Return to Transcripts main page


The Fight for Florida; Fight Club; Freed Hostages In Italy

Aired January 27, 2012 - 05:00   ET


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

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We are bringing you the news from A to Z.

It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. So, let's get started here.

BANFIELD: Finally debate. Boy, was it a good one? I hope you were able to stay up late and get up early because there were fireworks. The primary is just four days away, so the fireworks were pretty apropos, finger-pointing on housing, on borders. And it is a tight race, but who scored the knockout? We'll bring it down.

SAMBOLIN: And a rescued American hostage, Jessica Buchanan. She's at a hospital in Italy. She's going through what's called a reintegration treatment after her three months in captivity. The military says it requires 72 hours or reintegration in order to be effective. It's a decompression period to maximize health and welfare, they say.

So, the question is: could she be coming home soon?

BANFIELD: Wish her well nonetheless.

And special delivery. Can you say hot sauce?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, man, I woke up to the story this morning, and I thought, oh, my man, goodness. What a delivery!

BANFIELD: Politics and tacos, folks. Hundreds and hundreds of tacos going to the office of the mayor of East Haven, Connecticut. I think you know who probably was behind this. We're going to let you know why it happened, of course, what's the reaction to it.

SAMBOLIN: And we have an amazing video. This is a must-see snowmobiler. Yes, falls 120 feet at the X-Games. Wait until you hear what he did right after that crash.

All that ahead on EARLY START. Yes.

BANFIELD: There were three angles on that.

SAMBOLIN: It is one of those moments.

BANFIELD: Let me just tell you. It looks like he's completely busted up, but he's OK. We wouldn't have been celebrating --

SAMBOLIN: We wouldn't be showing you the video if something had gone terribly wrong.

BANFIELD: But I like some good X-Games, I tell you.


BANFIELD: I say to say that. I love that stuff.

SAMBOLIN: You're a daredevil.

BANFIELD: And I've done that.

First up, though, let's go to the X-Games of politics, shall we? It was the GOP's final four, and they were pulling out, no stops, kicking it up a notch, all those other, you know, expressions -- going at it from everything, from the Mexican border, to the moon colony that Newt Gingrich would like to establish.

It all happened in last night's CNN debate. And if you didn't know it, you can tell by the backdrop. Just take a look at that.

That's right. Right here on this network, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney went at it. You can't maybe tell from the looks on their faces, but let me tell you -- Romney was on, going for the jugular, responding to Gingrich's claims that he is anti-immigration.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not anti- immigrant. My father was born in Mexico. My wife's father was born in Wales. They came to this country. The idea that I'm anti- immigrant is repulsive.

Don't use a term like that. You can say we disagree on certain policies, but to say that enforcing the U.S. law to protect our borders, to welcome people here legally, to expand legal immigration that I approve, that that's somehow anti-immigrant is simply the kind of over the top rhetoric that has characterized American politics too long.

And I'm glad Marco Rubio called you out on it. I'm glad you withdrew it. I think you should apologize for it, and I think you should recognize that having differences of opinions on issues does not justify labeling people with highly charged epithets.




SAMBOLIN: So, if you missed the moment, we had it for you. Live in Jacksonville, CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser. Christine Romans is going to join us as well.

So, we're going to begin with you, Paul. It's like a one-two punch, one-two punch. I walked into this morning -- good morning to both of you, by the way. I see you waving there, Christine.

So, Paul, I want to start with Paul's picks because there are a slew of them -- your favorite moments from last night. So the immigration finger-pointing sparked by the Romney radio ad was on the list. Tell us about it.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Yes, listen. Right off the bat, Romney had -- I'm going to say, Romney has probably his best debate performance. There have been 19 so far. This was probably the most important because it's coming just a few days before this Florida primary.

But, yes, you saw him strongly defend himself there against the charges from Newt Gingrich, that he was the most anti-immigrant candidate, or the most anti-immigrant of all the four remaining Republican candidates. You mentioned the radio ad.

You know what? Wolf Blitzer and the team really got Mitt Romney on this, but he had a strong defense. This is the radio ad that the Romney campaign put up just a couple of days ago here in Florida where he says that Newt Gingrich at one time called Spanish the language of the ghetto. Romney denied at first that he even knew about it.

Take a listen to how it played out.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR/DEBATE MODERATOR: We just double- checked. It was one of your ads. It's running here in Florida in -- on the radio. And at the end you say, "I'm Mitt Romney and I approved this ad."

So it is -- it is here.


ROMNEY: Let me ask -- let me ask a question.

Let me ask the speaker a question. Did you say what the ad says or not? I don't know.

GINGRICH: It's taken totally out of context.

ROMNEY: Oh, OK, he said it.

GINGRICH: I did not -- no. I did not say it about Spanish. I said, in general, about all languages. We are better for children to learn English in general, period.


STEINHAUSER: Quick turn by Romney there, you know, who was put on the spot by Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, but he was able to turn it around. Very quick performance and a quick turn by Romney.

