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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Romney Captures Florida; Paul Keying On Caucus States; Super PAC Spending Restaurant Refuses to Serve Tennessee Lawmaker; Courting Conservatives; GOP Campaign Gets Nasty; Obama: Send Me the Resume; RPT: Iran Willing To Attack On U.S. Soil

Aired February 1, 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: We're talking about being on a ski lift and falling off. We're going to find out why later.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: You are, indeed. Good morning, everyone. It's 6:00 in the morning on the east coast. It's EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We are bringing you the news from A to Z. It is 6:00 a.m. in the east so let's get started here.

BANFIELD: Mitt Romney, wow, what a night. Off to Minnesota with a crushing defeat under his belt. Hammering Newt Gingrich in Florida by 14 points and the folks there said electability. Who could beat President Obama in a general election was really a big factor.

SAMBOLIN: Did you hear this? A new warning about Iran may be looking to attack the U.S. on U.S. soil.

BANFIELD: Say it isn't so.

Also, another "Occupy" camp cleared out. Look at the riot police coming in. That would be a scary thing to see. It wasn't a pretty sight, either. We're going to let you know what happened in Miami. How it went down.

SAMBOLIN: So this is what I was talking about. Incredible, incredible save on the slopes. A boy dangling 25 feet in the air. Look at that. Skiers come to the rescue. The guy who snapped these pictures is going to join us, yes, what you're seeing is true.

BANFIELD: Imagine dropping your boy into that crowd? So that's coming ahead. And also this, Mitt Romney moving one step closer to the Republican nomination with a resounding win in Florida nabbed it like that.

Now he's vowing to bring an end to the Obama era, such a convincing victory and huge crowds last night. By the way, sort of across the board, too, breaking it down, Hispanic, seniors, Catholics, women, everybody backing Romney by significant margins.

He also got a lot of support from Florida voters who believed that the economy is important and beating Obama is important.

SAMBOLIN: So the final Florida tally in case you missed it, Romney 46 percent, Gingrich 32 percent, Santorum 13 percent, Ron Paul in at 7 percent there. Romney was sounding pretty presidential afterward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My leadership cut taxes 19 times and cast over 800 vetoes. We balance the budget every single year and we kept our schools first in the nation. My leadership will end the Obama era and begin a new era of American prosperity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: So for his part Newt Gingrich put a positive spin on the Florida primary saying that the result shows it is now a two-man race. He's vowing to stay in it for the long haul.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is now clear that this will be a two-person race between the conservative leader Newt Gingrich and the Massachusetts moderate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So the big cry, Romney captures 50 delegates in Florida's winner take all primary. He now has 84 delegates, Gingrich 27, Paul 10 and Santorum with 8. So 1,144 are needed to officially clinch the nomination.

BANFIELD: It's long way away.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, we are a very long way away. Political editor, Paul Steinhauser live from Tampa. We are talking about it's still a long haul here.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: A long haul to go. You know, right behind me, that's the Tampa Bay Convention Center. That's where Romney had his big victory last night. Zoraida, he wants to move that victory out west.

Take a look at the February calendar, Nevada is next and is on Saturday, the caucuses there. Soon after, a week from next Tuesday you've got Colorado and Minnesota also having caucuses, Missouri, a non-binding primary.

February 11th, a week from Saturday that's when Maine releases results of its caucus. Go down a month, there's our CNN debate in Arizona on the 22nd. At the end of the month, two big primary states, Arizona and Michigan.

A lot of these states, I guess you could say the Romney is the favorite. Listen, in Michigan, his father was the popular governor there. He grew up in Michigan. Arizona and Nevada, there's a modern population that could help Romney.

For Gingrich, he is looking past February. He is looking to March and the Super Tuesday contests, a lot of southern states -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: You know, I'm just reading this here. Senator Marco Rubio is saying that the winner last night has the nomination clinched? He had not supported anyone.

STEINHAUSER: He has not supported anyone. He did not endorse anybody here and they all wanted his endorsement, very popular among Republicans here in Florida. But he's saying that, listen, the power of Florida is so important. Whoever won here is really going to be the nominee.

Now, we've been talking about Romney. We've been talking about Gingrich, but what about the other two people in the race, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. You know, Santorum is saying even though I came in third, a distant third, I think Romney's big victory helps me. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Newt Gingrich had his chance, had his shot, had a big win out of South Carolina and could hold it, couldn't deliver in Florida. I think they're going to be looking to a different conservative as an alternative to Mitt Romney now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEINHAUSER: Santorum there speaking to our own Dana Bash. He was in Las Vegas last night. He already moved ahead to Nevada. So have Ron Paul, the congressman from Texas, he is ready for the caucus states. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will spend our time in the caucus states because if you have an irate minority, you do very well in the caucus state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEINHAUSER: The candidates are moving west, Zoraida, so are we. We're packing our bags. We're leaving Florida. We're headed to Nevada.

