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Romney Widens Lead in Florida; Panetta on Bin Laden Raid; Romney Widens Florida Lead; Guilty Verdict In "Honor Murders" Trial

Aired January 30, 2012 - 05:00   ET



ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Did you hear that? Monday. Happy Monday.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BANFIELD: I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's great that you're with us. We're bringing you the news from A to Z. Five a.m. in the East.

So, let's just get started, shall we? The countdown is onto the primary in Florida. And Mitt Romney is getting some serious good news in the way of the polls. Talk about breathing room. We'll get you those numbers a moment.

But all the while his number one opponent, not Ron Paul, not Rick Santorum, it's Gingrich, calling him a bunch of "L" words. Not the ones you see on TV. It's the liberal and liar.

SAMBOLIN: The Pakistani doctor who helped the U.S. track Osama bin Laden down could be tried for high treason. Now, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is coming to his defense. He's talking also about bin Laden, saying someone in the government in Pakistan must have known where he was hiding out.

BANFIELD: And look out Iran. A couple of guests are arriving in your fine country today. They are weapons inspectors of the IAEA sort. And they are looking for what you are up to. All of this while Leon Panetta has been warning that, you know what, Iran might just have the bomb within a year.

SAMBOLIN: And it is Occupy D.C. D-Day. The protesters are facing a deadline to get out today. Very tense moments just blocks away from the White House. They do have a little something up their sleeve, the protesters do. We're going to find out what that is.

BANFIELD: All of it will unravel live. In the meantime, we're still on the tick, tick, tock to the primary, I think, what, 26 hours if my math is right until the polls open in Florida. It's looking real good for Mitt Romney right now.

A whole bunch of rallies taking place over the weekend for both candidates. Newt Gingrich has been really trying to push the whole liberal label on to Mitt Romney. And Mitt Romney has been all over Gingrich's, quote, "failed leadership" while he was in Congress.

SAMBOLIN: So, how is that all working out? A new American Research Group poll shows Romney with a double digit lead in Florida, 43 percent to 32 percent. And look at this -- a new NBC News/Marist poll shows Romney's lead is even higher, Romney has 42 percent, Gingrich, 27 percent.

So, you know, the candidates are always sparring, right? But they do agree on one thing: beating Obama.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's been a Groundhog Day presidency where he keeps saying the same thing again and again and again. We keep waking up and we have the same problems day after day after day.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we're going to beat Obama, he's going to have $1 billion. And almost all of it is going to be spent negatively because he doesn't have any positive record to run on. So, I mean, you know, he's going from "yes, we can" to "why we couldn't" as his theme.


BANFIELD: Well, the delegate scoreboard so far after Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, looks a little like this. Gingrich has pulled in 23 delegates. He may be in the lead. But Romney is not far behind with 19. Rick Santorum has 13 and Ron Paul, not bad. Not bad for Ron Paul, picking up three -- did well in New Hampshire.

Florida though is the big kahuna. It's the first of these four states to really be the big prize, with 50 delegates, winner-take-all in fact as well. So, the numbers could change mightily by the end of tomorrow.

So, let's talk about that with some of the folks who know best what it all means. In CNN Center in Atlanta, independent political analyst Goldie Taylor joining us this morning. From Washington, Republican strategist Matt Keelen, and Democratic strategist Jamie Harrison also rounding out our panel.

Goldie, I want to start with you and here's why. As the independent among us here, I would like to weigh in on the titan of broadcasting, that would be Mr. Tom Brokaw, who while he's not anchoring news right now is featuring during heavily in an ad that Mitt Romney is playing against Newt Gingrich all about his ethics. Let's have a listen.


TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: Newt Gingrich came to power after all preaching a higher standard, a man who brought down another speaker on ethics accusations. Tonight, he has on his own record the judgment of his peers, Democratic and Republican alike, by an overwhelming vote. They found him guilty of ethics violations.


BANFIELD: To the ominous music as well back from the 1990s.

All right. Goldie, that is not the kind of thing you want to hear if you're Newt Gingrich, regardless if it was the '90s and he has all sorts of explanations for it. This is a titan. People love Tom Brokaw.

How is it playing?

GOLDIE TAYLOR, MANAGING EDITOR, THE GOLDIE TAYLOR PROJECT: Well, you know, I think it's playing actually very well in Florida. You know, there are a couple of things about Florida. One, it is a winner-take-all. But, two, as Newt has risen on the debates, he's also fallen on the debates. But three, Mitt Romney has spent an awful lot of money on television, nearly five to one, mostly negative ads and it's working.

In terms of Tom Brokaw, I wouldn't want to be put in that position. I think that NBC in their family brands have really fought against it in a good way.

BANFIELD: Well, they don't like it. And Tom Brokaw has actually been asking for this campaign to pull the ad. Thus far, to my knowledge, although it is only 5:05 in the East, it hasn't been pulled.

TAYLOR: Right.

