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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Florida Voting Begins In One Hour; Gingrich Campaign Losing Steam?; White House Sharing Too Much?; White House Says Assad "Will Go"; Prince William to Be Deployed to Falklands; Texas Town Running Dry; Early Tax Filers to Wait Longer for Refunds; Romney Rolling, Gingrich Reeling; Pardoned Miss. Murderer Found in Wyoming; International Call For Action In Syria; Fight Over Airline Fee Bill; Interview With Mayor Bob Buckhorn

Aired January 31, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's nice to have you here. We're bringing you the news from A to Z. That's our theme. It's 6:00 in the east. So let's get started, shall we?

Candidates are getting into final digs before Florida goes to the polls. Polls will open just one hour from now.

SAMBOLIN: We have some live pictures for you here. Anti-Assad rally in Syria. The protesters are flooding the streets as you see there. The White House is saying President Assad will go. One country at the U.N. may stand in the way of that.

BANFIELD: One of those pardoned Mississippi killers who was on the loose and on the run has been found thousands of miles away, in fact. A 1,000 miles away from Mississippi.

He may, may, may be coming home to face the authorities there. I say may because the attorney general wants to get tough on the manhunt, but he can't really. We'll explain why.

SAMBOLIN: And the president letting secrets fly about U.S. drones during a hang. Why the loose lips on sensitive intelligence matters?

BANFIELD: Candidates have done all the talk and that they could possibly do and it's now time for the people of Florida to be heard at the polls.

The primary voting begins in just an hour. Mitt Romney is really surging in the polls. Newt Gingrich's camp is kind of backpedalling at this point, in fact, saying things to the extent of seeding the two upcoming contests in Michigan and Nevada to Romney.

So the big prize is Florida because, of course, if you're talking delegates, they don't get bigger than this one so far, 50 delegates. It's a winner take all state.

John Zarrella is live from Florida with us this morning. So, John, here's the question. The polls seem to indicate that Newt Gingrich is sliding off a cliff and then you hear the Tea Partiers come in, saying no, no, no, even Rick Santorum is at play. But now it's all over but the talking. So what are we expecting really today?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, those latest polls, in fact, there were four of them at the last minute saying 43- 29 Romney over Gingrich, and that Romney leads in basically every group from Evangelicals to Conservatives.

And we are in Lithia, Florida, and this is a heavily Republican area of Hillsboro County, suburb of Tampa. There are 3,200 registered Republicans here. Interestingly enough, McCain took this precinct or Hillsboro County four years ago and beating Romney, 37-30 percent.

But right now, Romney looks like he's certainly going to play very, very well here in Hillsboro County. The 22,000 early voters already here in the county and the supervisors of election say that's a good sign.

They do expect a heavy turnout and Ashleigh's right. Weather is not going to be an issue here in Florida. It is going to be absolutely gorgeous weather throughout most if not all of the state today. So that's not going to be an issue.

They do expect heavy Republican turnout across Florida. And so right now it looks like it's going to be a very, very big day for the Republican Party here with a good voter turnout and, again, in -- this is the I-4 corridor area of Florida. Expect to be heavily contested.

But, you know, Ashleigh, as you pointed out, these other -- Evangelicals and Rick Santorum said not so fast. Some of what I heard was there were still a lot of undecided Republican voters up until the last minute. It could very well perhaps close the gap a little bit for Gingrich before all is said and done tonight.

BANFIELD: You know what that means. It means you're on O.T., my friend, until at least 7:00 tonight, John Zarrella. Thank you very much.

ZARRELLA: There you go. Sure.

BANFIELD: Make sure you also stick with CNN through November for the best political coverage on TV. At 8:30 Eastern on "STARTING POINT," a CNN exclusive, Soledad O'Brien going one-on-one with Florida's Republican Senator Marco Rubio.

And also tonight, CNN prime time coverage of the Florida primary begins, I'm sure, John Zarrella will be working very hard. We've also got our regular team too. They are coming online.

"JOHN KING USA" at 6 p.m. Eastern with a special edition at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, Wolf and Anderson and Erin and Candy and the Best Political Team on Television will guide you through the Florida results. It will be fascinating. Wrestling match.

SAMBOLIN: It is 6:05 in the east. It's the Obama administration unplugged. First, we have Defense Secretary Leon Panetta revealing to CBS' "60 Minutes" a key Pakistani informant in the hunt for Bin Laden.

And now, President Obama in an online town hall openly sharing details of the CIA's controversial drone program in Pakistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are able to pinpoint strike an al Qaeda operative in a place where the capacity has met military in that country may not be able to get them.

