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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Panelists Discuss the GOP Presidential Debate in South Carolina; Candidates Face-Off in South Carolina; Afghanistan Chopper Crash Kills Six U.S. Marines; Body Parts Found Near Pitt's Home; Nevada Fire Emergency; Freeskyle Skier Sarah Burke Dies; Battle For South Carolina; Interview with S.C. Rep. Tim Scott on GOP Candidates; Do Candidates Use Racial Coding?

Aired January 20, 2012 - 06:59   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, my goodness. All right, everybody. Welcome. We're coming to you live this morning. Our "Starting Point" is in Charleston, South Carolina, and we are once again at the Bear E Patch Cafe. Here's where we're starting and there's lots to talk about.

Newt Gingrich is gaining momentum. He is rising in the polls. And, many people are saying what happened last night, his performance at the debate was a game changer. Herman Cain back on the campaign trail. He's making an endorsement. Who is it? The answer confused me. I got to tell you, Mr. Cain. We're going to talk about that. I know you will.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: We get you open (ph) please.

Rescuers are suspending their cruise ship search now. The rough weather is moving in, of course, making very difficult for them, and there are some fears that that ship could now sink into deeper waters. We're going to update you on what's happening on that story as well. "Starting Point" begins right now.

(VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We are back, as I said, at the Bear E Patch Cafe where they have been feeding us all morning and giving us lots and lots of coffee. Specialty of the house we talked about yesterday, which was that French toast and seafood grits thing.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: That's a lot to talk about. So we're back with lots of dishes. We're back with our panel, of course. Herman Cain has agreed to join us as a panelist. It's nice to have you, sir.

HERMAN CAIN, FORMER (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's my pleasure, thank you.

O'BRIEN: We also have Ron Brownstein and Will Cain, nephew of Herman Cain.

HERMAN CAIN: Brother from another mother.

O'BRIEN: Roland Martin is shaking his head.

MARTIN: Oh, my goodness, way too much soul in here.

HERMAN CAIN: I haven't seen him since the family reunion.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: We have a lot to talk about this morning. We have former New Hampshire governor John Sununu is going to join us. The RNC chairman Reince Priebus is going to be here as well. Former -- we're going to talk to you about this big announcement about who you are endorsing, which honestly confused the heck out of me, so you're going to have to walk me through that. Virginia Governor Bob McDonald is going to be with us as well. South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn is going to join us. We're going to talk to those reporters who broke the news on the Marianne Gingrich controversy, they'll be with us as well. And Fareed Zakaria will talk to us about the president and his foreign policy.

HERMAN CAIN: Slow morning.

O'BRIEN: Nothing going on. Nothing at all.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: First, though, let's get to some of the other stories are I happening. We're going to start in Afghanistan. Alina Cho has an update on that story. Hey, Alina, good morning.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Soledad, good morning to you. The Taliban claiming responsibility for shooting down a NATO helicopter in Afghanistan. Six members of the peace keeping force were killed. It happened late yesterday in the southern Afghan province at Helmand. NATO says there was no enemy presence in the area when the chopper crashed. The Taliban has claimed responsibility in a text message to CNN.

This is the worst crash since August of last year. That happened in eastern Afghanistan. And 30 soldiers were killed in that attack including 22 elite Navy Seal commandos.

To the cruise ship crash in Italy, you're looking live at the Costa Concordia. Rough seas and weather has officials now worried about an environmental disaster. Right now the ship is about 60 feet below sea level sitting on a rock ledge just eight feet from a 200- footdropoff. Now, if the ship goes over that ledge its gas tanks could rupture from the pressure, spilling out some 500,000 gallons of fuel.

And this is brand new video into CNN. It was shot from the deck of the cruise ship, and you really get a sense of the chaos. Just listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: You can hear passengers panicking, waiting to get into life boats and screaming for their loved ones.

Another big development in this story is that a mystery woman has emerged. She is a 25-year-old woman, a hostess for Costa, but she wasn't working at the time of the crash. Now, the ship's cook says the captain was dining with her after the crash happened, nearly an hour after impact. She admits ding with the captain before the accident, but she says after the ship hit the rocks, she went on deck to help translate for evacuees.

Mission complete -- a Russian tanker finished delivering more than a million gallons of fuel to ice-locked Nome, Alaska. It took eleven days for the tanker to get there with the help of an ice breaking U.S. Coast Guard ship. The voyage was the first ever attempt to supply fuel to an arctic Alaska settlement through hundreds of miles of sea ice.

Nature's latest assault on the pacific northwest, my neck of the woods, ice storms have knocked out power to a quarter of a million homes in the Seattle area, and parts of Oregon are dealing with severe flooding.

The FBI and Justice Department websites are back online this morning after being taken off line by the activist group anonymous. The hack attack was said to be in retaliation for the Fed's leveling criminal charges against the content sharing site megaupload.com.

Minding your business now, U.S. stock futures pointing to a mixed open. DOW futures down at the moment. NASDAQ and S&P 500 futures are trading slightly higher.

And thinking about refinancing? Mortgage rates, listen to, this just keep dropping. The average rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage is down to the lowest rate over at 3.88 percent according to Freddie Mac. And if you haven't thought about it or if you haven't done it, Soledad, you may want to check into refinancing.

Meanwhile, I'm going to go get that breakfast you catered into the studio here in New York while you enjoy that diner food.

