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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Huntsman Dropping Out of Race; Two Americans Missing After Cruise Accident

Aired January 16, 2012 - 05:00   ET

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


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

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're bringing you the news from A to Z. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

BANFIELD: Is it ever.

SAMBOLIN: Let's get started here.

Jon Huntsman is going to drop out of the GOP race today. CNN was the first to report this. He also says he will endorse Romney. We're going to get more details on that.

BANFIELD: And also, if you've been looking, there are some pictures that are mind boggling -- a cruise ship much, much bigger than the Titanic on its side. There are reports of six dead now, two Americans among the missing and harrowing tales from those who survived. And the captain has got some explaining to do. He is being asked by authorities there, why did you leave that ship?

SAMBOLIN: And the first chance for overseas markets to react to the mass downgrade of European nations. Will you pay for the mess in Europe later this week? Will it affect us at all?

BANFIELD: I always wonder, Europe, schm-Europe, really? It's going to I mean, a lot of people say, watch, watch, watch. But honestly.

OK. So, were you watching last night?

SAMBOLIN: No.

BANFIELD: Golden Globes? You go to bed at 6:00, don't you?

SAMBOLIN: I try to. Last night, it didn't quite work out that way. My daughter wanted to talk. I didn't watch. I didn't see the end.

BANFIELD: Hard for us to watch. But the highlights are taboo. If you were watching, Rick Gervais, he's done it again, folks. Some great winds for George Clooney. But the big story might be the silence is golden, because if you haven't seen the artist by now, have you seen it?

SAMBOLIN: I have not seen it.

BANFIELD: Are you going to se it?

SAMBOLIN: If it's not rated P.G., I'm not going to watch it these days. So, probably not anytime soon.

BANFIELD: If it's not animation. Well, certainly, Ricky Gervais was not P.G. at all.

SAMBOLIN: I hear the fashion was fantastic also.

BANFIELD: Julianne Moore looked unbelievable. And I didn't stay up to watch the whole thing.

Lots of news today, though.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my gosh, and then there were five. It is the end of the road for Jon Huntsman. The announcement is expected to come a little later today. Huntsman will urge the party to finally come together and rally behind Romney. He felt that he was holding Mitt Romney back.

BANFIELD: And CNN have this story first. It's what we like to call breaking news, folks.

Our CNN political reporter Peter Hamby, who is live in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, joins us right now on the phone.

All right, Peter. Not even on the phone. You got yourself in front of a camera, too. Glad about that at 5:02 in the morning Eastern.

Peter, I am always very jealous when somebody breaks news like this because everyone has picked up on this. But I'm never jealous when it's a teammate. So, how did you do it?

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Sources, you no he, been covering the race, this Republican race specifically for about four years. So, you get to know people and you know if they feel like they want to have a story out there, sometimes they just call you first.

BANFIELD: Foregone conclusion, though.

HAMBY: I was driving down here to Myrtle Beach when I got the phone call. Possibly.

SAMBOLIN: So, when can we expect the big announcement? When can we expect the big announcement?

HAMBY: Big announcement will be -- yes, 11:00 a.m. here in Myrtle Beach, right behind me at the convention center. There's the big debate. This is the center of the Republican universe tonight. Everyone will be here. So, every television camera will be able to catch this.

Was it a foregone conclusion? Probably. After Jon Huntsman's third place finish in New Hampshire, it was sort of disappointing for him. He came down here to South Carolina without a ton of momentum, almost no money and no staff. He wasn't really catching on. It is surprising, though, that he's endorsing Mitt Romney. They are sort of the same wing of the party, that moderate establishment wing. But there's a lot of bad blood between the Huntsman and Romney families going back at least a generation here. And the staffs, I can tell you, do not really like each other very much.

So it's going to be pretty interesting. Jon Huntsman has said very negative things about Mitt Romney, basically that he can't beat Obama. Democrats are feasting on that. And they will later today when this press conference happens.

BANFIELD: Oh, Lord, you and I go back in politics long enough to remember Bush/McCain and how ugly that was. And then we all saw John McCain, I endorsed President Bush. I endorsed President Bush.

This sort of thing happens all the time. But what I thought was so weird was the timing. Because didn't a nice big fat endorsement come from South Carolina's biggest newspaper of all people, for Jon Huntsman today?

HAMBY: It absolutely did. Yesterday, the state newspaper in Columbia, which is the biggest in the state, they endorsed John McCain last time who was, of course, the winner, picked him saying he had the right judgment to be president. Usually when things like that happen, you might wait a day or two just to give you some pad so it doesn't look awkward.

But again, today is a big day in South Carolina because there's a debate. So, the timing kind of made sense to do it when the entire press corps was here in Myrtle Beach -- guys.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Peter Hamby, live in South Carolina for us, thank you.

BANFIELD: Nice break. And if that isn't proof enough, you're going to keep it on CNN right through November for the best political coverage on television. On Thursday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, it's the Southern Republican presidential debate right here live on CNN. Don't miss it.