BANFIELD: So, let's move on to another media source, shall we? "The New Yorker." I hold it up and I think we got a better produced version of it. It's the cover "The New Yorker."

From the same guy who brought up the artwork of the fist- bumping, flag-burning Michelle and Barack Obama. Now, they've got Barack Obama seemingly looking at the Super Bowl between Newt and Mitt and drinking his beer and holding his football. This is a lot of fun and games.

But the truth of the matter is, Jamie, that this is kind of what the Democrats are feeling right now. That it's just wonderful to watch this circular firing squad among the Republicans, right?

JAMIE HARRISON, PRINCIPAL AT THE PODESTA GROUP: Yes. It's like wrestle mania. Get your chips and drinks out. It's really amazing to see the barrage of attacks from the Romney and GOP establishment on Newt Gingrich.

But, you know, Gingrich isn't being a shrinking violet either. I mean, he came out very forcefully against Mitt Romney, called him an anti -- a pro-abortion, pro-tax increase Massachusetts moderate. So, it's really like World War III in the Republican Party right now.

BANFIELD: Matt Keelen, talk about this. The Republican strategy right now in terms of Newt's -- or, rather, Mitt's opponents has been to sort of paint him as this elitist, this rich guy who, by the way, a lot of people in the field, a lot of people who have been polling have said, that ain't such a bad thing if he can run a business that well, maybe he can run the country that well.

But the "L.A. Times" has come out with something recently that was interesting, and that is that business leaders haven't always made for good political leaders because when you're a business leader, you don't have opposition to fight. There's got to be something to that.

MATT KEELEN, FOUNDER, THE KEELEN GROUP: I think what Romney's going to need to do is talk about being governor of Massachusetts once he pivots to the general election. Talk about how he was bipartisan, got a lot of things done with a Democratic legislature up there and the accomplishments that he had.

But right now, he's focused on how great of a businessman he is. If you talk to most people on Wall Street and across the country in business, he's one of the top 10 American businessmen.

BANFIELD: All right. I want you all three of you to weigh in with one word, and I really mean it. The word is either good, bad, or doesn't make a difference. And that is Jeb Bush has not endorsed anyone in Florida.

Goldie, good, bad or doesn't make a difference.

TAYLOR: Doesn't make a difference.


KEELEN: It's good.


HARRISON: Doesn't make a difference.

BANFIELD: Man, you guys are awesome. You actually listen to me and you did exactly -- and the producers are like, we love this panel.

All right. Thanks, guys, very much. We're going to talk to you a little bit later on in this program.

And, of course, for the best political coverage on the entire television networks-scape, make sure you tune in to what we have going on. At 6:30 Eastern, Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter is going to join us live right here to talk about the GOP race.

And then at 7:00 Eastern, on STARTING POINT, Soledad O'Brien, the former presidential candidate Herman Cain is going to tell Soledad why he decided to endorse Newt Gingrich this weekend, and what a difference it will make.

SAMBOLIN: It is 5:08 in the East. And every morning, we give you an EARLY START to your day by alerting you to the news that's happening later and the stories that are just developing now but will be the big story tonight.

Andrew Young, former aide to then-presidential candidate John Edwards will be in court to answer contempt charges. Young and his wife are accused of turning sealed documents over to federal prosecutors. Those documents are part of a civil lawsuit filed against them by Edwards' former mistress Rielle Hunter for invasion of privacy. Hunter is trying to reclaim personal items that she says belonged to her, including photographs and that alleged sex tape.

John Edwards, you'll recall, is charged with using campaign contributions to hide his affair with Hunter.

BANFIELD: And the Occupy protesters in Washington, D.C., might not have such a nice wakeup call today. They could get the boot earlier than they expected. They've only got until noon. If they're late sleepers, it means wake up and get out. They're going to clear out those two sites near the White House where of many have been camping. But we're hearing police could start clearing out the camps in the next few hours.

CNN has a crew there. We're going to keep our eye on it, make sure we know exactly what's going on, especially if any violence ensues. That has been happening in the past.

SAMBOLIN: So, let's mind your business, shall we? U.S. markets closing mixed on Friday. The Dow and S&P 500 down less than 1 percent. NASDAQ up about half a percent.

So, let's bring in Ms. Christine Romans.


SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you.

ROMANS: Happy Monday.

BANFIELD: Happy Monday. You know what made me really happy, the idea that there could be a Facebook IPO.

ROMANS: I know. Can you believe that? Well, you know, there's been a lot of chatter for months and months about the Facebook. It's the holy grail of IPOs.

But now, I don't know. I mean, we won't know for sure until they file some documents with the SEC, but it makes everybody very excited. "The Wall Street Journal" has been reporting the timing might be getting closer to being decided. But we still don't know yet. But IPO would be very interesting for Facebook.

Also a tough week though for stocks probably this week. And one of the reasons is you have stocks near the highest since April. Last week was kind of a tough week. You could use debt discussions going on with Greece still. You got the first European Union kind of big summit of the year and earnings.

