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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Mitt Romney Wins New Hampshire Primary; Political Analysts Look at GOP Presidential Race Going Forward; Barbour Pardons Nearly 200; No Shovels and 18 Feet of Snow; Romney Romps To Victory In New Hampshire; Bain Of Romney's Existence?; Van Der Sloot Plea; No New Evidence In Wood Case; Boozy Binges; Parents of Robert Champion Sue Bus Company; Who did New Hampshire Voters Vote For?

Aired January 11, 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. You're watching "Starting Point." I'm Soledad O'Brien. And once again, we are in Chez Vachon in Manchester, New Hampshire where we have breakfast every morning this week. Our starting point this morning is, of course, politics and the fight in South Carolina. Mitt Romney, as you know now, breezed through the first primary of 2012. He now faces now a pivotal test in the state that often decides the election. He's got momentum, he's got money, so, can he win it all? We're going to talk to Governor Romney fresh off his win, straight ahead this morning.

Plus, the chief of the DNC says while Romney's double-digit primary win was a loss, now, that is spin. We're going to talk to Debbie Wasserman Schultz to explain that one to us. I'm not sure I'm following it.

Plus, fear and anger in Mississippi today. We told you yesterday about Governor Haley Barbour using his pardon as a governor's power to be able to release convicted killers who were working at his home. We're going to hear from a man this morning who was shot in the head by one of these convicted killers.

He went on to shoot (INAUDIBLE) while she was holding her baby. We're going to talk him about how he is feeling this morning after this hard (ph).

And then, there are, I guess, you could say a silver lining for pot smokers, a silver lining in your habit. We'll tell you the latest research about smoking pot, yes, right here. You don't want to miss that.

And then a shovel-ready project, 18 feet of snow in Alaska and no way to get out.

STARTING POINT begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. As I mentioned we are back at Chez Vouchon. You know for the last couple of days we've been telling you about the breakfast specials that they have. But we move right to the cake. This is actually what I like to have for breakfast. It is a pistachio cake. The owner, everybody calls him B but his name is Robert, he got this recipe for his mom who has this every year for her birthday. This is a green cake with slightly green icing. We're going to try that this morning. I like that, sugar to get us going.

But we're really talking this morning about a historic night in New Hampshire. And yesterday we were talking about what was going to be a historic night, and, of course, it happened as many people predicted. Mitt Romney is the first non-incumbent Republican to win in Iowa and then right in New Hampshire. And he did it very convincingly, with 95 percent of the votes counted, Romney had 40 percent. Ron Paul came in second with 23 percent. Jon Huntsman came in third at 17 percent. The rest of the field, Newt Gingrich in fourth with 10 percent, Rick Santorum at nine percent, Rick Perry has had that one percent number really for the last week plus.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: The John Conley of the 21st century.

O'BRIEN: Which is not the greatest tight to hold, I think.

BROWNSTEIN: That's right.

O'BRIEN: Let get right to our panel. Ron Brownstein, he's CNN senior political. David Frum is back with us. He is a former speech writer for President George W. Bush. Jamal Simmons is national democratic editor for govote.com at Atlanta. We've got CNN's Christine Romans. She's got all the exit polls for us this morning. Let's get going. I'm going to start with you, Christine, because you have the numbers.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Look at independents first. Ron Paul won this category no, surprise there. But what was kind of surprising is that --- or maybe not surprising to your political guests there. Mitt Romney had 29 percent of the independent votes. So obviously the independents like the sort of New England moderate the Romney has a reputation for. How that plays out in South Carolina will be a totally different story.

In terms of those who are not satisfied with any of the candidates, Huntsman got this one. We had seen people holding their nose for Romney when you looked at the electability issue. But Huntsman edging out Ron Paul for those not satisfied with the candidates.

Looking at Christian evangelical, too, Romney beat out Santorum in New Hampshire and Ron Paul came in third there. Huntsman came way down. And then I want to look at income real quickly and wrap it up. Romney comes out for people with $50,000 to $100,000 a year, and then Paul comes in after that with $23,000. This is the exit polling. And it had a good turnout, too, a good turnout overall. But this demographic is very different from South Carolina.

O'BRIEN: It really is. If you look toward South Carolina, completely difference story. Let's start with playing a little bit of what Governor Romney said in his acceptance -- everybody did an acceptance speech. He was the real winner, though. So let's play his acceptance speech, part of it first.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We know that the future of this country is better than eight percent or nine percent of unemployment. It's better than $15 trillion in debt. It's better than the misguided policies and broken promises of the last three years and failed leadership of one man. The president has run out of ideas. Now he's running out of excuses.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: He literally turned his attention right to Obama.