So obviously a lot of these strikes have been in the Fatah and going after al Qaeda suspects who are up and very tough terrain at the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So our question is, why the loose lips on such sensitive intelligence matters? Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon. Are we making a lot to do about this or does this seem like classified information that we perhaps should not be hearing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's like that old game of clue. Everybody may know that the butler did it, but it's not the fact that you're supposed to get out there and talk about it. So what is the president really up to?

It's fascinating question. These CIA drone strikes are very well known behind the scenes, if you will. Everybody knows the CIA flies drones in the Pakistan, launches missiles, and kills militants, but you don't talk about it because it backs Pakistan into a corner.

The Pakistani government very bitter, even though it permits these grown strikes, knows about them, very bitter in its relationship right now with the United States. So what was the president really doing? We don't know the answer to that.

Was it somehow just a slip? Was it an effort to somehow back Pakistan further into a corner for some reason that we may not be aware of? Of course, it comes just a day after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also talked about very sensitive information about Pakistan.

That Pakistani doctor trying to help the CIA with this situation and trying to find Osama Bin Laden, it seems like the only person out there right now not talking is CIA Director David Petraeus. He will be on Capitol Hill later this morning, Zoraida.

So I think a lot of people will be watching trying to see if he offers any clues as to exactly what is going on here.

SAMBOLIN: Now we did see after we heard from Leon Panetta that the Pentagon issued a statement kind of clarifying the situation, but that hasn't happened with President Obama. And you know, the information that he put out there. Do you think we'll hear more from that?

STARR: Well, I think the next time we have a White House briefing. Reporters are very likely to ask this question because this has been one of the things in Washington for months now. Everyone knows the drones strikes keep happening, but you can't get anyone to publicly confirm it.

Once you have the president of the United States confirming it, there's no putting the genie back in the bottle. This is now very open, very much out there. And it will be very interesting to see how all of this plays out.

Already in Pakistan you're beginning to see some commentary emerging overnight about some -- and very critical of this because this backs the Pakistani's further into a corner.

It makes the government there, which is very fragile look like it's really operating at the behest of the White House. So where is it all go from here?

Can the U.S. get that cooperation back with Pakistan with this bitter relationship get any better after all of this?

SAMBOLIN: All right, Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon, thank you.

BANFIELD: And another front on foreign relations, this tensions building over the violence in the streets of Syria. United Nations set to take up a Security Council draft resolution.

Look at these live streaming pictures that we've got of anti-government protests in Syria. They are happening right now. People are flooding the streets. Children among them chanting "God help us, save us from Assad," meaning Bashar Al-Assad.

That's the president of that country. He is under increasing pressure to step down from Arab League nations, international nations who are meeting.

Arwa Damon, our correspondent, is on the phone with the very latest. Arwa, this is a day where all eyes are on this country because of what's going on in the U.N. These protesters may think they're a little safer with their message out on the street?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): You know, from the onset the protesters have been telling us that they actually fully believe they were the ones that were going to have it because they've always had very little safety in the initiative or in the United Nations or international community coming to somehow save them.

But all eyes are on Syria. Also because of this critical resolution that is going to be debated. You have the U.S., European Nations, and the Arab League, some countries part of the Arab League, basically backing this resolution that doesn't call for sanction or any sort of military action, nor does it threaten.

But what it does do is push forward the Arab League that would keep President Bashar Al-Assad hand over power to his vice president eventually peeving the way with some sort of free and democratic election.

But let's remember that the Syrian government has already had that initiative. The country to watch right now is going to be Russia. There is a flurry of diplomatic activity at all levels, with various countries, trying to pressure Russia into not vetoing this resolution.

If Russia does not veto it, it may not be an immediate impact on the situation in Syria, but it most certainly would sent a critical message. That is that it perhaps can no longer rely on what has been up until now a key international ally.

BANFIELD: Let's hope all of those people that we are looking at live on the streets are going to be OK today. Certainly after yesterday's 100 dead in the streets. We don't want numbers like that. Arwa Damon reporting live from Beirut, Lebanon, next door to Syria.

And still ahead, a manhunt that is over. A pardoned Mississippi murderer has been found. But not so fast, folks, don't expect that he's going to be coming back to Mississippi anytime soon.

SAMBOLIN: And England's Prince William, heading to the Falkland Islands for a tour of duty. Will it stir up tensions between Britain and Argentina?