So, you know, let's be careful of this week. It ends with the jobs report here in the United States. So, a lot of things for stock investors this week that could be a little bit tough.

SAMBOLIN: All right. And you're watching Florida for us.

ROMANS: I know. I want to talk about Florida because tomorrow, it's all about Florida. You're watching Mitt Romney, America -- but just heard one of your guests say that he might be one of the top 10 businessmen in America, right?

In Florida, that seems to be going over well, that and the fact that they're spending an awful lot of money --

BANFIELD: Three to one.

ROMANS: Right. They're spending a lot of money. But, you know, I was just in Florida on Friday. This whole idea of, you know, he's rich, that's a bad thing. It wasn't playing with the people I was talking to in north Florida. It wasn't playing at all.

In fact, one person said to me the American national pastime is buying lottery tickets. You know, Mitt Romney is what we all want to be.


ROMANS: This whole fight within the Republicans about money is not something that resonates with them. But I want to --

BANFIELD: It's the American Dream for heaven's sake.

ROMANS: But it depends on where you are, because in some places, they're saying, what about the 99 to one? What about Occupy? What about income inequality? He is the representation of that.

But in Florida, where I was in north Florida, that was not actually what they were saying.

I want to talk a little bit about housing, though, because in Florida, you've got 9.9 percent unemployment rate. You got a housing market that's down, I think it's been cut in half from the prices since the peak.

But I was talking to a professor at the University of North Florida, a real estate professor, guys, and he sees actually some signs of hope in all of these dire statistics. And that might be also be playing out in the primaries tomorrow. Listen.


SID ROSENBERG, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH FLORIDA: I did a study going back to the '60s and times when it's this affordable, five years hence, prices have usually gone up significantly. I don't know this is so unusual and so rare, but this is such a good sign that housing prices will go up in the future.


ROMANS: There you go. Finally, I heard someone say that maybe housing prices could go up. They're cleaning out -- and that's such a cruel word to use -- but cleaning out a lot of these foreclosures. I'm not saying it's going to get better tomorrow. He's not saying it's going to get better tomorrow, but we're bumping along the bottom, he says. And that means, hopefully, it's --

BANFIELD: Future is such a vague word though. Everybody knows housing prices eventually will go up.

ROMANS: In some place, though, when you're talking about the politics of it, though, at some point this is all terrible, loud background noise for people who are going in there, you know? I mean, it's been like this. In Florida, they were the first to rise and the first to fall and fall in a big way.

So, I was asking people when you go in and you're at the primary on Tuesday or when you're casting the ballot in the general election, what are you thinking and hoping for? And you're talking about who's got the qualifications to lead the economy and grasp those little signs of hope and turn that into a real recovery.

And so, it's just interesting. The tone is so much different in Florida than it was in Iowa, and even in South Carolina. That's why -- that's what makes it so exciting talking about politics, right?

SAMBOLIN: The housing crisis is really the worst there, isn't it?

ROMANS: It's horrible. It's horrible.

SAMBOLIN: The professor, when he was talking about this, was he referring to Florida or --

ROMANS: Florida only.

BANFIELD: We got Nevada still to come. And that will be a whole bucket of junk.

ROMANS: And you know what? In Nevada, I don't think anybody's going to be -- well, I'll try to find that one person who says that Nevada --

BANFIELD: Guess who's going to Nevada?

ROMANS: Are you going to Nevada? Oh, no, no. No.

BANFIELD: Go, girl.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Christine. We appreciate it.

BANFIELD: Thanks, Christine.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It is 5:13 in the East.

A warm end to January, unless of course you are in Alaska.

BANFIELD: Which you're used to anyway if you're in Alaska.

Rob Marciano standing by with the good, the bad, and the ugly.


ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, guys. I hope you had a great weekend.

Speaking of Florida, we'll start you there. Not the best of days yesterday with fog and smoke creating a deadly accident along I- 75. Still a small smidgen of that from what I can find of I-75 closed. And some of the state highways around the fire just south of Gainesville closed because of smoke.

Right now, temperatures in this area are pretty chilly. And as you go up in the atmosphere, they're warmer above than they are below. So, that is putting a lid, a cap on this smoke and keeping it close to the ground. So, we got dense -- some smoke advisories and visibilities are low across parts of northern Florida.

Thirty-two degrees in Gainesville, you go up 1,000 feet and the temperatures are almost 50 degrees. So, that's -- we got to burn through this inversion in order to get the atmosphere mixed up. Meanwhile, it's 48 degrees in Orlando.

Chilly up to the North. We got a couple of week clipper-type systems bringing some light showers Upstate New York and also into Wisconsin. But this really shouldn't be that big of a deal. Cool shot of air across the northeastern tier.

But for the most part, most of the U.S. is going to be above normal. And this warmth will be pumping up to East and North as we go along to the next couple of days. Tomorrow looks to be fairly toasty.