BROWNSTEIN: In Iowa the story for Romney was divide-and-conquer. He won despite a very modest performance among key Republican groups like evangelical Christians and strong Tea Party supporters. It was shock and awe. He ran the table and won every group except for young voters and independents. He won convincing among every group.

And not only did he win big, the rest of the field fell in order they would prefer. Ron Paul came in second, a candidate with a low ceiling blocking anyone else. And the big winner in Iowa, Rick Santorum, like many social conservatives before him, came to New Hampshire and spent a couple of days fighting about gay marriage and whether it would lead to polygamy, and ended up six percent of the vote of non-evangelicals. And Jon Huntsman, months and months of commitment of the state, won 10 percent of self-identified Republicans. Depending on voters at the periphery --

O'BRIEN: The question is where does he go. One of my favorite speeches was Ron Paul's speech because it was, I laughed out loud when I heard this. This was his thank you at the end of last night. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There was one of her acknowledgement I wanted to make. I wanted to thank the "Union Leader" for not -- for not endorsing me.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: How much steam, how much power does he roll out of a New Hampshire win and into South Carolina? It's sort of a good news/bad news story for him.

JAMAL SIMMONS, FORMER DNC COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER: It was a big night for Ron Paul, so I think, you know, mitt Romney had a good night. Ron Paul had a good night. The problem for Ron Paul, some of the states, going to South Carolina, doesn't have the same libertarian, independent streak, particularly in South Carolina, one of the states that sends a lot of people to the military. His chances on cutting back military spending are not going to go over so good down there. DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Also, independents are not moderates. The independent part of the American electorate has grown over the past four or five years because of bleeding from the right wing of the Republican Party. Jonathan Rauch, a writer for "National Journal," has called them de-branded Republicans. What you see are people angry at the Republican Party for not being conservative enough.

O'BRIEN: These are not people who are going to go and be Democrats.

FRUM: Exactly. They're not reachable for Barack Obama. And as Mitt Romney emerges as the choice of the party, there are people going to pull back to him because they are going to say -- they are the people who dislike Barack Obama the most.

O'BRIEN: Before we get to that to that question, let's bring in Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She's here. Come to breakfast. We're going to throw a mic on you. Have a piece of pie. It's quite delicious.

As you're getting miced up I'm going to ask you this question because you had a tweet. I get that your gig is the spin. I totally 100 percent understand that. But this was your tweet. "Romney's failure to perform better in New Hampshire primary who both his campaign and his candidacy. How can you say major setback when, really, 40 percent, that was higher than many people predicted. We showed the exit polls which showed him high in all the categories that many people thought he couldn't be strong. How is that a major setback?

SCHULTZ: First of all, there was a pretty significant drop-off in the Republican turnout. And that's as a result of the voters in New Hampshire, particularly on the Republican side, being pretty unenthusiastic about the entire field. I think Mitt Romney was at 39 percent. This is ostensibly his home state. He's got a family home here. He was governor of the state next door. So to not crack 40 percent in a primary that you should have droves of Republicans coming to the polls to vote for you, that's a problem. He's here as -- he came out of this primary now as a wounded candidate.

O'BRIEN: Barack Obama, back in 2008, he got 36.6 percent of the vote. He --

DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, CHAIR, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: But he didn't live in the state next door and served as governor for four years. Mitt Romney has a family home here, was governor in the state next door for four years, has been basically been campaigning for president here for seven years and was not able to crack 40 percent of the vote.

O'BRIEN: How bad is that going to be ultimately down the road?

SCHULTZ: It's a drop-off in the turnout, Soledad. There is really a lack of enthusiasm for Mitt Romney in particular, for the whole field. I mean, they should have been blowing the doors off the turnout. If their singular goal is to beat Barack Obama, they should increase the turnout from the last primary.

(CROSSTALK)

FRUM: No, that's completely wrong. Given the mood of the Republican Party today, given how angry it is and how much to the right it has moved, a candidate here would have racked up a huge Republican total, 60 percent of the vote, would have been unelectable in the general election. All the reasons that the Republicans have been cooled toward Mitt Romney are reasons that would make him a formidable candidate in the general.

Here we have a guy that brought universal health care to Massachusetts. In this electorate it's seen as a bug. In the general electorate, the fact that he can do that, that would be a feature. He is somebody who is hugging the middle. That's going to be his benefit with the nation.

SIMMONS: He's going to flip from being for health care now against the health care plan for the primary and then back --

FRUM: He has never disavowed the health care plan.

(CROSSTALK)

FRUM: Apart from the results what do you think Democrats learned about Romney as a candidate, particularly in the last few days as he came under heavier fire from other Republicans?