Listen, Zoraida, one out of 10 Republican voters in the primary here are Latinos and Hispanics and they're important. And I think Romney scored some big points. I was talking to a lot of top Romney aides in the spin room afterwards, after the debate, and they were extremely, extremely pleased with his performance.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, and it's interesting because that's not an immigration issue. It's a language issue, a culture issue. It's going to be interesting to see how that plays out.

I want to talk about Rick Santorum. He also made some fireworks last night, attacking Mitt Romney on his health care plan. Let's listen, and then you can talk to me about it.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Romney was the author of Romneycare, which is a top down government-run health care system which I read an article today has 15 different items directly in common with Obamacare.

Congressman Gingrich for 20 years advocated that the federal government can force each and every person to enter into a private contract.

We cannot give the issue of health care away in this election. It is too foundational for us to win this election.


SAMBOLIN: "Politico" saying he's got game. What do you think?

STEINHAUSER: Yes, I think you're right and I think a lot of people are agreeing, Zoraida. He'd basically go to Mitt Romney and to saying that he'd agree that individual mandates were the right way to go. That is a very dangerous thing for a Republican candidate to say. Maybe Rick Santorum went on a little too long, a little too strong on health care, but he was definitely packing a punch, much more to a degree than we saw on Monday night.

Listen, for Rick Santorum and for Ron Paul, the two men on the sides, you need to yell, you need to scream to be a part of this -- what seems to be turning out to be a two-person race. I think Rick Santorum did that successfully in our debate just a few hours ago -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Paul Steinhauser, thanks for playing with us this morning.

BANFIELD: Of course, one of the big issues is the housing crisis that's hit American homeowners hard, but nowhere perhaps harder than states like Florida.

Here are some stats you're not going to believe. Last month in Florida, one out of every 360 homes got a foreclosure notice and -- are you ready for this? Nearly half -- nearly half of all mortgages in Florida are under water, they're upside down. It's awful to hear that.

And since the housing crisis peaked a few years back, home values in Florida have plummeted, 60 percent in Orlando, and more than half in Miami and Tampa.

And the Republican front-runners have different versions of how they would come to the aid of people in Florida who are trying to cope with that.

So, here's a little bit of what both Gingrich and Romney said they would do about this.


GINGRICH: I would break each of them up into five or six separate units, and over a five-year period I would wean them from all federal sponsorship because we need to get away from those gigantic system.

ROMNEY: The right course for the housing industry is to get people back to work so they can buy homes again. We have 9.9 percent unemployment in Florida, it's unthinkable.


BANFIELD: All right. So let's get you back to Jacksonville where Christine Romans is standing by.

You know, you say it all the time when we're talking off camera about how bad things are in Florida. But when you hear those numbers, it almost feels like what the politicians are saying is just platitudes. And I don't know that any politician could just come in and fix this anyway.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And that's a really good point. I mean, look, the housing market isn't going to get fixed until the job market gets better. And that is consensus. All the people we talked to in Jacksonville, homeowners, realtors, lawyers who are helping people with their foreclosures, professors who studied this thing.

And really the interesting thing about this, I think, Ashleigh, is that no one in Florida is going to be casting a vote without the baggage of the housing bubble really right there with them in the voting booth. And that's really clear here. This is a housing story.

Florida went up fast and went up big and Florida came down fast and came down big.

Here in Jacksonville, it's about a half of all homes are under water right now, meaning people who aren't in foreclosure still owe more on the home than the home is worth. It's a jobs issue.

But let me tell you something else that we have found, is that there are little seeds of recovery there, prices have popped and are now collapsed, I would say, actually, and are lot lower than they were a few years ago. Very low interest rates and you've got this glut of foreclosures that's starting to kind of move out of the market. But the seeds being planted is much different than, you know, the green and the dawn of recovery. And so, this is a real serious problem.

You know, there's a lot of talk about Mitt Romney's taxes, too, and I think when you talk about taxes and housing, those are two issues that Floridians care about. But it is the housing issue (VIDEO GAP) walk into at the voting booth with, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Yes. You know what? You can mess with interest rates all you want, but when you're under water in a mortgage, and you've lost all your equity, good luck getting a refi, or anything else taking advantage of any of those benefits.

Christine, great. We're going to come back to you a couple of times to get more detail, especially with regard to the finances and how that affects this raise.

And at 7:00 Eastern, at STARTING POINT with Soledad O'Brien, Republican Congressman David Rivera, the only Latino member of Congress from Florida, he's endorsing Newt Gingrich. She's going to talk to her.

And then, also, Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida. She's foreign policy adviser to the Romney presidential campaign. And they were throwing her name around all sorts of times last night at the debate.

You also want to make sure you join Wolf Blitzer, Erin Burnett, Anderson Cooper and the wonderful and talented Candy Crowley for the live coverage with John King of the Florida primary. It's Tuesday night, 6:00 Eastern, right here on CNN, which means they basically get no vacation for two months.


It's 10 minutes past the hour here.

Good morning. We give you an EARLY START to your day by alluding you to news that's happening later and the stories that are just developing right now, but they will be the big story tonight.