O'BRIEN: Yes. And then you should make an appointment with your cardiologist immediately afterwards, because it's not all that healthy. But we love it. Alina, thank you.

Here in South Carolina the race is now closer than ever, of course, ahead of Saturday's primary. Newt Gingrich is gaining momentum. American research group is showing a dead heat -- 33 percent of likely Republican voters are backing Newt Gingrich, and 32 percent say they back Mitt Romney. And the debate last night may have helped Newt Gingrich win over South Carolina voters. It opened up with a very strong response to question about his ex-wife's claims that he wanted an open marriage, and he turned what could have been a very negative entry into the debate into a positive debate moment for him. Listen. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Your ex-wife gave an interview to ABC news and another interview at "The Washington Post," and this story has now viral on the internet. In it she said you came to her in 1999 at the time you were having an affair. She says you asked her, sir, to enter into an open marriage. Would you like to take some time to respond to that?

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, but I will.

(APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: I think -- I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.

(APPLAUSE)

The story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period says the story was false. We offered several of them to ABC to prove it was false. They weren't interested because they would like to attack any Republican.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So here is what Gingrich's ex-wife, Marianne, told ABC last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIANNE GINGRICH, NEWT GINGRICH'S SECOND EX-WIFE: I said to him, Newt, we've been married a long time. And he said, "Yes, but you want me all to yourself. Callista doesn't care what I do."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was he saying to you, do you think?

MARIANNE GINGRICH: He was asking to have an open marriage. And I refused.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So senior political analyst David Gergen said last night that Gingrich's response at the debate to those claims has become a complete game changer. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "AC 360": Speaker Gingrich got a standing ovation in this auditorium for saying it was basically a completely inappropriate question.

KING: And he also scored points in the Monday night debate by attacking one of Williams' questions. I had a conversation with the speaker, look, you've moderated these debates. This is one of those damned if you do, damned if you don't. It is a story that's making the round in the campaign. Is it an issue I'm happy came up in the last 48 hours in the South Carolina primary? Of course in the. Is it an issue that voters in this state are talking about today? Is it an issue that he before the debate talked about in a very calm manner --

COOPER: He talked about it today earlier in a much different manner. But you knew -- how much of this was debate theatrics on his part, and did you know he was going to have that response?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I knew he was going to challenge the question. I don't read minds. I don't want to make a judgment about the speaker's response. I've been covering politics for 25 years. I understood that if I asked the question he was not going to be happy with it and he was going to turn on me. I knew that coming in.

Again, you make the judgment call. Is it an issue in the debate? Might not be a great issue or an issue we want to talk about, but it is an issue in the debate. Voters are talking about it in the state. It was my judgment, my decision. Let's not try to smoke it in the middle of the debate somewhere. People at home either agree with that or disagree with that. You make a decision, you ask the question. This is politics. He's trying to promote himself and his agenda. Of course he's going to attack us. I didn't take that personally. We had a nice conversation afterwards. We don't always get along but I get how the business works.

COOPER: Panelists, what do you think?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Let me talk about this. It was one of the most explosive moments we've seen in debate history.

COOPER: In debate history?

GERGEN: In debate history. It was also one of the harshest attacks we've had on the press that I can remember in a long, long time. Very personal in the beginning. And as a political matter, I think Gingrich saw a fast ball coming and referring to this audience he smacked it out of the park. There is a reasonable chance after talking to people here tonight he could win South Carolina based on that answer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: You just laughed out loud, Herman Cain, who has joined my panel when he said he smacked it right out of the part. Do you think that Newt Gingrich sealed the deal heading into Saturday with just that first answer to that first question?

HERMAN CAIN: He sealed the surge but not necessarily sealed the deal. Secondly, he basically re-established what the American people really want to hear about. They don't care about what happened 15 or 20 years ago. That's the same kind of crap they leveled against me.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but you dropped out of the race because of it.

HERMAN CAIN: I dropped out of the race because, quite frankly, with all due respect, the media wouldn't get off of it even though they were false. To go back to pull this up that happened that long ago to try and say it is significant relative to his moral character I think is irrelevant. And the reason he got a standing ovation is because most of the American people would rather hear about how are we going to fix stuff, not what happened 20 years ago.

O'BRIEN: It's interesting. I was in the audience. Afterwards I went through a bunch of different folks, some in the Romney area and some in the Santorum area. People said they loved Newt Gingrich. He was funny. He was on last night. And they said they were happy to boo the media.

But then he also said when I get home I'm going to Google that, because I have questions about character questions are important to me in my vote. I had a number of people -- a small number, I didn't talk to 1,000 people -- a bunch of people, who said that the character question is something, but they are also happy to boo the media.

HERMAN CAIN: Character questions are important and, yes, you want to have a president, a senator, a Congress person that has good ethics and has a good character. But the point is, relative to what's important right now, today, I believe that the American people are less interested in that. They may go and check out and see what's truth to the story.

But here's the other thing. What about the timing of it? Three days before the South Carolina primary, which is a critical primary, voila, here comes this interview.

O'BRIEN: Roland Martin is at the of the table doing this.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely, because, look, when you talk about the issue of being the president of the United States, when you talk about having the level of character, yes, you can attack the media, got it. Anybody gets a standing ovation on that. Chris Rock talked about it in his comedy skit. Everybody dogs the media.