SCHULTZ: Well, clearly that he won't shy away from demonstrating how dramatically out of touch he is with working families and middle class voters. To say -- and I know you're going to come back and say it was out of context. But to say out loud that you enjoy firing people, no matter what --

O'BRIEN: It was out of context. He was talking about insurance companies. I can get it. It was really, really not smart to say that when tapes are rolling and going to repeat it.

SCHULTZ: Any time an employment relationship comes to an end, it's never enjoyable. So for him to say that was demonstrative of how out of touch he is. Like when he said corporations were people. Like when he said that we should let the foreclosure crisis just hit bottom and have investors come in and scoop up the properties and do nothing for people.

O'BRIEN: All the gaffes, he is theoretically, he's a smart man, he's going to improve on his performance. We were calling it self- inflicted wounds. He got better in the debates as he went along. We have to say that he will get better as he goes along. Does that help the Democrats that this is out this early or hurt the Democrats? At some point do they talk and we talked about Bain, we talked about Bain six months ago. Move on.

BROWNSTEIN: What I think is that mitt Romney has won a couple of big battles, Iowa, New Hampshire. But he is losing a larger war about defining himself. What is he is in the midst of now an onslaught of attack from rivals and Democrats about his senior at Bain. He has not come up with a compelling way to explain that part of his life. You know what, this reminds me of an awful lot of a ten-day period in 2004 when John Kerry couldn't come up with a way to respond to the swift boat attacks.

O'BRIEN: If it happens now and eventually if you muddle through it, that by the time -- September is a much worse time to be trying to figure that out.

SCHULTZ: Soledad, this election is going to be a dramatic contrast between Mitt Romney or whoever they end up nominating, but if it's Mitt Romney, and President Obama, because Mitt Romney clearly is support v of making sure that keep the wind at the backs of people doing well, millionaires and billionaires and people who are doing just fine.

O'BRIEN: I hear the talking points.

SCHULTZ: No, it's not talking points. It's reality. This is a guy who has consistently said we should extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest, most fortunate Americans, as opposed to standing up and fighting for the middle class.

BROWNSTEIN: I think more is going to come out. The answer is that this is not the end of the day.

SCHULTZ: It's just the beginning.

BROWNSTEIN: The argument you can make in the Republican primary is that the opponents are attack for enterprise, that's going to be election effective. It's going to need a more compelling way to explain. As I said yesterday, I think it is an absolute pivot point of this election. We get to November and most Americans believe improve the economy or --

O'BRIEN: Lies and one-line answers. Stop, stop.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Stop, stop, commercial break. I have lost control of my panel. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, nice to have you here.

SCHULTZ: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Have pistachio cake. It's delicious.

SCHULTZ: Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: You want to stay with CNN for the best political coverage on TV because we don't stop. Tonight at 6:00 p.m., of course, John King will have a one-on-one with Rick Perry and 9:00 p.m. eastern time Piers Morgan with Newt Gingrich.

First, though, we want to check on some of the other stories that are making news this morning, Christine Romans is doing that duty for us with stock market news. ROMANS: Good stuff there again today, Soledad. Nice to see you. Good news in the stock market, growing optimism over the handling of Europe's debt crisis, growth in the U.S. economy. Both of those reasons push the DOW to the highest level yesterday since July. You know, DOW down seven percent for the year. This morning, you know, a little bit of trepidation. Fears about Europe creeping back in. Stock futures for the DOW and NASDAQ all trading lower ahead of the opening bell. Ratings agency Fitch warning, quote, about a cataclysmic collapse of the euro if the European Central Bank does not buy up more Eurozone debt to stabilize that region.

In just a few hours Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives in Cuba continuing a whirlwind tour of Latin America that's already taken him to Venezuela and Nicaragua. He is meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro today, and the trip is an effort to strengthen diplomatic and economic ties in the region. A live report from Havana coming up next hour.

Penn State losing another Paterno. Quarterback's coach Jay Paterno has resigned after 17 years on the job. His father, the legendary Joe Paterno, was fired in the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Jay Paterno's departure was expected.

Smoking pot is not hazardous to your health, at least not if you use it in moderation. The results of a 20-year study just published in "The Journal of the American Medical Association" found that occasional marijuana use doesn't do the kind of damage to your lungs that cigarettes do.

And the FDA scrambling this morning to test orange juice imported from brazil for traces of a chemical fungicide that is not approved for use on oranges in the U.S. Brazil is the world's largest provider of orange juice. It provides 10 percent of the U.S. supply. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: All right, Christine. Thank you for the update. STARTING POINT continues after this short break.

A governor pardoned nearly 200 people, including 14 killers. Of course victims' family members are devastated this morning. We're going to check in with CNN's senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin and talk about how this could happen.

