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Passengers Navigate Ship In The Dark; Cruise Ship Captain Gets Day In Court; Republicans Debate In South Carolina; Gingrich Bashes Obama; U.S. Markets Poised To Open Higher; Obama Jobs Panel Pushes Tax Reform, U.S. Drilling; Candidates Spoke to SC Tea Party; Battle for South Carolina; Governor Walker to Face Recall; Rate Your Rat

Aired January 17, 2012 - 06:00   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the morning to you. It's nice to have you here with us. It's EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're bringing you the news from A to Z. It is 6 a.m. in the east. So let's get started here.

BANFIELD: We've been so busy collecting breaking news overnight. The captain of that ship that's listing and taking on water, passengers are missing still.

Well, we are starting to hear some of the things that he was saying to the Port Authority over recorded conversations. You will not believe some of the things he actually mentioned to them and how they responded. The Italian Coast Guard has also recovered the first black box from that deadly shipwreck.

SAMBOLIN: Mitt Romney has the target on his back at the GOP debate in Myrtle Beach. The South Carolina primary is just four days away. It is a tight race between Gingrich and Romney.

BANFIELD: Are you feeling that pinch when you go to fill up your tank because if you aren't, you mustn't be looking at the numbers flying by on the pump.

These are the highest gas prices in January that we've ever had. Could we see the $5 mark this summer? It's great possibility. We'll get into all of that throughout this program.

First, though, the breaking news that we want to give you this hour. On several front, we've been getting a lot of information throughout our worldwide organization overnight.

A closer look at that terrifying time that those passengers inside that stranded cruise liner on its side were trying to escape the rising waters on board when that vessel ran aground. All of this is new since last night.

First, let's get you to the video from the Italian Coast Guard. Remarkable, flying over in the helicopter the infrared images show all of those passengers just clinging to the side of the vessel. You can see there are hundreds of them.

They're either waiting to get off, waiting for word of what to do, looking for lifeboats or figuring out some way just to escape the rising and very cold waters. Take a look more closely as the video continues to move. You can see the gash in the side of the vessel.

SAMBOLIN: Also new this morning, the Italian Navy blasting a hole in the ship. This all actually allow the search teams to enter and exit the cruise liner more easily. Right now, they are looking for 29 people who remain unaccounted for including two Americans.

BANFIELD: We're starting to get the sights and sounds inside that cruise ship as well. Take a look at the images. Passengers recording this as the emergency lights come on and the power goes off.

You can see the passengers yelling to one another. They're wearing their life vests. But obviously there doesn't seem to be that mad race at this point.

Many passengers reporting they were confused and they weren't getting a lot of direction, but look at that, just walking calmly by. Remarkable.

SAMBOLIN: He was saying in Spanish checking to see if everything is OK. We're also getting new images of the rocks that tore a 164- gash into the side of the ship. Twenty nine people, as we said, are still missing. At least six people are dead.

This morning, we're also getting a first glimpse into the very disturbing conversations that were happening between the captain and the port authority.

This is from a respected Italian newspaper. Here is what it says. The Port Authority says, Concordia, we ask you if all is well there. Concordia responds, all is well. It is only a technical failure. Port Authority, how many people are on board? Shapino was the captain, 200 to 300.

BANFIELD: So the Port Authority continues a little surprised by that number. There were about 4,000 people on those vessels. How come so few people? Are you on board?

The captain says, no, I'm not on board because the ship is keeling. We've abandoned it. Port Authority (INAUDIBLE) at this says what? You've abandoned the ship? Captain Schettino says, no, what? Abandon. I'm here.

Port Authority says, you must return on board. Climb the ladder, the rope ladder, return to the fore stem, the front of the boat and coordinate the work.

Captain Schettino does not reply to that. The Port Authority continues. You must tell us how many people are on board? How many women? How many children? You have to coordinate the rescue operation, Commander, this is an order.

Now I'm in charge. You have abandoned ship and you are going to the stem and coordinate the work. There are already dead bodies. Schettino responds, how many? The Port Authority, you should be the one telling me this. What do you want to do?

Do you want to go home? Now, go back on the stem and tell me what to do. Schettino responds, OK, I'm doing it. The newspaper reports the captain never went back on the ship.

So also happening this morning, the captain who steered the ship into the rocky it Italian coast is about to go before a judge for questioning.

Dan Rivers is live in Giglio Island, Italy. Dan, is he in court right now? At first, we reported it was going to be at 5:00 Eastern Time.

DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he's in there right now. I think it's important to point out this is not a court appearance as you would understand it in the states. Here in Italy, though, there's an investigating prosecutor who coordinates all the information and decides how to proceed and what he's doing at the moment is effectively questioning the captain.