BANFIELD: And Rob Marciano is keeping an eye on the weather for us as well. Hot in Florida, I'm sure? Not just politically speaking. What's going on elsewhere?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, weather wise, not too shabby in Florida. Elsewhere, temperatures are heating up, that's for sure. A little bit of rain across Texas and Louisiana right now. That will be developing and moving up towards the northeast as we go through time.

Of course, Texas will take any sort of rainfall they can get, but the big story today is going to be the warming trend across much of the eastern two-thirds of the country. Big cells across upstate New York yesterday.

A lot of that will be melting as temperatures jumped 10, 15, and in some cases 20 degrees from where they were yesterday, certainly, 15 to 20 degrees above normal.

It's 70 in Memphis. It will be 56 degrees in New York City, 66 degrees in Atlanta. Drought in Texas, one town running out of water, more on that after the break. It's 12 minutes after the hour. This is EARLY START. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: It is 15 minutes past the hour. Time to check the stories making news this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): The people in Florida begin voting in 45 minutes. All the latest polls show Mitt Romney with a double digit lead over Newt Gingrich in the Sunshine State, and now the Gingrich camp may be on the verge of ceding two upcoming contests to Romney -- Michigan and Nevada.

BANFIELD: And here's something. President Obama is defending the use of drone strikes in Pakistan. He says, quote, "Pinpoint attacks are less intrusive of other countries' sovereignty than alternatives for going after al Qaeda terrorists and other insurgents." And the president was making these comments while responding to a question during a video town hall on Google.

You'll probably know that the drone strikes have been heightening tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan, but no one's really ever said it in those words before that, yes, our drones are attacking in Pakistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Very tense.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It is 6:16 here in the East.

Prince William heading to the Falkland Islands as new tensions build over the British controlled territory. Prince William will be there for six weeks for Royal Air Force training.

Argentina is condemning the Prince's deployment as, quote, "A provocative act." Argentina is making new claims to the Falklands 30 years after losing a war.

Max Foster live from London with the very latest. So Britain is saying this is a regular deployment for Prince William. How is it becoming now a provocative act?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you imagine that -- well, Prince William would argue that this is just part of his tour of duty. Once you're a qualified pilot it's part of a regular process for people in his position.

But in order for him to be deployed there, the prime minister would have had to give clearance, Argentineans suggesting that's a provocative act. We're in the run up to the 30th anniversary of the Falkland's War.

There've been demonstrations outside the U.K. embassy in Buenos Aires, and David Cameron has followed up, saying the future (ph) of these islands is nonnegotiable. Sovereignty is a matter for Falklanders and they want to stay British.

And as we head into this anniversary territory, there's a great deal of concern that there's going to be a big response in Argentina, perhaps not the Falklands. And then countries like Brazil are backing Argentina on this issue, so Britain's looking more and more isolated.

SAMBOLIN: What's the U.S.' position on the Falklands?

FOSTER: Well, that's interesting. The stuff that David Cameron talked about this being nonnegotiable, the State Department answered a question on this, and it does seem as though the Obama administration has shifted positions slightly on this, saying we encourage both parties to resolve their differences through dialogue in normal diplomatic channels.

And one -- Zoraida, one columnist here in the U.K., a well regarded one, had the headline after that, saying the Obama administration knifes Britain in the back again over the Falklands. So it's definitely stoking diplomatically.

SAMBOLIN: Good attention there. Max Foster, live from London. Thank you very much.

BANFIELD: Now, 18 minutes past 6:00.

A small town in Central Texas is in a bit of a tough -- tough bind. They're having to truck thousands of gallons of water to keep the town from running dry.

The water supply is dangerously low in a place called Spicewood Beach. It's 35 miles northwest of Austin, Texas. The historic drought is triggering a stage four water emergency.

They need extended rainfall to reverse this trend. This is a big problem for these folks. They are -- they may have to actually resort to this method of trucking the water in for months and months.

But right now the residents are only allowed to use water for bathing, cooking, and drinking. And if you're watering your lawn, your neighbors will know it.

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BANFIELD: That's scary, just the thought of it.

SAMBOLIN: It is.

And this is kind of scary, too, Vassar College apologizing to 76 applicants. They were accepted and then they were rejected.

The school is blaming a computer glitch for mistakenly sending acceptance letters. Vassar promising to reimburse the $55 application fee. They're also going to try to help those students who withdrew applications from other institutions. Some parents say that is simply not good enough, calling on Vassar to admit the applicants. One family told "The New York Times" they're considering legal action now.

BANFIELD: Ah.

SAMBOLIN: That's a tough one.

BANFIELD: An hour ago I think I said I smell a civil lawsuit rat coming.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Well, they have an official letter from Vassar saying you have been accepted.