Plus, Mitt Romney fresh off his big victory last night is going to join us in just about 15 minutes. Some strong opposition faces him though with some new attack ads in South Carolina. We'll talk about that and what his strategy is amid the social conservatives.

And then a town that's buried under 18 feet of snow, but there's something critical that they are lacking.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We're coming to you from Chez Vachon this morning. That's a really beautiful shot right here from Manchester, New Hampshire. And inside, warm and toasty. We're having a little bit of breakfast.

We're talking this morning about Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. He just left office. But right before he did he pardoned just about 200 criminals including a guy who's named David Gatlin. Back in 1993, Gatlin shot and killed his estranged wife. She was literally holding their baby when she was killed. Her mother, the woman's mother was absolutely heartbroken. Here's what she said.

(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?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Jeff Toobin is CNN's Senior Legal Analyst and he's in New York today. And Radley Balko is a senior writer for "The Huffington Post." He wrote about Haley Barbour's pardon record back in 2009. Nice to have you both. I should mention that you are joining us, Radley, by Skype because your shot is not as good as Jeff Toobin's shot.

Jeff, we're going to start with you, if you will. So explain to me the power that the governor has to basically pardon whoever he chooses to. Where does that power come from? How does it work?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It really goes back to before the American Revolution. This is the power of kings. This is a vestige of the absolute power that leaders used to have before we had our American Revolution. And this is one of the very few powers that is carried over almost entirely intact.

There is no check on a governor or a president's power pardon. There is no check on -- there is no way to undo it. And it is an absolute power so that any governor can pardon someone and it's not just like their sentence has ended. It is like the conviction never took place. So anyone who receives a pardon can vote --

O'BRIEN: We have, Jeff, the Executive Order --

TOOBIN: Pardon?

O'BRIEN: Yes. Let me run through this. The Executive Order from the State of Mississippi which we have here says that David Gatlin has a full, complete, and unconditional pardon. So you were saying he can vote. Does that mean he can bear arms? He basically has the rights of any other citizen, is that right?

TOOBIN: Exactly. That's it.

O'BRIEN: All right. So, Radley, I want to ask you a question about the history of Haley Barbour in terms of pardoning. There was a point kind of early on where he wasn't pardoning anybody. What changed?

RADLEY BALKO, SENIOR WRITER, "THE HUFFINGTON POST": Well, just to add a little bit to Mr. Toobin's point. I mean, the founders intended to pardon power to be sort of a last check on injustice. So, you know, in cases where somebody might have been wrongfully convicted or, you know, they were correctly convicted but their, you know, their conviction was -- resulted in some sort of injustice or wrong application of the law or a harsh sentence.

So -- but up until a couple years ago, basically one of his aides told me for an article I had written about a death penalty case down there that he wouldn't even read pardon petitions, that he was so against the pardon. And then the strange thing started happening a couple years ago where he was having these trustees who were working in the governor's mansion have been assigned tasks there, and, you know, he would get to know them and he started, you know, giving them pardons or commuting their sentences.

And the odd thing that they sort of all had in common is that they had all killed their wives or girlfriends. So here was this governor --

O'BRIEN: So, Radley, let me interrupt you there for a second. Let me stop you there for a second. So in these cases there was no sense that maybe there was a flaw in their trial. There was no sense that, you know, maybe these guys didn't do it and -- and pardoning them was sort of the morally right thing to do, was there?

BALKO: Yes. I mean, from what I can tell. And I haven't reviewed obviously all of these 200 new pardons and actually a few of them that I've seen there are some cases where there are questions of guilt but there are a lot where there aren't.

But particularly these pardons that he started with a couple years ago with these trustees, yes, there was no, you know, question of guilt. These are guys in some cases they pled guilty, in other cases it was, you know, very clear that they had done it.

And so it was a very sort of bizarre way to start using the pardon power. And, you know, it made -- raised a lot of questions. I mean I've written about a lot of cases in Mississippi where there are very troubling questions about guilt and certain expert witness testimony and a lot of other problems with the justice system down there. So it's very strange that he would start using the pardon power in these cases where guilt wasn't even in question.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask Jeff Toobin our final question this morning. You say, Jeff, there's no way to undo them. So what can the victims who are obviously devastated, the family members of the victims are obviously devastated. What recourse do they have?

TOOBIN: Basically none. I mean there is a remote -- remote possibility that the federal government could step in and prosecute these people for the same underlying facts or even people you may remember in the Rodney King case after a state acquittal there was a federal prosecution.

In certain cases, the federal government has the power to prosecute without violating the double jeopardy rights of the defendant. But given how long ago some of these cases are and given the facts as I understand them, I don't see any federal crime.