But the reality is you stand there -- it was interesting to me, here in South Carolina, party of family values, the bible belt, and all you have to hear about talking about the right folks, Governor Sanford issues that we he had and to say that somehow that's not really that big of a deal? I disagree. Trust me, female voters out there watching are saying, a little bit arrogant when his own wife is saying I've got a problem with that.

O'BRIEN: Do you think that now the other campaigns pick up on this? Do you think -- right now we have seen the super PACs go crazy when they feel like the race is getting tight. You have to assume something's going to happen with the super PAC.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think last night at the debate you saw that candidates were reluctant to go too far in that direction on the stage. But certainly hate to -- one step back. I was talking to a senior official on one of the campaigns yesterday doing Republican presidential politics since 1964, since Goldwater. He said it yesterday it was the single most tumultuous day he can remember in 50 years. All of these events coming together at one time, as you say, three days before the primary that is historically decided the Republican race since 1980, an extraordinary set of developments. If kind of put it all together and it probably looks like on balance Gingrich's momentum continues. Romney I thought had another miserable debate.

O'BRIEN: You thought it was miserable?

BROWNSTEIN: Very week. Tough time on his answers on taxes again. But the good news for Romney is that Rick Santorum had a strong debate.

MARTIN: Nobody would know that.

O'BRIEN: We'll talk about it this morning a little bit.

BROWNSTEIN: That one asset he's got in South Carolina where he clearly seems to face a ceiling of support is the prospect of divide and conquer on the right. Gingrich last night, very strong performance on the outset. I think he has a shot at pulling an upset and taking this away.

O'BRIEN: Does that tell you something else we're doing historic is I'm going to get up in the middle of the show and go over to another guest because, look, this is Governor John Sununu. It only gets better. Hi, governor. Thank you for talking to us. They haven't fed you here. That's unfortunate.

JOHN SUNUNU, FORMER NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR: That's All right. How are you?

O'BRIEN: I'm really well. Do you believe that with his debate performance last night, Newt Gingrich, as some of our panelists believe that he is able to seal the deal and really capitalize on his momentum with his response to the very first question about his ex- wife?

SUNUNU: I think your panelists are as clumsy as the questioner was last night. The biggest problem I think in the debate last night was when Rick Santorum identified the grandiosity that Mr. Gingrich perceives himself to be.

O'BRIEN: We had that sound bite for folks who didn't get a chance to see the debate. Let's play that, Santorum on Newt Gingrich.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich. I don't want a nominee that I have to worry going out and looking at the paper this next day and worrying about what he's going to say next. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SUNUNU: You know, we're not auditions for a debating team. We're auditioning for the president of the United States. You can't have somebody that's really as irrational and perceives himself as Winston Churchill or the equivalent of Margaret Thatcher or Charles de Gaulle. And I think Rick Santorum put that in context as being one of Newt Gingrich's biggest problems.

The fact is, is we are electing a president of the United States to solve the problems that President Obama has left us. And I think last night, once again, as he focused on the issues, Governor Romney, contrary to what your panel thinks, Governor Romney focused on the issues that America cares about.

O'BRIEN: How come that's not gaining ground? When you look at the poll numbers, he actually over the last few days and even weeks, has been sort of declining in the various polls, and I know you have declared yourself as a supporter of Mitt Romney. Why is that message not taking hold if he's the candidate as opposed to the winner in your mind?

SUNUNU: Well, the primary process has to go through. Everybody thinks that this is going to be settled in one state or two states. This is a long slog. And the way the rules are structured this time it's going to take a long time.

We need 1,143 delegates in order to win the nomination. Governor Romney is ready to take this forward.

O'BRIEN: He got booed - he got booed last night when he was asked about his taxes. And I think we have a little clip of that as well. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't know how many years I'll release. I'll take a look at what the - what our documents are. And I'll release a multiple years. I don't know how many years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Why has this been such a struggle for him to get his message out about the taxes? Because it's been stumbles, it's been booing, that was another - another low point in the debate, I thought.

SUNUNU: Well, look, Ron Paul last night said he's not going to release his taxes. Santorum said he's not going to release his taxes.

O'BRIEN: No, that's not what they said. Santorum said my taxes are on my computer. I haven't been home. I filed them myself, and everyone laughed because it gave the sense he was the common man. And Ron Paul said he doesn't make enough money he thinks it would be embarrassing is what he said for his personal income tax.

SUNUNU: Then the net - the net outcome of those two cute comments are that Ron Paul is not going to release his taxes, Santorum is not going to release his taxes. Gingrich released one year. And Mitt Romney said as soon as this year is done he's going to release them in multiple years. You tell me which is the most transparent of all of those, multiple years.

O'BRIEN: But there are many people may say, well, why not do it now before he becomes - if he becomes a candidate?

SUNUNU: Because he wants to make one single package release and when this year's are done in April you'll get them all.

O'BRIEN: Or you could just release them twice. I mean, you realize that I think - the question about the taxes has kind of gone on and on.

SUNUNU: But that's ridiculous to release them twice. So the two guys can dribble stuff out for three or four months. The idea is to nominate somebody who's going to be president of the United States. Are you going to be surprised seeing that Mitt Romney was successful in his taxes?

O'BRIEN: No, he said it several times in the debate last night, I'm proud of my success.