BANFIELD: Yes. That's hard. I mean, that's really tough. There's so much to -- if you've got college-age bound -- or college-bound aged kids, you know the pain and suffering that everybody goes through.

All right, still ahead, why you're going to have to wait a little bit longer for your tax refund if you filed your taxes early. Yes.

SAMBOLIN: That's not right.

BANFIELD: I'm not kidding. It doesn't sound right at all. It is not a typo, folks.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: "Minding Your Business" this morning. U.S. markets down yesterday. The Dow, NASDAQ and S&P 500 all closed slightly lower to start the week.

BANFIELD: And if that doesn't just get you going, how about this? If you filed your tax returns early, you're apparently going to have to wait to get your refund. So that sounds crazy and the person who makes sense of crazy things --

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And the person who is crazy --

BANFIELD: You sort out the crazies for us. Would you sort this one out? This doesn't make a lick of sense, Christine Romans.

ROMANS: Your crazy -- your crazy correspondent this morning is here to tell you what the problem is.

Now, look, the IRS is putting new software to make sure that there can't be -- there can't be abuse and scofflaws and erroneous kinds of refunds for tax returns, right? So if you filed thinking you were going to get a quick and early refund, return, right, a refund before January 26th, the IRS is saying, no, it's going to be a week later than you thought to get your money. Why? Because they put this new -- this new system in place and it's going to be a little delay of about one week. So if you, say, last week, a week ago, filed before January 26th to get your refund and you thought you were going to get it, say, Wednesday, you're not going to get it Wednesday.

You know what something is pretty interesting --

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: Well, we like the idea of people not being able to scam the government for money. I mean every year there are people who get refunds who don't deserve those refunds. So the IRS is trying to --

So you should -- you should plan on 21 days once you file. That's on the IRS Web site. Plan on 21 days once you file either electronically or by paper. And the average tax refund last year was $2,900, $2,913.

SAMBOLIN: That's a lot of money.

ROMANS: People are waiting for that money. When I see numbers like that, though, you know, the personal finance guru in me says be careful not to give the government an interest free loan for the whole year every year. Check your withholdings. Make sure it's right. You don't want the government to have the use of your money all year and then all of a sudden you're getting this windfall, great, but, you know, make sure you're using that money during the year.

BANFIELD: Another reason not to wait to do your taxes. Do your taxes.

ROMANS: I know.

BANFIELD: Because the government can freeze your cash.

ROMANS: Well, here I am giving you advice about, you know, your personal finances. I have not done my taxes yet. I mean, I have like little piles and I'm getting it --

SAMBOLIN: You're busy.

ROMANS: I'm getting it sorted and I will get it done in time. Have you started yours?

BANFIELD: Oh, yes.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BANFIELD: I keep it all, all year long. But I have to wait. I'm one of those people who makes investments and you don't get the statements until October, so I have to actually file extensions on time.

ROMANS: Right, right. Well, there you go.

SAMBOLIN: All right. I have a little note here that says 401(k) fees.

ROMANS: Yes. OK, so 401(k) fees. There could be some new rules we're waiting any day to find out some new rules, speeding of investments about your 401(k). And the government wants to -- wants to make it more clear for us to find out the disclosure of fees within the 401(k) so that you can make some choices and better choices maybe about keeping the fees down.

You know, over the lifetime of investing in -- in your 401(k) you're paying out thousand, tens of thousands of dollars in fees to people who are managing those accounts. The government wants you to be able to see it a little bit better and maybe make some other choices.

The longer term strategy here is that you can save money and have more money working for you. So any minute, maybe today, maybe tomorrow we're going to get some clear details about what these 401 -- the industry doesn't like it.

BANFIELD: Does that mean you're going to get those envelopes at home, you open up thinking that it's going to be some personalized thing, but it's just a booklet with bunch of rules that you don't understand and you toss? Is that what that means?

SAMBOLIN: Actually dollar amounts, exact dollar amounts of what you're paying, right?

ROMANS: We shall see, yes.

SAMBOLIN: I (INAUDIBLE) with my parents all the time. All right. Thank you very much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: Appreciate it.

BANFIELD: Thanks.

SAMBOLIN: And ahead on EARLY START, the polls open in about 30 minutes in Florida. The Gingrich camp appears to be reeling. The signs of former speaker's campaign could be unraveling.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: And welcome back to EARLY START. It is 6:29 on the East Coast. It also happens to be Christine Romans' birthday. Didn't even say happy birthday to her.

SAMBOLIN: Happy birthday, Christine.