So I think the short answer is that the victims' families basically have no recourse except going to the press and complaining. And I think Haley Barbour who was once considered a possible presidential candidate is not going to be a possible presidential candidate anymore.

O'BRIEN: Jeff Toobin and Radley Balko joining us. And I should mention, gentlemen, that we're going to have a victim who survived a gunshot wound to the head talking with us a little bit later this morning and also the sister of one of the victims who was killed talking about what they plan to do next.

Also ahead this morning, we are talking about this FAMU, this brutal hazing ritual. Now, some prosecutors are saying that maybe it was a hate crime. We're going to talk to the victim's family, mom and dad has hired an attorney and the attorney will join us live straight ahead.

And then Mitt Romney, he is the victor, which means he's going to get more heat from his opponents. We'll talk to the governor about his southern strategy this morning.

Plus, snow in Alaska. It's not really a big story, but what is missing in this town in Alaska is kind of a big story. We'll update you on what's happening there as well. So we'll break. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. It is time to "Get Real" this morning on STARTING POINT.

Now, you know in Alaska, of course, they sort of mock those of us in the northeast when we complain about six inches of snow or eight inches of snow or even ten inches of snow because that's not really a snowpocalypse as we call it.

But in Cordova, Alaska, it's a fishing town that's accessible only by air or water in winter. National Guard troops have been called in to dig people out of their homes. Why? Because they have 18 feet of snow, piles are 18 feet deep.

Why do they need the military to help dig them out? They have no more shovels left in that town. They had been waiting for a shipment that didn't come in time. They got two more feet of snow overnight which means that there's no way those shipments are coming in and the shovels that they do have in the town have been snapping because there's so much snow and ice.

So forget "Get Real" this morning. Get help digging out for the folks who are in Cordova, Alaska.

Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk to Governor Mitt Romney live. He's fresh off a big victory last night. Now he faces a different kind of voter though in South Carolina. We're going to talk to him about that challenge and about his strategy. There's the governor right there.

Also, how many of us are binge drinking? The number was shocking, even to the researchers. We're going to talk about that straight ahead on STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We're coming to you live this morning from Chez Bouchon here in Manchester, New Hampshire. This is just one of the yummy and light breakfast in this restaurant.

Of course, we're talking about what happened last night here in New Hampshire. It's going go down in history, a non-incumbent Republican has never won Iowa and then New Hampshire and then it's on to South Carolina where the polls show that Mitt Romney might be ahead by double digits.

Governor Romney joins us right now from Manchester, New Hampshire. It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us. Last time we spoke after Iowa, you had just squeaked by, but today you are really celebrating quite a big win.

In your comments to the crowd that had come to see and support you, you focused immediately on President Obama. Is that the strategy now, it's all about Obama and you're not going to worry about the other Republicans who are in the race with you?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, of course, I pay attention to the fact that there are plenty of other people who want the chance to go up against President Obama.

And I have a long way to go before I get the nomination, if I'm lucky enough to get it. But I really think we're best off focusing on the failures of this president.

And in my case I want to demonstrate that I have the capacity to make America once again a great place for opportunity, for rising incomes, for job growth.

I think that's what people want to hear. They want to understand how we're going lead the country. That's what I'm going to be talking about

O'BRIEN: How much are you going to have to talk about abortion with Newt Gingrich running these new ads and he is mad and he is funded and he has said he's comfortable in South Carolina where he knows how to run a race there. He wants to focus on your record on abortion. Are you worried about that?

ROMNEY: Not worried in the slightest. Like Ronald Reagan before me, many years ago I changed from being pro-choice to pro-life. I'm pleased with having been a pro-life governor.

The Massachusetts Citizens for Life have written a letters describing my pro-life record as the Massachusetts governor. I know Speaker Gingrich is going to try and throw everything he can at me. He tried here in New Hampshire. It didn't work. Conservatives and Evangelicals got behind me in record numbers.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk a little bit about Bain Capital. I know that's a question you've been answering a lot. But get the sense that it's not a conversation that's going to go away.

I want to play a little bit of what Rick Perry, who came in with 1 percent of the vote so maybe he's not considered a big competitor about you. But this is what he said about you yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is a real difference between a venture capitalist and a vulture capitalist. Venture capitalists are good. They go in and inject their capital, they create jobs.

Bain Capital, on the other hand, it appears to me were vulture capitalists all too often. I don't get confused for a minute that Barack Obama and his team wouldn't attack Mitt Romney on that during a general election if he makes it that way.

So if nothing else, we're going doing Mitt a favor by exposing him early on so he can figure out how to defend that or, more importantly, and better for my perspective, he's not the nominee to begin with.