SAMBOLIN: You know, Christine Romans had a question for you earlier. What was it? Does he pack lightly?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I want to know what kind of luggage he has because, man, that guy is on the road a lot.

SAMBOLIN: What kind of luggage do you have is what she wants to know?

ROMANS: Carry-on only, right, Paul?

STEINHAUSER: It's all about the carry on. You know that, all about the carry-on.

SAMBOLIN: You always look good for us. Thank you so much, Paul.

BANFIELD: Move on to our next segment is politically related. I just want to show you a couple of headlines. "Good Night Newt" on "New York Post." "Romney Takes Florida" on "USA Today." "Romney wins big in Florida, Wall Street Journal."

"New York Times, Romney Wins Big As Florida Votes Taken Back the Rant," but you know what, it costs a lot of money. There was a lot of money spent not just in Florida, but this election already.

We got some new information just released from the Federal Election Commission about just how much has been spent on those so- called "Super PACs."

SAMBOLIN: All right, so Christine Romans is here to bring it down for us, money, money, money.

ROMANS: That's right. There's this old saying in politics money is the mother's milk of politics. They also say in politics your best friend is the money in your pocket and there's so much money in this campaign.

So how much money are we talking about here, $48.9 million the "Super Pacs" spent through -- through the end of January, through January 30th, let's say, $48.9 million, that is "Super PAC" spending.

This isn't the candidate-directed political action committees. These are "Super Political Action Committees," independent organizations that work on behalf of, but not in conjunction with the candidates.

And they can raise money and spend money however they want. They have these names that I keep saying they're like I love my mother, the "Super PAC" called I love my mother or America is good.

SAMBOLIN: I'm for freedom.

ROMANS: You can't really tell by the names who they're for. "Restore Our Future," that's a pro-Romney PAC, $17 million. "Winning Our Future," not to be confused with "Restore Our Future," that's pro- Gingrich.

"Make Us Great Again," that one is pro-Perry and a lot of that funding came earlier on. That has slowed of because he dropped out. "Americans For a Better Tomorrow," Stephen Colbert. Comedian gets another game. He raised more than -- not him, but people on behalf of him, whatever, more than a million dollars.

BANFIELD: Does he have to say where that money is or can he keep that quiet?

ROMANS: That's a really good point. When we looked through a lot of the other ones, we found that they were doing things like spending them on rallies, TV ads, direct mail, buying Facebook advertising, $1,200 for a teleprompter, postage, buying the phone numbers of supporters.

So you can see how they spent the money. You can also see who is giving the money and for Mitt Romney, a lot of the supporters of the "Super PAC" for Mitt Romney are some really big names on hedge funds, private equity, people who work at Bain Capital.

I mean, people giving -- can you imagine giving $150,000 for a "Super PAC."

BANFIELD: I saw where somebody gave 500.

ROMANS: That was for Gingrich. That was for Gingrich. That's right.

SAMBOLIN: And someone like Perry actually leaves the race, what do they do with that money that was sitting there?

ROMANS: They haven't said yet what they're going to do with it and that's an interesting point because Perry raised all that money, right, and he spent it -- I'm sorry, a "Super PAC" on behalf of Perry, we have to be very careful because they can't coordinate, spent a ton of money on advertising in Iowa. He didn't hardly even rate in Iowa. So the question is does this money matter?

BANFIELD: Good question. I think we're going to get to the bottom of that because for the best political coverage on television. You want to make sure you keep it right here on CNN.

We're not only talking "Super PACs," we're also talking at 7:00 Eastern on "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien. She's going to go one-on-one with that winner, Mitt Romney. And he thinks that Soledad will likely ask about that "Super PAC" money and all the money.

SAMBOLIN: And there is a brand new video coming in to CNN showing the Syrian rebel army celebrating in the street in the city of Homs. Shooting their guns in the air and screaming there, God is great.

They are claiming victory in the city that has seen some of the most terrifying alleged massacres of the conflict so far. At least 20 people have been killed across Syria. That is just to date.

BANFIELD: And still to come on EARLY START, Tennessee senator booted from a restaurant because of some things that he said about gay people in a radio interview and elsewhere. We're going to talk to the owner who did that.

SAMBOLIN: And she was ready to challenge the president on jobs during a live video chat, but he did something really unexpected. He asked her about her husband's unemployment and told her, send me his resume.

