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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

The Battle For South Carolina; Gingrich's Ex-Wife Going Public; Crunch Time In South Carolina; Iowa Caucus Count Unresolved; Cruise Rescue Mission Resumes; Iowa Caucus Count Unresolved

Aired January 19, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is awfully, awfully early. We'll bring you the news from A to Z at this hour, 6:00 in the east. Let's get you started shall we.

The battle for South Carolina is in full swing as countdown is on and we've got brand new breaking news. A new poll just out hours before tonight's big CNN debate, but is it going to matter? We'll let you know.

SAMBOLIN: The cruise ship captain reportedly admits to a mistake. He ordered that turn too late.

BANFIELD: Not only that, but if you have been following the Keystone pipeline battle and it has been pitched, you probably saw all the politicians trotting out to comment on the Obama administration blocking map.

Republicans are livid. Christine Romans knows everything about this and she will come up to speed and get you up to speed on the controversial project and maybe, maybe why it's not dead yet.

SAMBOLIN: And do you send and receive work e-mails at home, on your way home, in the car, while you're sleeping. Does that qualify for overtime pay in Brazil? Is the U.S. going to follow suit? Boy, we hope so.

BANFIELD: I mean, especially in this business. Zoraida and I wake up at about 1:15 in the morning and the first thing we're doing is facing about 50 e-mails at that point.

SAMBOLIN: Which you are as well, I am sure, right?

BANFIELD: First, I want to get you to South Carolina because the time is ticking and the fight is getting tougher. I want to get you this brand-new NBC-Marist poll. It was just released moments ago.

And it shows Mitt Romney ahead with 34 percent, 10 points over Newt Gingrich coming in second and Ron Paul is in third place with 16 percent. That kind of mimics a poll that we had just come out with, as well.

So things haven't been changing too much in the last couple days. Newt Gingrich has gained so as he has been narrowing that margin and might be in jeopardy because that woman in the red, if you recognize her, it's Mary Ann Gingrich.

And ABC News is set to air an interview with her. She's his second wife. Of course, he knows he's admitted to cheating on her with his now new third wife, Callista.

He is not sure necessarily what she's going to say, but she has said some things in the past. In fact in 2010, "Esquire" magazine, she did an interview and back then she said this.

"He believes that what he says in public and how he lives don't have to be connected. If you believe that, then, yes, you can run for president. He always told me that he's always going to pull the rabbit out of the hat."

SAMBOLIN: With the candidates set to debate at 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight on CNN, things are really starting to heat up. So from Washington, our panel to chime in, Erick Erickson, editor in chief of redstate.com, Democratic strategist, Bernard Whitman and CNN political editor, Paul Steinhauser.

Paul, you're on the hot seat first here this morning. So, you know, Gingrich is facing that interview. We hear excerpts are going to be aired. How do you think that is going to affect him leading in?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Listen, this storyline has been out there for a long time ever since he jumped into the race last spring and he's been talking about how he's made mistakes in his personal life and he said repented for this.

He dealt with this a number of times. Polls indicate that most voters are kind of giving a pass on this, but it really depends on what she says. But his campaign, already, his surrogates had been active in going after ABC.

And trying to, first of all, persuade them from not airing this interview, but if it does happen, he is going to have to talk about it most likely at our debate that's going to happen right behind me tonight at 8:00 Eastern. So stay tuned.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Erick, let's talk about the poll here. I'm not sure. I would imagine that this new poll that we have also has Perry at the bottom of the pack.

Yesterday, you said on your web site that Perry should resign before the debate. You say Rick Perry's final act could actually be kingmaker here and have an impact. Can you explain that?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, he's at 6 percent of the polls and most polls have shown that the second preference for the overwhelming majority of his voters is Newt Gingrich. Likewise, there are a good number of undecided voters. You had Sarah Palin come out now two days ago saying that she was in South Carolina and she would vote for Newt Gingrich.

If Rick Perry would do the same and leave before Saturday, the momentum Newt Gingrich already has from the Monday debate coming into tonight along with Palin and Perry could push him up and make him very competitive in South Carolina.

If you have the news coming out as well that maybe Mitt Romney didn't actually win Iowa and maybe it was Santorum then you have a good win that Newt Gingrich is back to push him into the lead.

SAMBOLIN: And what do you think about these leaks with his ex- wife, do you think that will affect him at all?

ERICKSON: You know, I think to a degree. Look, people would otherwise be talking about Mitt Romney having $15 million in Cayman Island accounts.

Instead they're going to be talking about Newt Gingrich's wife, but the difference is most people knew this was out there. Mary Ann Gingrich had given an interview to "Esquire" magazine a while back. So people have already taken that into account to a degree.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Bernard, if you cannot chime in here, you worked on five presidential campaigns as I understand it here including Mondale and Dukakis. You know that one bad image or one bad line can actually crash a campaign.

So, let's talk about tax returns here. Mitt Romney says that he might release his tax returns in April. New Jersey's governor Chris Christie who is a big Romney supporter is saying, I think you need to release them sooner than later. Let's listen to this and then we'll talk about it afterwards.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: What I would say to Governor Romney is, if you have tax returns to put out, you know, you should put them out. You put them out sooner rather than later because it's always better in my view to have complete disclosure, especially when you're the frontrunner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So, is this going to be a huge issue for him in South Carolina?

BERNARD WHITMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think Christie is right up to a point. It's clear Mitt Romney wants to delay the results of his tax returns until after he seals up the nomination.