He has not been formally charged yet. He's being questioned. And then charges may follow by the looks of things almost certainly will follow from the information you've run through there. So he's in with the prosecutor now this morning.

We didn't get a shot of him going in. He went in a side door. And apparently, according to some reports, this transcript with the Port Authority is being deliberately leaked despite his lawyers hoping it wouldn't be.

Obviously, it casts him in a pretty bad light. As you mentioned, giving the impression that he was completely -- didn't have a grip on the situation, basically, the Port Authority as you as you said, incredulous that he was apparently trying to abandon ship and ordering him to get back on board and take charge.

It's a further sort of damning piece of evidence that's come out in a whole string of evidence over the past few days, including people here on the island talking about the ship going way too close.

We can clearly see from one of the photos that we've got in a system, a huge chunk of rock in the ship show that it hit that rock. We've been out on the water to see where it was. It is very close to the land, indeed.

It's frankly pretty staggering as to why he went so close. His own employers, cruise -- Costa Cruise seems to be laying the blame pretty much squarely with the captain saying there would have been alarms on the bridge of this ship telling him not to deviate from the proper course.

BANFIELD: Dan, if you can continue monitoring the developments for us and let us know what happens. We appreciate your time there.

SAMBOLIN: Makes you wonder if family members of the missing have come to the island wait for word as they do in so many aircraft disasters. You see family members come.

BANFIELD: I would think so.

SAMBOLIN: Hoping for words. Some kind of word if any, incredible.

All right, let's switch gears here. Hard to do. It's 6:07 in the east. With four days to go before the South Carolina primary, the five remaining Republican candidates took to the stage last night for the first of two debates this week.

BANFIELD: That picture that just went by, that was pretty much how it went. They were all surrounding Romney. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry zeroing in on the frontrunner.

Rick Perry actually saying right out there, where are your tax returns? How about releasing them so that we can take a look? Governor Romney, and after battering each other, Newt Gingrich decided to turn the focus on unemployment instead and president Obama.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We actually think work is good. We actually -- we actually think saying to somebody, I'll help you if you are willing to help yourself is good.

And we think unconditional efforts by the vast food stamp president in American history to maximize dependency is terrible for the future of this country.


SAMBOLIN: Gingrich would tie unemployment benefits to mandatory job training.

U.S. markets will open today after being closed for the holiday yesterday. U.S. stock futures are looking up after markets lost about half a percent across the board on Friday.

BANFIELD: And normally I'm always thrilled to have the lovely and talented Christine Romans standing beside me so I can ask a question, but she's hiding behind the --

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Crazy thing. Have you ever seen the tax code? This is the capital gains. This is the tax code in is a only small part of the tax code. This is the tax code.

We have it here in 16 different books. This is the American tax code. Everything from your mortgage interest deduction to employee benefits to capital gains, all these sorts of things. And the president's competitiveness counsel, his jobs counsel today, we're expected to hear more about what they're hoping to do in terms of, you know, simplifying the tax code and lowering corporate taxes.

This road map to renewal, a draft of this was obtained by Reuters. You know the things we've heard before reforming the tax code, cutting the corporate tax rate, but also expanding domestic drilling of oil.

Also perhaps how to boost manufacturing, how to boost education and innovation, you know, these are all things, ladies, that I think all go together.

If you have a good public school system in this country, that fosters innovation and a very vibrant higher education system, which then helps jobs and all different kinds of jobs and manufacturing and the likes so we'll see what they come up with.

BANFIELD: In heels, you're like 5'10. So now you know --

ROMANS: Only somebody like Ali Velshi and I would have tax code tucked underneath their desk.

SAMBOLIN: We are zeroing in on capital gains tax for a reason?

ROMANS: No, I randomly picked that book. It's been a big part of the Republican proposals on the campaign trail. Some of them want to have no capital gains taxes at all. They say that it's unfair, it punishes success. We'll see that.

BANFIELD: You tend to wonder though when there's that much material and Steve Forbes comes along, let's simplify it and have a flat tax.

ROMANS: We have a $14 trillion, $15 trillion economy, a big country that's complicated and different and dynamic. Obviously, we need a lot of different kinds of rules and guidelines.

But what we're going to hear, I think, from this panel that the president has been talking to is it's too much. It's too much. Some of these work across purposes. Everyone wants to simplify the tax code.

Everyone does. It's like saying you love your mother, but how do you do it? Red, white, and blue, American apple pie and the election, you had asked me this. I found something out about U.S. markets during election years.

BANFIELD: You always tell me people hate uncertainty.