Did she do it? Did he get a job? We're going to ask her. She's going to join us. You are watching EARLY START.

BANFIELD: And we are also checking your weather for you especially if you're planning to travel. Jacqui Jeras is standing by on the job for us. What you've got?

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I've got wet, windy and warm, the three Ws the big headlines today in the weather department. Showers and thunderstorms heavy at times across the gulf coast. We're watching places like New Orleans on up towards Birmingham later on this afternoon.

But that warm air is coming in ahead of that front. So just watch out mostly for some sprinkles here for you in Washington, D.C. as well as New York City and that's going to be out of there as you head into the afternoon hours.

Temperatures are way above where they should be for this time of year. Look at the 60s and 70s on the map. Even 41 feels pretty good in Minneapolis. EARLY START is back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Good morning, Knoxville, Tennessee. If you live anywhere near McGee Airport, just south of the city that is your tower cam right now. It is 14 minutes past 6:00 on the east coast and there is your forecast. Right now, 50 degrees, a little later on, 61 and a couple of showers so be prepared.

SAMBOLIN: Warm everywhere, isn't it?

BANFIELD: Especially here.

SAMBOLIN: All right, welcome back to EARLY START. We're happy you're with us. In Tennessee, there's been an angry response to a state lawmaker's anti-gay remarks. Now our next guest has emerged as a hero so she refused to serve this guy, State Senator Stacey Campfield at her restaurant in Knoxville. In an interview on Sirius Radio, Campfield called homosexuality a, quote, "dangerous lifestyle," and he had this to say about AIDS.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. STACEY CAMPFIELD, (R) TENNESSEE (voice-over): My understanding is also virtually, not completely impossible, it's virtually impossible to contract AIDS outside of blood transfusions, through heterosexual sex. It's virtually impossible.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So, Campfield stands by all of his comments. Restaurant owner Martha Boggs says giving Campfield the boot was a spur-of-a-moment gut reaction. She joins us on the phone from Knoxville. Are you there? MARTHA BOGGS, OWNER, KNOXVILLE'S BISTRO AT THE BIJOU (via telephone): Yes, ma'am.

SAMBOLIN: Well, good morning to you. Nice to have us -- have you on our show. Listen, I hear that you did not listen to the actual interview. How did you hear about this?

BOGGS: Well, Mr. Campfield is in the papers a lot around here and happen to read an article in the "Knoxville News Sentinel" about that interview and the comments that he made, which were just completely false and, frankly, irresponsible.

SAMBOLIN: What offended you the most about what he said?

BOGGS: Well, a lot of things that he's said over the years have offended me. But the statement about how that AIDS is almost impossible to contract through heterosexual sex just really crossed the line.

SAMBOLIN: And I've been reading that he's a pretty popular guy in that area and, you know, you see him out in public a lot. Does he go to your restaurant frequently?

BOGGS: Well, actually, he is not a popular guy at all. And that's the sad thing about it is that he's not even from East Tennessee. He's from New York.

SAMBOLIN: Well, he handsomely won the election.

BOGGS: He did win the election, and that's another sad state of affairs, is in that particular election, with over 100,000 registered voters, only -- less than half of them turned out and only 20,000 of them voted for Mr. Campfield.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So has he gone into your restaurant before?

BOGGS: He's been there on two or three occasions. My restaurant is just a small neighborhood restaurant and it's near the courthouses and the banks in downtown.

SAMBOLIN: So when he came into your restaurant, was he seated? What did you do? How was the encounter?

BOGGS: No, he was standing up by the front door. It was Sunday brunch and it's a really busy day and we're a really full restaurant. And everybody has to wait, you know, there's usually a wait for tables. And he was standing at the hostess stand waiting for a table.

And when I saw him, I just felt just a lot of outrage and the frustration that a lot of people in East Tennessee feel come out. And, you know, it was just, you know, an un-thought reaction. I just didn't want him in my restaurant.

SAMBOLIN: So did you escort him out of the restaurant? Did you just ask him to leave? BOGGS: I just asked him to leave.

SAMBOLIN: And what did he say?

BOGGS: Well, we had a few comments go back and forth. I don't really recall what was said. But in the end, he -- he just left.

SAMBOLIN: And what about the rest of the folks in the restaurant could they hear what was happening? What was their reaction?

BOGGS: No, it was done fairly low key. You know, I didn't want to create a scene. I just wanted to tell him to leave.

SAMBOLIN: I want to read you something. On his blog, this is what he wrote. "Some people have told me my civil rights were violated under the 1964 Civil Rights Act and that a person cannot be denied service based on their religious beliefs. I am a Catholic and the Catholic Church does not support the act of homosexuality."