SUNUNU: So what do you think you're going to find in his taxes? The most important thing is to find things that could be an October surprise problem.

O'BRIEN: Who do you think is going to have that?

SUNUNU: Newt Gingrich has a serious problem with the package that the Ethics Committee had when they fined him $300,000.

O'BRIEN: And you said he should release that now?

SUNUNU: Yes, absolutely. That's more important.

O'BRIEN: Bring out the towel (ph) I think it's the word he used.

SUNUNU: Bring out the laundry. That's more important than anything else.

Nancy Pelosi was on that group. If Nancy Pelosi knows, President Obama knows. We ought to be able to know now.

O'BRIEN: John Sununu, nice to have you. Thanks for joining us.

SUNUNU: Thank you. Nice to be here.

O'BRIEN: We appreciate your time. It's a pleasure.

SUNUNU: Thanks very much.

O'BRIEN: All right. We're going to take a short break. When we come back on the other side of the break, we're going to continue with the RNC Chair Reince Priebus joins us right here in the diner, the cafeteria this morning. We're back right after this. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We are back at the Bear E. Patch Cafe which has become like Politic Central. Reince -

REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: No kidding.

O'BRIEN: -- Priebus has joined us.

PRIEBUS: This is really bustling. My holy smokes.

O'BRIEN: Well, it's been kind of a crazy 24 hours -

PRIEBUS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: -- happening for the RNC.

PRIEBUS: Well, it's been - it's been an exciting primary season, quite frankly. And the funny part about all this, we just started. This is not the finish. This is the beginning. So I think it's good for our party. I think the debates, the primaries, you know, a little bit of drama, it's all good for the Republican Party.

O'BRIEN: A little bit? A little bit of drama? Last night, it was a lot of drama.

PRIEBUS: It was a - it was a lot of drama, but I don't think it was anything out of the ordinary. I think for the most part I'm really proud of the candidates. They focused in on Barack Obama, the promises he made, what's being delivered in this country.

And in the end, this is going to be a referendum on Barack Obama and the failed promises he's fed the American people. That's what this election will be about.

O'BRIEN: Do you think Newt Gingrich's performance last night right out of the gate has sealed a victory here in South Carolina?

PRIEBUS: You know, I don't know. And I think that all the candidates did pretty well last night. So I'm not really the referee -

O'BRIEN: Do you think he won though?

PRIEBUS: I don't know who won. I wasn't really keeping score. I think the reality is I think that people in our party won last night because I think it was a very good debate. I think this week had a couple of good debates.

And I think the focus in on these debates for the most part in two-hour debate almost the entire thing was about the fact that Barack Obama promised us jobs, he promised to get the debt and the economy under control and he hasn't delivered on any of it. So I think for that part of it, it was very good. O'BRIEN: You definitely felt a shift away from attacking each other. There were sort of moments of that, but not as much as in past debates and definitely a focus on President Obama.

Some people have said in an analysis that they thought Mitt Romney had a poor debate. I want to play you some pieces of some of the stumbles he had last night. Listen.

PRIEBUS: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich.

ROMNEY: ... a speaker for four years. I was in business for 25 years. So you're not going to get credit for my 25 years.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Romneycare does pay for tax paid abortions. Romneycare has written into it, Planned Parenthood.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That was actually some of the clips of where I think the candidates were attacking each other.

At one point, Santorum said on the stage there are two people who are unelectable. And he said Mitt Romney is not electable because he is out of touch with the common man, financially speaking, and that Newt Gingrich is so over the top. He's unreliable. Does he have a good point?

PRIEBUS: You know, I don't know who's got the - who's got the winning point here to take in - to take out the other candidates. I don't know if that's what it's all about. I don't believe that's what it's about.

I think this is sort of in my opinion patty cake. I don't really consider this to be all that negative. I think the candidates have to differentiate themselves and, you know, there are going to be some jabs here and there. But in the end this is going to be about Barack Obama, where this country is, are we on the right track or the wrong track, and should we make a change with the presidency.

And it's up to us to make sure that we have an articulate, intelligent alternative to a president who hasn't fulfilled his promises. That's what this is about. That's what I'm concerned with. But I don't consider this all that - all that bad. I mean, this is - this is nothing compared to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

O'BRIEN: Governor Sununu said just a moment ago when he was sitting there, he said that Newt Gingrich should bring out his ethics details about his ethics investigation from the 1990s and prior to in order to - the word he used was "wring out the dirty laundry," I think were the words he used. PRIEBUS: Who said that? I didn't - I didn't -

O'BRIEN: Governor Sununu just a minute ago.

PRIEBUS: OK. Well, you know, he's helping out Governor Romney and other folks are speaking for others.

Listen, I'm the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. This is about what the people here in South Carolina and Florida and Nevada and the rest of the country thinks. Not what I think. And I think quite frankly people are sick and tired of people from Washington telling them how they should operate and how they should vote.

So I'm looking forward to the results here. And most importantly I'm looking forward to making sure Barack Obama is a one-term president so we can save our country and in the process get this economy moving again.

O'BRIEN: I can tell that the talking points were this morning, every answer shifts to the president.

PRIEBUS: Well, listen. It's not about talking points, but it really is about what this president said and what the reality is and it's not talking points. I think it's real. I think our economy is in the ditch and I think that people are hurting out there and we need to do something about it.