SAMBOLIN: And this Saturday, the road to the Republican nomination for president stops in South Carolina. Tune in to CNN Saturday night, January 21st at 6:00 p.m. Eastern for the most comprehensive primary coverage you can ever find.

BANFIELD: And we're going to skip out of politics for a moment to give you more of an update on this incredible story that has been developing over the weekend, a sixth body has now been found aboard that capsized cruise ship off of the coast of Italy. It's now estimated more than a dozen people have not been accounted for and the search continues. Two of those unaccounted for: American citizens, Gerald and Barbara Heil.

They are grandparents who hail from Minnesota, apparently. Children say that they were looking forward to this trip for a long time. It was a retirement trip for them. The American embassy in Rome is confirming at this point that this couple has not yet checked in.

SAMBOLIN: And from the beginning, questions have surrounded the captain's actions. The captain was arrested over the weekend. And now, his employer says he may even have been responsible. Quote, "While the investigation is ongoing, preliminary indications are that there may have been significant human error on the part of the ship's master, Captain Francesco Schettino, which resulted in these grave circumstances."

Listen to what the captain says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAPTAIN FRANCESCO SCHETTINO, SHIP'S CAPTAIN (through translator): I don't know if it was detected or not. But on the nautical chart, it was marked just as water, some 100 to 150 meters from the rocks. And we were about 300 meters from the shore more or less. We shouldn't have had this contact.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: What's amazing in this story is that not only are the prosecutors in Italy considering I think manslaughter charges against the captain, but they've now also got the first officer, Ciro Ambrosio, he is now being detained as well on similar types of charges.

It's incredible that what people are saying on board, that it was mass chaos, that they had no idea what was going on, and it was every man for himself.

SAMBOLIN: And these are actually live pictures that we're showing you right now of the ship.

You know, another thing that strikes me, Ashleigh, is really interesting is that the ship apparently sailed at 7:00 p.m., right? And within 24 hours, they are supposed to do these drills. And it was schedule for 5:00 p.m. I'm curious as to why that long wait to schedule a drill that you would think that is so vitally important in case of an emergency like this.

BANFIELD: Yes. And I heard something really fascinating as well. When you think about how terrible the circumstance is, also remember there were 4,000 plus people on board. So if you think of an airline disaster, this is multiples of 20, take 20 aircraft and crash them and then try to evacuate that many people. So, it's a -- I mean, as bad a story as this is, if you look at the pictures, it could be so much worse.

SAMBOLINK: All right. So, we have Dan Rivers live on the phone right now in Giglio, Italy, I think it is.

So, Dan, we're talking about the details behind this, the chaos. What can you tell us? Actually specifically about that issue of having to have this drill within 24 hours and it being scheduled so late.

DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): I'm having real trouble hearing you guys, I'm afraid.

But let me just tell you what the situation is here right now. The search and rescue teams have been going all through the night, divers trying to search for survivors in more than 2,000 cabins inside this enormous liner that is still lying on its side here. We are told that there are still 16 people missing, including two U.S. citizens.

So far, six bodies have been found. A sixth body was found overnight. And the fire commanders that we've been talking to overnight have been telling us they plan to continue searching the ship until they have concerns that there are no more bodies or survivors inside. And that clearly could take them quite a long time.

It is effectively like a sort of skyscraper lying on its side, this ship. It's enormous, bigger than the town in which it is in front of. So, it's a massive task. Overnight they had about 120 people searching. And that will continue in shifts of four hours that they're rotating today, until they're certain that they have got everyone out.

BANFIELD: Just think how ominous this would be.

Dan Rivers, thanks so much. I know you're having trouble hearing us. We'll try to check in with you later.

Imagine these divers going into the hull and swimming through the blackened ship and trying to find survivors through cabins, passageways. Just awful.

SAMBOLIN: I wonder how you survive in those cold waters also.

BANFIELD: All right. U.S. markets closed today. It's the MLK holiday for some people, not for us.

SAMBOLIN: European markets are flat this morning following S&P downgrades of nine eurozone countries on Friday.

Alison Kosik. Is it Kosik?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It is Kosik.

SAMBOLIN: Checking the story for us.

BANFIELD: You're meeting people for the first time on the air live.

SAMBOLIN: It's nice to meet you. I saw you in make-up this morning, but I didn't get a chance to talk to you.

So, we really want to know what does this mean?

KOSIK: OK. For the U.S., you know, we kind of saw the reaction on Friday because it exploded. I was at the New York Stock Exchange all day and we did see the Dow plunge 160 points during the day. But by the time the closing bell rang, we only had modest losses.

So, you know what? This was already baked in. In fact, Standard & Poor's, which downgraded these nine eurozone countries, it had already put the eurozone on notice that this was going to happen.

So, everybody expected. We didn't see that market reaction. In fact, overnight, the European markets hardly seeing any reaction there as well.

Asian markets are down more than 1 percent each. But overall, not seeing a huge reaction.