And frankly, the last thing Mitt Romney can afford right now is another surprise to come out and have the shift be really about the fact that he's a multi-millionaire.

He's paying 15 percent in taxes, which is less than half the rate paid by most Americans and it's going to come up, again, with all the attacks that Newt Gingrich has labeled on Mitt Romney about Bain Capital.

But the one additional thing I'll say about Newt Gingrich is men have given him a pass for his private life, but women certainly haven't. We see that in a CNN poll released yesterday. He is within four points of Mitt Romney, but there is a huge gender gap.

Newt Gingrich is behind Romney by 18 points among women. I think when you have things like this interview with Mary Ann Gingrich coming back up. That is going to underscore the fact that women just do not see Newt Gingrich as an appealing figure.

So it is no wonder given that that Mitt Romney wants to delay the results of his tax returns until well after he's sealed the nomination process.

SAMBOLIN: All right, interesting point, thank you very much. Bernard Whitman, Paul Steinhauser, and Erick Erickson, thank you for joining us.

BANFIELD: All right, we have something just remarkable to report to you from the "Des Moines Register." You know how we have been talking about that narrow margin in Iowa and we have been awaiting certification of vote totals from Iowa where Mitt Romney won by eight votes.

Not so fast according to the "Des Moines Register," Rick Santorum finished ahead of Mitt Romney by 34 votes. Now if you think that is the end all, be all of this story and that they'll be more cheering like this, wait for it.

The Iowa GOP is now saying that there are several inaccuracies in at least 131 precincts vote totals and that there are missing vote totals in still a number of these places. Sadly, eight precincts are missing vote totals entirely.

And here's the really bad news. We are never going to get an answer. Hanging chads, breaking chads or not. We're never going to get an answer. Apparently, the GOP is now saying it is a split decision.

SAMBOLIN: GOP officials say it is a split decision.

BANFIELD: That they will never be able to accommodate four of these precincts that are missing to really get the final total. But if they are going with the messy total that we have now, it changes from the Iowa caucus night and it is now Rick Santorum finishing in first place by 34 votes. Wow.

SAMBOLIN: Didn't they say in caucuses they never do recounts either? BANFIELD: They don't do recounts so much as they try to recover the counts. They certify them like the regular elections, but it's not about battling.

Here's the other weird thing. It's not going to make that much of a difference. This is the kind of thing where it's not a winner take all state. So it's a proportional delegation, you know --

SAMBOLIN: You know how they were calling it perhaps a sweep, right? That he would end up sweeping to take South Carolina, also. That's a significant --

BANFIELD: That's it. That's the momentum. That's the momentum. But, wow, he's already had that momentum for the last two weeks.

SAMBOLIN: Kind of rough.

All right, it is 6:09 in the east. At 8:00 Eastern tonight, CNN and the Southern Republican Leadership Conference present a two-hour presidential town hall debate live from Charleston. It will be moderated by CNN anchor and chief national correspondent, John King.

BANFIELD: I want to get you up to speed on some other major stories this morning. Of course, that story in Italy. The rescuers have resumed their search again for the nearly two dozen people onboard that cruise ship, passengers who are missing.

Time is not on the side of the folks who are working here because there is a storm coming that could push this doomed cruise liner into deeper waters.

That slide they keep talking about. It could slide deeper than the 60 feet where it is. The captain who has been the focus of this investigation is making some pretty astounding admissions like, I made a navigational mistake.

How about that for starters? According to some leaked interrogation transcripts that an Italian newspaper got its hands on. CNN can't, you know, independently verify this, he also reportedly told a judge yesterday that something went wrong while he was actually at the helm.

And he said, quote this according to the newspaper, "I was navigating by sight because I knew the depths well and I had done this maneuver three or four times. But this time I ordered the turn too late and I ended up in water that was just too shallow."

SAMBOLIN: And new evidence surfacing this morning about what happened on board the ocean liner Friday night. So according to full transcripts from the Port Authority here, at 10:06 p.m., police first were made aware of problems.

At 10:14, the ship officials say this is only a power outage. At 10:26, the captain calls the coast guard and says there is an open hole in the ship. At 10:48, the coast guard told evacuations is now under evaluation.

And at 10:58 nearly an hour after police were first made aware of the problems, the evacuation process actually begins.

BANFIELD: We want to get you to Dan Rivers who is live for us in Italy this morning. Dan, one thing of the things I have been wondering is, have you been able to hear from any of the other crew members?

Is an one else talking and corroborating some of the things that we're hearing in these transcripts and these reports?

DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, no, the same thing. The captain after he left several hundred people onboard. Now, he is being hailed as a hero in the Italian press and financial newspaper, basically sort of saying, you know, the passengers ended up taking charge in the situation.

And didn't want anyone in the situation and then sort of being implied and calling captain from leaving the ship, but anything that has come out of the woodwork to talk -- call it a bit of a sister ship and sounds like he had not been on board, it would have been even worse.

Put his own safety aside and get a grip on the situation, after you say, more than an hour before the evacuations started.

BANFIELD: All right, dan, thank you so much. Keep your eye on things as the weather continues to change there as well from your perspective in Giglio. Dan Rivers reporting live for us this morning.

SAMBOLIN: All right, and every morning we give you an early start to your day by alerting you to the news that's happening later and stories that are just evolving now, but they will be the big story tonight.

Big breaking news this morning, the Des Moines Register reporting this morning Rick Santorum actually finished ahead of Mitt Romney by 34 votes. The Republican Party of Iowa now saying there are several inaccuracies and 131 precincts.