BANFIELD: She looks great at 29, doesn't she?

SAMBOLIN: Yes, she does.

BANFIELD: I'm Ashleigh Banfield, everyone.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Time to check the stories making news this morning.

It's up to voters now. Floridians head to the polls in about 30 minutes to pick their Republican candidate for president. Mitt Romney has opened a double digit lead over Newt Gingrich in all the latest polls. The Gingrich camp now hinting it may see two February contests to Romney, Michigan and Nevada.

BANFIELD: Got a nuclear update for you now. U.N. nuclear experts are giving a thumbs-up to Japan's planned, quote, "stress test" for its remaining nuclear power plants. Team from the IAEA, that's the International Atomic Energy Agency, gave its blessing after studying the nuclear safety review that Tokyo ordered following last year's meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

SAMBOLIN: Vice President Joe Biden says he opposed the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The president asked Biden for his opinion before he launched that raid.

So, Biden told him don't go. He felt it was not a sure thing. And he apparently wasn't the only one. Biden said only current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta supported the president's mission.

All right. It is 6:30. With Florida voters just 30 minutes from heading to the polls, Newt Gingrich's camp saying they by may cede February contests in Nevada and Michigan to Romney.

Is the former speaker's campaign beginning to crumble?

Let's ask our panelist, our experts. Live from Washington, Democratic strategist Penny Lee. From Chicago, conservative radio lost, Lenny McAllister. And from Tampa, Florida, CNN political editor, Paul Steinhauser.

So, Lenny, I'm going to start with you. Gingrich says that he is going to stay in it until the bitter end. And I want to share a tweet that you re-tweeted yesterday, apparently, from a publisher of "The New Hampshire Union-Leader" Joe McQuaid. And it says, "If Newt without a pot to pee in, is dragging down GOP, then what is Mitt's massive, scorched-earth negativity doing for it?"

I want to check and see if you agree. But before I do, hang on and let's listen to this and then we'll talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't believe the Republican Party is going to nominate a liberal who is pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase, pro-gay rights. The Republican Party base does not want to nominate somebody who represents the establishment in Wall Street and New York.

Romney refused to allow Catholic hospitals to have conscience in their dealing with certain circumstances. Romney cut off kosher food for elderly Jews on Medicare. Both of them have the same lack of conservative religious liberty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, Lenny, some people would say that Gingrich is actually the scorched earth and he's dragging down the GOP. You re-tweeted that. Clearly, you don't feel that way.

LENNY MCALLISTER, RADIO HOST: No, I don't feel that way because if you look at how Mitt Romney regained the front-runner status, it was through negative ads. This isn't just about the GOP scorching the earth. This is about what Americans want in their politics. Very bad reflection of how we are as voters in the 21st century.

What we like are people that spend a lot of money on negative ads to catch themselves up in the polls and whoever can beat up their competition the worse wins. That's not what we need. We're in a crisis mode right now in America. We've seen it from the Democrats. We've seen it from the Republicans.

This is more about beating each other up than it is about leading Americans. It's a bad reflection of who we are. And we can't necessarily just blame the candidates. We have to blame ourselves. It just so happens to be playing out right now in the Republican field.

SAMBOLIN: You actually say that it's a super PACs that we've learned more about than the candidates, right?

MCALLISTER: Yes, absolutely. We have learned about who can spend more money and put out things that people have to refute and be on the defensive than we have learned about who can lead this country moving forward. We're going to see the exact thing from President Obama moving up into the fall. It's not as though the Democrats are exempt from this. It's all politicians for the most part and it's a sad reflection of who we are as a country, and what we're looking for in our leaders moving forward.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Paul, I want to switch gears here and kind of talk about the numbers. We talked about them a little bit earlier. Yesterday, we were saying that Mitt Romney was winning in Florida, but Gingrich actually took the lead in the national polls. That's kind of changed here. One day is making quite a difference here.

Why the sudden surge?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: You know, the national poll seems to be lagging indicator. So, when Romney's surge happened here in Florida, it took a couple of days for it to catch up in the national polls. We're finally seeing that Gingrich's lead in the Gallup tracking polls disappeared with the new numbers that came in yesterday afternoon. Basically, G Gingrich and Romney dead even among national Republicans.

So, what's happening in the states is really dictating what's happening nationally.

You know, Gingrich won that big double digit victory in South Carolina, 10 days ago. That boosted him in Florida and also boosted him in the national polls. Now, the dynamic has changed.

And I just want to say, Christine Romans, happy birthday.

SAMBOLIN: Well, we'll make sure that we pass that on to her.