ROMANS: Election years tend to be good for markets and the last part of an election year tend to be better than the rest. So we looked back in recent memory 178 years.

BANFIELD: Using your recent memory.

ROMANS: And found on average the Dow gains 5.8 percent in election year, 29 times it's gone up, 15 times it's gone down. Now interesting, a couple of recent memory has been complicated in stock market. In 2000, it was a rare year when the S&P fell, because we didn't know who the winner was, remember? So that was uncertainty. So that was a problem for stocks. In 2008 was the worst election year in the history of the world, we can look at all of this broad history, 178 years.

BANFIELD: And toss it.

ROMANS: But recent history has been very complicated. So there you go. That's just a little trip back to 1833 for you this morning and with all the tax code.

BANFIELD: And you got up at what, 3:00 in the morning, fed the baby and came in?

SAMBOLIN: It's the way the mind works. Thank you very much, Christine. We appreciate it.

BANFIELD: Just remarkable. Thank you for that.

SAMBOLIN: All right, so recess is over. In just a few hours, the House of Representatives is actually back in session. We have live pictures at the capital. Members of the Senate return next week.

BANFIELD: They have their work cut out for them as well. Remember that whole payroll tax cut that we were talking about before the holidays? The stop gap thing is over and the deadline now is February 29th.

They've got to come up with some kind of permanent solution. But what is all that mean for you? Is your paycheck going to change? If you make $25,000 a year, it's going to be an extra $42 a month at stake.

If $50,000 a year and you're talking an extra $83 a month if you make $100,000 a year. If you make $100,000, well, good on you and your savings would be $166 a month.

Our congressional correspondent, Kate Bolduan is live in Washington, D.C. All right, Kate, this was really ugly before the holidays and I don't suspect for a moment, my friend, it's going to get any better. But is this a more serious deadline we're looking at now than it was before the holidays or could we have another stop gap?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're both very serious deadlines. This is when this payroll tax cut -- extension of this payroll tax cut will basically run out, which many say is an effective tax increase.

Which was really the center of that bitter battle we're talking about back in December and for many of our viewers who hung with me through that very partisan fight, they're going to probably be rolling their eyes a bit because the beginning of this next session is a little bit of here we go again as the House comes back in and the Senate will be coming back in.

They're going to be starting this new session with a little bit of last year's business. Payroll tax cut extending it, whether or not to extend it and for how long, that is, of course, front and center and will be top of the to-do list.

When congressional negotiators, they will be getting back in town, there are 20 congressional negotiators that have been picked to kind of spearhead these talks. They will be getting right down to it right away along with congressional leaders.

But if last session is any evidence as well as just what a political football, this payroll tax cut issue has become, I would not be surprised at all if this went right up to this coming deadline, which is the end of February.

SAMBOLIN: Well, you know, they listen to the people, right? They would know that those $83 a month really mean something. I pulled some of the folks who actually chimed in on our website and $40 will cover my son's school lunch for the month.

The $40 is a pack of diapers. That's nothing when you have two little ones. So are they listening that this is really effecting folks and they have to come up with a resolution?

BOLDUAN: Folks on Capitol Hill say they are listening. They, of course, then point the finger at the other party saying that's the reason why things are being held up.

But if you take a look at the recent -- at the most recent CNN poll approval rating of Congress it's hit a new low. I don't know how much lower Congress' approval rating could go.

So how -- I think there's kind of obviously a bit of a difference between are they listening and are they acting. And that's kind of part of the fight coming forward. So the House comes back this evening. The Senate comes back next week. A lot of issues to take up right away. And will -- of course, election year politics will be center stage and be part of all of these -- all of these efforts going forward.

BANFIELD: Will it ever. Kate Bolduan, you clever lady, thank you.

Because obviously, that's what President Obama has been possibly thinking of doing, is centering that campaign against not the opponent but against Congress with an 11 percent approval rating, it might be a good policy.

Coming up, we got lots more for you including all the highlights on the big debate and whether Mitt Romney can zero in on the Tea Party and win the Tea Party over. And, by the way, do the Tea Party even count as an entire bloc. We're going to talk to the National Coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots.

SAMBOLIN: We've been warning you, gas prices are on the rise. Brace yourself. We're hearing $5 a gallon by the summer. You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Good morning, Charleston. It is 54 degrees right now. But later, it's going to be cloudy and 70 degrees for you.

BANFIELD: Almost looks like a runway.

SAMBOLIN: It does.

BANFIELD: Charleston is such a nice place. And, boy, is it going to be getting busy because, of course, you know, it's coming.