O'BRIEN: Well, there's a lot to talk about right there. OK, he calls you a vulture capitalist. It's true that this conversation keeps coming back. You haven't really been able to clear the Bain Capital conversation off the table.

So, one, are you a vulture capitalist? Is this going to be a big challenge for you to confront that kind of label from Governor Perry and, then number two, he says, but I'm doing him a favor by bringing it up now, is that true?

ROMNEY: Well, actually it's been brought up every time I've run, whether by Senator O'Brien in my race for governor that I won last time around four years ago it was brought up and everybody from the "New York Times" to the "Wall Street Journal" had taken a look.

And I understand that President Obama is going to try and put free enterprise on trial. But, you know, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich are going to be the witnesses for the prosecution. I'm not worried about that. They can take it as they like.

But you saw last night that that approach didn't work very well for either Rick Perry or Newt Gingrich. And so we'll take it to the next level. They'll find new attacks. I think in the final analysis people want someone who can lead the country back to strength with good jobs and rising incomes and all these attacks I think will fall entirely flat as they did last night.

O'BRIEN: Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is chair of the DNC as you well know. We have her sitting down having breakfast with us this morning joining our panel, which we would love to have you do, too at any point.

And one of the things she said was that this was not a victory and we asked her to explain herself. Here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: I think Mitt Romney was at 39 percent. This is sensibly his home state. He's got a family home here. He was governor of the state next door.

So to not crack 40 percent in a primary that you should have droves of Republicans coming to the polls to vote for you, that's a problem. He's here as a -- he came out of this primary now as a wounded candidate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: I get it. That her job, governor, is to spin, spin, spin, spin, spin. But doesn't she have a point about this is a place where you have lived and that number, while very good, is not 60 percent or 70 percent?

ROMNEY: You know, the president unopposed only got 80 percent last night. So, you know, I feel sorry for Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She's got to stand up for the president's record. That is pretty bad.

You've got almost 2 million people that have lost their jobs under this president. You have median income that has dropped by 10 percent over the last few years. You got 24 million people out of work or stopped looking for work.

This is a -- this is a failed presidency. People know that. They're going to do their very best to attack whoever the Republican Party puts forward.

But in the final analysis they can't defend their record and it's because of the president's failure that he's going to be replaced, at least in my view.

O'BRIEN: Governor Mitt Romney joining us this morning. Nice to see, you sir. Thanks for talking with us. We appreciate it and congratulations on your win last night.

Time to get a look at the other top stories making news this morning. Christine Romans has that for us. Hi, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. Well, today's decision day for Joran Van Der Sloot. In about 90 minutes, he's expected to reveal and approve in courtroom whether he will plead guilty to the 2010 murder of a young woman in a hotel room in Lima. Five days ago, he asked for time to reflect on his plea.

In Pakistan, the first U.S. drone strike since an attack mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November. The latest strike killed at least four suspected militants in the North Waziristan border region near the Afghan border.

Police say they have not found any new evidence that points to foul play in the 1981 drowning death of actress, Natalie Wood. This cold case was reopened about two months ago. The L.A. County Sheriff's office tells CNN the investigation is still not closed.

"Occupy Wall Street" protesters back in the park where it all began. Police have taken down the barricades around New York City's Zuccotti Park allowing people to return now.

About 200 folks are back overnight. The barriers were originally put in place in November after police evicted thousands who were camping out over night in the park.

And binge drinking, more common than ever thought. A new CDC study shows that binge drinkers knock them back more than once a week. And get this, each of those binges averages eight drinks.

Wow, all right, about 40 minutes past the hour. Let's get the morning's travel forecast. Rob is out that means Jacqui Jeras is in. Hi, there.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Christine. You might want to be drinking coffee or hot chocolate this morning because it is bitterly cold. A return of winter across the Upper Midwest and our other top weather story is an area of low pressure all across the southeast.

We're in some very rainy and some very foggy conditions here. We've got showers and thunder showers all across the area from Nashville down toward the Atlanta area. In fact, a ground stop now in effect in Atlanta, Hartsfield, Jackson International Airport due to those thunderstorms just until 7:45, 30-minute departure delays right now in Baltimore.

As the storm system rides up the coast, we do expect to see more delays and that cold air moving back in. We're going see snow tomorrow in Chicago. It could be heavy at times. So get ready for those temperatures to be dropping -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, we're ready, Jacqui.

Meantime, also watching the Dow this morning. The Dow rose to the highest level since July yesterday. It's up about 7 percent for the year now. But this morning fears again about Europe's debt crisis creeping back in.

Stock futures for the Dow, the NASDAQ, and the S&P 500 have all turned lower ahead of the opening bell. And later today, the Federal Reserve is going to release something called the Beige Book Report.