Attorney General Eric Holder will unveil a new Justice Department fraud fighting unit today. Dozens of prosecutors and federal and state investigators will focus on toxic mortgage-backed securities that triggered the financial crisis.

BANFIELD: And then it's sentencing day for the so-called Barefoot Bandit. Normally, you see the guy in the orange suit, and you think, boo hiss. But this guy got fans. Colton Harris Moore, Colt to his friends, arrested in the Bahamas, remember, back in 2010 after a two-year spree of barefoot break-ins and boat and plane thefts in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. He was on the lam and had like this huge, crazy following.

It's expected he's probably going to receive 7 1/2 years under a plea deal that he struck for what are considered federal crimes. He was sentenced last month for his state crimes. So, he's getting it from all directs.

SAMBOLIN: And the Santa Ana winds kicking up from southern California. A red flag warning has been issued in Los Angeles now. And officials say wind gusts as high as 70 miles an hour combined with low humidity have created very dangerous fire conditions there.

BANFIELD: We'll have to keep an eye on that. In fact, we have Rob Marciano, who's much better at keeping an eye on things like that, joining us now.

Hey, there.


Yes, those are going to kick up. We've had about a week or so break from the Santa Anas. So, it's about time for that to happen.

The rain from yesterday, some of the flooding across parts of New Orleans and some tornado threats yesterday across the Gulf States, that has moved into Florida. No tornado threat at the moment, but some heavy rains certainly moving into Tampa. This is sneaking up towards Jacksonville or just past Jacksonville, I should say, into Daytona and getting up into the low country of the Carolinas.

Up to the north, we do have a little wintry precip, some ice mixing in at times in Upstate New York and four to six inches of snow expected across parts of the northern New England today. But the I-95 corridor is OK, mostly in the form of rain. It's a pretty mild system that's heading up there. Again, one to four inches across lower New England and four to eight inches across parts of northern New England.

If you are traveling today, San Francisco, Boston, New York, those are going to be your problem spots, Philadelphia as well. And Tampa will see some afternoon thunderstorms.

Another little clipper going to be coming across into Chicago over the weekend, and that will finally bring some colder air. But just like every other cold punch of air we've had, it's only going to last a couple of days. So, enjoy it when it comes.

Speaking of winter, Winter X-Games, Aspen, happening, you bet. Shaun White, flying tomato, multiple Winter X gold winner. There's not him. There's Shaun.

Guys, he was practicing yesterday and sprained his ankle. I don't know if it's a little gamesmanship going into the competition to get his competitors on their heels.

This is obviously not video of that crash.

BANFIELD: No, this is Shaun, isn't it?

MARCIANO: Yes, this is Shaun.

BANFIELD: Man, he's unbelievable, Rob.

MARCIANO: He's unlike anybody else. He goes bigger, higher, and he's more graceful and more peace in the air than any of his competitors. It's almost unfair to watch him.

SAMBOLIN: Hey, Rob, have you ever tried that?

MARCIANO: Yes. I can hug my carcass just like Shaun.

BANFIELD: Look at you. Now, here's your crash, my friend.

MARCIANO: Yes, Colin Moore (ph), snowmobiler, taking some big air and not quite --

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my goodness.

MARCIANO: I don't know if he got hurt on this seriously or not.

BANFIELD: No. He walked away from it, Rob.

MARCIANO: He did win the gold medal. So, he got some skills.

SAMBOLIN: OK. We were having this discussion earlier, Rob, that perhaps he is injured, he just doesn't know it because of all the adrenaline that's rushing through his body.

BANFIELD: Look at him go.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my goodness.

BANFIELD: Look at him walking away. I think he was doing a Tim Tebow afterward for that. I would, too. I'd thank the Lord above.

MARCIANO: I would say there'd be a lot to be thankful for after having that crash.

BANFIELD: Are you going do a little half pipe for us next hit?

MARCIANO: Yes, maybe.

BANFIELD: Yes, thanks for that.

MARCIANO: Thanks for sharing. We appreciate it.

BANFIELD: Thanks, Rob.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It is 14 minutes past the hour here. Time to check the stories that are making news this morning.

Another debate, another sparring match between the leading Republican candidates, that is Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. The two clash over illegal immigration. Romney blasting Gingrich for a campaign ad calling him the most anti-immigrant candidate. That ad was later pulled. It was a final debate before Florida's primary on Tuesday.

BANFIELD: And in Mississippi, a manhunt is continuing for a convicted killer, one of four of those pardoned by former Governor Haley Barbour. The state attorney general is offering a reward, not saying how much, though, just money.

If you can help find this guy on your screen. Take a good look. Take a good, good long look. Joseph Ozment is his name.

In the meantime, the state A.G. says, by the way, the files on this guy and a few others are missing. The four murderers who are pardoned, the files are missing. They were supposed to be turned over to governor's office, but they're missing.

SAMBOLIN: Didn't that guy shoot somebody in the head twice?

BANFIELD: That one didn't.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, I thought it was him.

BANFIELD: No. That was -- I got it. It will come to me. This guy is a killer. There were four of those killers. And conveniently or perhaps accidentally, I'm not going to pass judgment here, the files on these guys on how they behaved, whether they were -- you know, something you would give to the parole board.