South Carolina is on the hot seat now. GOP candidates are making their pitch to all the folks in South Carolina, particularly the Tea Partiers. The Tea Party voters were at a convention this week. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, Ron Paul all showed up. Mitt Romney and Rick Perry did not make it. And the Tea Party has yet to rally around a candidate.

We're joined now by Jenny Beth Martin, the Cofounder of the Tea Party Patriots. She spoke at the convention.

Jenny Beth, thank so much for getting up early to talk to us. I got so many questions for you. But I'm just going to start with this one. What was this convention all about? Because as I understand, there was no vote, there was no endorsement. It was a very big meeting of people who are somewhat disparate. What did you accomplish?

JENNY BETH MARTIN, COFOUNDER, TEA PARTY PATRIOTS: The whole point of it was to bring Tea Party people from South Carolina together to network with one another and to find out how they can be more effective going into 2012. And they used the debate last night and the election that's coming up this weekend to leverage and to spring from that.

It was great. It had over 600 registrants and it was an absolutely wonderful event for them.

BANFIELD: All right. So I'm looking at one of our most recent CNN/ORC Polls of Tea Party support in South Carolina and it sort of breaks down like this. Governor Romney gets 31 percent of Tea Partier support, while Newt Gingrich falls behind at 20 percent.

You know what, I'm looking at a different poll. I'm sorry. I have different numbers up here on the -- on the screen. So let me read the ones from the screen here. Romney has 32 percent while Rick Santorum has 20 percent. Newt Gingrich has 23 percent, it's kind of out of order. I'm not sure how -- I think our math if off at 5:00 and 6:00 in the morning. You know what I'm getting at though.

So what I wanted to really ask you about is, while those numbers are always fun to follow, I always get the impression when I hear you all speak that you are very different people and you cannot be considered a voting bloc. Do you like that? Do you want that to continue? Would you prefer to have more power as a larger authority?

MARTIN: Well, what I think is really important to focus on is the fact that all of the candidates right now are talking about the core values that the Tea Party movement has been talking about for nearly three years. Fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets.

Even Governor Romney who implemented Romneycare in Massachusetts has said he would repeal the government-controlled health care at a national level. So they're all talking about the issues we've been talking about. And in that sense, the citizens do have the power.

BANFIELD: All right. Well, let me ask you this. I know that Ron Paul did show up at your event, but apparently there was some scheduling strangeness and he ended up leaving before really being able to speak. But he sure did speak last night on that FOX News debate.

I want to play one of the comments that he made about foreign policy. And then I want to ask you about it on the other side. Have a listen and particularly have a listen to how the audience responded.


RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Maybe we ought to consider a golden rule in foreign policy. Don't do to other nations what we don't want have them do to us. So we -- we endlessly bombed -- we endlessly these countries and then we wonder -- wonder why they get upset with us? And yet it continues on and on.


BANFIELD: All right. Jenny Beth, if he was making those comments at your actual convention, would we have heard all of those boos as well or does the Tea Party sort of fall into line somewhat with the idea that foreign policy can sometimes be very, very expensive?

MARTIN: Absolutely can be very expensive. And so from that standpoint we do pay attention to it and look at it.

And the things that Ron Paul talks about with foreign policy, it does raise questions among the Tea Party people and it sparked a lot of debate. Debate is healthy in this country. It helps us make sure that what we're doing is the right thing. And if it's not the right thing, how can we do it better?

BANFIELD: Jenny Beth, you are a trooper because I know it's really early where we are and the weather looking warm at least so I'm glad we can provide that for you. Thanks so much for being with us.

SAMBOLIN: So it's 6:23 in the East.

Still to come on EARLY START, Wisconsin governor facing potential recall election. You've heard about this. The big union problems in that state. Huge protests. A lot of name calling. Democrats and labor union frantically now gathering signatures. We're going to talk to Wisconsin's Democratic Party Chairman.

You are watching EARLY START.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are the Jabbawockeez.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Traveling with all these bags, we sometimes get "Cristyle" carry the shoes and I would get like the essentials. We would really just rotate it amongst the group and pitch in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We load up on our vitamins. Drink plenty of fluids. Especially when you're traveling on the road.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sitting down for a long time, of course, going to get up and get the blood flowing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you want to move, just move.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to freestyle, your lifestyle, freestyle your travel style.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just going to change, situations is going to change but you've got to be adaptable. As long as you stay fluid, flowing, responsive, you'll never get stuck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, everyone. We love you. Good night.


BANFIELD: Hello, friends. It's nice to see you at 27 minutes past 6:00 in the morning. Heck, it's nice to see anybody up this early. This is EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

Still ahead at this hour, the push to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Opponents will submit a mountain of signatures today. Walker, you know, is a polarizing figure after gutting state workers' collective bargaining rights.