That summarizes the economic outlooks for the 12 fed banks across the country that will give us a read on where the fed at least thinks the economy is going this year -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, Christine. Thank you. We'll continue to watch that.

Still ahead this morning. Robert Champion, a FAMU band member who died during an alleged brutal hazing ritual. We're going to talk to his family's lawyer today.

The question now is was it a hate crime? That's straight ahead after this short break. Stay with us. You're watching STARTING POINT with Soledad O'Brien.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. The parents of Robert Champion, he is the FAMU band member who died in the alleged hazing incident, say, yes, their son was gay, but they don't think that played a part in his brutal beating death back in November.

Christopher Chestnut is representing Robert Champion's parents. He joins us from Orlando, Florida, this morning. Thanks for talking with us.

I know that you've been conducting, along with family, of course, your own investigation. What are you learning so far?

CHRISTOPHER CHESTNUT, ATTORNEY FOR CHAMPION FAMILY: Thus far, we've learned that, indeed, there was incident of hazing on November 19th. There were about 30 students on the charter bus that the charter bus on was, it was running, the air conditioner was on. There were more than one -- that more than one person was hazed that evening.

O'BRIEN: So Robert's parents have said, yes, our son is gay but they don't think that that's connected to the homicide. They say, in fact, it was the hazing that is what caused the homicide, not the fact that their son was gay. Is it possible that his sexual orientation made him a target, do you think?

CHESTNUT: You know, it may or may not have been a target. What we found that is inconsistent with the motive of those who perpetrated this crime upon Robert, this is a crime of hazing, not of hate. There is a long-standing, decade-long history of hazing at this institution and the band. So this is yet another smoke screen, Soledad. It's a very insensitive -- it's incomprehensible, really, that the institution would take this such a stance. They're trying to throw this on the students. If this is a crime, a hate crime, the school will say there's no way to know that the students would have punished him because he was gay. It's just not right. It's un-American to make such a statement, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes. I was going to ask you -- I was going to ask you, the former band director, Julian White, who was let go and -- then put on administrative leave, actually, said this, "It was less about hazing and more about battling him because he was gay." I was going to ask you, the motivation you think is to move the focus off the responsibility of the school or even the band director?

CHESTNUT: It is. It is. And you know, Soledad, in 2012, in America, whether you're gay or lesbian, black or white, blond or brunette, if you're qualified, you're qualified. Robert Champion was qualified. This is a case of hazing. And for the school to use this as a smoke screen to assign Robert Champion a scarlet letter because he was gay is just incomprehensible. It's infuriating. It's enraging. And I feel really bad for the family for having to endure this.

O'BRIEN: So others, though, who were on that bus say there were other people who were hazed, too, but it seemed like Robert was getting pummeled more than any other people, singled out and it because was more brutal for him. Why?

CHESTNUT: What we've learned is that Robert was the poster child of hazing -- of anti-hazing. So Robert threatened the very institution of hazing. So there's an institution of culture of hazing and basically it is you have to subject yourself to this hazing to be successful in the band. Well, Robert rose from the bottom of the ranks to the top of the ranks as a drum major and never subjected himself to hazing. He never agreed to it. So he threatened -- his success threatened the institution of the band and we think part of the motivation or the predominant motivation was retaliatory.

O'BRIEN: You're suing the bus company, which is where this hazing took place. And my understanding is that people in the band who are being hazed kind of had to make their way from the back of the bus to the front of the bus to see if they could get through without being beaten up. What grounds are you suing the bus company on?

CHESTNUT: We have a lot of questions about the bus company. Well, we have no liability, we did everything we could to protect this. That's not true. You know, we want to know, how did the students get on the bus. How did they start a charter bus? This is isn't a Chevrolet Malibu. How did they get the air conditioner on? Why were they on the bus so long and the bus was unsupervised for so long that they were able to perpetrate multiple incidents of hazing? There are a lot of questions surrounding the bus. We have spoken with people as far back as 2007. We know that this bus seat ritual happened in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010. In 2011 Robert Champion was killed. So there are a lot of questions that this bus company has to answer. We feel like they're partially responsible for his death.

O'BRIEN: Gosh, we have to imagine the family members that you represent want some of those answers to such a sad and terrible story.

Christopher Chestnut is the attorney for the family members.

Thank you for talking with us. We appreciate it.

Straight ahead this morning we're going go back to our panel, talking about voters. Who did they end up going with? We've been talking to the locals here about who they like, who they didn't like. Last night was a moment of truth. We'll continue that conversation.

And then look towards South Carolina. Is Mitt Romney a shoo-in or is there anyone who can stop him?