Not really very surprised either. You know, you think about what happens in August in the U.S. We lost our top-tier credit rating, AAA. We went to AA plus. You know, we saw the Dow that day plunge 600 points, but the markets have certainly recovered and we didn't see a huge reaction in the bond markets, even to this day, that 10-year note is still under 2 percent.

BANFIELD: And then I was absolutely astounded watching Ali Velshi this weekend talking about how 10 years ago, I think it was the S&P downgraded Japan as well. It didn't really make a difference.

KOSIK: Yes, it doesn't. And what's interesting is that we're kind of all on the same playing field, aren't we? So, you know --

BANFIELD: AA is the best.

KOSIK: It seems like that seems to be the case. And, you know, at this point, you wonder, you know, these investors wonder, where are they going to put their money, where's the safest place to put their money? And at this point, they are putting it into U.S. treasuries because it's the safest best. They are also beginning to put their money back in equities, although very slowly, because the volume there is pretty light still.

But even with AA plus for the U.S., we're still the safest bet.

SAMBOLIN: And what about bank earnings?

KOSIK: Bank earnings. So, JPMorgan Chase started off sort of the big bank earnings on Friday. They came in as a big disappointment. JPMorgan shares plunged 2.35 percent on Friday.

And it was kind of worrisome because this week, we're going to get the whole litany of all the big banks. We're going to get Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs. They're all going to be reporting. And the investors are kind of worried about this because JPMorgan kind of set the tone and the tone at this point is not that great.

So, you're going to see U.S. investors focusing more I think on the bank earnings this week and on the housing reports coming out more so than the European downgrade.

SAMBOLIN: Housing reports?

KOSIK: Yes.

BANFIELD: I'm waiting for that. KOSIK: Me, too.

BANFIELD: Alison Kosik, you're adorable.

KOSIK: Oh, thanks.

BANFIELD: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

All right. It is 12 minutes past the hour.

The Northwest was slammed with snow. Did you know? And a messy week ahead in the Northeast.

Rob Marciano joining us with the very latest.

Nice to see you.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, guys. A little bit chilly up there. Winter finally arriving after being MIA for the first really couple of months of winter. Temperatures in the teens and even single numbers as far as the wind chills are concerned.

These are actual temperatures, though. So, in New York City, 16 degrees. Up in Boston, it's currently 10. With the wind there, it's feeling more like zero. Actual temperature in Albany is three. The actual temperature without the wind chill in Binghamton is two.

So, that's where the cold air is. We've got some cold air down to the South. But not quite enough to make too much of a mess. This is mostly rain heading across parts of the mid-South, and the mid- Tennessee Valley, heading towards Atlanta, into Nashville and Knoxville eventually.

A weak weather system that will make its way across the Mid-Atlantic throughout the day today. Another weak weather system is coming down across parts of Canada and a decent weather system coming across the Pacific Northwest where they've had issues.

Chicago, some showers and the wind. If you're traveling through that city, you'll have some issues. But most the delays today, including St. Louis and Dallas and Denver should be below the hour mark. Pacific Northwest, some snow yesterday. Check it out in Seattle, low- hand accumulating on the roadways. That's a rare event. A couple of inches in Seattle proper and more snow showers and accumulating snows throughout the week.

So that's rare enough as it is, as was our very mild start to the winter across the Northeast. So, at least it's good to see that things are getting a little bit more winter-like.

BANFIELD: Is that Seattle? Those pictures.

MARCIANO: You don't want people to get into chaos when they think that winter is not going to actually arrive. BANFIELD: That's really Seattle? Honestly?

MARCIANO: Yes. They'll get accumulating snow a couple times a year. Obviously, chaos ensues and the city shuts down. But that traffic at least looks to be rolling along fairly well.

BANFIELD: It makes me harken back to my days in Canada growing up. Pictures were like that in July. I'm kidding.

MARCIANO: Nostalgia. Nostalgia.

SAMBOLIN: Not quite like that. Thanks, Rob.

BANFIELD: Rob, thanks.

MARCIANO: All right, guys.

BANFIELD: It is now 14 minutes past 5:00 in the East. Time to get you caught up on top stories if you're getting ready to get out the door.

South Carolina, end of the line, my friends, for Jon Huntsman. CNN breaking that news that the former Utah governor is going to announce today, I'm done, bye-bye. I'm out of the Republican presidential race.

Mr. Huntsman placed third in the New Hampshire primaries after skipping Iowa altogether. The polls had him way back, like way back, in South Carolina. And now, he's expected to actually put his support behind Mitt Romney.

SAMBOLIN: And a sixth body has been found on board the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia. Two Americans were among the more than a dozen that are still unaccounted for. The cruise ship company says there may have been significant signs of human error on the part of the ship's captain who has been arrested in Italy. They are looking at manslaughter charges there.

BANFIELD: And if you're a Mini Cooper fan, guess what? Ninety thousand of these itty-bitty babies are being recalled because of a possible fire hazard.

SAMBOLIN: Ooh.

BANFIELD: Yes, fire. Federal officials are saying apparently it's a faulty circuit board on certain 2006 to 2011 models. That covers a bunch, 2006 to 2011.