Say it isn't so. $5 for a gallon of gas this summer? The gas prices are steadily rising. Christine Romans has a reality check in 15 minutes although she refuses to say $5.

BANFIELD: I just figure every year around this time all of the way up to Memorial Day, we keep having this conversation and it's always, oh, no, the gas prices are going to go higher. SAMBOLIN: I know, but $5.

BANFIELD: I know. It's brutal. It kills me.

All right. Twenty-eight minutes past the hour. If you're getting ready for the bus or get your kids to school or anything else, here are the top stories for you in a pinch.

Brand new video of rescuers in Italy blasting holes in the capsized cruise liner to allow firefighters and scuba divers to get into part of that ship that they have not been able to reach.

At the same time, authorities are also releasing some brand new taped phone conversations or radio transmission between the captain and the port authority. The official on the line is demanding that that captain return to his sinking ship. Twenty-nine people still officially missing.

SAMBOLIN: King Abdullah of Jordan will meet with President Obama in the Oval Office scheduled for today. And topping the agenda, Israeli-Palestinian relations. The two leaders will also discuss Jordan's efforts to create a more transparent and inclusive government.

BANFIELD: Mitt's money. Mitt Romney's finances under attack at last night's Republican debate in South Carolina. His rivals going at him and attacking him. Also about his record as a Chief Executive of Bain Capital. Free market capitalism, say it isn't so. They're also demanding some transparency from the Republican front-runner.


RICK PERRY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My income tax have been out every year and, Newt, I think you're going to let your income tax come out Thursday. And, Mitt, we need for you to release your income tax so the people of this country can see how you made your money.


SAMBOLIN: Right now, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are running neck and neck in South Carolina. It is the latest CNN/ORC Poll.

So, live from Spartanburg, South Carolina, Barry Wynn, the former chairman of South Carolina's Republican Party.

You have been a Rick Perry supporter but you switched to Mitt Romney. Why?

BARRY WYNN, PRESIDENT OF COLONIAL TRUST CO.: Zoraida, I think that -- first, let me tell you that I know all of these candidates. I've known them for several years. I think there are great qualities about all of them. I think when the Bain attack started, particularly coming from the Gingrich campaign and Perry campaign, I felt like it sounded like Democratic talking points, Obama stump speech, than they belong in the Republican primary in this day.

So, I just felt like it was a big mistake. I don't think class envy is going to work in South Carolina. I don't think neither of these candidates know what -- believe what they're saying which means they have no understanding of free market capitalism or they don't believe what they're saying, which means it's just a desperate ploy to get votes through class envy. And I just don't think class envy belongs in a Republican primary.

SAMBOLIN: But Rick Perry has stopped mentioning Bain in his speeches. So why not support him now when you clearly agree with him on his other points?

WYNN: Well, actually when this started I felt like that both of these candidates, Romney and Perry, were strong candidates, have great records. I've known Governor Romney for four or five years. I've known Governor Perry a little bit just recently. And I do think he has an outstanding record.

But I think when you go into an election and you start to use class envy as kind of a desperate measure to get vote, I think it just says a whole lot about your campaign and I just don't think that's what America is about.

Look, we've got a general election coming this fall. And the general election is really going to probably be about class envy. It's going to be about whether American can be the land of opportunity or the land of envy.

And that's what this general election is probably going to be about in the fall. But we don't need that in the Republican primary.

SAMBOLIN: But South Carolina in particular are very conservative state and a lot of Romney's competitors are comparing him to Obama. So, we're going to let you take a look at this attack. It was released by Rick Santorum, then we're going to talk about that.


NARRATOR: Obama supported the Wall Street bailouts. So did Romney.

Obama gave us radical Obamacare that was based on Romneycare.

Obama's a liberal on social issues. Romney once bragged he's even more liberal than Ted Kennedy on social issues.

Why would we ever vote for someone who is just like Obama?


SAMBOLIN: So there's the question, right? When you compare the two, when you have a socially conservative state, how do you come to terms with choosing a Mitt Romney?

WYNN: Well, I think, look, South Carolina ask a rough and tumble state. We've got a reputation, they say when the Iowa caucuses are over, everybody in South Carolina grabs a knife or hatchet or ax and throws it. And when the primary is over, you try to look to see whether any of them stuck in your back.

So, I know it's going to be tough. The front runner is always being attacked. But let's look at the Bain record.

When you look at the Bain record, it's really a record of outstanding performance. Just look at Staples. You've got 89,000 employees there.