O'BRIEN: Thanks for talking with us. Nice to see you.

PRIEBUS: All right. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Really appreciate it. Stay and have breakfast. We'd love to have you.

PRIEBUS: I would love to. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning, much - much more to talk about as we bring our panel back to talk about last night's debate and we'll also talk about what happens as we head into the primary here in South Carolina and what it all means for Florida. That's straight ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

In just a moment we're going to update you on some of our top stories.

Also, Herman Cain is with us and he's going to tell who he's endorsing. It's a little strange. We'll ask him about that.

Plus, South Carolina Congressman Tim Scott is here inside the diner. And he says he's going to endorse someone on my show. No, he didn't say that at all. No, I'm kidding. No, he didn't say that at all. But I'm going to ask him if he will. That's when we continue right after this short break. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Look there. There's a big bus with Herman Cain's bus on it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Such a modest bus.

O'BRIEN: This is the Bear E. Patch Cafe. Welcome back, everybody. Lots to get to this morning. Herman Cain is going to be our guest on just the other side of this.

First, we've got other stories making news. Alina Cho is going to look those. Hi, Alina. Good morning again.

CHO: Good morning again to you, Soledad. We begin with breaking news. A U.S. military official telling our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, that six service members killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan late Thursday are U.S. Marines.

The crash happened late yesterday in the southern Afghan province of Helmand. Taliban has claimed responsibility in a text message to CNN. NATO says there was no enemy presence in the area when the chopper crashed. This is the worst crash since August of last year that happened in Eastern Afghanistan. Thirty soldiers were killed in that crash, including 22 elite Navy SEAL commanders.

The human body parts recently discovered in the Hollywood Hills were found near actor, Brad Pitt's home. Investigators are now interviewing his bodyguard for possible leads.

They've now found a head, two hands and two feet. Meanwhile, the walker of the dog that discovered that head in the park said she first thought it was a movie prop. The park is set to reopen to the public today.

A state of emergency declared in Nevada where big fires near Reno have forced some 10,000 people to evacuate the area. At least 20 homes were destroyed so far.

Fire started yesterday afternoon and crews have had little luck containing it thanks in part to 80-mile-per-hour wind gusts. Several flights at the local airport have either been canceled or diverted.

Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke has died. She suffered a head injury and brain damage on a training run January 10th in Utah. Burke was considered a favorite to medal at the upcoming Winter Olympics after persuading them to add free skating to the games. Sarah Burke was 29 years old.

Minding your business now, U.S. stock futures are pointing to a mixed open right now. Futures for the Dow and S&P 500 trading slightly lower at the moment. Now stock futures are up just a bit.

Volatility, of course, over Europe's debt crisis. Investors fear that Greece is inching closer to defaulting on its debt obligations. European markets are down on those fears this morning.

I'll be back in 30 minutes. Soledad, back to you.

O'BRIEN: All right, Alina, we look forward to seeing you in 30 minutes. Thank you. We are back with our panel. We have Herman Cain joining our panel this morning.

It's so nice to have you. Tim Scott joins us as well. Congressman, it's nice to have very much. I've been telling everybody that he's going to endorse on our show this morning.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Roland Martin is back with us. Herman Cain has endorsed already, Congressman. I thought you were endorsement (ph) you said it was unconventional. You warned us for days it was going to be different and it was.

HERMAN CAIN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was. I endorsed the people of the United States of America.

O'BRIEN: I don't get it. I'm sorry, I really literally --

CAIN: All right, here's the deal. It's unconventional because a lot of people are losing interest in this primary election because of the negativity. Coming out of New Hampshire, 24,000 less people went to the polls. That's not a good sign.

O'BRIEN: Because of the negativity or because people really just feel like they cannot settle on a candidate?

CAIN: That's part of it. But the other thing, in addition to that, the negativity that they can't settle on a candidate and a lot of other factors cause them to stay home.

People have said to me since I got out of the campaign. They're losing interest because they don't have their favorite candidate or perfect candidate. There is no perfect candidate.

My biggest concern is that the voter enthusiasm will drop too low and we won't be able to get it back. When I made my unconventional endorsement of the people, we the people, I want people to feel like their vote counts.

That it matters because too many people feel as if their vote doesn't have an impact on this.

O'BRIEN: How do you inspire people around the race if you say the energy went out when you left the race, how do you inspire people? You're not getting back in the race.

CAIN: Well, that's the other reason that I didn't do a conventional endorsement and the way I inspire people is with solutions, which is why I started solutions revolutions and 9-9-9 the revolution. I know some people don't like 9-9-9, but the people love it. I'm going to try to keep a lot of people focused on power -- it can happen from the ground up.

If you get a ground swell on a solution that the people want, this is the point that I'm trying to drive home. If the people want it, there's a good chance that they'll do it.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's been a little surprising that the level of engagement in the Republican race hasn't been greater because Republicans are as antagonistic about Obama's performance as Democrats were about Bush's performance in 2008 when we saw this enormous unprecedented surge on volunteering donations and voting.

Now one thing though that could change that is part of what made the Democratic race compelling for so many people was the nature of this one-on-one dual that went on for a very long time and really unprecedented long time.

If after South Carolina, we do have more of a one-on-one race between former Speaker Gingrich and Mitt Romney, which is possible. I think that will engage the Republican electorate more than we've seen so far. Most evidence, as you say, it has not been the level of intensity you would expect in this environment.