Call your dealer, folks.

SAMBOLIN: That's a cute little car.

BANFIELD: They're adorable.

SAMBOLIN: Well, still to come on EARLY START, Congress makes history. It's setting an all-time record in 2011. Try to guess what it is. It's not the kind of record you want to set.

BANFIELD: That's what you call dubious, right? Something real dubious.

And if you didn't stay up late because you're up early with us, George Clooney gracing the red carpets at the Golden Globes. And you know what? I'm not sure if the headline is George Clooney as much as it is Ricky Gervais. They took a chance on him again. How did it go?

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Good morning, D.C. How are you on this fine morning?

A little cold, 27 degrees. Later it will be sunny and 44.

BANFIELD: It's nice to hear that. That's such a pretty picture, isn't it?

SAMBOLIN: Beautiful.

BANFIELD: Twenty minutes past 5:00 in the morning. We like to get you an early read of news that's making national headlines. But there's ton of local news.

We got some papers from Hernando, Mississippi, as well as Washington, D.C.

Let's take you to Mississippi for the story that's just in the side -- a thorn in the side of Haley Barbour anyway.

The new governor of Mississippi is none too pleased with what outgoing Haley Barbour did about all those pardons. He wants to make it a whole lot tougher for governors in his state to do what his predecessor did, pardon convicts.

He's discussing it today with lawmakers looking to maybe get some laws in place to make sure this doesn't happen again. I think what they're trying to do here essentially is not take the power away completely but to mitigate it somewhat, lessen some of this ability to just, you know, rubber stamp these dangerous criminals.

But they also want to look at that program where those criminals are allowed to work in the mansion.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. I just don't understand that. I think that's really where you really have to say, hey, somebody should earn to be in here and there should be some rehabilitation involved, although we don't know, right? We really haven't really looked at the program that closely.

I'm all about that rehabilitation but for hardened, almost crime killers, that's tough to swallow.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, how about absolute futility. This morning. For all of 2011, congress passed a grand total of 80 bills.

BANFIELD: Eighty?

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BANFIELD: That's it?

SAMBOLIN: It's an all-time record for a lack of production. They've been keeping these records since 1947. They accomplished less than 2011 than any other year in history. It's the all-time worst year for the Senate. The House had the tenth least productive session ever.

And Majority Leader Harry Reid, I have to read what he said. He said, "The Senate works on consensus, and we haven't been able to get that because the Republicans, I repeat for the third time, I want to make sure everyone understands this, obstructionism on steroids." That is what he says.

BANFIELD: Well, good on you, Harry Reid. However, I think President Obama is going to have a field day with this one. He's going to run on the do nothing Congress.

SAMBOLIN: Without question.

BANFIELD: That's what everybody says. That's going to be his big opponent. Congress stinks.

SAMBOLIN: But they spent a lot of time in working overtime actually. It's actually a median number for them. So --

BANFIELD: Overtime fighting?

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BANFIELD: Good for them.

SAMBOLIN: It's kind of weird.

BANFIELD: OK. So, listen, let's switch gears to the weird fun stuff. It's supposed to be, you know, Hollywood's biggest party, other than the Oscars. The 69th Golden Globe Awards handed out last night as well as 20,000 drinks, we're told.

The big winner?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The artist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: "The Artist." It was a black and white silent film by French filmmakers, French actors. Man, is this a good movie if you want to see something that makes you sort of smile. Three awards, including best musical or comedy. Ricky Gervais was again back as host. Pulling those punches, everybody was fair game. Hear him talking about how the Golden Globes measure up against the Oscars. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICKY GERVAIS, HOST: The Golden Globes are to the Oscars what Kim Kardashian is to Kate Middleton actually.

What? A bit louder. A bit trashier. A bit drunker. And more easily bought.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Ooh.

SAMBOLIN: I just have to mention, Jane Fonda looked amazing. She's stunning.

BANFIELD: Gorgeous. She was on "PIERS MORGAN" and she looked like she was 12.

SAMBOLIN: Unbelievable.

All right. So other big winners -- George Clooney, best dramatic actor for "The Descendant." Meryl Streep, we both saw this, best dramatic actress in "The Iron Lady." She was amazing.

BANFIELD: Can you smell Oscar?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, yes.

Michelle Williams, best actress in comedy or musical, "My Week with Marilyn."

On the TV side, "Modern Family," best comedy series. "Homeland" for best drama series.

BANFIELD: Someone told me I have to watch that, "Homeland." He said it's just remarkable.

SAMBOLIN: DVR, girl. DVR.

BANFIELD: Well, you DVR and then when do you watch?

SAMBOLIN: That's the problem, on the weekends.

BANFIELD: It's really hard.

SAMBOLIN: Late on the weekend.

So, still to come, why wasn't the crew of the ship that crashed off the coast of Italy prepared for that? We're trying to get some answers for you, folks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BANFIELD: Jon Huntsman about to become history in the 2012 presidential race and looking to back Mitt Romney.

