18 percent. If you look at Jon Huntsman, third place with 16 percent and Newt Gingrich coming in at 9 percent.

He has been going on the attack, of course, getting "Super PAC" money to buy negative ads in South Carolina. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich joins us this morning. It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good morning. Good to be with you. O'BRIEN: Let's begin with these -- thank you very much. I appreciate that. Let's talk about these "Super PAC" ads. It was just about a week ago where you were talking about how mad you were about Mitt Romney spending $3.5 million through his "Super PAC."

Now the number I'm hearing for you is $3.4 million from the "Super PAC' that supports you. Isn't that hypocritical?

GINGRICH: No, no, I think you are face with the reality. Somebody decides that that's what they're going to do. If you unilateral disarm, you might as well drop out of the race.

He's decided that he would pin his entire future on shrinking his competitors rather than offering positive ideas. We came back and offer a very clear choice here, talking about impact, for example, raising the commuter tax on folks of New Hampshire, raising $70 million in taxes as governor of Massachusetts.

So I think it's fair to draw a contrast between my record of fighting for tax cuts and the tax increases that he set up in New Hampshire and in Massachusetts as governor.

Similarly, I think he's gone around talking about his record in the private sector. Well, it's fair to look at that record. I don't see why looking at somebody's record is wrong. One of his ads got --

O'BRIEN: No, but that's not --

GINGRICH: My hope is --

O'BRIEN: But it's not just the record. Forgive me for interrupting you. Of course, the question is how negative do you go? You had at one point called him a liar. You guys have both gone back and forth. Do you expect to continue that, you know, hostile conversation as you move forward?

GINGRICH: Well, I don't know what will happen in terms of what you describe as a hostile conversation. He did make a point in the debate Sunday morning. He had never seen the ads and then recited one of the ads and listed all five points in it.

So I'll let you decide about how accurate that is. I think the key thing is it's going to be a very clear choice between a Reagan conservative and a Massachusetts moderate. And I think as we get to South Carolina, a choice between those two views is going to be pretty decisive in South Carolina and beyond South Carolina.

O'BRIEN: So let's talk about South Carolina.

GINGRICH: New Hampshire -- New Hampshire --

O'BRIEN: -- South Carolina and beyond --

GINGRICH: OK, go ahead.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. Because we have a limited time I want to run through a lot of stuff with you. South Carolina, it costs, I'm told $350,000 for a week of ads. You've got it now, a ton of money. Have you already bought ads in South Carolina?

GINGRICH: We're going to run ads for the campaign and ads for the campaign are going to be very issue oriented, very clear and offer a very vivid choice between a Reagan conservative who cuts taxes and a Massachusetts moderate who raises them.

A Reagan conservative who is pro-life and a Massachusetts moderate who actually wrote Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider of the country into Romneycare.

We're going to look at differences between someone more conservative judges and liberal. I can't say what the "Super PAC." I have no direct relationship with them. You would have call and talk to the folks at the "Super PAC."

O'BRIEN: If they decided to run the "King of Bane," which is the film that you were talking about the other day when I attended your Latino event here in Manchester.

That's a 27 and a half minute look at, and I should say, negative look at Mitt Romney's tenure at Bane Capital. Would you like to see that, running everywhere, all over South Carolina?

GINGRICH: I have no idea.

O'BRIEN: Are you expecting to see that?

GINGRICH: As I -- if it shows up on television, I will probably eventually see it. But as I understand it from newspaper reports it was actually made by Mitt Romney's former 2008 presidential campaign staffer.

So I have no idea what's in it. Apparently, the staffer went out and made the documentary after having gotten to know Mitt in the 2008 campaign. This is his take on Bane's record with a series of companies.

My hope is that it's totally factually accurate, that it can be totally defended. I wouldn't like to see something put up to attack any of the candidates that isn't factually correct. I think we can be very direct and very straight as long as there are facts there, but we shouldn't go beyond the facts.