REP. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Not seeing a small increase in the number of voters in primaries. I think what you will see happening tomorrow is you will see a narrow down to Gingrich from my perspective and Romney going forward.

That will create an opportunity for people to get engaged to choose a candidate when you have so many candidates, far more difficult to choose.

BROWNSTEIN: Ron Paul.

SCOTT: That's true.

BROWNSTEIN: Ron Paul is not going anywhere.

SCOTT: It's a two-person race.

BROWNSTEIN: He's still in the race though. He's not going anywhere.

(CROSSTALK)

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Only one alpha here. Look, look at you. Look, I get the whole deal with the people. But I'm sorry, that endorsement makes no sense whatsoever.

Bottom line is people are also looking to say, wait a minute, who do you think represents your values, your interests, your ideals as opposed to just, you know, the people?

And the other thing is, when it comes to inspiring the people, they need to trust the candidate. It's all, you can't say, well, you know, it's a negativity. It's the candidate.

CAIN: That's the problem. They don't trust Washington. Not all. They trust you. I'm serious about that. A lot of them they don't trust them. This is my whole point. They don't trust them.

MARTIN: Paul is from Washington. Santorum is from Washington. Gingrich spent a long time in Washington.

CAIN: Roland, you're missing my point.

O'BRIEN: One at a time.

CAIN: You talk about it collectively, that's one thing. When you start identifying individuals, of course, Tim's constituencies love him, but they will tell you that Washington in total is broken.

SCOTT: I will say that Washington is broken.

CAIN: You will say that. My point is this, Tim said it. People are going to get more engaged when it comes down to two people, number one. Number two, they still need to feel that their vote counts.

That's what hasn't been happening. Too many people have disengaged from the process. I'm trying to give them another reason, a solution to focus on to get excited.

BROWNSTEIN: Central dynamics dealing with tomorrow in South Carolina and beyond is as the race narrows, can Romney get above the ceiling? Here certainly in South Carolina there's a sense even in this campaign that probably about a third of the vote is his ceiling, which is about what John McCain got in 2008.

The issue is whether anybody can consolidate enough of the remainder of the party to get past him. At the beginning of the week it didn't look like it. Now it looks like it might.

If Newt Gingrich is able to win here going forward, of in a one-on-one race can -- or more on a one-on-one race can Romney built in a way he hasn't?

All of the polling that has been done in the Republican race, every single national poll, he has reached 40 percentonly once, which is incredible for a guy who has been identified as frontrunner and until yesterday --

O'BRIEN: You have 10 seconds before I get to my tease and we'll pick up on the other side.

SCOTT: Romney was in the running for the very long time. Even in South Carolina, he was in the 20s in November. Now find out, he's 33 percent, 34 percent. I believe what's going to happen this is will back a two-person race. Ron Paul is not going anywhere. This will become in theory a two-person race, which means Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich. If Newt wins tomorrow this race is going for a couple of more months. If he doesn't win tomorrow, I think Florida will be the last stand he has.

O'BRIEN: The other thing on the break is I believe Tim Scott is going to endorse someone.

MARTIN: Come on, man. Step up. Step up.

SCOTT: I'm not endorsing you.

MARTIN: Step up.

SCOTT: You know what --

O'BRIEN: No pressure. No pressure, but we will be putting it on him during the commercial break. Back in a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We're coming to you at the Berry Patch -- from the Berry Patch Cafe here in Charleston, South Carolina. You're watch STARTING POINT. I'm Soledad O'Brien. We welcome you back.

We'll get right to our panel. Herman Cain has joined our panel. Congressman Tim Scott has joined our panel. Ron Brownstein is always on our panel.

(LAUGHTER)

And Roland Martin is taking over the panel.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I'm good.

(CROSSTALK)

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm good.

O'BRIEN: Good.

Let's get to it.

Tim Scott.

REP. TIM SCOTT, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Yes.

O'BRIEN: You have said you're doing to endorse somebody. And you know what? My new show would love to be able to say we had your endorsement on. Who are you endorsing?

SCOTT: Nothing would make me happier to endorse on your show, Soledad. I'm going to endorse sugar grits.

(LAUGHTER)

SCOTT: If he can endorse the whole America, the American people, I'm going to endorse sugar grits.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

SCOTT: We are down to --

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: You're actually being serious?

(CROSSTALK)

SCOTT: We are down to a two-person race from my perspective.

O'BRIEN: Why not endorse one of those who people? Who do you like? It's a simple question.

SCOTT: It is a simple question. The challenge is I have not decided who I'm going to vote for tomorrow. If you don't know who you're going to vote for it's hard to endorse somebody. Although, it has happened in the past.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Give us your sense of the relative strengths and weaknesses? What's the calculation you're going through when you're trying to decide?

SCOTT: Mitt has done a good job of trying to run a campaign not to lose. Unfortunately, in the fourth quarter with two minutes left, it typically doesn't work well. At the end of the game, here in South Carolina, is that Mitt's intensity has -- is waning. What you see happening, at the same time, is Newt is gaining strength because he's being attacked. The first question last night gave him a standing ovation. As much because of the question and the timing of ABC's release of the interview than anything else.