STEINHAUSER: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: I just wanted to ask one more thing, Paul. Do you think that Gingrich saying perhaps that, you know, we would have a moon base in eight years and that becoming a joke is affecting the numbers?

STEINHAUSER: Yes. It was one of the contributing factors. Listen, I understand what he was saying. Of course, jobs here in the space industry are very important in Florida but at the same time it opened up to -- him up to attacks from both Santorum and Romney and they were effective. That along with the negativity that Lenny was talking about and those two debate performances by Romney and bad performances by Gingrich all contributing to Romney rising in the polls here. Gingrich sinking.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Penny, I want to talk about something completely different. After Florida, there are multiple races in February, starting with Nevada. We have no debates though until February 22nd. But you say this is a good time for strategy, for strategy session for Democrats like you, because you said Democrats are going to be interested in the exit polls from these races.

I wish I could bring Paul in here because numbers and exit polls are, you know, all the rage for him.

But what type of strategy specifically is this for Democrats? What are you looking for in these exit polls?

PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, we're looking to see what kind of enthusiasm and who the voters are that are actually showing up. We'll make comparisons to who they stack up against McCain voters in 2008, who are the people actually being energized and whether or not anybody is actually being energized with this mudslinging that's going on all over the place on the Republican side. So, it will be very curious to see.

I mean, all of us are competing for that same kind of moderate middle, that undefined populist voter that is out there, that middle class blue collar, per se, voter. All of us are looking to see, you know, where is the base on the Republican side, where is the enthusiasm level? Is there any daylight to be seen that we can go at that they're struggling with, you know, unwed married women, or, you know, those that have gotten college degrees, or those with college degrees. Where is vulnerabilities that we can look at and with an effective message go in, recapture them for the Democrats?

SAMBOLIN: Did you find some of those vulnerabilities? Have you found them so far?

LEE: You know, we're looking -- South Carolina was a very interesting mix. You did see some enthusiasm and you saw some numbers coming out. But you also saw very great uncertainty. So that's what I'm saying to us, is that the Republican base still isn't solidified and there are some concerns there. So they have concerns about who their nominees are.

Messages that speak to jobs, messages that speak to about getting the economy going instead of politics of personal destruction are what is being effective. And that's the kind of message that the president is delivering right now.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Lenny, Paul, Penny -- thanks for being with us today.

LEE: Thanks for having me.

SAMBOLIN: And tonight, CNN's primary time coverage of the Florida primary begins with a special edition of "JOHN KNG, USA" at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

And at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, join Wolf, Anderson, Erin, Candy and the best political team on television as they guide all of us through the Florida results.

BANFIELD: And still ahead, that manhunt for the pardoned convicted murderer who's been on the lam for a couple of weeks is over. They found him. Joseph Ozment turned up 1,000 miles away and they served him with paper. Is it going to make a difference?

Watch EARLY START to find out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: It is 6:40. Good morning. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BANFIELD: I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

You know that story about all those pardoned criminals in Mississippi. Well, one of the killers that they were looking for, they found him. They found him a long way away, and they served him with papers.

Convicted murder Joseph Ozment got the papers but he doesn't necessarily have to go back if he doesn't want to. They're civil papers. He was found all the way in Wyoming. And he hadn't been known about since his mom picked him up when he was released from prison back on January 8th. So, again, not an arrest, it's a subpoena.

You will remember that Mississippi's Attorney General Jim Hood has been going after the former Governor Haley Barbour's pardons. And last night, he was talking to Anderson Cooper about it. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM HOOD, MISSISSIPPI ATTORNEY GENERAL: That's what's such a difficult part of this process, you know, this is -- this is of like I've required to being on a manhunt with one arm tied behind my back. I can't use the criminal justice process of APBs and warrants. All we have is a civil document that we served him with. And that is the most we can do because he is a -- we can't treat as an escapee. He has a document that says that he's a free man as of now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: CNN legal contributor Paul Callan is live with us now.

And, Paul, you just heard the A.G. say he's doing this with one hand tied behind his back. Could you please explain why it is that this former convicted killer, now pardoned, is getting a civil document, like a subpoena that any old Joe might get, why he doesn't necessarily have to honor it?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, lawyers are scratching their heads about this one all over the country because it's really interesting. So, here's the background. The Mississippi governor, prior Mississippi governor, issues a pardon. And the convicted murder walks out of jail a free man, just like you and me and anybody else, free woman, I should say in your case, Ashleigh.