How would you respond to him?

BOGGS: Well, he's, you know, just grasping at straws to justify his actions, where he feels it's OK for him to bully other people, but when the shoe is on the other foot it doesn't seem like he likes it very much.

SAMBOLIN: And Martha, before I let you go, you know that he is sponsoring legislation that's sitting there right now. It's the Don't Say Gay Bill and it would prohibit teaching any human sexuality other than heterosexuality. This is in public schools, K through 8. Do you plan to join in on the fight on that legislation?

BOGGS: The fight to stop it?

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BOGGS: It's pretty much a non-issue. I mean, the only time that homosexuality comes up in the school is when there are students whose parents are gay or they have a known homosexual sibling. But they don't teach -- you know, I'm not sure of the curriculum, but it's pretty much a non-issue.

And all of Mr. Campfield's legislation just detracts from the real issues that we're all facing, you know. These are wedge issues and it's just blatant pandering and --

SAMBOLIN: All right. Martha Boggs, listen, we really appreciate you waking up early with us this morning.

BANFIELD: I mean regardless of how people feel about that issue, honestly, it's the responsibility of the medical comments that he made that may have a lot of people outraged whether they feel one way or the other about homosexuality.

SAMBOLIN: All right. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is now clear that this will be a two-person race between the Conservative Leader Newt Gingrich and the Massachusetts moderate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: And it may be pretty clear now how Newt Gingrich plans to claw his way back into this Republican race after the loss last night, possibly just going right for those conservatives, the hardcore conservatives who are Romney's real weakness last night.

SAMBOLIN: That's right. And live in Tallahassee, Florida, Al Cardenas, Chairman of the American Conservative Union. Thank you for joining us this morning. Can you hear me?

AL CARDENAS, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: Great to be with you. It's the calm after the storm. I can. I hear you perfectly well.

SAMBOLIN: OK. All right. So you said a few weeks ago that this will be the most brutal presidential election ever. But that brutality is starting right now in the primary race. And if you look at history here, sir, the party loses.

The National Journal Editor said yesterday, in the 20th century, four out of five protected nominating fights, four Republicans led to a GOP loss. Is that going to divide your party and hurt the Republicans overall?

CARDENAS: Well, you know, there are different reasons for having a feisty primary. One of them is if you're fighting for the soul of a party. That's what happened in '76 with Reagan and Ford. We wanted -- there was a moderate wing of the party and a conservative wing of the party.

I think most Republicans today in 2012 are united. We -- most of the primary voters want a smaller government, less taxes, leave us alone kind of attitude. And so they're united on purpose. The candidates obviously are feisty and they're fighting amongst themselves but the electorate really is not.

So I think we'll be OK in the long run, but you're absolutely right in pointing out that this prolonged primal type of attitude in the primaries is not good for everybody. I'm hoping that its length is not a concern, but we'll see moving forward.

But last night was a huge day, a huge day for Mitt Romney. As a Floridian, obviously we're very proud of Florida. We think we're like a Petri dish of America and how Florida votes the rest of the country will vote. So that's why -- that's why the legislature moved Florida up to January 31st. And looking at it, it was a pretty brilliant move, if you want to be at the head of this chess game, Florida did a pretty good job of it.

SAMBOLIN: OK. So let's talk a little -- a little bit about your exit polls yesterday. One of the things that folks said that the most important quality for the candidate is that they must defeat Obama. You understand your electorate very well. So who do you think can beat Obama?

CARDENAS: Well, that's -- that's to be seen. But obviously in Florida, Mitt Romney proved yesterday by double digits he was the best candidate. Newt Gingrich did well in South Carolina.

Look, they're geographic preferences. That's why today we already pretty much know how 36 out of 50 states are going to vote in the general election. When it gets down to the -- to those Purple States, who is the best candidate for those 14 states? Well, you've got Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico, and so on.

And so you've got to do pretty well in the Midwest. You've got to do pretty well in these, you know, southwestern states. You've got to do pretty well in Florida. And the candidate that's best suited to do that should win.

Now, Florida was an interesting state because we were a mixture, as you know, we're --

SAMBOLIN: If I can just interrupt you here for a moment. If I can interrupt you here for a moment because you actually worked for Romney back in 2008, you're the head of the Hispanic Steering Committee for the '08 campaign. Mitt has gotten a lot of criticisms because -- Mitt Romney that is, because he's too reserved, not a man of the people, both during that election and this one.

You know him really well. Have you seen a change in him? Is that who you would lend your support to?