I know there are some individuals that are being on television right now who lost their jobs with companies that Bain had invested in. But look at the success stories. Those 89,000 people are stories, too. They're stories of people that go to work, they have a paycheck, they go back and take care of their families. They're in the communities. They serve their communities. They put braces on little Susie. Those are stories, too.

And I think before this campaign is over, we're going to hear a lot of success stories of Bain and those are the stories we really ought to be talking about. Twenty-five billion dollars of profit were distributed to investors while Governor Romney was at Bain.

And who were those investors? They were endowments and foundations and pension funds. The biggest investors were public employee unions. I'm sure some of those public employee unions, they will be spending some of that money attacking Romney during this campaign.

But we really can't have class envy as the whole methodology of a Republican primary. We're going to get enough of that in the fall. We don't need any of it in the primary.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Barry Wynn, former chairman of South Carolina Republican Party -- thank you for joining us this morning.

And at 7:00 Eastern on "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien, we'll talk about the Tea Party and the role it will play in the Republican race with Tea Party kingmaker, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina.

And keep it on CNN now through November for the best political coverage on television. This Thursday night at 8:00 Eastern, it is the Southern Republican presidential debate live on CNN.

BANFIELD: Thirty-four minutes past 6:00 on the East Coast. How much of your income do you think you spend on gas? You'd be astounded if you did the math.

And guess what, folks? Bad news for you. You could start paying a whole lot more. We're going to have the numbers for you. We're crunching them with Christine.

You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Good morning, Atlanta. Forty-six and cloudy. Not quite sure what's head your way later. But --

BANFIELD: You sounded so wistful there for a moment.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, because we were in Atlanta not too long ago, and it was just such a great time. And the weather was really nice.

BANFIELD: If you go to Atlanta, one of the biggest tourist attractions there is the CNN Center. And you know what?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, absolutely.

BANFIELD: Probably because it's awesome but also the people there are so nice. Not just saying there because I work there. They really are. It's really great folks.

Welcome back, everybody. It's nice to have you here.

One thing that drives a lot of people crazy is the price of gas. I don't know that everybody -- or anybody is ever satisfied with the price at the pump.

SAMBOLIN: No, $1.50 would sound good to me, Christine Romans. Can we make that happen?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Ninety-nine cents a gallon? No, I'm not run for anything. I can't promise to lower your gas.


ROMANS: She said $2 gas and a lot of people are saying, yes, $2 gas if we have a massive financial crisis or recession. That's how you would get such low gas prices.

But a headline catching our attention overnight in the newsroom from CNN Money and I'll tweet this out if you follow me @ChristineRomans -- $5 gas in some parts is what some economists are forecasting for the year. Few reasons, a modestly recovering U.S. economy, a demand from China and Brazil and India and other places in the emerging markets that are doing very well, or at least better than the United States, and also these concerned about the Strait of Hormuz and maybe the Iranians threatening to close off this vital shipping lane for oil.

So you're looking at gas prices rising. We already are. Some are telling me $3.50 is a gallon likely by the summer driving season. Others are saying in some spots, it could be as high as $5.

That would be probably Chicago. That would be California -- any place where there are a lot of taxes. To say that there's an average gas price in America is like saying there's an average temperature. There isn't. It's very different across the country.

But this is the one indicator, the one number that I cover that more people comment about and are effected by, because every single week put your -- you fill up your gas and you feel it and it's money -- extra money you spend filling up the tank, you're not spending on something else. So, it's really important thing to watch.

BANFIELD: Hormuz may go away. I mean, we have these diplomatic problems and they surface and they get all fussy and then they go away sometimes. But China and India ain't going away.

ROMANS: You're right.

BANFIELD: Those demands are going to continue to get maybe even exponentially bigger. Does that mean we can expect exponential gas prices? We're never going to get --

ROMANS: I think, you know, the other thing is economic recovery and how the economies are recovering is very important. You know, a slow steady recovery in the U.S. means more demand for gasoline and the like.

But if you have weaknesses or slow in China, you could have less demand other than is forecast in China. But remember, we're pulling out, I think -- gosh, 89 million barrels a day we're using. I mean, every drop of oil a day we're getting out of the earth's crust we're using somewhere in the world, you know?

So, this is -- this is a very vital component. It's felt differently around the country in different places. I mean, you could see -- I'm going to show you a chart here of gas prices and how different they are. The darker you see here is how much higher the gas prices are by state.

And then this next blue chart I'm doing to show you, the barker the blue here is, that is how much of your income you're spending.

Let's talk about South Carolina for a moment, shall we?

BANFIELD: That's very apropos.