Eight precincts are missing data and they will never be certified. Guess what, we'll never get an answer. It is being called now, a split decision by the GOP.

BANFIELD: Other news, the top U.S. military commander is in Israel for some very high-level talks. The visit is the head of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey first official trip to Israel since he assumed that command and topping the agenda, concerns that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

SAMBOLIN: We are waiting for a big travel announcement from the White House. The president is going to Disneyworld to give a speech aimed at boosting tourism and creating more jobs. The president wants to make it easier for people in places like Brazil and China to get travel visas. BANFIELD: You have been probably seeing a lot of incredible pictures out of Seattle where they barely get snow and had their whole year's total in one day. All that stuff they have been dealing with in the Pacific Northwest is going to progress its way right across the country to the northeast.

So you can bet your bottom dollar where you might see something where you live. Our Rob Marciano is standing by in the weather center for us. You're smiling. You're smiling because we're going to get a snow storm, my friend.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: A little bit of snowfall, this give you a little feel of winter and to build a snow pack (inaudible) as far as the reservoirs are concerned.

SAMBOLIN: Gives you plenty to talk about, too.

MARCIANO: Some other videos I want to show you. You have seen the Seattle video and this out of Olympia, which set a record, as well over a foot of snow there. Tough driving unless you have a 4 by 4 jeep.

And of course, the kids got out there as well. Washington just south and east of Tacoma and get out there in the sit and spin and enjoy your day from school. Seattle schools closed, once again, this morning.

Another piece of energy coming in to the Pacific Northwest and California, a little bit of freezing drizzle, actually, right now coating some of that snow in Seattle and rainfall across parts of Portland. Sixteen inches in Winlock, Chehalis 16 inches as well and Olympia seeing 14 inches and Seattle Sea-Tac seeing almost eight inches.

The winds were the other big stories. Numerous trees and power lines down across parts of Oregon. A hundred and ten mile-an-hour wind gusts at Otter Rock and Newport seeing 95-mile-an-hour wind gust as well as Lincoln City 84-mile-an-hour wind.

Flood watches are posted, as well, not only because of the melting snow, but because of the tremendous amount of rain that's coming in to Western Oregon as well, and some of the rain is turning into heavy mountain snow across a number of inter-mountain west states. Winter storm warnings are posted and even a blizzard warning for the front range of the Colorado Rockies.

I meant this to be the Northern Midwest, anyway, it's 27 wind chill degree temperature in Atlanta, but in Minneapolis and Fargo, temperatures feel like they're 32 and 34 degrees below zero. So there your little punch of cold there. That will be coming across the northeast as well, just give you a little bit of a taste.

BANFIELD: I knew it was coming eventually. I just didn't want you to smile about it.

MARCIANO: Sorry, guys. Good morning. SAMBOLIN: All right.

BANFIELD: All right. Good morning.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. Thanks, Rob.

We're continuing to follow breaking news. New results in the Iowa caucus show Santorum actually ahead of Romney. Gathering reaction, including reaction from Mitt Romney.

Also ahead on EARLY START, Republicans are furious. Obama rejects the Keystone oil pipeline. Why the president says it is the Republicans who actually forced him to make that decision.

BANFIELD: And if you are on your BlackBerry, your smartphone, your iPhone all the time and you're doing work from home, the train, the bus, on your off time, should it be O.T.? One country thinks so. So what about us?

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BANFIELD: Didn't think we would be bringing you Iowa results this morning, that's for sure. It felt like that was a story several weeks old.

But guess what? There are brand-new Iowa results and it's not who you thought. The winner was not Mitt Romney.

According to the Des Moines, Iowa Register, the newspaper there has new GOP numbers that actually have Rick Santorum ahead of Mitt Romney by 34 votes. And I got to be honest with you, the morning after Iowa, we brought you the numbers that we felt would be possibly the ones that would be certified, as expected today, certification of the votes, and they read more along these lines.

Romney at 30,015 and Santorum at 30,007, two of them pretty much in a dead heat at 25 percent of the votes. But by all intents and purposes, this was classified as a Romney win, not according to the "Des Moines Iowa Register" today.

SAMBOLIN: Well, these numbers on here is really interesting. It says Rick Santorum final total 29,839 and Mitt Romney final total 29,805. So a change for Santorum a negative 168 and Mitt Romney minus 210. But it put Santorum ahead.

All right. So Mitt Romney has a response to this and he released the following statement. Quote, "The results from the Iowa caucus night revealed a virtual tie. I would like to thank the Iowa Republican Party for their careful attention to the caucus process and we once again recognize Rick Santorum for his strong performance in the state. The Iowa caucuses, with record turnout, were a great start to defeating President Obama in Iowa and elsewhere in the general election."

BANFIELD: We should also add that that Mitt Romney's statement may not seem as strange as it might seem when you're hearing someone else won, it's because we still have a lot of missing votes and the Iowa GOP is saying, I'm very sorry, but we're never, ever going to get to the bottom of it. We have several precincts that have lost votes completely and we have errors in over 130 different precincts. So perhaps he's looking at that saying who knows who won.

SAMBOLIN: And the reason that he mentions virtual tie in his response is because the party verdict, the official GOP stand on this is it is a split decision.

BANFIELD: Right.

SAMBOLIN: So, we're going to get CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser to weigh in on this.

Paul, what do you make of this? Because originally we were talking about perhaps after South Carolina that this was going to be a three peat for Romney. This changes everything, but he's already got the momentum going.