SAMBOLIN: But that may not help Romney where he needs it most. We'll talk about where this move leads every one else.

You are watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: And very good morning to you. Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

Here is what is making news this morning.

A Minnesota couple among more than a dozen people who are still missing from a sunken cruise ship off the coast of Italy. Friends and relatives say they haven't heard from Gerald and Barbara Heil.

Meantime, police are questioning the captain of the Costa Concordia. He is now facing manslaughter charges. Italy's coast guard will hold a press conference at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

BANFIELD: Police in southern California have released the identity of the suspect in the murders of four homeless men. It's 23-year-old Itzcoatl Ocampo. He was captured Friday night after more than a dozen witnesses have said they saw him stabbed a homeless man in a parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in Anaheim. Police won't comment on a "Los Angeles Times" report that says Campo is a former marine who's been having problems since returning from Iraq.

SAMBOLIN: And with five days to go before the South Carolina primary, only five candidates remain in the race for the Republican nomination. Jon Huntsman is dropping out today. He's expected to endorse Mitt Romney.

Twenty-eight minutes past the hour here.

The owner of the luxury liner that ran aground off the Italian coast is pointing the finger right at the ship's captain. It's saying in part, he may have made, quote, "very serious judgment mistakes."

The captain was arrested over the weekend, accused of manslaughter and abandoning the ship.

Friday's accident raising questions about safety of cruise ships, especially for the estimated 10 million Americans who plan on taking a cruise this year.

So, Fran Golden is a cruise expert, a contributor for "Budget Travel" magazine as well. And she's joining us to talk about this.

So many questions here. So, I want to begin with the training on the cruise ship, because one of the things that has us mortified is when we look at the images and hear what people are saying, that it almost seem like the crew was actually against them and not helping them get off of that ship.

What is the training all about onboard a cruise ship?

FRAN GOLDEN, CONTRIBUTOR, BUDGET TRAVEL MAGAZINE: Well, first, you know, I want to say that I don't think anybody could predict that a modern, beautiful cruise ship only six years old would hit a rock and sink. I mean, that is not something you can train for. It wasn't something anticipated when cruising really took off in the 1970s.

They built bigger and better ships. So, I don't think you can train for something that if you asked a captain, could your ship hit a rock and sink, they would say no. But the crew is carefully trained on these cruise ships. I won't say it's heavily regulated industry. A lot of the training is done by the cruise lines themselves based on international maritime standards.

So, how the specific crew on this specific ship was trained, I really can't speak to that. It did seem listening to the reports from passengers like there was some chaos, some disorganization. That, again, would come down from the captain of ship. He's ultimately the one in charge, not only of the ship and steering the ship and all that type of thing with the aid of high-tech equipment, of course, but also in crew training.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Fran, have you been aboard this particular ship?

GOLDEN: I haven't. I've been aboard very similar ships. And I think one thing for people to realize is that this isn't some tugboat off Italy. This is a very -- again, very modern cruise ship, very similar to ships that are currently in the Caribbean. So, I have seen similar ships to this one. I haven't been on this ship.

Having sailed on Costa cruises, though, I will say one thing that they run into that you might not see in the Caribbean as much is they get a lot of international passengers from a lot of different countries. So, when you're doing, for instance, life boat drill and the training of the crew and everything, you're talking about a lot of languages being tossed around.

I can only imagine the chaos of trying to communicate to passengers from, maybe, eight different languages how to get off the ship. When they finally, by the way, got them off the ship, because it does sound like it was quite a long period before they even started the emergency evacuation.

SAMBOLIN: You know what, that is I very good point. I never thought about that, all the different languages and trying, you know, to rally the folks that way. Let's get back to this particular training. Since you do know cruise lines and you know the training, is it standard across the board for all of the cruise lines to get the right kind of training, because we hear, perhaps, we don't know that the captain actually abandoned ship. Is that unusual? GOLDEN: Well, obviously, if the cruise line says that the captain could have -- committed this egregious error, they're pretty sure about it. They're not going to come out of that with that kind of thing. They're not blaming the rock, they're blaming the captain. The ship probably was not supposed to be in the area where it was.

It may have been, of course. I think there's some question as to who was at the helm. Again, with all the equipment -- if you go on the bridge of a ship, it looks like a huge pilot's cockpit from the airplane. There's so much equipment. The equipment should have warned them of any obstructions in the area, and they certainly have charts.

So, I think that they're going to look at that. And then, again, why the captain didn't call the evacuation, why there was no may day. It seems pretty clear that they didn't realize how serious the situation was. I've heard reports they were telling passengers there were electrical problems. And why weren't the watertight container doors closed?

There are procedures that would be followed if a lot of water was coming into the ship that should have prevented a ship from tipping over and basically sinking. And you know, I think that the industry is going to look at a lot of that. They're going to look at whole design. They're going to look at stability in addition to the crew training and the general safety features.

SAMBOLIN: Well, Fran, and this is a really popular time of year for folks to take cruises. So, you know, it kind of makes you nervous when you see a ship like that sinking.