ROMANS: Twelve percent of their income is spent on gas. Florida, 10 percent of their income is spent on gas. That's a lot -- 10 cents of every dollar spent to fill up the tank. So, that is why this really importance week-by-week-by-week numbers and then becomes a political number as well.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, folks are struggling. It's really hard to be sharing this information. The only positive side I could think is if you're planning for summer, right?

ROMANS: Right.

SAMBOLIN: You get a heads up.

ROMANS: That's right. Take all of the heavy stuff out of your trunk. You know all that. You can go to and find ways to lower your gas price.

The big debate whether you should be using the window or air conditioner. It doesn't matter right now because it's 28 degrees.

BANFIELD: Or you could drive a smart car.

ROAMNS: Do you?

BANFIELD: I have filled my tank all of eight times in three years.

ROMANS: Really?

BANFIELD: I am not kidding.

ROMANS: Look at you.

BANFIELD: It's crazy. It's the teeniest thing. I wouldn't put my kids in it.

SAMBOLIN: Exactly. For children, it's kind of --

BANFIELD: It's to get around the train station and back sort of thing but, man, it's great to have a car that --

SAMBOLIN: I love one of those.

BANFIELD: And my other car is an SUV.

ROMANS: You cancel yourself out.

BANFIELD: I have to be honest. But we offset. We do the carbon offset.

ROMANS: There you go.

BANFIELD: Coming up, the thing we like to call front page faces. Why? Because there are faces behind front pages of newspapers, and newspaper we're going to talk to has a lot to say about the Wisconsin governor. There are a lot of people in that state who do not like Scott Walker. We'll see how they're doing at that recall effort.


BANFIELD: And we're playing the quick news because it's 45 minutes past the hour which means you're probably gearing up to get out the door but we do want to get you your top stories as you get ready for your day.

We've got brand new video that's been coming in. Take a look at the pictures of that listing cruise liner in Italy. Rescuers are now blowing a hole inside the side of the hull. That -- they're hoping to --

SAMBOLIN: I saw that. Did you see the explosion right there? BANFIELD: It's just incredible how they're trying to get inside. It's listing so, first of all, you can't get in one side and getting in the other is terrible so the divers are having a really, really tough time trying to find anybody who might have still survived that.

The captain at this point is being questioned about some reported admissions that he abandoned that ship before all of the passengers were off of it and safe.

SAMBOLIN: Police in North Dakota are asking for the public's help in finding the body of a missing Montana teacher. Authorities believe Sherry Arnold may have been buried there. The mother of two disappeared 10 days ago while on a morning jog.

BANFIELD: And presidential candidate Newt Gingrich now has the endorsement of the nation's largest Hispanic Republican group. Somos Republicans, and I know there's a better way to say that.

SAMBOLIN: Somos Republicanos.

BANFIELD: Thank you, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: You just want to do it 100 percent.


BANFIELD: I just can't.

SAMBOLIN: I'm sure you can.

BANFIELD: Anyway, that group is saying that they know the importance of the Latino community and that it is the most Hispanic friendly candidate in the race. Newt Gingrich is the most Hispanic friendly candidate.

SAMBOLIN: And you can say it.

BANFIELD: Somos Republicanos.

SAMBOLIN: See? Excellent.

BANFIELD: We need a word of the day.

SAMBOLIN: Soledad O'Brien joins us now with a look at what's ahead on "STARTING POINT."

Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Hey, ladies. Good morning to you. This morning we're talking politics. We're going to be back with Senator Jim DeMint after the debate of last night. This is a guy who didn't endorse a candidate yet. Does he think anything he heard in the debate last night will change his mind? We'll talk to him about that and much more.

Also, this is a terrible story. Have you ever heard this? This mother of a little girl, the girl is 3 years old, and the little girl needs a kidney transplant in order to survive. Well, the mother says her doctors have told her that this little girl is not a candidate for transplant because she is mentally retarded.

Mentally retarded is the word that she uses. This has started a huge online debate about who deserves a transplant and who does not. We're going to talk about all that straight ahead this morning when "STARTING POINT" begins in just about 10 minutes or so. We'll see you then.


BANFIELD: We like to get you the faces behind the front pages. And in Wisconsin today this big story that's developing. Folks there are collecting signatures to try to recall their governor, Scott Walker.

On the phone is the chairman and the face of Wisconsin's Democratic Party, Mike Tate.

Mike, why? What's the problem in Wisconsin that you want him out?

MIKE TATE, CHAIRMAN, WISCONSIN DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Good morning. And thanks for having me. You know, there has been a lot of reasons why we think Scott Walker has to go. And if you remember last winter, almost one year ago, Scott Walker proposed and passed what's known as Act Ten, which eliminated all collective bargaining rights. Basically it was a union busting bill. He never talked about that during the campaign.