STEINHAUSER: Yes. He's already got the momentum going and what's done is done. Tough, if I was Rick Santorum's campaign and I've already e-mailed them this morning to see if they've got reaction and I'm sure they are.

But if I was Rick Santorum's campaign, I would be yelling and screaming about this immediately starting this morning. And, you know, we saw Santorum over the last couple of days talked about this saying that, you know, maybe he did when all the votes are finally certified, maybe he did win in Iowa.

If I was Santorum, I would be talking about this nonstop today. I would be talking about it tonight at our debate right behind me here in North Charleston, at the North Charleston Coliseum, because he needs a shot in the arm right now. This may help a little bit.

For Romney, I don't think it's going to make much of a difference. He's got other issues he's got to deal with right now. The tax story is going to be the big one this week. His poll numbers as we've been talking about this morning starting to drop here in South Carolina.

SAMBOLIN: But how unusual is this, this craziness that is happening in Iowa?

STEINHAUSER: It is very crazy. And if I was the Iowa GOP, I would be, you know, maybe a little egg on their face on this one because, we, as they say, according to the "Des Moines Register" we may never know who really did win in the caucuses on January 3rd.

We've got our Shannon Travis, our Political Reporter. He's out there right now. He's on the ground in Des Moines and he's trying to confirm all of this stuff. And once he has a little more reporting, we'll be sharing that with you.

But, yes, this is, I guess, you could say, a little embarrassing for them.

BANFIELD: You know, it's not as though this is the first time this has happened. Because there's plenty of reporting that suggest Iowa's caucuses have had a history of incomplete or imperfect results which begs the question, if there were only eight votes separating them a couple weeks ago when we had the final, you know, results out live and breaking on our air, why didn't the Santorum camp go after that a little more knowing full well that there was a potential for a mess and perhaps a win?

STEINHAUSER: Well, there's no -- remember, in the caucuses there's no process for any kind of recount or anything like that. And at the time, the chairman out there, Matt Strawn of the Iowa GOP said, listen, it is going to take about -- it's going to be about a two- week process to certify the vote.

So, even though we went with, you know, everybody reported, obviously, the eight-vote victory, if you can call it a victory for Romney, we did know all this time that there was eventually going to be a certified count and, well, here it is. And I guess it doesn't clear up that much, does it?

SAMBOLIN: And just for a little perspective here, I was reading this and I thought it was interesting. So the process of the caucuses is a loose process in which (INAUDIBLE) slips of paper are gathering cardboard boxes and plastic buckets and counted by hand as witnesses gather around, about as precise as choosing a class president.

So, not really unexpected that there would be a problem. Is it really just because there was that eight-vote difference?

STEINHAUSER: Yes. It is -- this has been one crazy campaign and when you have an eight-vote victory -- an eight-vote margin you know there's going to be -- right -- it's a recipe of trouble and, well, we got it.

BANFIELD: So, you know, here's something that we were talking about earlier on in the program, Paul and I know you were awake because you were part of that political panel about an hour a bit ago. And that was John Avlon, one of our CNN contributors. His amazing column yesterday, hey, hey, hey. Guess what? This may not be a Romney win after all.

And there was a guy named Edward True, who actually was trying very hard to tell the GOP, I saw a mistake. I saw a mistake with my own eyes that Romney had two votes in my precinct and it was registered as 22. But he got a lot of blowback it seemed from the reporting that we did here and that john Avlon was able to uncover.

I don't get it. Why wouldn't there have been any kind of transition (ph) to sort of try to figure out if that was a mistake? Because that was enough to actually change the results yesterday.

STEINHAUSER: Yes, because there was a 20-point margin he was saying from the county where he was located.

BANFIELD: Yes.

STEINHAUSER: But the Iowa GOP at the time did say, listen, we're looking into that and, of course, it's going to be a two-week process on the certification.

Unfortunately, now, according to the "Des Moines Register" reporting, we'll never going to know I guess because some of these precincts are incomplete. So, this is going to be a question mark, I guess, for posterity.

BANFIELD: And maybe what that does is kind of sort of make moot all of these prognosticators who had said that if that's true, the momentum is lost. You know, Romney doesn't get to get a place in history as having won the first two Iowa and New Hampshire. But I don't know if momentum really is an issue if you kind of have an unofficial draw.

SAMBOLIN: You know what, Paul, if you hang on for a minute, I'd like to bring in Bernard Whitman, Democratic Strategist. He was with us a little bit earlier.

You're hearing all of this latest craziness that's happening. What do you make of this change now in Iowa?

WHITMAN: You know, I think this underscores the fact that the GOP primary circuit thus far has been nothing more than a side show and a carnival. I mean, you've had all these crazy actors, Donald Trump, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, anybody but Romney and what this shows is that Mitt Romney, in fact, did not win the Iowa caucus and I think this is Mitt Romney's biggest nightmare going into South Carolina where he thought this is sort of shocking.

South Carolina is going to be the place that coronates me. In fact, now he finds out that he didn't win Iowa. He did win New Hampshire. He may not win South Carolina. This completely takes the wind out of his sails into Florida.

And I've got to tell you, I think odds on, Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee, but it absolutely calls into question the legitimacy of Mitt Romney's candidacy going forward and I think we're going to see the GOP primary drag on for another few months, which is good news for the Democrats.