Plus, an immigrant helps police solve a murder and now he faces deportation and, he says, possibly death if he's sent back. We'll tell you his story straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You know, New Hampshire voters have a reputation for being fiercely Independent. There's the reason the state motto is "live free or die." These guys at the table are reasons why you haven't been able to hear me at points during the show over the last couple of days. They are so loud as they've been debating politics. So we've talked to them yesterday. Now, we want to follow up with how it went, who you voted for.

We're going to start with Dick.

You're an independent voter.

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Right.

O'BRIEN: You were thinking about -- you weren't sure going in.

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Right. That's right.

O'BRIEN: What ended up happening?

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Ended up voting for Huntsman.

O'BRIEN: Why?

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I thought he did a nice job during the campaign. Of course, when you're looking at the different aspects of the campaign, there's five or six different things. Nobody's going to have everything exactly the way you want it. He's the one that I kind of liked.

O'BRIEN: Kurt, you're an Independent as well.

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: You were leaning towards Rick Perry. Were you the 1 percent?

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Yes, but I didn't vote for him.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: You weren't part of that 1 percent vote he got yesterday.

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: No. O'BRIEN: Who did you end up going with?

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Ron Paul.

O'BRIEN: Yes?

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Because he's so radical, maybe if he doesn't win, at least some of the things he brings out will be brought in the forefront to anyone that runs for president. Let's make some drastic changes, which I think he can do.

O'BRIEN: All right. You made this.

Can we get a shot of this, guys?

This is an on/off switch. This is for Bucky because Bucky was kind of the talker yesterday. If you go along --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: -- put that switch on Bucky. That was really made for Ray Scott. But he's not here.

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I'm taking his place this morning.

O'BRIEN: You're an Independent?

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Yes.

O'BRIEN: But you had voted already.

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I voted yesterday morning before I even got here. I voted for Huntsman.

O'BRIEN: Yes, why?

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Well, again, you know, he did a good job in this state. I like his flat tax. I just like the way he talks and how he wants to bring this country forward, you know? He's there, you know? And I think that with a little push he'll do well around the United States.

O'BRIEN: I'm going to reach -- excuse me people at the end. We're on live TV right now. Give me a moment.

They're chitchatting in the middle of my interview.

George, way down here. I can barely reach down there. Independent also?

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Who did you end up voting for?

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I started as a Romney supporter. I got a text at three in the morning Thursday night, which woke me up. He went by. And I went to the polls thinking about voting for Santorum. Walked in and voted for Huntsman.

O'BRIEN: So this is really a Huntsman table here overwhelmingly, and yet your guy, while he did better than many thought he might do, is still in third place, a low third.

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I think Mrs. Huntsman had a lot to do with that yesterday.

O'BRIEN: Because she was here working the -- Oh!

(LAUGHTER)

She was charming the crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: She did very well. Very nice family. Super nice people. They were sincere. The daughters were sincere. You know this is all a revenue generator.

O'BRIEN: What do you mean?

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: All of this that's going on here. It's a revenue generator because what's happening is the Democratic camp is taking notes. Who are these people?

O'BRIEN: Are you Independents who would potentially go to the Democratic side?

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: No.

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: No.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Not this time around because no one wants -- a lot of people just don't like what Obama did. There are people at this table, who are strong, strong Obama supporters, you know. But he has not done the job I was looking for. I know my friend said that he saved the country financially, but I really don't think that covers him.

O'BRIEN: So Huntsman is probably -- I think there's reason to say he will not be the candidate going into the general election. It looks like, at this point, at least, it would be Mitt Romney. Would you support Mitt Romney with all the energy and fervor against Barack Obama?

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: We'll have to stand behind our -- well, my second choice was Romney because he's a New England son, so I like that part of it. I'd like to have somebody from our end of the woods here that's going to be president.

O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you, gentlemen.

You're so quiet and calm. These guys have been doing nothing but making noise like this during our show.

UNIDENTIFIED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Not really.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Well, you know. You're not miked. I can't reach you down there.

(CROSSTALK)

Now you're talking?

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: We've got to take a short break. Hang on. We'll continue our conversation in the commercial break.

When we come back, we'll talk about Governor Mitt Romney and the rest of the field as they make their way to South Carolina. What is the southern strategy now? That's when STARTING POINT is back in just a moment. Stay with us.

What were you going to say?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Well, it looks like a beautiful day here in Manchester, New Hampshire. We're at Che Vechon (ph) once again. A wonderful restaurant. We've been scarfing down. I started with the cake this morning because --

(LAUGHTER)

-- I figured why --

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I noticed.

O'BRIEN: Why waste time with breakfast food? You go right to the cake.