SAMBOLIN: Right, right, right.

BANFIELD: Not able to find them.

SAMBOLIN: All right. A Pakistani military coming under attack overnight. Police officials say at least nine rockets were fired at the academy. It's located near the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed. So far, there is no claim of responsibility there.

BANFIELD: So, every night can be taco night for a mayor in the East Haven, Connecticut, and I'm sure he's not liking this a little or lot. Special delivery, 500 tacos s coming into the mayor's office in that community.

SAMBOLIN: I thought it was 2,000 tacos. Nonetheless, that's a lot of tacos.

BANFIELD: Lots of tacos. I can't count them. It does look like more than 500, though.

Of course, you'll probably remember that he made that really stupid comment about having tacos for dinner as a way to reach out to Latinos in that community. Not the smartest thing to say.

Also, we were watching, even though we were supposed to be asleep. The moon, a nice place to visit in August, I hear.

Well, in any case, Mitt Romney was smacking Newt Gingrich back down to earth for plans to colonize the moon. You're going to hear about the squabble over space exploration at last night's debate.

You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back, folks. It is 5:19 in the East.

And we're getting an early on your local news that is making national headlines. And this morning, we have papers from Washington and Fayetteville, North Carolina.

I'm going to start here with "The Washington Post." Wondering if Newt Gingrich's plan to colonize the moon by the end of his second term as president is actually science fiction. It's making a lot of headlines, of course, on Florida space coast because of the end of the shuttle program. It costs that area a lot of jobs.

So, can a permanent lunar base be set up by 2021? Experts were interviewed by "Washington Post." Experts there are skeptical.

So, Robert Whelan actually said, an aerospace -- he is -- he thinks it's an aggressive mission. He's an aerospace executive with Harris Corporation. He said this was his polite way of saying that a lunar base by January 2021 is going to be very difficult to achieve.

I don't know that you call Romney or Gingrich -- I'm sorry, Romney an expert for weighing in, but he says it may be a big idea, but it's not a good idea. And Santorum just says this is not a responsible thing to even put out there.

BANFIELD: I'd visit the moon. I don't think I'd live there, right? Give me a break, seriously. That sounds crazy.

SAMBOLIN: You know, the idea of spacecraft going up on daily basis, I don't know.

BANFIELD: And petitioning for statehood?


SAMBOLIN: It doesn't appeal to me. I know you're more of a daredevil. I wouldn't be trying it out, I'm sorry.

BANFIELD: No, I think you're right.

There's another great story we had coming in from the Fayetteville newspaper, "The Fayetteville Observer" out of North Carolina. If you've ever been to Fort Bragg, really good folks who work there, live there. They're really jittery and nervous about these cutbacks the Pentagon keeps talking about.

They're not talking about little cutbacks in the military folks. They're talking about major Defense Department cutbacks and 100,000 troops and possibly eight full combat brigades getting axed completely.

And if you're Fort Bragg, yes, that's not good news. They've got four of those combat brigades at Fort Bragg, and they're really nervous about the thousands of people who could be affected by this, because the town itself depends on that installation of that base. You know, they depend on it. There's thousands of families, these hair cutting and groceries, whatever happens --

SAMBOLIN: Domino effect.

BANFIELD: Huge, huge effect. So, they're watching very closely what the Defense Department is going to be saying to them, you know, coming over the next few months.

SAMBOLIN: All right. East Haven, Connecticut, Mayor Joseph Maturo we're not going to stop talking about this. He won't have to look far for one of the tacos that he was thinking of having the other night. Why?

Look at this. Huge special delivery, hundreds of tacos delivered to his office. I read 2,000.

BANFIELD: I think that was they were hoping for, right?

SAMBOLIN: This was in response to that insensitive taco remark following the arrest of four East Haven cops for allegedly terrorizing Latinos. Members of the group Junta for Progressive Action delivered the tacos.


LATRINA KELY, JUNTA FOR PROGRESSIVE ACTION: Hopefully, you know now that comments like yours only heighten racial tension and help explain how kind of the racial intolerance uncovered by the U.S. Department of Justice was allowed to take hold in the East Haven Police Department. These tacos represent every person across America who was disgusted and condemns your comments.


SAMBOLIN: Mayor Maturo says the tacos are going to be donated to local soup kitchens and he also says -- I'm going to quote this -- "The events of the past few days have focused our town and my administration on the need to deal sensitively and compassionately with the needs of the Latino community."

BANFIELD: Yes. He's had a rough week to say the very least and I'm thinking he's probably looking forward to this being behind him. But that's not going to happen until --


SAMBOLIN: Not any time soon.

BANFIELD: -- in that community.

I also want to keep you in the pop culture loop this morning. Take a look at what's trending on the social media and the interwebs.

How about this? Twitter announcing a new policy. Wait until you hear, kind of sounds like censorship in a way. They're saying that they might block certain tweets in specific countries. What?


BANFIELD: Blocking tweets? How could that happen?