CARDENAS: Well, I pledged to remain neutral when I decided to chair the American Conservative Union. Obviously I've known him for a long time and his wife and I've known him personally. I like him a lot.

I think we've got four good conservatives running. They're all invited to our big CPAC events, February 9th, we're going to have 10,000 conservatives there. All of our candidates are there. The former presidential candidates are there. And it's going to be quite a show.

You'll be there, CNN covering it live from some location. So it will be -- it will be a big show. But I'm presuming that whoever wins Florida has made a pretty big case. Now, that's not -- that's not a final decision. Obviously we've got a lot of states to go.

February has, you know, an interesting array of states. Nevada, Maine coming up. Then we have Michigan at the end of the month. We have Minnesota, Missouri. So we've got a lot of things to do in February. My sense is that Newt doesn't have any real southern states in that February time period, so --

SAMBOLIN: Mr. Cardenas, I'm going to --

CARDENAS: So he's going to have a tough road, but, you know, he's a feisty guy.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. And I appreciate you weighing in this morning. Mr. Cardenas, Chairman of American Conservative Union. Thank you very much.

BANFIELD: As job references go, they really don't get a whole lot better than coming from the Oval Office, do they? The president asking a Texas woman to send me your husband's resume and I'll see what I can do. So did she and did he? You're going to find out what happened in this conversation and how it all turned out.

SAMBOLIN: And we have some new developments.

BANFIELD: Looking forward to it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BANFIELD: I'm Ashleigh Banfield. Nice to have you here with us.

In the race for the White House, Republicans may be just engaged in the most negative political campaign ever. That is not likely to change any time soon.

Here are the final numbers, if you're just waking up to them this morning: Mitt Romney really trouncing his opponents there, racking up 46 percent of the vote last night. Newt Gingrich, 14 points back at 32 percent.

And, by the way, the candidates congratulated Romney on his win, or at least some of them did. Have a listen.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He ran a very spirited race, and he is to be congratulated for his resounding victory in the state of Florida.

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We had a friendly conversation, and I honestly congratulated him. He ran a good campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: OK. Wait. That's one, two --

SAMBOLIN: Who is missing?

BANFIELD: Somebody is missing from those congratulations. It was Newt Gingrich. He did not call Romney. He did not congratulate Romney. He just emspry (ph) to the next states. Some say that was graceless.

But his daughter defended him to Piers Morgan last night. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PIERS MORGAN, HOST, CNN'S PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT: It would be graceless, wouldn't you think?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not really sure I would say that's graceless. I think what that is, is the reality that he's moved on and we're looking towards the next 48 states.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Well, let's bring on our political panel and chew on that, and other things.

From Little Rock, Arkansas: Alice Stewart, former communications director for Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign. From San Diego, Ruben Navarrette, syndicated columnist with the "Washington Post" writers group. And here in New York City, John Avlon, senior political columnist for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast."

And I want to start with you, Alice.

Graceless or not? And does it matter because some say that's just classic Newt?

ALICE STEWART, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, BACHMANN FOR PRESIDENT: Well, I guess two out of three ain't bad, right? You got two of the three offering their congratulations. It's just customary and it's polite and nice to say congratulations to the winner. I know when Michele bowed out, she called all the candidates and congratulated them.

But that just gives you the fiery tone of this debate and this contest. One good point that Romney made last night is this competitive primary is good for us. It's part of the vetting process.

The competitive primary, it prepares us for what we're going to see against Obama. He's got $1 billion that's going to come out fast and heavy on the GOP nominee. And this is preparing us to take on the Obama machine.

BANFIELD: He's probably none too pleased about all the negative advertising.

And, John Avalon, I always love reading your columns. I make it a point never to miss them. The phrase that you used stuck with me -- a tsunami of sleaze, I believe you called it, with 92 percent of the negative ads -- of the ads in Florida being negative.

So here's my question, my friend. Did Romney buy Florida? And if you think he did, was that $15 million well-spent?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's a great question. What you can say is that Romney's money stopped Newt's momentum coming out of South Carolina. Stopped it dead in its tracks.

And that $15 million, let's put that in perspective. Between the campaign and the super PAC, Romney's associates spent $15 million to win Florida. Compare that -- that's more than John McCain spent on television advertising in all of the 2008 primaries.

BANFIELD: Holy cow.

AVLON: And -- yes. And the vast majority of those ads were negative.

Here's the troubling bit, negative ads work. They were able to run down Newt's numbers just as they did in Iowa when they took Newt from first to fourth through an onslaught of negative ads.

So, clearly, Romney's advantage is money and organization. He used that to great effect in Florida. It's what's re-established him as the front-runner, and why he's looking as the favorite going forward.