O'BRIEN: When I interviewed Mitt Romney yesterday at an event he was holding 30 minutes outside of Manchester, here is what he said about attacks on him. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Newt Gingrich is now being funded by a "Super PAC" with a bill of something like $5 million to his name. And he says he's going to go after your work at Bane.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Gee, I thought he apologized for going after my record at Bane. Wasn't that just a couple weeks ago? I thought it was going to come from the president and the Democrats from the left, but instead it's coming from Speaker Gingrich and apparently others.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: There's an argument, sir, that says you are doing the work of the Democrats. You are doing so much damage to Mitt Romney by focusing on this that you're going to have a candidate if he is the frontrunner who goes into the general election severely damaged by a fellow Republican.

GINGRICH: Isn't that funny that when I was a frontrunner and he ran $3.5 million in negative ads none of the folks raised that question? In fact, Romney himself said, look, it's all right to be tough because after all look what Axelrod and Obama are going to be like.

That's a direct quote from him. Let me suggest to you. Obama and Axelrod aren't raising a billion dollars for fun. They intend to come and whoever we nominate had better be tough enough and had better be thoroughly enough vetted before they get the nomination.

Because what you don't want to do is nominate somebody and find out in September that they have a fatal weakness and then you can't do anything about it. All of us should be tested in February, March -- January, February, March, to make sure that whoever gets the nomination is tough enough to stand up to Obama. There's no point in nominating --

O'BRIEN: He's been leading in the polls -- he's been leading in the polls here in New Hampshire. He's leading in the polls as you go into South Carolina.

GINGRICH: Sure.

O'BRIEN: He's leading in the polls if you look down to Florida. So let's say he is hypothetically he is the nominee, are you going to support him? Are you going to say yes, America, it is Mitt Romney who should be the president of this country?

GINGRICH: If the choice is Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, there's no question I would support Mitt Romney. I think he would be a dramatically better president than Barack Obama. The question is, is he the best candidate we can put up? Does he represent the best ideas?

And remember, New Hampshire is his third strongest state after Utah and Massachusetts. He's bought a house here. He has lived here. He has spent the last five years campaigning here.

If he can't do very, very well here tonight, I think it raises questions about his candidacy everywhere. This is one of the places where he should be getting a majority because he is certainly worked hard enough, you would think he would be able to get a majority in a state like this. O'BRIEN: What about you? No matter what happens you're who moving forward to South Carolina? No matter what happens you're moving forward to Florida, yes?

GINGRICH: Sure. Well, first of all, we're going to do well enough that we're going to impact the field.

O'BRIEN: That doesn't sound convincing. Say that again.

GINGRICH: Well, three or four of us who are running reasonably well after Romney and we're all going to still be dividing the vote. And I think it will start shaking itself out when we get to South Carolina.

And I will be in South Carolina very aggressively as a Georgia conservative. I've got very good ties and roots in South Carolina. I'm looking forward to campaigning there over the next two weeks. I think it will be a lot of fun and lit clear up the race pretty dramatically.

O'BRIEN: OK. We'll see about that. Let me ask you a question about a couple of things you said at this Latino event that I attended.

A gentleman asked you, a young man asked you about the Dream Act. What's your take on the Dream Act? Mitt Romney as you know says Dream Act comes before him, if he's in a position to do so, he will veto it.

GINGRICH: Right. I think there are parts of the Dream Act that make a lot of sense. For example, today, if you're living in a foreign country, you can enlist in the U.S. military and you can earn citizenship.

But if you happen to be in this country and your parents brought you here when you were 3 years old, you can't -- if you came here illegally, even though you were only 3, you can't enlist.

I think we should allow folks who are living here, who have a good record, should be allowed to enlist in the military and should as a result be able to earn citizenship just as they would had they stayed back at home.

So there are parts of the Dream Act I like. There are parts I don't like.

O'BRIEN: There's a provision of the Dream Act that would give provisional residency, right, to a young person who came across the border, brought as a child by their parent.