Apparently, Twitter is saying, look, there are certain countries we can just exist in if they're just full on any tweet go. So, for example, they're looking at the idea of possibly even blocking neo- Nazi tweets in Germany and France, even though that's a cultural thing, not so much a legal thing.

There are laws against hate speech there. But Twitter is essentially saying what we want to do is figure out a way to exist in these countries and make some of those sort of heated tweets exist somewhere else, so everyone else in the world can still access those tweets that might not be offensive, to, say, an Islamic republic.

SAMBOLIN: Not in that country.

BANFIELD: Not in that country. But they can still exist in that Islamic republic but it's limiting the (INAUDIBLE) of that government. But everybody else in the world can read those tweets. It's kind of tough.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, yes, yes. It's censorship.

BANFIELD: Yes. Any way you cut it, it's censorship.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Drunk behind the wheel perhaps, Ashleigh?


SAMBOLIN: No, not you. But look at these two? Recognize them? "Wheel of Fortune" hosts. Pat Sajak.


SAMBOLIN: Look at this, he and his co-host Vanna White would load up on margaritas while filming the game slow. I am not making this up. He said so.

Sajak revealed that he and White would take dinner breaks as a nearby Mexican restaurant. Listen.


PAT SAJAK, GAME SHOW HOST: Vanna and I would go across and have two or three or six, and then come and do the last shows and have trouble recognizing the alphabet. They're really good tapes to get ahold of.


SAMBOLIN: OK. Ashleigh thinks he was kidding.


SAMBOLIN: Sajak says these escapades happened when the show first started and when he was much younger and could hold his liquor. He actually says that he wants to go back and look at the episodes. They're kind of fun to watch.

BANFIELD: It's history.

We have highlights for you, because you're always like that when you go to bed early and get up early.

Last night's CNN debate, Mitt Romney appearing to get his swagger, big swagger. All of this ahead of the Florida primary. It's coming up on Tuesday. That state, by the way, is up for grabs.

BANFIELD: And have you watched MTV's new reality series, "Caged?" The document buddies trying to make it out of their town and to make martial arts pros. Two of the show stars live on the set.

You are watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Twenty-eight minutes past the hour. Time to check the stories that are making news this morning.

More debate drama as the four Republican presidential candidates exchange fire on everything from health care to a moon colony to illegal immigration.

BANFIELD: That's my favorite one, by the way.

SAMBOLIN: Which one? The moon colony?


SAMBOLIN: A Newt Gingrich's ad calling Mitt Romney anti- immigrant drew a very angry response from Mitt Romney who called it inexcusable. The ad was later pulled. It was final face-off before Tuesday's Florida primary.

BANFIELD: And overseas, take a look at the mass rally in Cairo. Look at those. More than two dozen pro-democracy groups were behind organizing this and they were asking all these people to come out of march following Friday prayers.

Now, if you don't know it, Friday is a big, big day in the countries because that's when -- it's like church day and that's when you get to go out and sort of protest afterwards. That's what they were doing in Tahrir Square in Cairo to mark the first anniversary earlier this week as well of the uprising that removed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in power.

SAMBOLIN: And BP is responsible for all the economic damages caused by the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion back in 2010. A federal judge in New Orleans ruling that Transocean, the owner of the rig, will not be liable for damages to third party. Eleven people were killed in the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

BANFIELD: All right. It's no secret. Florida's big. It's a big place. And I think delegate-wise, 55 delegates up for grabs.

And that state apparently still really up for grabs. If you look at the number of voters and where they stand, look at this -- 64 percent of Florida voters, GOP voters, anyway, they figured they know who they're going to vote for. But 25 percent of them still say they aren't sure. This is according to the latest CNN poll.

So, clearly, that 25 percent was on the mind for the candidates last night, and they were looking for the big knockout punch as always. But did anybody score it? Let's get really good analysts in here. Miami, Ruben Navarrette, syndicated columnbist with the "Washington Post" writer's group. Chicago, conservative commentator, Lenny McAllister.

All right. You two, one of my favorite moments last night, because I really thought this showed a different Newt Gingrich was when he stood up to -- excuse me -- a different Mitt Romney. When he stood up to Newt Gingrich who up until now had been really bugging this guy said this about immigration. Have a listen.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Is he still the most anti-immigrant candidate?

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think of the four of us, yes.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Governor.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's simply inexcusable. That's inexcusable. And actually, Senator Marco Rubio came to my defense and said that ad was inexcusable and inflammatory and inappropriate. Mr. Speaker, I'm not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico. My wife's father was born in Wales. They came to this country. The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive.


BANFIELD: Repulsive. Very strong language, but in a statesman- like fashion if I do say so, myself. Ruben Navarrette, did he just wrestle the upper hand from Newt Gingrich in this debate?

RUBEN NAVARRETTE, CNN.COM CONTRIBUTOR: It sure sounds like that. But, Ashleigh, let me say, first of all, just to be clear. My comments here today have been 100 percent pre-approved by Marco Rubio --


NAVARRETTE: --who apparently is the --


NAVARRETTE: -- is a sole determiner of what Latinos find offensive and what, in fact, is anti-immigrant.