But again, caution: this race is far, far from over. He still needs 1,144 delegates to get the nomination. And he's only 7 percent of the way there.

BANFIELD: And he still needs get through all the Southern states, too.

AVLON: Yes.

BANFIELD: Which leads me to Ruben Navarrette. I want to talk a little bit about the Panhandle last night, because when the stats came in from the Panhandle, they may have foreshadowed some of that Southern state mentality. After all, they're all real close in there.

The numbers actually bode a little better for Newt Gingrich in the panhandle. Check it out. He actually won over Mitt Romney but just by one point. So, that's pretty squeaky.

My question is, do you think Gingrich was expect that or do you think that worries him as he heads to Mississippi and Georgia and Tennessee and Texas and all the other states that he thinks are pretty friendly?

RUBEN NAVARRETTE, WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP: Yes, I think it would be a good sign for Gingrich. There may be something still in the South, in the American South.

BANFIELD: Good enough?

NAVARRETTE: That they won't warm up to Mitt Romney as much as they should.

I disagree with my friend John just a little bit. Yes, it's true, Mitt Romney spent a lot of money, $15 million in Florida. But according to the exit polls, six out of 10 voters say they made up their decision to vote for Romney a month ago before these ads started running. They think he's electable. They think he's the strongest candidate. They made that determination some time ago.

So, they spent a lot of money. We're not sure exactly how much he bought for it.

BANFIELD: John, jump in there. Everybody that I interviewed over the last 24 years of doing television news, everybody says negative ads work. That's why I couldn't figure out why Newt hadn't done it from the get-go, starting in Iowa.

AVLON: Well, it's because he didn't have the money.

I mean, to Ruben's point, the number issue in the Republican electorate seems to be who can defeat Obama? And Mitt Romney has a long standing edge on that.

But to achieve that edge, he had to really drive down -- drive up Newt Gingrich's negatives. He did that with devastating effect with this carpet bombing of the Florida airwaves with negative ads. That definitely had a determinate effect.

BANFIELD: Alice, weigh really quickly on that conservative factor, because that's where Newt was going. He just said that Romney is not conservative enough. It didn't seem to work.

STEWART: Sure, to your question about the makeup of Florida, the north is the south and the south is the north. The panhandle area of Florida is reflective of the Southern and Bible Belt of the U.S., and Gingrich is counting on as he leaves Florida, of course, they're going west now, but he's expecting to take the Bible Belt of the country, the southern part of Florida where Romney did well is like reflective of the northern part of the country. So, he's expected to do well there.

So, the dynamics of Florida are representative of the nation. And Gingrich is in this for the long haul. He said he will take this all the way to the convention in Tampa.

BANFIELD: I'm glad you said that because that's exactly what some of those politicians, particularly the Hispanic politicians in Florida have been saying while they won't endorse, they do say, you know what, Florida is America. So that's why we think that the winner of Florida is going to be the winner overall.

And that's where I've got to leave it. Alice, Ruben, and John, thank you. You guys are brilliant. I love it.

Keep it right here, by the way, on CNN, because coming up at 7:00 Eastern on "STARTING POINT," Soledad O'Brien is going one-on-one with the Republican front-runner. That would be Mitt Romney.

SAMBOLIN: And still ahead, she talked to President Obama in his Google Plus video chat. She told him her engineer husband was out of work. The president said, well, send me his resume. Did she -- did he get a job?

We're going to talk with that Texas woman. She is joining us right after the break.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Hey, good morning, Dallas, Texas. You know, that's like the view from my old apartment. It is great to see you. I miss you terribly.

It is 57 degrees in Texas. And you're going to have some storms later. But you're heading up to 72. That ain't bad in January/February.

SAMBOLIN: It is not bad.

All right. So President Obama has vowed to get America working again, right? We didn't know that he meant literally, one person at a time. He's getting a lot of attention for an exchange that he had with one woman during his Google Plus hangout.

She told the president her husband is a semiconductor engineer who has been out of full-time work for three years now despite a decade of experience in his field. And the president said, send me his resume. Check it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What industry tells me is that they don't have enough highly skilled engineers. If your husband is in that field, then we should get his resume and I'll forward it to some of these companies that are telling me they can't find enough engineers in this field.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Really? How often does that happen?

So, the woman, Jennifer Wedel, says she's a long-time Republican but won't rule out voting for President Obama.

So, you know, I -- good morning to you.

Jennifer is joining us now live from Ft. Worth, Texas.

I have to start with the question everybody wants to know. Did he send the resume?