And there would be a conditional residency given to that kid, now a teenager or whatever, if they pursue education, a four-year education. Would you say, yes, they get an education or no, we should deport that child?

GINGRICH: No, I think that's one of the things we would look at. I've suggested we create citizen review panels and look at those kinds of cases one by one.

If somebody does have a record of being a good for the community, if they have an American family that will sponsor them, I think that there's a possibility that they could get residency permission to go to school.

And, frankly, if you had an expanded student visa program, they could be eligible for a visa so they would have residency requirements and would not be any anyway expelled if they were going to school.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question of something else that you mentioned while you were taking questions from the audience. You were talking about gay adoption and you said that the church, the Catholic Church was forced to close its adoption centers.

Isn't what really happened that if the church decided it was going to continue to take federal funds and have access to those foster children, that they couldn't discriminate against gay couples who wanted to adopt, they weren't really forced to close, they made the decision.

GINGRICH: No, no. They were forced to close because you're saying to religious group, give up your religion. I mean, that's absurd. The idea that the state would impose its secular values on a religious organization is an absurdity.

O'BRIEN: If you want funding, but isn't that if you want funding --

GINGRICH: No. No. In Massachusetts --

O'BRIEN: You can do whatever you want but if you want funding --

GINGRICH: No, that's not true. That's not true. There are states now, including the District of Columbia, which essentially adopt laws that say you can't offer an adoption service unless you meet the secular standards of the state. They are, in effect, saying that the secular standards of the state are more important than religious freedom. I think it is inherently anti-Christian and anti- Jewish. It's in favor of a secular model that I think is wrong. I think it's wrong for the government to impose its values on religion. That's the whole point of the First Amendment, is to not have the government imposing values on religion.

O'BRIEN: Speaker Gingrich, I thank you for joining us this morning. We're about to lose our satellite window --

GINGRICH: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: -- so I will say good-bye to you.

GINGRICH: All right.

O'BRIEN: We appreciate your time. And we'll see how you do in the race tonight. Thank you. Wow, there's a lot to talk about straight ahead this morning. Going to take a break first though. First, we're going to talk about outrage as Mississippi's governor is going to pardon four killers as the governor is going out the door. We're going to speak to a family member straight ahead, right after this short break. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Back with our panel.

David Frum, he seemed low key to me.

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. He's not expecting good news today. Another thing that emerged from you interview that was interesting is when Newt Gingrich declined to comment on the super PAC. That's obviously for legal reasons. But I have kept a lot of skepticism of these anti-Romney ads are really going to materialize. Newt Gingrich may be able to go on an attack against Romney, but are his donors. The people, he said, have given him $5 million. But --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: So he wouldn't commit until he spent the money.

FRUM: And did the people who give up the $5 million to say, OK, you can have it, but be nice with it?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLICY ANALYST: This is another angle. If you are Rick Santorum, after New Hampshire, would you rather have Newt Gingrich stay in the race and spend money to ding Mitt Romney or get out of the race and make it easier for you to unite social conservatives in South Carolina? It's not an easy call. Even if Gingrich is aiming at Mitt Romney, he may be inadvertently helping Romney by fragmenting the vote most resistant to him.

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: If I'm a campaign manager, I want him out.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: You want him out?

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Is that because --

BROWNSTEIN: Take your money and go home.

O'BRIEN: -- to some degree, he is mad and he's a wrecking ball?

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: That is always the factor of, like, because he's mad.

ROSEN: Or it's just numbers. (CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: You can't collect delegates if the numbers are too diffused.

BROWNSTEIN: Divide and conquer.

ROSEN: Until this field shrinks, there's nobody that can get the numbers against Romney.

BROWNSTEIN: It's divide and conquer, is the watch word for Romney.

FRUM: The whole Newt Gingrich empire over the past dozen years has been funded on the assumption that one day he would be the Republican nominee for president.

O'BRIEN: If he takes to much collateral damage, that would end all that.

FRUM: But if he loses it, what happens to him afterwards. What is his post-campaign like?