Now, he moves over to Wyoming, and now, the new attorney general goes into court and says, wait a minute, that pardon was illegal. We want to take it back. And there's a court proceeding in Mississippi now in which they're trying to say it was an illegal pardon.

But this guy's in Wyoming. And they can't issue an arrest warrant because maybe he is a free man. We have to have a whole trial on the issue whether the pardon was legal or not.

Bottom line, in my opinion, there's nothing that Mississippi can do to force him to return from Wyoming or any other state that he wants to go to.

BANFIELD: Well, can the -- can the Mississippi authorities go to Wyoming, say, before a judge and say, give us a hand, please, and, you know, maybe flex some of your state muscle to send this guy -- not really extradition but something like it?

CALLAN: Well, there is nothing quite like extradition in civil cases. Now, remember, this is -- this is really a civil case. Lawyers would call it an equity case because the judge is going to issue an order requiring something to happen.

But the only thing that happens, and if we look at a car accident case, for instance, let's say you were in a car accident and you went to another state. They could get an order requiring you to give a deposition or testimony in Wyoming about the case. But they couldn't issue an order requiring you to come back to Mississippi unless they get an arrest warrant. And they've got to get a Mississippi judge to issue an arrest warrant and then seek extradition.

BANFIELD: Right.

CALLAN: And that's when it gets complicated because I don't know if it's going to work.

BANFIELD: For anybody out there who is really angry hearing this, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. And I read a note from you to one of our producers that said this actually could be in Ozment's best interest to go back of his own volition and get into court because if he doesn't, he could be a big loser.

CALLAN: Well, he could be, because what happens in civil cases, if you don't show up for your case when it's being tried in Mississippi, you lose. They offer -- they order a judgment against you because they say you defaulted in the case. So, that's the risk that he takes, because the Mississippi judge may say, I gave him an opportunity to litigate this, he didn't show up. The pardon is invalid. I now issue an arrest warrant and they extradite him from Wyoming. Which is going to wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court some day as to whether these were legal arrests and legal pardons. It's a real mess.

BANFIELD: Fascinating. You know what, I was about to give you a huge compliment saying how smart you were, and then, you just outdid your own self. Thank you, Paul Callan.

CALLAN: All right. Thanks, Ashleigh. Appreciate it. Take care.

SAMBOLIN: Always learn a lot from that guy.

BANFIELD: He's a real smart cookie.

SAMBOLIN: Forty-five minutes past the hour. Soledad O'Brien joins us now with a look at what is ahead on STARTING POINT. Good morning.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST, "STARTING POINT": Good morning. That was such a great opportunity to say I'm a really smart cookie.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: I was waiting for that easy segue to me. It never came. It never came. Teasing you. Good morning, ladies.

SAMBOLIN: You are.

O'BRIEN: Oh, thank you. You have to ask for it, it's not as good. Anyway, you know, we've been talking, obviously, about the big night tonight as we head in to the primary. Of course, after all the talking comes the voting, and that's what we're going to be looking at this morning. We've got an exclusive interview with popular Florida Republican congressman, Marco Rubio, this morning. You know, he's not endorsing any candidate at this point. We're going to ask him why.

Also, this morning, we're talking to another influential Florida congressman, Republican Allen West, will be joining us. We spoke him last week when we were in Florida. He's a tea party favorite, as you know. He also has not endorsed anybody. We're going to get his take on who he expects will win it tonight.

Plus, you notice as I have over the last few weeks, every candidate in the GOP primary race has been invoking the name Reagan, Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan. This morning, we talk to Michael Reagan, which is Ronald Reagan's son, and ask him who really is the true Reagan conservative.

Those stories and much more straight ahead as "Starting Point" begins in just about ten minutes. We'll see you then.

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SAMBOLIN: It is 49 minutes past the hour. Time to check the stories making news this morning.

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SAMBOLIN (voice-over): A call for action in Syria. Anti- government protesters flood the streets this morning. These are new pictures that we got in. The children were chanting "God help us, save us from Assad." They're referring to Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad.

The United Nations is considering a resolution calling for him to resign. Secretary Hillary Clinton is expected to urge the u.n. today to support a peace plan.

BANFIELD (voice-over): And a week old U.S. law that requires airlines to include the taxes and all those extra fees in their advertised prices is already coming under fire. One congressman from Georgia is promising to introduce bill to toss that law out. Among other things, he's concerned that under the new guidelines, airlines can jack up their fees and keep them hidden from consumers.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): And in just ten minutes, the polls will open in Florida for the state's winner take all primary. Fifty delegates are at stake there. Mitt Romney has a healthy lead in the final polls. Campaign has taken an ugly turn as well. Tampa will host a Republican National Convention this summer.