JENNIFER WEDEL, HER ENGINEER HUSBAND OUT OF WORK FOR 3 YEARS: We absolutely did. Of course, it was ready to go because he sends it out all the time. And Google personally made sure that it did get in the hands of the White House.

SAMBOLIN: All right. I want to know how this all started because you were participating in this. And you were talking about Americans being out of work. And you were specifically upset about H1B visas that they're still granting for folks who have specialized work.

And so, what was the exchange with the president when you were holding him accountable for that?

WEDEL: You know, basically I just wanted to know, you know, why the government continues to extend and issue H1B visas when there are, you know, a lot of Americans that have college educations in that specific field that don't have jobs. And I feel like he kind of gave me a general answer, which I expected. But, you know, for quite frankly, you get one shot with the president. I will probably never ever speak to him or any other president for that matter ever again.

And It just wasn't good enough for me. You know, I have been labeled a go-getter mom in the past and I wasn't going to let the president stop me, I don't think.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So your husband has been out of work for three years. You're a stay-at-home mom and you are not working.

How have the two of you been getting along then?

WEDEL: Well, actually when he got laid off, I don't have a college education, so we were a little bit concerned. But the door opened up for me with State Farm to do some secretarial work. So I have actually been with State Farm for three-and-a-half -- almost four years now.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So you've been working. But your husband hat not.

WEDEL: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: And this exchange, as I understand, there was another e-mail that just came in recently stay that said you actually got a call from the White House regarding his application -- or his resume. Can you tell us about that? Was that yesterday?

WEDEL: Yes, it was yesterday afternoon. We got a call from the deputy chief of staff for operations, Alisa (ph). And she said that Obama personally that morning made it a point to get my husband's resume out to several DFW contacts. So, we are very grateful for that.

SAMBOLIN: And are you expecting a job offer or opportunities within your state?

WEDEL: Well, we are a blended family, so definitely it would need to be something in-state for custody reasons. I mean, we are hopeful. You know, it's not every day and not everyone has Obama as a reference. SAMBOLIN: Yeah, no - but you're a long-term Republican, right? Is this going to sway your vote?

WEDEL: Actually, we're still undecided. We haven't really been happy with the presidential race this year, Republican and Democrat. I'm not really sure what we'll do.

SAMBOLIN: Even if he gets a job?

WEDEL: It's nice but -- well, I mean, it is, but we're one person. I mean, there are still, you know, lots of Americans in my husband's position that, you know, doesn't -- that don't have jobs. If something were done about H1b and it was, you know, under his, you know, power or whatever you want to call it, then that could possibly sway my vote.

But that's the real issue still. I mean, we're just one American. I mean, there are still lots of Americans with no jobs.

SAMBOLIN: That's quite noble of you. Jennifer Wedel, good luck to you and your husband.

WEDEL: Thank you. Thank you so much.

BANFIELD: You know, I didn't know that she had the issue about the H1b, and I have full disclosure. I came to America on an H1b. So, it's a good thing I wasn't doing the interview.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: Jennifer, I do love you but that's how I got here, and I'm such a proud immigrant and I'm a proud American. You know, I became an American two years ago and voted in my first election. OK. Enough of that.

Soledad O'Brien joining us now with a look at what's ahead coming up on "Starting Point." Hi, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, ladies. Good morning to both of you.

This morning, we're talking to Mitt Romney after his decisive win in the state of Florida. We'll chat with him about what's ahead as he head to (INAUDIBLE) and the state of Nevada, as well.

Plus, we'll be talking to Florida's governor, that is Rick Scott. He hasn't endorsed anybody. We'll see what he's thinking as a GOP race moves forward but continues, I think, to promise to be ugly or even uglier.

Plus, we're going to talk to Utah Republican senator, Mike Lee, the freshman member. And you'll remember that he tangled with President Obama when he said that he would -- he was duty bound to resist any additional appointments. He's now become a little bit the poster child for a Congress that's not getting stuff done. We'll discuss that with him. All that and much more straight ahead this morning on "Starting Point." EARLY START is back right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: What are you laughing at?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, just that great conversation that we were having about H1B visas. I'm going put it on my Facebook page and I'm going to tweet it out so that we can explain the H1B visa.

BANFIELD: Specialize visas, folks.

All right. This is a theme where you might expect superman to swoop in, honest to God. But it was a group of good Samaritans that just came forward and came to the rescue of a little boy on a ski slope in Wisconsin. Take a look at the photographs. He is dangling 25 feet in the air from a chair lift being held on to by the adult sitting in the chair lift.