GOLDEN: does, but I think people go on a cruise, and they think they're in this protected wonderland. And the reality is you always need to have safety in the forefront of your thinking. I've seen passengers go to the life boat drills, and the crew do honest efforts to have you learn how to put on your life vest, and meanwhile, people are trying to get drinks and take photos.

Yes, you know, they want to get that great photo and the life vest, and there is a seriousness to this.

SAMBOLIN: Well, we appreciate that. Fran Golden, thank you for joining us this morning with some really good perspective there.

GOLDEN: Thank you.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Thirty-four minutes now past 5:00 in the east.

And good breaking news story from our CNN crew out there. Jon Huntsman expected in just a few hours to announce I'm done, I'm out, and I'm backing Mitt Romney. So, is that going to help Mitt Romney, put him over the top and do a trifecta sweep right across the first three primary caucus state? You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BANFIELD: Hi, everybody. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. Big breaking news through CNN, our team reporting Jon Huntsman plans to call it quits today, bowing out of the Republican nomination race a little later on and throwing on his support, and hopefully, his supporters, support behind Mitt Romney.

He's going to call on the party to come together for the common good. What kind of an impact is this going to have in South Carolina? I don't know, let's ask our political panel, shall we? From Washington, Penny Nance joining us, the president and CEO of Concerned Women for America. And also from Austin, Texas, Ed Espinoza, Democratic political consultant, and here in New York, John Avlon, senior political columnist for "Newsweek" and the "Daily Beast."

And John, I'm going to start with you. You and I always had about this stuff on the weekend because we have nothing better to do. And one of the things that struck me this week was Lindsey Graham talking a little bit about the possible trifecta that we might see with regard To Mitt Romney if in fact he does win South Carolina. Let's hear what he had to say. I want to ask you about it in a minute.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: If for some reason he's not derailed here and Mitt Romney wins South Carolina, no one's ever won all three. I think it should be over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: So, JOHN, a lot of people say that, but the truth of the matter is one of big arguments from the naysayers about Mitt Romney and there are many, is that he can't possibly win against President Obama. He is not possibly electable, but doesn't it kind of show if this guy can sweep three states in a row that he certainly is electable?

JOHN AVLON, SR. POLITICAL COLUMNIST, NEWSWEEK AND THE DAILY BEAST: Yes. I mean, the argument that Mitt Romney isn't electable in a general, I don't think makes a whole lot of sense. In many ways, he's a very, very credible general election candidate, and President Obama is vulnerable.

The problem with the logic of if he wins in South Carolina, let's just call it over and wrap it up. That's not how the rules work in the Republican Party. This is a delegate race. There are 1,143 delegates needed. Right now, Mitt Romney has around 25.

And so, while it would be very impressive if he was able to pull of a win in South Carolina after winning New Hampshire, because the electorates are so discreet, I think we got to call off the coronation, here, folks, and let the voters actually have a chance.

BANFIELD: Like you heard it here first. All right. It's all about the numbers. You're right. It's not about the momentum. All right, John. Penny, let me turn this over to you. I'm going to completely do a 180 and talk about evangelicals who are meeting in Texas this weekend, and maybe it's not so much 180, because a lot of people say that they were meeting in a way to somehow derail the Mitt machine and someone choose someone a little more socially conservative.

You were invited. You couldn't make it, but you're a pal of Rick Santorum. Were you surprised that they lined up behind Rick Santorum? And do you think it's going to make big difference?

PENNY NANCE, PRESIDENT & CEO, CONCERNED WOMEN FOR AMERICA: Well, I would point out that evangelicals are a diverse group, really. I mean, people like to put us in a box and say that we're poor, uneducated, easy to come in with something the "Washington Post" said a few years ago. The truth is like herding cats. We're all very independent thinkers.

But I was pleasantly surprised that they came together and coalesced against one candidate. There's still some support for Newt Gingrich with conservatives, but we're looking for a consistent, authentic conservative to support.

And I think the people of South Carolina this weekend will make a definite decision in that area. There's a lot of evangelicals, a lot of conservatives in South , and they're still thinking it over, actually.

BANFIELD: I, sometimes, wonder how many evangelicals crisscross over with Tea Partiers, because there's also the big Tea Party convention yesterday and today.

NANCE: And I actually didn't realize there was the Tea Party patriots and the South Carolina Tea Party coalition. These two groups are meeting to try to coalesce, figure out who they're going to back as well. And one of the things that is going to be happening is that Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, is going to be sort of joining in and talking to this group.

And she's like the godmother of the Tea Party movement, but she's not particularly liked that much at this point in South Carolina. So, Ed Espinoza, jump in here as the democrat. Are the Democrats licking (ph) their chops over the fact that there's a rift here among the Tea Partiers, there's a rift here among some evangelical, and that it kind of makes it difficult to figure out who's for who at this point?