BANFIELD: I -- you know, you call it a circus side show, and, sure, it's always fun to sort of have four parlor games and all the rest, but the same thing happens to the Democrats, too. It gets real goofy. I believe I was so exhausted by June in 2008 watching Hillary and Barack Obama go at it that we called it a circus back then, too.

So here's my question for you, Mr. Democrat. How are the democrats going to use this? Will they use it and will it be a smart -- will it be a smart thing to use this sort of confusion in Iowa to the Democrats' advantage going into the general election? WHITMAN: Oh, the great thing to be a Democrat now is you don't have to. We just can sit by and watch this unfold. Watch Newt Gingrich absolutely pillory Mitt Romney over this for the next few days. And I think that the real story is going to be what the effect in Florida is going to be.

Because we saw after Mitt Romney supposedly won Iowa, then won New Hampshire, Newt Gingrich had been far ahead in South Carolina, far ahead in Florida, that disappeared. Now, Gingrich is coming on to Romney's heels and I think that the 24-point lead that Mitt Romney has right now going to Florida is absolutely going to collapse.

I suspect, again, Mitt Romney will still squeak through in South Carolina, will still win in Florida, will still ultimately be the nominee, but these questions about do the Republicans really like him? Can he bring out the conservative vote? What do evangelicals think? Can he actually get turnout in the fall?

These questions are going to linger and as a Democrat we can simply sit by and watch the Republican Party fight for its soul and then try to come together in the summer and in the fall.

SAMBOLIN: All right, it is just about 6:30 here and you're watching EARLY START.

And in case you're just joining us for the first time. We have some Breaking News that we're sharing with you. "The Des Moines Register" -- exclusive here -- that indeed for the Iowa caucuses, the winner was Santorum, not Mitt Romney as we expected or as we had reported originally.

So, we get a lot of folks weighing in on this this morning. What does this mean for the South Carolina primary as we're headed into that? Will it give Santorum a bump?

BANFIELD: And not only that, was Mitt Romney contrite enough? I mean, this was the next, you know, this was the night after the so- called loss that kind of seemed like a win because, you know, Rick Santorum at that point only seen like he was eight points behind and it seems like a tie.

And then today we're already getting the reaction from Mitt Romney and let me just read for you because we just got this statement into us.

He's saying, "The results from the Iowa caucus last night revealed a virtual tie. I'd like to thank the Iowa Republican Party of their careful attention to the caucus process and we, once again, recognize Rick Santorum for his strong performance in the state. The Iowa caucuses with record turnout were a great start to defeating President Obama in Iowa and elsewhere in the general election."

So, is that enough of a statement for people to appreciate that Mitt Romney recognizes that maybe you didn't win and didn't matter anyway, since like you said before, the GOP in that state is calling this a virtual tie.

SAMBOLIN: They are calling it a tie. They said there are holes in the certified totals from the Iowa caucus to know for certain who won there.

But Rick Santorum did wind up with a 34-point advantage. Still very close, right? If we had been reporting this on that night, we would have said, whether eight or 34, that's a very, very close call there.

BANFIELD: And quite frankly, I got to say that since -- I mean, I remember you were probably mired in the whole 2000 Bush/Gore fiasco and people set up camp down in Jacksonville, Florida, trying to figure out who was going to win that election, counting chads, pregnant chads, missing chads and all the rest, we're not going to have that here. We're not going to have that because they don't do recounts typically. This is just simply a matter of missing votes, irregularities and mistakes that are made, which is not uncommon.

But when you have a vote tallied this close, it does sort of bring into question just the frustration aspect of it.

Paul Steinhauser, our political editor here at CNN, is standing by live.

I just -- I keep wondering how this affects the day going forward and I say the day because, you've been watching as these polls have just been shifting like mad throughout this race, what a difference a week can make. And I feel as though today it might be a difference what a difference a day can make, am I wrong?

STEINHAUSER: No, you're absolutely right. And, listen, let's go back to yesterday. Our CNN/"Time"/ORC poll here in South Carolina, people likely to vote in the primary in Saturday made news because Mitt Romney's lead here went from 19 points two weeks ago, to 10 points over Newt Gingrich.

So, let's go forward to this morning and we were talking about this earlier this morning. A brand-new poll from Marist/NBC. The same thing, 10-point lead.

But let's break that poll down from Marist/NBC because they did it over two days. They did it Monday and Tuesday before and after that debate Monday night where people say a lot of pundits say that Gingrich had a very good performance and that Romney was hammered over the question of his taxes.

So, look at the Monday numbers. Mitt Romney with a 15-point lead over Gingrich. That's just people questioned Monday in their poll.

Go to the Tuesday only poll questions and, guess what? Romney led by only five points.

Our poll and their poll show the same thing. A lot of momentum for Gingrich, Romney's lead shrinking.

Wait, there's more. I sound like -- but there is more. A brand-new poll from "Politico" just came out about a half an hour ago taken over the last few days as well. And they indicate just a seven- point advantage for Romney over Gingrich.

Things are tightening up and that's why our debate behind me is going to be extremely, extremely interesting and very, very important.

BANFIELD: The poll master there.

All right. I want to read Mitt Romney's response here on this issue. He said, quote here, "The results from the Iowa caucus night revealed a virtual tie. I would like to thank the Iowa Republican Party for their careful attention to the caucus process and we, once again, recognize Rick Santorum for his strong performance in the state. The Iowa caucuses, with record turnout, were a great start to defeating President Obama in Iowa and elsewhere in the general election."

So, let's bring in Paul Callan, legal analyst, to chat about this.