A witness named Matt Roeser (ph) snapped these photos, look, as the little boy is dropped into the arms of the crowd waiting below. It's mortifying, especially for anyone who's ever been on a ski lift, and I have been on thousands of them.

Matt joins us now live from Minnesota. Matt, unbelievable photographs. You saw this play out. You snapped the photos. Do you know anything more about the little boy, how he's doing that the grown-up on the chair lift?

MATT ROESER (ph), MINNESOTA: Good morning. Yes. I actually had a chance to talk to one of the gentleman that caught him. And, he had a conversation with the family after we ended up leaving the hill. And the boy was great. He was shaken up a little bit at first, but he actually got right back on the chair lift and enjoyed the rest of the day at the hill.

BANFIELD: Come on. You've got to be kidding me. He kept skiing?

(LAUGHTER)

ROESER: Yes. He was a trouper. He went right back on with encouragement from all the adults on the hill, and it was -- it was great. I'm sure it was very scary and traumatic for him, you know, but he got right back in there.

BANFIELD: Matt, it's also -- I mean, listen, he's wearing very sharp-edged skis, heavy, heavy boots. I mean, that's about 30 pounds of gear right there, not to mention his weight, falling into those skiers below. Was anybody hurt in trying to catch him?

ROESER: Yes. And I'm glad that I got a chance to talk to the gentleman yesterday. He said that everything went very smoothly. You know, Hidden Valley, the hill there is kind of a family-run operation. It's very intimate. And the rescuers that were there were instantly ready to help out.

And they got a game plan right away. And I guess, the way that they caught him could have been very dangerous.

BANFIELD: Absolutely.

ROESER: Yes. I mean, it was close. But I don't think that the skier was experienced enough to know how to maybe click off his skis so they just decided to drop him with his equipment on.

BANFIELD: Of course, we don't even know how this little boy ended up slipping from the chair lift in the first place that I'm looking closely at your pictures and I see there's no safety bar that I can see anyway on this chair lift. So, perhaps, that might be something that changes in the future. Matt, thank you for lending us your perspective and your photos, too. We appreciate it. And it's nice to talk to you.

We will be right back after this.

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SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. There are new fears this morning about Iran. Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, told Congress Iranian leaders are considering attacks on U.S. soil.

BANFIELD: In fact, he even went as far as to say that there is some evidence of this. In fact, the Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador should serve as a red flag. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr joins us live now.

Barbara, I hear a lot of this all the time. There's lots of saber rattling that goes on in Iran. So, is this just putting into words the intuitively obvious?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Perhaps. We don't really know. Of course, U.S. intelligence community doesn't have a lot of sources on the ground in Iran. Not always sure what the Iranian regime is up to. What General Clapper is saying is that potential attack against the Saudi ambassador is a warning signal.

The U.S. intelligence community now assesses that Iran is more likely to believe -- could carry out an attack in the United States or against U.S. interests abroad if they feel that their regime is threatened, if they feel backed into a corner. That, right now, is really, they say, what is driving the Iranian government regime survival.

They're very stressed about the sanctions, about the economic impacts in their own country, and the continued pressure against their potential nuclear weapons program.

BANFIELD: Barbara, I just have to jump in with the fact that this is an election year. And I remember President Bush taking it on the chin regularly for things like this, for things that were frightening. And I'm just wondering if there were any critics who are suggesting this could be just sort of timing out an announcement of something that maybe didn't need to be made.

STARR: Well, this happened yesterday at a hearing before the Senate intelligence community. Their annual hearing on, you know, the assessment of what's going on around the world by the U.S. intelligence community. So, this was pretty much something that was set by Congress.

You are seeing a lot of Iranian rhetoric out of the administration. That's for sure. You're seeing it from the European allies. There's really that full-court press on right now to get them to back away from any decision to pursue nuclear weapons. I think that's really what this is all about.

BANFIELD: And do we know if these -- the saber rattling, as I like to call it, is coming from the religious leaders like Hammani (ph) or from the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is prone to say all sorts of things?

STARR: Ah, well, that is the big dilemma. Once again, to figure out what is going on inside Iran, we know that there's been a power struggle between those two Iranian factions for months now, and that is part of what is the concern is, instability inside Iran.

As those two factions fight against each other and they worry about the total regime survival, what's the impact? You know, who decides what the next plot may be. That's what the U.S. is trying to figure out.

BANFIELD: All right. Barbara, thanks for all of that. Appreciate that at this early hour. Barbara Starr live for us at the Pentagon. And that is EARLY START.

SAMBOLIN: I'm Zoraida Sambolin along with Ashleigh Banfield. "Starting Point" with Soledad O'Brien headed your way next. Good morning.