And joining us now to talk more about this, Bob Buckhorn, he is the mayor of Tampa, Florida. Thanks for being with us this morning. Congratulations on the Republican National Convention. That should be a nice influx of money into your town. MAYOR BOB BUCKHORN, TAMPA, FLORIDA: It is indeed. And, we are really, really looking forward to hosting the convention. It's going to be a big undertaking for us, but we are very, very excited, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Let's talk about these candidates. There's been an awful lot of money spent in the state of Florida with the Super PACs. Mitt Romney also spent a lot of money. Is that turning off voters in Tampa or is it being effective, because we see Romney with double digit leads.

BUCKHORN: Well, I think it's been effective in the sense that he's been able to tear down Gingrich and stop the momentum. But in terms of participating in the democracy and elevating the debate, I think this has been nothing more than a mud fest.

I have yet to see one commercial that says what either one of these candidates want to do for America. All I hear nonstop is what they don't like about the other guy, and that's unfortunate.

SAMBOLIN: Well, how about specifically what they want to do for the residents of Tampa? Which one of the candidates do you think fairs better there?

BUCKHORN: Well, I think, clearly, Governor Romney's lead is increasing. It's not because he's offering an alternative vision to President Obama. It's not because he's offering a hopeful message. I think he's only increasing his lead is because he's saying more bad things about his opponent.

We really haven't heard anything about what they're going to do about the foreclosure crisis, what they're going to do about increasing employment. Florida has been devastated by the real state bust. We need somebody who's going to offer help to our citizens. And I'll tell you, I mean, I see it every day in the eyes of the people that I represent.

I mean, they're choosing between paying their mortgage or paying for their medicines, and we have yet to hear anybody say or offer a compelling reason why they should be elected.

SAMBOLIN: We talked to you earlier and you said that the battles in the state could actually be good for Republicans. Could you explain that?

BUCKHORN: Well, I mean, I think what it's going to force them to do is create a message and a compelling message and a winning message. I think out of this will come a stronger Republican nominee because he's been battle tested. He's been scarred. How he recovers from those wounds will help him in a general election.

But if he comes out too scarred and too wounded and bleeding too much, it gives President Obama a lot of fodder for the fall campaign, and that's a risk that the Republicans run by being so venomous and being so vicious in their attacks on each other. SAMBOLIN: And mayor, one thing that we looked at very closely is the Latino vote in the state of Florida, but we do understand the Latino vote in Miami is not necessarily the Latino vote in Tampa. Could you tell us what is important to Latino voters in your town?

BUCKHORN: Well, you're absolutely right. It's a very different constituency. Florida has had a huge influx Puerto Ricans from both New York, New Jersey, and from the island. They are overwhelming, the Cuban-Americans which historically have been the largest bloc. Our Hispanic voters want the same thing that anyone else does. They want good education policies. They want an opportunity to advance.

Education is very, very important to them. What they don't want is the anti-immigration rhetoric that we're hearing out of the Republican Party. Well, I think, the Republicans ought to look at Jeb Bush as a model on the immigration issue. Governor Bush, it was Republican governor here, understood very clearly that we are empowered by immigrants.

That we are better because of our diversity. We don't demonize people because they look different from us. That is, I think, going to be an Achilles heel for the Republicans in this election that they may not be able to recover from.

SAMBOLIN: All right. And interestingly enough, he is not endorsing anyone. Mayor Bob Buckhorn, thank you for joining us this morning. We're going to take a quick break, and we'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KADIR NELSON, AUTHOR/ARTIST: My name is Kadir Nelson. I'm an author and an artist, and I'm on the road a week out of every month. I've been drawing pretty much my whole life since I was about three years old. I was commissioned to create the artwork for Michael Jackson's first posthumously released album called "Michael."

I'm primarily a book artist. I began writing books as well as illustrating them. The publisher really likes you to get out and talk about the work that you do. It's a great way to meet the people who are reading the book, because when you're an author, you're pretty much working in a vacuum.

I usually bring a sketchbook that's pretty small. As an artist, you want to be on top of your game and keep your blade sharp. I'll look at people while they're in the park or in the subway or an airport and I'll just draw them. And sometimes, you are a bit tired, but when you meet little kids who are so excited to meet you and -- or even adults really gives you energy.

Thanks for traveling with me. I'll see you on the road.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: That's it for us on EARLY START. BANFIELD: Yes. Soledad O'Brien coming up next with a whole bunch of stuff including an exclusive. Hello, Soledad.