If you are traveling today -- New York, Boston, Detroit and Miami are going to be the spots that see some delays because of the wind.

Forty degrees in New York, it's about where you should be for this time of year. It will be warmer tomorrow.

Guys, back up to you.

SAMBOLIN: Forty degrees is where we should be?

BANFIELD: That's interesting. Yes, I would have thought that was a little warmer than it should be.

MARCIANO: Maybe a couple degrees warmer.

BANFIELD: You're so smart.

SAMBOLIN: Thanks, Rob.

BANFIELD: Thank you, Rob.

It is now 15 minutes past the hour, so get up and out there. In the meantime, while you're busy in your room, we'll give you the top stories of the day.

Newt Gingrich trying to channel good old Ronald Reagan as he slips further and further behind Mitt Romney, at least in two Florida polls. Sunshine State is holding that primary tomorrow. And right now, Romney holds a double digit lead over Newt Gingrich. Former House speaker telling Florida voters he is the true Reagan conservative in the race and instead paint Romney as a liberal.

SAMBOLIN: The Arab League mission in Syria is in hold after dramatic increase of violence over the weekend.

Take a look at this video, folks. Opposition groups blame government forces for more than 160 deaths. Critics have slammed the Arab League mission for doing little to stop the crackdown on protesters.

BANFIELD: And then back here at home, it always makes big headlines. SAG awards. When they get all fancy, they dress up and they get awards. It was a big night for "The Help" the Screen Actors Guild awards. The film won three major awards, including the top prize, best ensemble cast. Two of its stars were also honored. Gosh, they look gorgeous.

SAMBOLIN: You know, I rarely watch movies, right? I need you to ask me about this one?

BANFIELD: Have you seen this one?

SAMBOLIN: Yes, I have.

BANFIELD: Viola Davis, the best actress. Octavia Spencer for best supporting actress. Really very deserving if you haven't seen the movie, run, don't walk because it's terrific.

By the way, on the TV side, because they do the TV thing there, too -- "Modern Family" won for best comedy ensemble. "Boardwalk Empire" for best drama. It's like "The Sopranos" of today, "Boardwalk Empire."

SAMBOLIN: All right. It's 5:16.

Still ahead here, Pakistani doctor who helped the U.S. track down Osama bin Laden could be tried for high treason. So, listen to what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is saying about it. We are live in Islamabad when we return.

BANFIELD: And then also, a little unusual -- puppy snatching. Weird video. But they're caught on surveillance tape stealing that little bitty baby puppy. Oh, no, don't say it.

The pet owner says police, call off the hounds. Drop the charges. Why? You're going to find out in our early read segment coming up next.


SAMBOLIN: It is 5:20 in the morning, in the East.

We're getting an early read on your local news that is making national headlines.

So, this morning, we have papers from Oakland and Los Angeles. We're going to begin in Oakland, the "Oakland Tribune." The city is assessing damage from a weekend protest where more than 400 people were arrested. The demonstrators broke into and vandalized city hall.

Despite the damage, officials say that city hall will reopen this morning. The city says the protesters broke windows, damaged architecture more than 100 years old and stole and burn two American flags. So, the protesters say that the actual aggression is -- they're blaming the police because they say they've become more aggressive and so, in turn, they have to.

BANFIELD: I don't like flag burning. I know it's your First Amendment right, but I don't like it.

All right. Let's get to the "L.A. Times." This is kind of a weird story because we have video for a newspaper story. See that girl? See that thing she's opening up?

There's a chow puppy in there worth about 600 bucks. Off she goes, dog-napping. Seriously, kidnapping a dog, taking a dog. Well, the pet owner wanted the police to charge the dog-napper. The dog- napper decided to send the pet owner, the pet store an apology note and the $600.

But that was just the penultimate response. They went one step further and they sent another apology and even more money to cover the taxes and the fees on that little puppy dog. Very unusual.

So the store owner then accepted the apology and asked the police to drop the charges. Puppy is safe. All is good. Very weird.

SAMBOLIN: Very odd. How often does that happen, right?

BANFIELD: I don't know. It will be like kinder, gentler crooks? I'm not sure.

SAMBOLIN: Very weird. All right.

BANFIELD: Word of the day by the way, ting.

SAMBOLIN: What is your word of the day?

BANFIELD: Penultimate. We have another one coming, though. You have to check our tweets to find out what the word of the day is every day.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Well, thank you for that.

BANFIELD: Little insider thing.

SAMBOLIN: It is 5:22 now.

Senior Pakistani officials are telling CNN that the government has not yet decided whether to try a doctor who helped the United States track down Osama bin Laden. He's being charged with high treason.

Defense Secretary Panetta talking about the bin Laden raid on CBS "60 Minutes." Did you see it?

There is no proof, but Panetta believes some Pakistani officials must have known where bin Laden was hiding. Panetta talked about the Pakistani doctor who is now in prison.


LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I'm very concerned about what the Pakistanis did with this individual. This was an individual who, in fact, helped provide intelligence on -- that was very helpful with regards to this operation and he was not in any way treasonous towards Pakistan. He was not in any way doing anything that would have undermined Pakistan. As a matter of fact, if Pakistan's -- and I've always said this, Pakistan and the United States have a common cause here against terrorism.


SAMBOLIN: CNN's Reza Sayah is live in Islamabad.

So, he has been charged with high treason and is in custody?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He has yet to be charged with high treason. A commission here in Pakistan that has been charged with investigating the raid on the bin Laden compound has recommended for him to be charged with treason, but this doctor has become another bone of contention between Pakistan and the U.S. and there are many.

U.S. officials say he's a good guy. Pakistani authorities say he's a bad guy. And so far, they've treated him as a suspected criminal. His name is Shakeel Afridi.

Over the weekend, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he played a key role in the operation that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. It's not exactly clear what role he played and why he was so important. What we do know is that he tried to set up a fake vaccination campaign in the town of Abbottabad where bin Laden was hiding.

The plan was for nurses to get into the compound, extract blood from the bin Laden kids in order to verify his identity. The plan did not work. It failed. Even so, Pakistani authorities were not happy. They arrested him.

And again, late last year, a commission charged with investigating the raid on the bin Laden compound recommended that he be tried for treason. He's been in jail for about eight months and his name surfaced again over the weekend when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called for his release. But there's absolutely no indication that he's going to be released any time soon.

And it's now up to the federal government to decide whether to try him. It's not clear when they'll make that decision.

SAMBOLIN: Well, if he is charged with the crime, what's the punishment for the crime?

SAYAH: The punishment is death. It's the death sentence. But I think when you talk to analysts here, they don't believe that a trial is actually going to take place.

I think when you look at the overall picture, this raid on the bin Laden compound really highlighted the very real differences between Pakistan and the U.S., this very volatile relationship. On paper, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, these two countries were partners to capture Osama bin Laden.

Despite what the perception may be in the U.S. and the West, most Pakistanis, the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis were happy to see Osama bin Laden killed. They did not support al Qaeda and its cause.

But what they also didn't support and they still don't support is U.S. foreign policy. The perception here in this region is that the U.S. takes too many unilateral actions, occupies countries, violates nation's sovereignties. And they didn't like this U.S. action where they took unilateral decision without informing Pakistanis. And it appears that Pakistani authorities are trying to ease the criticism by going after people who helped the CIA and one of them was this doctor.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Reza Sayah, live in Islamabad for us -- thank you.

And still to come on EARLY START at 26 minutes past 5:00. There is a pivotal vote coming tomorrow, folks, the Florida primary is just one day away. Loads of delegates in that state.

And Romney is surging. Can he be stopped? Gingrich hopes so. We'll find out more about what the strategies are.

You're watching EARLY START.


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

BANFIELD: And you didn't get pink memo this morning? We did. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's 30 minutes --

SAMBOLIN: Coral, right?

BANFIELD: I don't know. It depends on your TV. If you got an HD TV at home, we look like the Bobsy Twins.


BANFIELD: I want to get the top stories for you. Get ready to head out the door or ready to the shower, wherever you may be.


BANFIELD (voice-over): Mitt Romney widening that lead with just a day to go before the Florida primary. He's got an 11-point cushion over Newt Gingrich in a new American research group poll. And, by the way, that lead stretches to 15 points if you're looking at the NBC News/Marist poll that came out as well recently.

Gingrich is picking up an endorsement, though, from former presidential candidate, Herman Cain. That happened over the weekend.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Listen to this. A guilty verdict in the Canadian honor murders file. Three members of a family of Afghan immigrants convicted of killing four female relatives whose bodies were recovered in a canal.

Fifty-eight-year-old Mohammad Shafia and his wife Tooba, and their 21-year-old son, Hamed, all sentenced to life in prison immediately after their convictions with no chance of parole for 25 years.

BANFIELD: And the clock is ticking for all of those occupy protesters who are camping out in the nation's Capitol. Park police said you got until noon today to pack up your gear and clear out of the two camps near the White House or you're going to be arrested. But we are hearing this morning that the police might get an earlier start, actually. Start arresting them earlier than noon. Protesters have been put on notice, by the way. Last week, they were told they could no longer camp overnight at those sites.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): That's an interesting idea of how to deal with. We're going to sure that (ph) as well.

So, it's just one day left before the critical Florida primary, and Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are spending a lot of time dwelling on the past. Gingrich is trying to position himself as a loyal Reagan foot soldier and the only true conservative. Romney reminding everyone over and over about what he calls Gingrich's failures as House speaker.

So, let's chat about this. From CNN center in Atlanta, independent political analyst, Goldie Tailor, and from Washington, Republican strategist, Matt Keelen, and Democratic strategist, Jaime Harrison. Thanks for being with us this morning.