BANFIELD: Actually, Ruben, very good point. Is it a little offensive for these candidates to assume that if Marco Rubio anoints something any kind of policy then everyone will just follow suit?

NAVARRETTE: Well, it's not really clearly thoughtout. Here I am sitting in Miami. This is place with a big Cuban-American population, but if you go out to the southwest in Nevada where we'll be heading shortly in the primary schedule. Those Mexican-Americans are not all going to be persuaded by what Marco Rubio tells them is or he's not anti-immigrant.

So, it tells me that Mitt Romney and his supporters and defenders, really, they may want some Hispanic votes, but they really don't understand the first thing about the complexity of the Hispanic community.

BANFIELD: But I still do think that he did a great job of smacking down what has been a pretty strong attack from Newt Gingrich on this whole notion of how he feels about immigrants and immigration and what to do about illegal immigrants who are already here. Am I right or wrong? Make that one quick. I just want to get a wrap up on it.

NAVARRETTE: Definitely so. He really slammed the door on Newt in that regard. I think Newt didn't do a very good job of defending himself. If I were making the argument, I would say that all of these candidates are anti-immigrant. To some degree, Newt less so that many of the others, but the reason is simple, Ashleigh.

They've had the campaign in three other states up to now, Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. They did not have big Hispanic populations where they've had to engage in anti-immigration rhetoric, and now, they've got to come to Florida and pivot, and it's getting a little confusing.

BANFIELD: New on the plate. Well, since you brought up Newt not responding well or reacting well to that, let's go to another moment where, perhaps, he didn't react so well and that had to do with the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac attack, and that's when Mitt Romney was sort of able to do a real smack down on Newt over this.

And I want to point out, if you're watching the sound byte and if you're listening, make sure you listen for how Newt Gingrich was left kind of speechless. Here we go.


GINGRICH: Governor Romney owns shares of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Governor Romney made a million dollars off of selling some of that. ROMNEY: Mr. Speaker, I know that sounds like an enormous revelation, but have you checked your own investments? You also have investments through mutual funds that also invested Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.



BANFIELD: He sort of gives him the nod, Lenny, almost like, oh, damn, I forgot about those.


BANFIELD: That moment from Newt, wasn't it. I mean, didn't he do his research and he know about this could be coming?

LENNY MCALLISTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: This was a bad moment. I think part of it, Ashleigh, was because he missed the moment earlier when Mitt Romney came after him about the immigrant issue and said, you know, it was bad for you to throw out these bombs, these epithets. It's wrong for you to soil the playing field like this.

He missed his opportunity to look over to Mitt Romney and basically say, you know, Mr. Governor, after you spent all of the holiday season disparaging me to the good people in Iowa and to using that momentum to win New Hampshire and try -- after you tried it in South Carolina, it didn't work, for you to accuse me of trying to soil the playing field is rather hypocritical of you and here we go with this pious baloney once again.

He missed that moment and tried to get it back with the investments moment, and Romney was waiting for it. It's amazing because these candidates, it seems as though nobody knows how to be a frontrunner. Where was this Mitt Romney when he was their frontrunner before the Newt surge in December? He's here now. He's going to take the lead.

BANFIELD: Hey, guys --

MCALLISTER: And if he wins in Florida, it's going to be amazing.

BANFIELD: OK. This has to be quick, but I just want you both to win with one sentence on, and this is what Newt Gingrich said about the beloved Ronald Reagan, and it's really starting to come out of the woodwork now.

"Measured against the scale and momentum of the Soviet empire's challenge. The Reagan administration has failed, is failing, and without dramatic change in strategy, will continue to fail. President Reagan is clearly failing."

And I think if you can go back to 1986, if you're Newt Gingrich, you really wish you haven't said that when he's you know, he's the grandfather of the modern Republican movement. Is that going to really come to bite him in the you-know-what? And I'll start with you, Lenny. Make it quick, and then, we'll get Ruben.

MCALLISTER: I think the fact that Reagan was more of a centrist in 1986, Gingrich, if he can pivots off and he can at least say, listen, I was to the right of Reagan if you want a really, strong conservative that was to the right of Reagan.


MCALLISTER: You got to vote for me.


NAVARRETTE: I think it's an embarrassment for Gingrich, because he's been so much stock in Reagan, the Reagan legacy, but it doesn't hurt him in a long-run, because people change their mind over time.

BANFIELD: Yes. OK. Good point. And we should be able to change our minds. Gentlemen, thanks. You're going to come back a little bit later on.

I want to remind our viewers, too, that at 7:00 a.m. eastern on "Starting Point" with Soledad, Republican congressman, David Rivera, the only Latino member of Congress from Florida who is endorsing Newt Gingrich is going to join Soledad.

And then, also Republican congressman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, of Florida, a foreign policy advisor to the Romney campaign is going to join Soledad as well.

And then, also, make sure you join Wolf and Erin and Anderson and Candy and John for live coverage of the Florida primary. It's Tuesday night at six o'clock eastern right here on CNN. And did I mention, 55 delegates up for grabs. So, it's the biggest one yet, biggest prize yet.