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Much more to talk about this morning --

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: -- will go beyond, whether Gingrich is in or out.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, yes. That's true. That's true.

O'BRIEN: All right, we'll keep talking about that.

Also, we're talking this morning about what's happening in the state of Mississippi. People there outraged by the outgoing governor pardoning four convicted killers. We'll talk this morning to a family member of one of the victims.

And Jon Huntsman coming on strong in New Hampshire. Is it too late though? We'll look at his numbers straight ahead. We'll talk to his wife, Mary Kaye, and find out more about the more about the man and his mission as we continue right here.

And no drama Obama? Not anymore. We'll take a look at the shakeup at the White House. His chief of staff is out. You want to know why? We'll take a look. STARTING POINT is back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has pardoned four killers as he's moving his way out of office. All of them worked as trustees at his mansion. One was just recently denied parole. As you can imagine, the victims' families are outraged today. One of the men who's being pardoned is David Gatlin, who shot and killed his estranged wife, Tammy Ellis Gatlin, back in 1993 with her two-month-old child in her arms. Her friend, Randy Walker, survived. He had been shot in the head. He says laws that allow killers to walk free need to be changed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RANDY WALKER, SHOOTING SURVIVOR: If the governor or any governor has the right to single-handedly circumvent the entire judicial system, I think the governor himself ought to have to look me and the family in the eye and say, hey, I'm going to let this guy go. But there wasn't any of that. That's the coward's way out if you ask me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Then there's Ricky Montgomery. He was a store clerk who was shot and killed in a holdup in another.

Mark McAbee is Ricky's nephew and he joins us by phone from Memphis.

Thanks for talking with us, Mark.

When did you learn that Joseph Ozmand (ph), who was sentenced to life in prison and will now be free, when did you learn he'll be released?

MARK MCABEE, NEPHEW OF SHOOTING VICTIM (voice-over): We got a call on Saturday letting us know that he would be released on Sunday.

O'BRIEN: And does this mean -- he's being pardoned, so that essentially means it's a clean slate for him?

MCABEE: That is correct. That is my understanding, that he was granted a full pardon, which means that it will not follow him. There will be no record of this basically. And basically like it never happened. He is a free man and able to walk among you and I and nobody ever know it.

O'BRIEN: He doesn't have to report to a parole officer as well. I have to imagine that this is very upsetting not just for you but all your family members.

MCABEE: It is. It is. And the fact that we cannot get any answers as to why it happened. (INAUDIBLE). We can't get any answers.

O'BRIEN: Have you tried? Have you tried to reach out to the governor's office and get an explanation for why they're doing this and why they've given you such short notice about the pending release?

MCABEE: We've tried. We've gotten no communication back from anybody on it giving us no communication. The only thing that we can get is it was the law. And Haley Barbour went through a process. What that process is, we don't know. And we can't -- (CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: So it was law. There's been a process. Yes?

MCABEE: Right, yes --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: So I assume that means you'd want changes to the law. So what are you going to do now? It's too late. Once they're pardoned, there's nothing you can do, I guess from this point. What do you plan to do in the future?

MCABEE: That's right. We're going to have to check into the things we can do. What laws do we need to change? Things like this don't need to happen. Something this important doesn't need to be in the hands of one person. We have committees. And as it's come out before, two weeks prior to this, one of these individuals was denied parole, you know? We can't fathom what was going through this process. I can't imagine. If I had to go to Haley Barbour and say, ask one question, it's definitely why did you do this? I want you to explain this to me because, at this point, I do not understand what you're doing.

O'BRIEN: Not good enough for parole but then completely pardoned by the governor. Obviously, lots of questions that will have to be answered.

Mark McAbee joining us by phone from Memphis.

Thanks. We appreciate you calling us and talking to us this morning.

Still to come this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk about Jon Huntsman. He's been flying under the radar a bit. But will New Hampshire be his coming-out party? I'll talk about that with his wife, Mary Kaye, straight ahead.

STARTING POINT continues right after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)