Matt, we're going to begin with you. Gingrich picked up an endorsement over the weekend, Herman Cain. It came as a surprise. Let's listen to the endorsement, and then, we'll talk about it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN, (R) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I also know that Speaker Gingrich is running for president and going through this sausage grinder. I know what this sausage grinder is all about.


CAIN: I know that he's going through this sausage grinder, because he cares about the future of the United States of America.


SAMBOLIN: Hmmm. He had endorsed the people before, and now, he's talking about a sausage grinder. Good for Gingrich or bad?

MATT KEELEN, FOUNDER, THE KEELEN GROUP: I think it helps a little bit, but the person that Gingrich really needs to endorse him, Zoraida, is Rick Santorum. As long As Rick Santorum is still in the race, it's going to be hard for Gingrich to get into the 40s where you're seeing Romney down in Florida. And he is going to have trouble putting together the coalition that he needs.

SAMBOLIN: But Rick Santorum, you know, obviously, still in, and folks say he's staying for the long haul.

KEELEN: I think he will stay in for the long haul.

SAMBOLIN: All right --

KEELEN: That's going to divide the electorate. That plays right into Romney's hands.

SAMBOLIN: OK. So, Jaime, Gingrich might have picked up Cain, but he's hurting in Florida. Three polls say that he's trailing Romney. So, he is lashing out at Romney putting the gloves back on. Let's listen to this and talk about it.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am standing next to a guy who is the most blatantly dishonest answers I can remember in any presidential race in my lifetime. He was well coached. He came into the debate prepared to say things that are false.


SAMBOLIN: People say he uses his viciousness to get ahead, but it also makes him a dangerous candidate. If you divide the party, but the public still wants you, you win, right? But could not caring about his party work in his favor or disfavor? Good strategy, bad strategy, Jaime?

JAIME HARRISON, PRINCIPAL AT THE PODESTA GROUP: It's a mixed strategy. You know, right now, the battle between Gingrich and Mitt Romney shows sort of the schizophrenia in the Republican Party. It's a battle right now for the heart and the soul of the party.

You got the Tea Party activists on the Gingrich side, and you got the Republican establishment on Mitt Romney's side. So, it's hard right now to see how the Republicans get back together at the convention later this fall.

SAMBOLIN: But how do you think it'll affect Gingrich with his party? I mean, you know, he's notoriously unpopular.

HARRISON: Yes. He's very unpopular with the establishment Republicans, the ones -- the Boehners and delays and the folks here in Washington, but I don't think he's very unpopular as it relates to the Tea Party activists. As you can see, lately, Sarah Palin has been incrementally moving forward towards an endorsement.

And with Herman Cain who was also a darling of the Tea Party, you know, I think Gingrich has strong support in some aspects of the Republican Party right now.

All right. Goldie, let's talk about Paul and Santorum. They're both doing poorly in Florida. Very little chance to win there, of course. And Paul said that he's actually going to focus elsewhere. We saw Santorum, he's actually focusing on his little girl for now. And, you know, he's going to look ahead. So, let's look ahead beyond Florida. Where do these two candidates stand?

GOLDIE TAYLOR, MANAGING EDITOR, THE GOLDIE TAYLOR PROJECT: Well, I think the pathway to victory for them has narrowed down to nonexistent. And I think Matt's right that Santorum's, you know, possibility of -- the possibility of endorsing somebody like Newt Gingrich is probably, you know, the only path he has to, you know, viability in terms of a political career going forward.

And so, I think he's right about that. In terms of Ron Paul, you know, his political life may lie in an independent campaign later on, which polls show could be very, very helpful to Republicans. And so, I think Ron Paul continues to grow his coalition across the country. He's very passionate supporters and backers, and I think that's where his next show is, you know, he decides to make it.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Matt, Jaime, Goldie, thanks for being with us this morning. We'll see you again shortly here.

KEELEN: Thanks, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

For the best political coverage on television, keep it right here on CNN. It's 6:30 eastern. Louisiana's Republican senator, David Vitter, joins us live to discuss the GOP race and whether Gingrich can regain his momentum. And then, at 7:00 a.m. eastern on "Starting Point," former presidential candidate, Herman Cain, tells Soledad O'Brien why he decided to endorse Newt Gingrich this weekend.

BANFIELD: And a real important United Nations nuclear team, the IAEA, you heard a lot about them. They are headed to Iran. They want to know what that country's up to. If the nuclear program there really is innocuous for like medicine and all that kind of stuff, or instead, if it's for what the Americans think it's all about, and that is weaponizing. We're going to talk about that. You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Good morning, to you. It is 5:40 in the east. Time to check the stories making news this morning.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Mitt Romney opening a double digit lead over Newt Gingrich in two new Florida polls this morning. The Sunshine State's primary gets underway tomorrow. Romney is continuing his assault on Gingrich's record as speaker of the House referring to him over and over as a failed leader.

BANFIELD (voice-over): And in the crime department, police find the blood of missing Maine toddler, Ayla Reynolds, in the home where she disappeared. Investigators are saying the tests determined that not all of the blood found was hers, but they did find an amount that they, quote, "was more than a small cut would produce."