He then went on to pass the largest cut in the country to public education over, a billion-dollar cut, public education. He had a raid on the University of Wisconsin system. He passed a photo id bill that is the most restrictive in the nation. Probably going to deprive many people of the right to vote. You know, but fundamentally, he just didn't tell the truth about what his agenda was when ran for governor.


TATE: And he's governed in the way that really just benefits the top 1 percent and he didn't help the -- al the hardworking families here in Wisconsin.

BANFIELD: OK. So I've heard that the recall could cost upwards of $9 million to actually effectuate. And in the end it still goes to election anyway. And the last time he was up for election, the margin was about 5 percent. So it was fairly close. What makes you so sure that he isn't just going to win again and then you're out the nine mil in your state?

TATE: Well, look, obviously nobody likes seeing having to spend taxpayer money that wasn't previously planned for. But I really think that it's too important not to do this and however much this ends up costing the state will be the best down payment on the future of the state for future and our families that we could possibly spend. BANFIELD: We want to keep watching this. Mike, thanks for talking to us this early in the morning. And we'll keep abreast of what's going on there.

Mike Tate joining us from Madison, Wisconsin.

SAMBOLIN: It is 6:51 in the East. Still ahead, subway rats.


SAMBOLIN: They are ready for their close-up. New York City subway commuters are raving rodents.

You are watching EARLY START Got to love this.


SAMBOLIN: It is the last block of our show and that means our favorite, Jeanne Moos. If you ride the New York City subway then you know rats are everywhere.

BANFIELD: It's true and it's gross. Commuters are going to actually now win, though, something pretty special, free subway fare. If they joined the nastiest rat photo contest, and only Jeanne can tell you about it. Have a look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When you see a New Yorker looking down the tracks it's not always a train he's looking for.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I saw a huge one.

MOOS: Next time don't just gawk at it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take a picture of a rat in a subway.

MOOS: The "Rate My Rat" contest has been extended. Transit Workers Union asks commuters to submit their nastiest rat photo to The contest Web site features videos shot in the subway like "Rat Drags Pizza." "Rat Picnic" even has a soundtrack.

In the Rat Gallery you can vote on the photos submitted by commuters, handsome, cute, plain, ugly, and the coveted beastly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow, that's ugly.

MOOS: Ratty is an understatement. Describe this one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hit by a train or perhaps be contact with the third rail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh. And still moving.

MOOS: At the opposite end of the scale is the beer-swigging party rat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Miller Lite. That's a cute one.

MOOS (on camera): Who cares ant the Golden Globes. New York has the golden rat.

(Voice-over): Leading the rat pack, this guy nosing around a slid in a garbage bag is ahead in the voting.

The winning photographer gets to ride the rails free for a month. But hey, the rats always get a free ride. Remember the sleeping passenger who woke up to a rat crawling on him?

And Dr. Scott Harris describes how a train operator snacking in the crew room was bitten by a rat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Went to bite the food and actually bit him.

MOOS: The union is pushing the contest because it's negotiating with management and wants the transit authority to hire more cleaners. Sometimes the subway can feel like a rat race to nowhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All you people over there, there's no service. You sitting on the bench, you got be back to 5:00 in the morning.

MOOS: At least the rats provide entertainment. This visitor from Chicago joked about spotting her very first subway rat the other night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I finally feel like I've arrived.

MOOS: How big was it? But who needs to exaggerate in a city where we once saw a rat about to get squished in the middle of Eighth Avenue when a good Samaritan ran out and rescued it? Who says New Yorkers don't give a rat's (EXPLETIVE DELETED)? Turns out the rescuer was from Boston.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


SAMBOLIN: No, he didn't rescue a rat?

BANFIELD: That's pretty nice.

SAMBOLIN: Like New Yorkers are nice. I'm going to say right now, they're nice people. OK. So I have to share this as we're watching that, Ashleigh, the one that didn't have any hair, and got run over by a train, Ashleigh was about to cry.

BANFIELD: I thought it was sad. I had that happen to me. I had the rat run across my chest in Fiji when I was in a very remote area. I woke up and right across. Nasty.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my gosh. All right. I love it, though. I'm on the Web site. I'm go going to take a look at all of them.

BANFIELD: I just love Jeanne Moos, she just have to talk no matter what she's talking about.

That's EARLY START, everybody. The news from A to Z. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien is coming up next.

Beat that, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I know, where do I go from the rat running across the chest thing? I'm just going to start.