SAMBOLIN: 5:36. New MTV reality show follows aspiring mixed martial arts fighters. We're talking to the stars of "Caged." That's coming up next.

And an 80-year-old store clerk scares off an armed robber. He rips off his clown mask, beats him out of the store. Coming up, we'll tell you why this isn't his first time taking down bad guy. You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: MTV's new reality series, "Caged" takes you inside the world of mixed martial arts or MMA, as it's known. It profiles three aspiring MMA fighters and their families in a small town of Louisiana as they struggle to succeed in the cage and to succeed in life. Here's a clip.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wake up in the morning, and I'm thinking about fighting. When I'm eating, when I'm drinking, I'm thinking about fighting.


SAMBOLIN: Quite popular there. "Caged" can be seen Monday nights at 10 o'clock eastern on MTV. And two of the show stars, Daniel Payne known as "Golden Boy" and Matthew Schnell who earned the nickname "Danger" is joining us this morning. Thank you so much, guys, for coming in. We appreciate it. All right. A lot of people don't know what MMA is. So, if, Daniel, you can tell us what the differences between MMA and boxing?

DANIEL PAYNE, "CAGED": I'm actually started in boxing in high school. And it's kind of -- it's kind of just one single aspect of the sport. Mixed martial arts is every fighting aspect, all put together and combined into one sport. And it's just -- it's so much more advanced than what I was used to. Whenever I boxed in high school, I mean, it's everything that you can think of you do in MMA.

SAMBOLIN: And Matthew, what got you interested in the sport?

MATTHEW SCHNELL, "CAGED": You know, I've just always competed my whole life. I played sports. And, you know, I don't think you ever stop being an athlete. I graduated high school, and it was reading (ph) that demand for a 120-pound kid the next level to play college sports. So, it's something I just kind of started doing to stay in shape and have been doing it ever since. I fell in love immediately.

SAMBOLIN: You know, I read as I was trying to understand what the TV show -- what the purpose of the TV show, and it said that it's not just about you fighting, but it's really about finding out what your journey in life is. And so, what do you do with the sport? Do you go professional with the sport?

SCHNELL: I really think that everybody has their own goals in it. Some people do it more as a hobby than anything else. I take it very seriously. I know Daniel takes it very seriously, but other people do this just something fun to do. They have a job. They have a life. They want to compete and do something. They want to have a hobby.

So, there's all different things that people want from it. And, that's what's great about the show is it shows -- I think it shows everybody's perspective.

SAMBOLIN: Well, Daniel, it is your life, right? I mean, they follow you around all the time. Does that feel intrusive?

PAYNE: It can be at times, but, eventually, you just really -- you get used to it, and you adapt and adjust.

SAMBOLIN: What's the most personal moment for you during the show?

PAYNE: Well, obviously my ex that passed away in high school. That's obviously something that really hits me deep, and you can see it. SAMBOLIN: And do you deal with it in the show?

PAYNE: Yes, ma'am. I do. And it really shows how actually I was really surprised how good it shows how I progressed through it and dealt with it and really almost, you could say, not really overcome it but just dealt with it better and easier nowadays.

SAMBOLIN: And actually, you've done something about that, right? I mean, used it to the benefit of other people, right? You set up a scholarship fund.

PAYNE: Yes, ma'am, yes, ma'am. It's actually a -- it's a scholarship under her name that's given to -- given by the young women's service club in our town in Louisiana, and it's just dedicated to Hannah, and everybody in the town, we all try to come together and donate to it and help it every weekend.

SAMBOLIN: Matthew, I just want to find out how you got the nickname "Danger."

SCHNELL: It was kind of one of those things when I first started training, I was young and sporadic, and I didn't really know how to control myself. So, we'd be drilling in things like that, and I'd really -- I drill (ph) as hard as I could because I'm competitive and I'd end up hurting people on accident. So, it's

SAMBOLIN: On accidents. Aren't your moms worried about your safety and worried about the safety of others when you guys are on that ring?

PAYNE: My mom gets mad at me all the time for getting here. I mean, I've got plate in my head. I got a cut in my forehand. I mean, I got plate in my leg. She gets mad at me all the time.

SCHNELL: My mom's coming around to the idea --

SAMBOLIN: All right. Well, I wish the two of you a lot of luck. Very respectful young men. I love the fact that you call me ma'am. Nice southern boy there. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

And I want you to leave folks with information on how to donate to Hannah's scholarship fund. You can make a check payable to YWSC, Minden Young Women's Service Club. The address, P.O. Box 482 Minden, Louisiana, 71055. You can say that that's where the Hannah scholarship. Good luck. I hope you raise a lot of money.

PAYNE: I hope so, too.

SAMBOLIN: And good luck with the show.

BANFIELD: And who says an octogenarian can't battle head-to-head with the bad guy. You're about to meet one from the Pacific Northwest who busted up this guy pretty good. You think you're going to rob my convenience store with that silly little mask? Yes, I've got another thing for you. Watch this. you'll find out how he foiled the intent of that robber, ripped off his mask, and what the police are now doing to find that guy.