And what exactly does this mean and how does it affect the race?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: I find it to be fascinating. You would think there were teams of Santorum election lawyers and Romney election lawyers figuring out a way to fight this, to overturn the result one way or another. But you know what the law says in this area, there is no law in this area.

BANFIELD: Nothing?

CALLAN: Nothing. Zero. This is a beauty contest that is held by the Republican Party that can set it up anyway they want. They can do whatever they want in the process, and there's no law that can cause it to be reversed.

Unlike a normal election where you can go into court and say this was an unfair election, and that's why you're seeing Romney's statement, it's a very sort of congratulations. The process was a good process. It got the momentum going.

You're not hearing, we're suing for a recount.

SAMBOLIN: Because there are no recount in caucuses, right?

CALLAN: No. You can't compel a recount. This is like a private club, the Republican Party in Iowa, and they had a little election on their own.

Now, ironically --

BANFIELD: How about civil action, though? What about a civil suit, Paul? Just because you're mad?

CALLAN: No civil suits. You know what? I think is strange about this, this is how we pick the president of the United States. This Iowa caucus process is so critical to the momentum at the beginning of this process and the law has no control over it at all. The Republicans do what they want.

BANFIELD: So, when you say it's a beauty contest, each state, GOP and Democratic groups, they craft their own set of standards for what they're going to do to pick their person that night. And so, when we talk about law, there may be no code in justice here, but there is a law, according to the GOP's rules, they have their own rules.

CALLAN: Yes, they have internal rules. But what's different about the Iowa caucuses, for instance, in other states, where you go to a polling place and where there's sort of a governmental involvement in the primary process, then there are rules that apply. But Iowa has the strange caucus set up where we're not dealing with registered voters here, we're not dealing with county clerks making sure that somebody is properly registered when they lodge their vote.

In Iowa, it's just, you know, each county has a club, the Republican club. And everybody is going to go down to the caucus and express a preference.

So, the government is not involved. The courts aren't going to get involved.

SAMBOLIN: Do you think that perhaps they'll be any changes made because of this? Because, you know, really, Mitt Romney has been riding on the fact that he keeps on winning whether it's eight or 34 votes, the point is that he won. Do you think the process could change because of something like this?

CALLAN: I don't think so. And the reason I don't think so, one thing that we like about the Iowa caucuses is it's one of the few areas where Americans get to see a presidential candidate close up. Shake his hand. Actually talk to him. Get to know about his personality.

And the idea is to get the person actually to go down to the caucus place and vote.

BANFIELD: And talk.

CALLAN: And talk.

BANFIELD: Convince other people.

CALLAN: Right. Where else do we get to see that? Once you get to the big states like New York, or New Jersey or California, it's who crafts the best commercial. Who does best in a big debate?

So, I don't think we want to lose that. I don't think we want to over-regulate it and get the government involved. I kind of like the Iowa caucus process, even though maybe they made a little mistake here.

BANFIELD: Is it just Iowa? Or I'm trying to remember the other cause states, it might be Nevada is another caucus state.

CALLAN: There are other caucus states, but you know something? Iowa is the only one that has national influence. I mean, after this, we're off and running into the normal election process in New Hampshire and South Carolina, moving forward.

SAMBOLIN: Well, Paul, let me ask you this, if Santorum was in second place, if he were as tight as Gingrich is right now, as they're headed into South Carolina, do you think that perhaps this would be a bigger issue and would be looked at more closely if it was Gingrich and not Santorum, perhaps?

CALLAN: Well, I think it would be a big issue regardless of who's involved because -- I mean, if Gingrich had won the Iowa caucuses, his momentum is enormous now going into South Carolina. But I'd have to say the same thing about Santorum.

And you have to say, if we thought Santorum -- if the public thought Santorum won Iowa, how would it have affected his fund- raising? Would he have raised multi-millions of dollars and been able to lodge a better campaign in the New Hampshire primary.

SAMBOLIN: So, you think his legal team would be in an uproar over this. My gosh.

CALLAN: Well, they would. But, you know, they're looking at the law books. And you what they're saying?

BANFIELD: Can they afford a legal team in the campaign?

CALLAN: They're saying there is no law in Iowa. I mean, the lawyers are saying, we got nobody to sue. How frustrating is that for an election lawyer.

BANFIELD: We have no way to sue.

CALLAN: Exactly, exactly.

BANFIELD: You know, what's going to be fascinating is watching those final certified results are actually announced and CNN is going to cover it live. Coming out at 9:15 Eastern Time this morning. So, make sure you keep it right here.

But in the meantime, we're going to take a quick break and try to sort through how 34 votes now officially makes this whole story a whole bunch different.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Breaking news, everybody. We have a winner.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: I hate to laugh, but we do have a very strange winner. The Iowa caucus results are coming in from the GOP in that state and it is not Mitt Romney. By 34 votes instead, it is instead Rick Santorum, although the truth of the matter is we'll never really know because so many votes are actually missing and not counted appropriately.

But for al intents and purposes, the votes likely to be certified at 9:15 are actually going to be Rick Santorum won this race by 34 votes.

Our chief political correspondent here at CNN and also anchor of "STATE OF THE UNION" on Sundays, Candy Crowley, kind enough to got up very early with us to go over this.

Candy, I don't know when you heard the news. Does somebody emailed, called you, or you out of bed real quick with this?