ED ESPINOZA, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Well, yes. It does make it difficult to find out who's for who, because while Romney might be winning these elections, he's not won any of them with the majority of the vote. He's consistently got 60 percent plus of the Republican base voting against him. Those aren't good numbers coming into the -- this far into the primary season.

Granted, we still have some ways to go, but he hasn't established his footing with his conservative base. That's a problem for him. President Obama does have strong footing with the Democratic base, and going into a general election, that's what you need in order to build a strong foundation and reach across to those independents in the middle of the road voters and put you over the top.

BANFIELD: All right. John Avlon, I want you to jump in on one more thing and that was this. Going into the weekend, there was a lot of news being made about those marines who were seen on tape urinating on -- they were either Taliban or al Qaeda insurgents, and it made massive headlines. A lot of people jumped on it right away to decry this as horrifying, disgusting, despicable, criminal.

And as we moved into the weekend, we started to see a little bit of a different message, and particular, from one of the candidates. Rick Perry saying, you know what, these are 18, 19-year-old kids under a lot of stress. Maybe we need to back off the rhetoric a little bit. I know that does play well in some areas of the country, because some people think, give me a break

Did you see what happened to Americans in Somalia? Did you see what happened to our guys? I'm just wondering if that's going to do well for Rick Perry, because John McCain jumped in right afterward and said, huh-uh, the investigation that the U.S. government is doing is bang on the money.

AVLON: Well, certainly all investigations need to be held forth, but I think conservative candidates see attacking the troops as a net vote loser. I always remember that line from "Apocalypse Now," you know, it's kind of like giving out tickets at the Indy 500. You know, war is violent. But, Rick Perry raised some eyebrows, but it might play well in South Carolina in the short-run.

BANFIELD: It's fascinating. I'm really interested to see how that does play out and if any other candidates will jump onboard. Team, thank you. Coming back next hour. Good to hear from you all.

And we want to make sure you keep it right here on CNN, folks, right through November for the best political coverage on television. Thursday night at 8:00 p.m. eastern, it's the South Carolina Republican presidential debate right here on CNN. And then, the road to the Republican nomination for president stops in South Carolina.

You need to tune in to CNN on Saturday night, January 21st, 6:00 eastern for the most comprehensive coverage. You'll find just about anywhere.

SAMBOLIN: Forty-three minutes past the hour.

Still ahead, Tim Tebow comes up one miracle short. I'm reading here. It says, "Tim Tebow needs more schooling."

BANFIELD: Oh!

SAMBOLIN: The NFL championship weekend, it's now set. "Wall Street Journal" sports columnist, Jason Gay, joins us for our front page faces. You're watching EARLY START.

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BANFIELD: Good morning, Minneapolis. You sure look beautiful at this hour. It's 46 minutes past 5:00 in the east, and in Minneapolis, 46 minutes past 4:00. So, if you're just waking up, it's nice to have you here with us.

SAMBOLIN: And it's time to check the stories that are making news this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Rescue dogs and underwater cave divers are now helping in the search for more than a dozen people that are still missing inside a cruise ship that hit the rocks and rolled over in Italy on Friday. We are now learning that two Americans are among the missing, grandparents from Minnesota. And the death toll has now risen to six people.

BANFIELD (voice-over): GOP presidential candidate, Jon Huntsman, expected to be in South Carolina today but not to campaign, to announce that he's dropping out of the race, and instead, is going to throw his support behind Mitt Romney. Governor Huntsman finished in third place in New Hampshire, not bad, but he had camped out in that state for months.

SAMBOLIN: And a special wreath-laying ceremony at the MLK memorial in Washington will begin a little over two hours from now. It's the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day for that memorial which President Obama dedicated in October.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD (on-camera): You know, if you're in some areas of the northeast, you may have had a big, fat snowfall, and you might have a messy week as you going ahead, too. So, gear up for that, shall we, as we go to Rob Marciano who's live with all the -- I'm just going to let you tell all the bad news. Hi, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey, good morning, guys. Well, we had a month and a half, almost two months of no winter. Now, things are getting a little bit more interesting. The jet stream sinking (ph) a little bit farther to the south, at least, bring, at times, some wintry weather.

It certainly is cold across the northeast, and we got a weak system that's heading across the eastern third of the country. With that has a little bit of moisture, some rainfall across the Tennessee Valley. This will make its way to the mid-Atlantic and some of it will get up into the northeast where right now temperatures are frigid in some spots, including Boston where we're at 10 degrees with the wind chill, closer to 0.

Three currently in Albany, 16 degrees in New York. These temperatures will, obviously, warm up throughout the day, but they will be cold enough for some wintry precipitation as that moisture I just showed you on the radar gets up into this cooler air, but the bigger cities should be OK by the time it gets here, I-95 included. But north and west of New York City, especially across parts of Northern Jersey, Pennsylvania, and upstate New York, wintry mix beginning tonight. Some snow mixing with sleet and freezing rain, eventually, changing to rain as we go through the day tomorrow, but it will be a slick go late tonight and early tomorrow. So, be prepared, guys. If you're, especially, pedestrian in New York City, you'll be OK -- guys.