Police say they do not believe that they're getting the complete story from the adults who said they last saw Ayla alive. They say her father, aunt, and the father's girlfriend have not passed what's quoting to be the straight-face test.

SAMBOLIN: Witnesses say the crash site looked like a war zone. Interstate-75 near Gainesville, Florida has been reopened this morning just about 24 hours after a series of chain reaction crashes in which ten people were killed, another 18 injured. The visibility on the stretch of the highway was virtually zero because of heavy smoke and fog from a brush fire.

Officials say may have been intentionally set. A dense smoke advisory is still in effect in that area this morning.


BANFIELD (on-camera): Some people say it's kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack, nuclear weapons inside Iran, but it's something that weapons inspectors are right now about try to tackle. Big problem and our Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon live with very latest on it.

All right. Barbara, the last time you and I talked about this topic, I think, it might have been somewhere around 2003 when the IAEA was busy at work in Iraq, trying to find weapons of mass destruction there. And the track record didn't turn out to be too terrific. Do we have any indication things are going to be different this time around?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, this time around, a senior delegation of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency is now on the ground for the next couple of days inside Iran trying to get access to facilities, documents, anything they can to take that firsthand look at what Iran is up to with its nuclear program.

In fact, is it a military program aimed at trying to develop nuclear weapons? That's what the United States and the western allies believe is going on. Iran has denied it. This time, the inspectors have come with a lot of heft, a lot of muscle with them. Some very senior officials, and they are going to do everything they can, they say, in the next couple of days to get some answers to these key questions, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: But you and I know well that heft and muscle is all relative. After all, it is the United Nations, and I always wonder just what kind of teeth do they really have when they're up against that kind of a regime?

STARR: Well, what's happening now, of course, as you know, the European Union is moving ahead with its sanctions to band Iranian oil. What they're trying to do is use that economic muscle against Iran to make it so unpalatable for them to economically go forward with this nuclear program with sanction after sanction after sanction, economic, financial, commercial.

That it will force Iran's hand economically. I've got to tell you, there's a lot of skeptics out there, a lot of people who say Iran will just go ahead with whatever the regime wants in its nuclear program.


STARR: The hope is, by the European allies, by the United States, that they can use these sanctions to force Iran to give up any nuclear weapons intentions. Defense secretary, Leon Panetta, says if Iran really put its mind to it, they could have a nuclear weapon the beginning of what nuclear weapon within a year.

It would take them about two to three years after that to be able to deliver it, if you will, put it on a missile.

BANFIELD: I hate to bring Iraq back up again, but I interviewed Terry Kaziz just before the invasion back in 2003. And I remember him saying very clearly, you know, the United Nations weapons inspectors are in the bag of the U.S. government, because there was some proof that Madeleine Albright's administration had been able to, somehow, circumvent policy and get some bugs into the administration's offices in Iraq. And don't you think the Iranians think the same thing?

STARR: Oh, they're very -- I mean, I don't think there is any word, but the most polite word would be skeptical about Europe's intentions. They absolutely believe it. You know, when that drone, that U.S. , went down over Iran several weeks ago, that was one of the clearest indications that the U.S., indeed, does have an espionage program against Iran, perhaps.

There has been a lot of discussion that one of the big weapons has been a cyber attack against Iran's nuclear program using a computer worm virus to try and slow them down. No proof the U.S. is behind it. No proof Israel is behind the killing of Iranian scientists, but it's all pretty tantalizing.

BANFIELD: And the IAEA has all of three whole days for this mission. So, we'll be talking more about it, Barbara. It's nice to talk to you this early.

STARR: Sure.


SAMBOLIN: It is 5:45. Ahead on EARLY START, front page faces is headed your way, and these are the faces behind the story. This morning, we have Tim Nickens. He's the editorial's editor of the "Tampa Bay Time." He's going to tell us why women could decide the winner of tomorrow's Florida primary. You are watching EARLY START. Thanks for being with us.


SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. Floridians head to the polls tomorrow in a primary race that could prove pivotal in a battle for the GOP nomination.

BANFIELD: Boy, I'll say 50 delegates. Ouch. Newt Gingrich picked up a good endorsement from Herman Cain over the weekend. Remains to be seen if that will be good or bad for him, but the former speaker is definitely having some trouble. His poll numbers are ticking away, sliding.

He's trying to position himself as the true conservative, but four out of five top Florida newspapers have, instead, endorsed his competitor, Mitt Romney. In our front page faces segment where we like to get you the face behind all of that ink from Tampa, Tim Nickens is the editorial's editor for the largest paper of the five papers, "The Tampa Bay Times."

Tim, thanks so much for being with you. I just want to get right into this. I believe your paper is endorsing Mitt Romney, but everybody else is following suit with you except for the "Tampa Tribune." What do you suppose the "Tampa Tribune" knows that you don't know?