This was not what we expected necessarily, although it definitely was a possibility.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (on the phone): Yes, we knew that. I'm not sure what this would have changed or does change, because we knew coming out of Iowa that Rick Santorum did really, really well. It was -- and everyone knew eight votes -- there is enough room for error all along in voting by machine. This is voting by hand, people writing on papers and throwing their ballots into a box and people hand-counting while other people are watching. So, we kind of knew eight votes was probably not exactly what happened.

By reversing, certainly, Rick Santorum gets bragging rights in South Carolina. Not enough bragging rights, I don't think, to bring him up where he is in the polling up to Newt Gingrich, much less Mitt Romney. We knew going into New Hampshire, Rick Santorum was very strong. That was the story coming out of New Hampshire was, wow, look how strong Rick Santorum was. It didn't help him in New Hampshire.

Mitt Romney, even if Rick Santorum had won in Iowa, probably would have won New Hampshire. It's hard to see how that would have been worse, 17, 18, 19 points to Rick Santorum.

So, I think in the end, what we have is an asterisk, but we have a great headline for the day. I think history does an asterisk and we do, holy cow, this really was close.

SAMBOLIN: If I could jump in here. Paul Callan, our legal analyst, is in here with us, and he just said earlier that, you know, perhaps for Santorum, this would have been -- to be able to be declared the victor, right, could have given him some momentum and perhaps more money in his campaign.

Do you think that would have happened, even with that win?

CROWLEY: I just feel like the story really was how strong Santorum was. He really did pick up a lot of money coming in and a lot of momentum. He wasn't able to turn it into anything in New Hampshire because, frankly, New Hampshire really just wasn't Santorum territory.

Now, would it have made a difference in South Carolina? I just -- you know, it's just hard for me to say that because, again, it was pretty much a virtual tie. Yes, the headlines went to Romney. It would have changed thing on the mark.

But I think if you step back and look at the whole, we still would have seen Mitt Romney sort of rolling into South Carolina with this big New Hampshire win.

BANFIELD: You know, Candy, on your show, I watch you every Sunday and I almost watch with glee as you do magic math with polls that change seemingly on a daily basis, and I can hear you laughing because it's true. And you know, I'm looking at the most recent poll that we did here with "Time" and ORC that had Rick Santorum with 16 percent of the vote compared to Romney's 33 and Gingrich is 23. And everyone's been talking about the ten-point spread, but no one else has been talking about that other spread.

Do you think, at all, that this headline, I mean, we're breaking out our entire program and talking about it, and you can be sure it'll be all over the news all day today is going to impact how people think they might vote as we go into this contest in two days.

CROWLEY: I mean, look, South Carolina is an entity into itself, and I try to look at this voter by voter. If they are -- if you're voting in South Carolina and you are a Newt Gingrich supporter, do you think, oh, Rick Santorum won Iowa by, you know, three dozen votes or so. That makes me change my mind. I just don't know.

I think it does give Rick Santorum, you know, bragging rights. Any time you can read the headlines, that's a good thing. South Carolina really is Santorum territory, but it's also proving to be Gingrich territory, as well. So, you know, I think that's still that battle I don't know that it's worth enough to bring him up, again, as I say, to either Gingrich level or Romney level at this point.

I just think it's too late and it's too not off of the mark from what we saw coming out of Iowa, which was that Rick Santorum really was a favorite of the evangelicals. Remember, we had that evangelical meeting of conservative Christian and evangelicals in Texas. They threw the support to Santorum.

BANFIELD: It did make much of a difference, didn't it?

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Nope.

CROWLEY: And it didn't really, you know, move things. So, I just don't know, it certainly changes history. Remember, oh, Mitt Romney is the first one to won both Iowa and New Hampshire, well, guess what, he didn't win Iowa. I think it changes that and, again, it may change it around the margins. I just don't see a major movement to change whatever the results are going to be in South Carolina.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Candy, if you can stand by for us. We have Shannon Travis, political reporter in Des Moines, Iowa on the phone this morning. This is a big story for us here. How are people reacting there?

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (on the phone): Well, people are reacting with surprise, a lot of surprise. I've been working the phones all morning, trying to basically get confirmation of Des Moines Register, but as it stands now, you have this swing towards Rick Santorum's direction, as Candy was just talking about.

They're going to be releasing the official results, publicly releasing them. That's just a few hours, and I'll be there. But, you know, Zoraida and Ashleigh that I've been here for about five months in Iowa before I left right after the caucuses. And everything that Candy was just saying was true in that Rick Santorum was the favorite of a lot of Christian evangelicals here.

Mitt Romney had a lot of support that he spent far less time campaigning in the state than the likes of Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann. So, this will definitely be spun and praised by Santorum's campaign, but will it really make a difference going forward and would it have made a difference going into New Hampshire as Candy was just mentioning.

BANFIELD: You know, Candy was talking about the Gingrich momentum in South Carolina, and it is definitely southern south Carolina territory for that southern boy, but we've also got another big story that's coming out on ABC today and that is an interview that Brian Ross at ABC's investigative unit did with Mary Ann Gingrich, and she's likely to say some fairly scaling (ph) things about infidelity and things that a lot of South Carolinians don't really like.

I'm just sort of curious how that will all play into the mix as we try to sort of muddle through this day, Shannon.

TRAVIS: Well, it will be interesting to see the reaction from people. On the one hand, you've already seen Gingrich's daughters pushing back against ABC story with the former wife. And, some people are questioning the timing. I mean, it was coming just a few days before the primary down there in South Carolina.