What South Carolinians and I think Americans as a whole have in common is that we are growing more and more skeptical of the media's role in deciding our presidency -- our president. Because of that, there's no question, when he was asked the question last night, his simple but strong rebuke got him a standing ovation.

(CROSSTALK)

SCOTT: And that may be why he won the debate last night.

O'BRIEN: People in the audience -- because I was on the floor of the debate, they would say to me they were happy to boo the media. They love to boo the media. And they said that they didn't like the question and then they were cheering every time Gingrich said something because he was on and funny. But many of them, most of them, overwhelmingly, they said, I'm going to go home and Google it because I'm interested in it.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: And they are interested. They said character of a candidate is important to them. These are from 18-year-old boys to 65-year-old ladies.

SCOTT: Absolutely.

The challenge, how do you prove that it's true? That's the real question. If you have pictures and videos in today's world, skeptics run the --

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: He did a great job of dancing really far and away from the question of who you want to endorse.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I noticed. I noticed.

MARTIN: That was very good. Very adept. Go on "Dancing with the Stars."

(LAUGHTER)

Here's the question for you. Who do you think -- I'll hook you up. Who do you think, though, has a better shot at beating President Barack Obama come November, because clearly that's what your goal is.

SCOTT: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Out of Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, Paul, who is it?

SCOTT: I would say there are two folks left that can beat President Obama.

MARTIN: Agreed.

SCOTT: That would be Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney for very different reasons.

MARTIN: Yes.

SCOTT: If it comes down --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: So it's equal for you?

SCOTT: I'm trying to -- by tomorrow --

(CROSSTALK) By tomorrow, I'm going to have to be in the position to make this decision. The fact of the matter is, when you look at the organization that Romney has, you look at the ability to raise money, you've got to say that that is a better long-term strategy.

O'BRIEN: Good strategy. And then Newt Gingrich.

SCOTT: Newt Gingrich, if you want a one-on-one debate, and you can have seven of them, as he suggested, thark reall suggested, that really works to his advantage because the more they hit him the better he gets.

O'BRIEN: Here's my question for you, is what's going to happen between right now and tomorrow that's going to make you pick? Are they literally 50/50?

SCOTT: They're very close in my mind. My decision will happen at the ballot box.

O'BRIEN: Their philosophies are completely different. How can you --

(CROSSTALK)

SCOTT: Here's -- being in Congress, one of the things I'm depending on is a very conservative Congress pulling whichever president we have to the right.

(CROSSTALK)

SCOTT: That's where the anchors -- the anchor is really in Congress being able to make sure the president governs to the right, because we have a choice. And either choice is better than the current president. Therefore, we'll find ourselves making a very difficult choice. But Florida will make it easier. But in South Carolina, the choice will be either Romney or Newt. It's a photo finish.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: We're going to go to a commercial break.

Go ahead.

HERMAN CAIN, (R), FORMER GODFATHER'S PIZZA CEO & FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They can both beat Obama and their negatives are different. Romney's going to get --

O'BRIEN: But that's being strategic. That's saying --

CAIN: Yes, I know.

O'BRIEN: Strategically versus here's pick versus here's the person who philosophically -- I believe in what they're bringing to the American people. So either you're picking because I want to win -- (CROSSTALK)

CAIN: They are not that far apart philosophically.

O'BRIEN: -- and I'll do anything to win --

CAIN: No.

O'BRIEN: -- so I'm going to take this candidate. Or you're saying I believe personally that this --

(CROSSTALK)

SCOTT: Not even close.

BROWNSTEIN: I think this is right. This is an unusual year where the candidates are following the party rather than leading the party. I think the party by and large has set an agenda they want for the Republicans to carry into the fall. These candidates are really auditioning for who can be most trusted to implement and deliver that agenda.

I want to ask you a quick question. Your comparison of Gingrich and Romney got to the point that Santorum yesterday made in the debate. He basically said Newt Gingrich was a great gorilla leader, a great thinker. But when it came time for running something, the House, he could not do it very well. In four years, his own team threw him out. Does that give you pause about him in the executive job being the president, which is a lot more to run than being speaker of the House.

SCOTT: There are a lot of factors you have to consider. One of the factors is the chief executive the person who can build a team? If he can't build a team, you can't succeed in America. So one of the parts of the equation that I'm looking at includes, how do you build a team? Will they follow you? Not can you get them to say yes to the job. Will they say yes when it's time in the heat of the battle to make good decisions and you don't override the decisions. There's a lot to take into consideration. Romney seems to have a strong desire to have a team concept.

O'BRIEN: I've got to throw in a question about race because Newt Gingrich, of course, took a lot of flack and has gone back and forth in the debates about the food stamp president, has talked about the NAACP and African-Americans would rather get off food stamps and get paychecks. I think we have a clip of it. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: I am prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I'll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So President Carter said that this was sort of the subtlety of racism. Sort of using words, coded words, in order to send a message to voters and so --

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: Let me be --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Let me just say. We have the most black people ever around the table for STARTING POINT in the history of STARTING POINT, which is only three weeks old. Go ahead.

CAIN: I usually don't get that intense. That is ridiculous, when they talk about coded words that's talking about race. Take race out of it. It has nothing to do with it. Some people will try to use that as a distraction. This country is in a crisis. Let's focus on that. Race shouldn't be an issue.

MARTIN: Why did he mention the NAACP? Why didn't he simply say --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: We know more white people are on food stamps than black people.