TIM NICKENS, EDITOR OF EDITORIALS, TAMPA BAY TRIBUNES: I'm not sure they know anything that we don't know. I think we've recommended the candidate that's best suited for the Republicans and best positioned to take on President Obama in the fall.

BANFIELD: But you know how readers are. They sort of wonder, well, why one paper one way and three or four others another way. They get a little bit mixed up. Is there something to "The Tribune"? Is there something that -- is it a farther right-leaning paper? I mean, why would they have chosen Newt Gingrich in a state where you all know what the issues are? NICKENS: Well, there's not much that difference really between the candidates on the issues. And I think it comes down more to personality this time. And so, different newspapers are going to make different judgements.

BANFIELD: OK. Well, let's go over some numbers here. There've been some poll numbers that have been coming out just over the weekend, and they're quite telling, although, many of these polls were taken before the CNN debate on Thursday. Here's how the numbers shake out if this were just a choice for Floridians for the GOP nomination.

Look, Mitt Romney has a huge lead over Newt Gingrich, but where it gets interesting is if you break it down, Tim, into men and women, I have no idea that there was this much of a difference. The men in a vote come ahead at 38 percent over 35 percent Romney over Gingrich, but look at the women.

You break it down into the women, and it's unbelievable. Forty- six percent of women GOP voters favor Romney over 27 percent over Newt Gingrich. Do you have any insight as to why that might be in your state?

NICKENS: Well, I suspect that is because Newt Gingrich has a little bit of a harder edge, a little more aggressive. There's been a lot of news about his three marriages in the media here in Florida, and Romney is a little bit softer and has a better image in that regard.

BANFIELD: But what's interesting is -- I had a feeling you were going to say that. I had a feeling you were going to bring up the whole marriage baggage and the cheating on wife number one and the cheating on wife number two with wife number three who worked for him for six years. However, this is where it gets weird.

That did not seem to do anything to him in South Carolina, and he took that state. How different are you than South Carolina?

NICKENS: Well, we're actually a lot different. I think we're a lot more moderate than South Carolina, in one respect. And I don't think we really focus as much on social issues in Florida as they do in South Carolina.

BANFIELD: And just lastly, the Hispanic vote. I want to show a quick board of numbers here among Hispanic GOP voters. Romney comes ahead of Newt Gingrich 52 to 28. A lot of people are saying it's just silly to think that Republican Hispanic voters have any other interests in mind than everybody else which is money, money, money, and the economy.

NICKENS: That is true to a large extent, particularly, in Florida, I think, where the unemployment rate's higher than it is in the nation. And so, it's jobs, jobs, jobs in Florida.

BANFIELD: You are great to wake up so early and be on the air at 5:52 eastern time in Florida and look so alive and well and awake. I sure appreciate your time, Tim. Thank you. NICKENS: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: It is 5:52 in the east. And still ahead, the New England Patriots, Chad Ochocinco, trumps Tom Brady with a Super Bowl gift for his teammates. Want to (ph) guess what it is? We're going to tell you. You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: It's like shopping?

SAMBOLIN: No. I'll explain.

BANFIELD: Shopping. Come on. We're working here, girlfriend.

SAMBOLIN: I'll show you.


BANFIELD: OK. So, in the effort to keep you up to speed in the pop culture list this morning, Zoraida was shopping.

SAMBOLIN: This is what's trending on the web, actually. We're going to tell you all about it here. Trending on Yahoo! Chad Ochocinco gets his teammates a Super Bowl gift. He gave every member of the Patriots a pair of $400 Beats headphones. That's what I'm looking at, and I thought, really, these things are $400.

It's a Beats pro-high performance headphones by Monster. Those are the $400 ones. I wanted to see what it actually looks like, and they are just (ph) like that. They're whites.

BANFIELD: How good can they really be?

SAMBOLIN: Oh! Amazing music comes out of these things, apparently. Seventy pairs for a total of $28,000. It's Ochocinco's first trip to the Super Bowl in his 11-year career. Remember, Tom Brady also gave his teammates a little gift. He gave them Uggs.

BANFIELD: Well, they're not cheap either.

SAMBOLIN: No, they're not. Not 400 bucks. Teammates tweeted thanking Ochocinco for the awesome present.

BANFIELD: I hope they did.

SAMBOLIN: (INAUDIBLE). What do you think?

BANFIELD: Do you know how pathetic I am? I use the ear phones from JetBlue. I just keep using them every time. I throw them back in my purse, and I bring them back. I think only one side works.

SAMBOLIN: That's not pathetic, that's practical.

BANFIELD: It's practical. I am very practical. So, ahead on EARLY START, we got a couple of things for you, this one, in particular. Our defense secretary speaking out on that raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. He's telling us what he thinks Pakistan knew or did not know about Bin Laden's hiding place, and he's talking serious numbers, too, 8 foot, 10 foot, 12 foot walls. What does that say? You're watching EARLY START.