BANFIELD: All right. Thank you, Rob.

MARCIANO: All right.

BANFIELD: I have a riddle for you.

SAMBOLIN: What's the riddle?

BANFIELD: Who do you think this author is talking about, he cannot fly, he cannot see through walls?

SAMBOLIN: I don't know.

BANFIELD: That's Tim Tebow.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: No.

BANFIELD: This author is none too pleased with Tim Tebow.

SAMBOLIN: A lot of people are. Yes. They're honing in on him. I kind of like the guy.

BANFIELD: Oh, I know. I do, too. He's kind of special. He certainly makes a lot of headlines, and I think big for endorsements, too.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, indeed. We're going to talk about Tim Tebow when we come back after the break. You are watching EARLY START. We're glad you're with us this morning.

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SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BANFIELD: I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's 52 minutes past the hour, which translates to eight minutes before the hour. So, if you're getting ready to go --

SAMBOLIN: Math at this hour, Ashleigh?

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: I am. And that was tough math for me, too. You've probably been following the whole Tebow sensation.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, gosh.

BANFIELD: Such a big story. It's on the front page of a lot of pages, but on this particular front page that we're talking about, the NFL's final four is now set after a wild playoff weekend, And Tim Tebow's prayers -- dashed. Not answered, unfortunately.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD (voice-over): The New York Giants eliminated the defending champion Packers with the help from one of their Hail Marys. Look at that. Oh! For the touchdown.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD (on-camera): Joining us now on phone is "Wall Street Journal" sports columnist, Jason Gay. Hi, Jason.

JASON GAY, SPORTS COLUMNIST, WALL STREET JOURNAL: How are you?

BANFIELD: I'm good. You're going to have to help me get through this one, because everybody knows I don't know a whole lot about football, but you can not know about Tim Tebow. He just seems to be on -- he's on the Hollywood shows, for heaven's sake. You turn on "Entertainment Tonight" and you see Tim Tebow.

But I read something with fascination that you wrote back in December, and I want to put up a quick graphic of what was in your article. "He is a cavalcade of failures. Why the Denver Broncos give him a paycheck, nobody knows." Serious or tongue in cheek?

GAY: Absolutely tongue in cheek, because, at that time, the Broncos were riding, I think, a five-game winning streak. You know, there was still all this skepticism of Tim Tebow's football skills. This is a guy who a lot of people were surprised that was drafted so high by the Broncos, was given the starting job after a one and four start.

But he just consistently got the team to play at a high level late in one football game, gotten for the playoffs, won a playoff game against Pittsburgh. Obviously, a tough loss to the Patriots on Saturday, but you know, a really, really impressive performance from Tim Tebow this year, as you said, really captivated the country with some big comeback play.

BANFIELD: OK. So, for the sports neophyte among us and that would be definitely me, Jason, is this consistent, awesome football? Is this a great quarterback with the phenomenal future or is this a case of a lot of kind of accidental yahoos or miracles as some like to say?

GAY: Well, I don't know about the miracle aspect of it. I think when you look at Tim Tebow from just standard NFL quarterback standpoint, he's an unorthodox thrower. He does not move the ball down field in a typical fashion. People might say he has a less than stellar pocket performance in the ability to throw the ball.

But he, again, -- at the end of the day, what people are trying to do out there is win football games. No one did it as effectively and certainly as dramatically as Tim Tebow or few people did it as effectively and nobody did it as dramatically as Tebow did this year.

BANFIELD: I saw that you referred to him as football's Justin Bieber.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: I got to say to you, there are hundreds of thousands of people who would says, that's the finest musician alive today, and he's got himself a perfume, too. So, with that, my question to you, my friend is, is Tim Tebow a serious contender for one of the greatest players of all time in the future or is he a serious contender for Michael Jordan status when it comes to endorsement?

GAY: Well, I think it's absolutely premature to put him in any kind of legend status as a player. I mean, he has a lot to prove, and I think he, himself, if he were sitting here would tell you the same. I think as an endorsement person as someone phenomenal (ph) be looking forward to. So, I think (INAUDIBLE), I think he's a high, high visibility person, and I think he's in that category already.

I mean, there are all these kinds of listings that were putting him as you said in the category not of a top professional athlete but as a huge celebrity on par with someone like George Clooney or Lady Gaga. This is a guy who's only played -- only started a handful of NFL games.

BANFIELD: He's a superstar for sure. Hey, Jason, nice to talk to you. Thanks so much for getting up early.

GAY: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: It is just about six o'clock.

Still to come on EARLY START, six dead in an Italian cruise ship disaster. The captain is facing questioning manslaughter charges. Americans are among the missing. We're waiting on a press conference from the CEO of Costa Cruises. We'll get you more details as soon as we have them.

BANFIELD: And CNN breaks news, Jon Huntsman calling it quits. A little later today, expected to take to the mic and say I'm out, but I'm behind Mitt Romney. So, will Mitt Romney be there to accept the endorsement? And will it make a difference? You're watching EARLY START.

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