MARTIN: Right. He did mention La Raza. He didn't mention (INAUDIBLE)

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: But when you specifically say, if the NAACP invites me, then I'm going to talk about this subject. He didn't say I'm going to go to NAACP to discuss foreclosures. He didn't say I'm going to the NAACP to discuss economic reform or education.

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: Roland has missed this point.

O'BRIEN: One at a time.

CAIN: He has never been invited he's simply saying, invite me. That's what he's saying.

MARTIN: No, no, no. He said if you invite me, I'm going to say demand pay checks.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: OK, Congressman.

MARTIN: Come on now. No, no, no. No.

O'BRIEN: One at a time.

SCOTT: Without any question, Newt Gingrich has done more to try to increase the size of the footprint in the Republican Party than almost any other candidate you see on the stage. He has been forceful in his objective of making sure that minorities have a significant and serious role in the Republican Party. So now to suggest that, based on one comment that he made that he is now race baiting -- race baiting --

O'BRIEN: It wasn't one comment. With all due respect, you know that wasn't one comment.

SCOTT: And here's --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: That comment was repeated several times and other versions of that involve poor children in the inner city.

SCOTT: I won't talk over you because you're a lovely woman.

O'BRIEN: It's my show.

SCOTT: Yes, it's your show as well.

O'BRIEN: I got to get a point in occasionally.

SCOTT: Panoramically speaking, when you look at what he said, he was drilling down to the work ethic of the average American. If there's a way to restore the work ethic of Americans and here's an opportunity to do so --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Sir, I have to stop you. Sir, he did not. He said he was drilling down to the work ethic of poor people in the inner city which, by the way, he's talking about minorities. That's what he's talking about.

MARTIN: And he said no poor whites?

(CROSSTALK)

SCOTT: He doesn't do it to the exclusion of anybody.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: He did.

SCOTT: In that one comment, you can take it any way you want.

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: That's my point. That's what he was saying.

O'BRIEN: One at a time. People, I can't hear Mr. Cain.

CAIN: The point being made instead of food stamps, paychecks, he was referring to creating jobs and getting this economy going. O'BRIEN: You're going to have the final word on this, because I've got to go to commercial break.

(LAUGHTER)

Remember, it's what pays our bills.

(LAUGHTER)

It keeps STARTING POINT on the air.

MARTIN: It stops the spin too.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Lets me take a moment to get it all back together. A short break. We're back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're looking at the inside of the Bear E. Patch Cafe. Can you tell we've just taken over the place? Every day we grow a little bit more.

CAIN: And Roland hasn't stopped eating.

O'BRIEN: No. He had the healthiest breakfast.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: I had my oatmeal --

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: That's cold from this side of the table. That's cold.

We brought Will Cain back into our panel because Congressman Tim Scott had to run.

Want to welcome everybody back.

We were having our conversation about racial coding.

I thought you were making a great point about that. Let's bring us up to speed and we'll move on.

BROWNSTEIN: Real quick. I think it is almost, it's almost irrelevant whether Newt Gingrich or other Republicans are racially coding or not when they talk about food stamps and other entitlement programs. The reality is that there is a fundamental chasm in the view in the role of government between whites, who are moving into a much bigger skepticism of government in the aftermath of the recession, and African-Americans, other minorities, who continue to believe that an activist government investing in education, training and health care is necessary to move them and their kids into the middle class. We are moving toward an intense racial polarization in our voting. Republicans won a higher share of white voting in 2010 than they've won in any poll in the history of modern polling. It's possible that Barack Obama can win the presidency on those 59 percent of whites. Whether they mean it or not, that's where we're going.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Got it. Stop. We're going to lose you in about one minute. You have 30 seconds to make your point, sir, then we're going to let you go because I know you have another appointment.

CAIN: I fundamentally reject the idea of racial coding. I think that is ridiculous. I don't think it's intentional. I think people look for certain words and they want to call it racial coding. It's a distraction.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Does a group of people, who feel like they are being racially coded to some degree, if you grow a party, you're trying to reach voters, at the end of the day, doesn't it matter more about the people who feel that some of these statements are being directed their way?

CAIN: If you have --

O'BRIEN: And if you want a party that's going to be inclusive, because the country is becoming more racially diverse, that's a problem.

MARTIN: That's right.

CAIN: If you have the media telling them that it's racial coding, they're going to buy it.

O'BRIEN: Oh, come on.

CAIN: If you've got people out there talking about that.

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: I totally reject this whole idea of racial coding.

O'BRIEN: And I'm going to steal --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I'm going to steal --

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: That's what divides us.

MARTIN: Don't code or divide me.

O'BRIEN: I'm going to steal your line. I totally reject, sir --

(LAUGHTER)

-- because I like it, but we're about to hit the start of the 8:00 hour. We learn Herman Cain. He's got to get back on his bus. He's got a lot of stuff to do.

Nice to have you.

CAIN: My pleasure.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate your time.

CAIN: I enjoyed it. Enjoyed it. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Anytime you want to come back, we'd love to have you.

CAIN: Enjoyed it.

MARTIN: You can come to my house for dinner, we'll talk about coding. Come on.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: A short break. We've got to get right to it.

(LAUGHTER0

O'BRIEN: We've got to go. We're back on the other side. Stay with us.

(CROSSTALK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)