BANFIELD: You saw this video of the robbery attempt gone wrong?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, yes.

BANFIELD: Not good.


BANFIELD (voice-over): In Sacramento, an 80-year-old store clerk scares off a would-be robber. Look at him. Here he comes thinking he's going to rob this guy's convenience store in a silly mask. But you know something? He wasn't expecting this guy, 80 years old, in that store, fighting him off, ripping off the mask, foiling his attempt, out you go, scared. Well, what does that mean for the investigation in all of this?


BANFIELD (on-camera): On the phone with us now is Sergeant Andrew Petit with the Sacramento Police Department. Sergeant, you got any leads on who this bad guy is after this is now gone national?

SERGEANT ANDREW PETIT, SACRAMENTO POLICE DEPARTMENT (on the phone): Yes, you know, we thought we had a good description of the suspect. First, surveillance footage kind of show somebody lingering (ph) and fight (ph) the other store prior to the robbery.

BANFIELD: So, here's my first thought when I saw this happen. Number one, don't do this at home because it, oftentimes, doesn't turn out so well, but I just want to make sure. Are the grandfather and the grandson -- his grandson whose 11 years old is in the store at the time. Are they OK?

PETIT: Yes. They're fine. You know, the grandfather, he had prior law enforcement experience. So, I think he just reacted based on his prior training. And we don't recommend, you know, people do this, but it was a good outcome.

BANFIELD: And not only that, you got something out of it, didn't you? Maybe some DNA on the mask?

PETIT: Yes, exactly. The victim was able to grab that mask off, and the mask stayed there at the store. So, our CSI (ph) investigators collected that mask, and hopefully, we can do a swab of the DNA and get a positive hit.

BANFIELD: So, I've heard, people sometimes call this the kiss mask, others call it the evil clown mask, whatever it is, this guy has done this before, hasn't he?

PETIT: Oh, yes. You know, this is his third time that we know of. In the first two tries, he actually shot at store employees and even a witness on the second attempt. SAMBOLIN: Oh, my gosh!

BANFIELD: You're kidding me. He shot?

PETIT: Oh, yes. The first time he goes in, he was (INAUDIBLE) at the store employees and fires two rounds. About 45 minutes later, he hits another store and fires around and fight. And then, a witness is trying to write down the license plate as he gets into his getaway vehicle and fires around at them.

BANFIELD: So, we're talking here -- I mean, while it's a fun and light story, it seems, because we got, you know, the good guy overcoming the bad guy. This is a dangerous man out there.

PETIT: Yes, he's very dangerous. I don't know if he's just, you know, under the influence or he just has some type of, you know, mental problem or just the motivation just disregard for human life, but, yes, he's very dangerous.

BANFIELD: Well, Sgt. Petit, thank you for joining us. I didn't realize he was a dangerous. I didn't know he'd been shooting in prior robbery attempts. So, good luck with your efforts of finding this guy and let us know what happen.


BANFIELD: Little scary --

SAMBOLIN: Very scary. Very scary. All right. It's 5:51 in the east. Still to come on EARLY START, freed hostage, Jessica Buchanan -- hostage that is. I'll get that out. She is in Italy. She's getting checked out this morning. Is she coming home soon? We're going to get some more details for you. You are watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin along with Ashleigh Banfield.

Free hostages, Jessica Buchanan and Poul Thisted have arrived at a U.S. military based in Italy. Buchanan us getting reintegration treatment at the hospital. Buchanan's father headed to Italy for the reunion. Both free hostages are said to be OK.

Back home in Indiana, Jessica Buchanan's uncle, David Buchanan getting very emotional when he talks about what navy SEALs did for his niece.


DAVID BUCHANAN, JESSICA'S UNCLE: The men that risk their lives -- I can't say enough. So, I really, really appreciate it.


SAMBOLIN: And Nkepile Mabuse live from Nairobi, Kenya with more for us this morning. And Nkepile, do we know when she is coming home?

NKEPILE MABUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's still unclear, Zoraida, but we understand that in Italy she will go through what the U.S. military refers to as phase two reintegration, a form of hostages. And what we understand is this could entail a formal and structured debriefing of both Jessica and Poul, and also, a thorough medical examination.

But there's an important aspect to, this Zoraida, and it's called the decompression period. And we understand that it requires at least 72 hours to be fully effective just to ensure that Jessica and Poul are as close to 100 percent when it comes to health and well-being as they were before they were held hostage.

You know, as you can imagine, they've gone through quite an ordeal, but it's still unclear when Jessica will be heading back to the United States. and if she does, it's probably going to be via military helicopter, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Nkepile Mabuse live in Nairobi, Kenya. Thanks for all the details.

BANFIELD: And ahead in our next hour which is coming up in just over four minutes, big night, fight night in Florida, you might say. Who needs pay per view when you can watch a debate on CNN. Who dominated who? We're going to break it down.

SAMBOLIN: And the files for the four convicted murderers pardoned by former Mississippi governor, Haley Barbour, they're missing. Where are they? We don't think anybody know, but we're going to try to find out. You're watching EARLY START.