So, some people are questioning the timing, but we'll have to wait and see what she's actually saying and if, you know, you have a lot of, you know, religious evangelical voters in South Carolina, as well, where fidelity (ph) might play into the decision of who they vote for. And so, we'll have to wait and see what things the ex-wife, Gingrich's ex-wife, is saying and how some people might respond.

I can tell you that it will probably be too close to the primary to gauge, to do any significant polling to see if it matters. But the final, the final outcome will come just a few days on Saturday. so, we may never know. Yes. We may never like the impact of it.

BANFIELD: Shannon Travis, thank you. Keep those dialing fingers going. It'd be great to hear from the GOP in Iowa about this one.

SAMBOLIN: All right. We want to bring John Avlon in now to weigh in. So, John, here's a big question. Can we actually call Santorum the winner?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, we called Mitt Romney the winner with eight votes that turned out not to be true. Now, by my count, my Des Moines Register's count, Rick Santorum is up 34.

That, you know, granted some holes that are never going to be resolved, but after spending so much time and the impact of Iowa, ending presidential campaigns, giving real money and momentum, I think, Rick Santorum up 34 is big, big, big news.

BANFIELD: Yesterday, I was reading your piece in "The Daily Beast." This was yesterday, Mr. Avlon, and your headline was, "Did Rick Santorum Win the Iowa Caucuses and Not Mitt Romney?" How the heck did you have such a heads up on this one? And, we're just kind of getting all these results day after your piece.

AVLON: Well, thank you, Ashleigh. I appreciate that. This has been a simmering story for a long time. A young guy, as I talk about the story, in Appanoose County named Edward True, reported the day after the caucus that Mitt Romney had been given 22 votes out of his precinct, when, in fact, he only received two.

Now, initially, the state party was very dismissive of this. They were dismissive of him. They said he wasn't a precinct captain. He just some young guy who went to a precinct and posted the results on Facebook, but then, slowly, it became apparent that he was backed up by the other attendees in the precinct chair.

So, we knew going into yesterday that, at least, with that one county that Mitt Romney had 20 less votes than was believed to have on election night. Now, we didn't know the rest of it, and the state party has been stone walling everybody saying that, you know, everything from this story initially didn't have credibility to saying that it wouldn't affect the ultimate outcome.

But I was suspicious, I've been staying on this story, and yesterday, I finally was able to piece together the initial docs and say that 100 percent in Appanoose County, that was the case. Mitt Romney got 20 less votes than recorded. Now, the Des Moines Register saying Rick Santorum up 34. It's a good feeling. The problem is, you can't unring that bell.

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: We're going to add clairvoyant to your title. John Avlon, thanks for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

BANFIELD: And our Soledad O'Brien also clairvoyant because she just headed right to South Carolina. I don't know what bus you got on, girl, but you're there live for us this morning, and I'm sure your show is ripped apart.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST, "STARTING POINT": I think I should go to South Carolina.

(LAUGHTER) O'BRIEN: Wow! South Carolina, I'm seeing South Carolina in my future. Oh, right, debate. Primary. Good morning, ladies. "Starting Point" is just about ten minutes away. And yes, because we hear from the debate, we've got lots of political news talking about you guys have been tackling it all morning.

We're also going to talk about the real Romney. The authors of a new book about Mitt Romney look at the man as a candidate and the human being, his past and maybe his future, as well.

Also, in our "get real" segment this morning, Mark Wahlberg, the actor, is apologizing for remarks he made in a magazine about the 9/11 attacks and hear what he said would have happened if he'd been onboard one of those planes. That's all ahead this morning as "STARTING POINT" gets under way in just about 10 minutes. We'll see you then.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: So, normally, we like keeping you in the pop culture loop, but we held this breaking news today, so we figure out a way to actually combine the two.

The breaking news being that Mitt Romney didn't win Iowa by the numbers, instead. It was Rick Santorum, and it wasn't Newt Gingrich either. And Newt Gingrich --

SAMBOLIN: It could affect South Carolina, right?

BANFIELD: Exactly. Because also in South Carolina, they're going to be seeing the same ABC TV interview of Newt Gingrich's ex- wife, Mary Ann, who is probably going to say things akin to infidelity, cheating, and stuff that maybe his daughters from his previous marriage don't like, because they sent a letter to ABC questioning the timing of this.

The interview is going to run tonight on "Nightline," probably some extra plunging (ph) as well, and he's taking a hint from former president, Jimmy Carter, telling Pierce Morgan he thinks Newt Gingrich has a subtly of racism. It's hot, hot today.

SAMBOLIN: It's a tough one.

All right. I have something totally different. Latest Peyton Manning news coming from a very unlikely source, actor, Rob Lowe. What is he saying? So, he has tweeted that he is hearing manning, his fave, as he calls him, will retire. Does he have some insight information?

Lowe is friends with the Colt's owner and here's a reaction to his Twitter post from Archie Manning, Peyton's dad. He says, quote, "He ain't retiring. I think he would have told me."

BANFIELD: How would you like to be that dad? Wouldn't you be the proudest father in America?

SAMBOLIN: Absolutely. BANFIELD: Well, there maybe guys, right? Maybe the dads of all the marines out there, too, will be prouder or maybe equally as proud. But listen, we're going to go to a quick break and be right back. Latest news coming at you. This is EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Well, that's EARLY START. It's been pretty busy. You can say the news is definitely from A to Z today. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

"Starting Point" with Soledad O'Brien coming up next here.

BANFIELD: Live in South Carolina. Hi, girl.