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Rick Santorum Wins Three States in GOP Primary Race; University Dispenses Controversial Birth Control Pill through Vending Machine; U.S. Reviewing Military Options in Syria; What About a Parade of Heroes?; Interview with Rick Santorum; Political Ad by Pete Hoekstra Draws Fire; Health Care Mandate Violates Religious Beliefs

Aired February 8, 2012 - 06:59   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST: Our STARTING POINT this morning is that surprise clean sweep for Rick Santorum. He won all three GOP contests. He won the state of Missouri, he won the state of Minnesota, he won the state of Colorado. He says he is the true Republican conservative.


RICK SANTORUM, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ladies and gentlemen, I don't stand here to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama.



O'BRIEN: Oh, everybody wins. Suddenly, they start looking at the president instead of talking about their colleagues. We're going to speak this morning with Rick Santorum about his big win. Talk about what's ahead.

Also, more blood spilled in Syria. America's U.N. ambassador is warning President Assad days are numbered. Now, the Pentagon is weighing military options. We'll talk about that.

Plus, a university vending machine is dispensing the morning- after pill. It costs $25 a pop. Good idea? We're going to talk about that as well. STARTING POINT gets under way right now.


O'BRIEN: It's like a club.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Farai, can I tell you, Ryan comes out and hits the ball out of the ballpark on the music right out of the box. Will Cain started slow, struggled.

WILL CAIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: That's not a subjective interpretation at all.

O'BRIEN: My show, my interpretation. That's how it works. Bill Press is also joining us this morning.


O'BRIEN: He's the author of "The Obama Hate Machine" and talk show host and the former Democratic Party chair.

PRESS: That was long time ago.

O'BRIEN: You have a long title. Farai Chideya is a fellow at the Institute of Politics, called the IOP, and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. She's a journalist and author. I would say old friend, but now that we're kind of getting up in age I have say long friend, long time friend.


O'BRIEN: It's nice to have you. Will Cain is here as well. We all know Will Cain. He's back again. We've got lots to talk about this morning.

Our STARTING POINT though is Rick Santorum waking up a big winner this morning as he swept all three states last night, strong victories in Missouri and in Minnesota. And a nail baiter win in the state of Colorado. Santorum says it is not just a victory for him but for the party overall.


RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tonight was not just a victory for us. Tonight was a victory for the voices of our party, conservatives and Tea Party people who are out there every single day in the vineyards building the conservative movement in this country, building the base of the Republican Party, and building a voice for freedom in this land. Thank you.



O'BRIEN: Ron Brownstein is the editorial director at the "National Journal" and he will join our panel this morning. He has gotten so much better as a candidate, not Ron Brownstein, but Rick Santorum. Rick Santorum has really matured as a candidate. I thought his speech last night was significantly better than Mitt Romney's speech. I get that he was the winner, obviously. But in terms of poise, in terms of content, it was a good speech, Ron.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, as you say, winning does put a lot of wind beneath your sails, as the saying goes. Wind beneath your wings.

The headline is, this remains the most unsettled Republican race arguably since 1940 with Wendell Willkie. The conservative base remains unsold on Mitt Romney, and the conservative base continues to have difficulty unifying behind one alternative to Romney. The only good news for Romney last night is that it was Santorum emerging rather than Gingrich consolidating.

It kind of leaves you with a situation where you have a clearly flawed front-runner but who maintains a tactical advantage if the voters most resistant to him continue to divide between two choices, Santorum and Gingrich. One point, Soledad, if you look at the total numbers of voters who came out to vote for Mitt Romney last night, it was one-third as many in Minnesota and Missouri as came out in 2008 and only half as many in Colorado.

O'BRIEN: So that's now I think the third state in a row where we've seen voter turnout low. Will Cain, interpret that for me.

CAIN: Well --

O'BRIEN: Oh, no, because when he does the big wind-up.

CAIN: That is a big wind up at the plate. Obviously it shows, and this is almost cliche at this point, but a lack of enthusiasm among the voters for the candidates offered to them. You can't underestimate how big a night that was for Rick Santorum.

O'BRIEN: Huge night.

CAIN: And beyond the election results that speech was really, really strong. He gave voice to something that Mitt Romney has been unable to do at this point. He said I represent up with 00 percent of the people, not just the very rich, not just the very, but 100 percent of the people. He hit the tone exactly right.

And then I think when he started the speech with president Obama knows better, whatever we're talking about here, whether it's health care or the economy, president Obama knows better. He gave voice to something conservatives believe.

O'BRIEN: That was a long speech from Will Cain this morning. Usually it's short.

CAIN: I got more.


O'BRIEN: I know. Yesterday was sort of social issues day. I know you're warming up for that.

CHIDEYA: Also, there's a contrast, during some of the debates recently you could see that Santorum was frustrated.

O'BRIEN: He was ignored.

CHIDEYA: Yes. There was often like a two-camera shot that he was not in, you know. And this is a resurgence that, you know, not only as all of you are saying that Republican voters are not decided and a bit frustrated with the choices that they have. But I think also we have to go back to the question of what movement conservatives -- essential conservatives want. They want someone like Santorum, but do they believe, if they say and all polls say that Republican voters want to win, do they believe he's that guy?

O'BRIEN: So let's go back to Ron Brownstein for one second because I want to talk about Newt Gingrich because the person we've been talking about as other guy as Newt Gingrich now is not. What does this mean?

BROWNSTEIN: He has to struggle of this long valley of February. Historically candidates who have gone that long without winning anything as he is not likely to do, candidates have trouble coming out of that kind of valley, and he has to find a way to reestablish his relevance.

As I said, the one dynamic that is good for Romney in this is that you see Santorum re-merging and the potential that Gingrich can get himself going in the south and the conservative vote will continue to splinter.

But if you look at the polling this week Romney's unfavorables among independents are going up. He fell behind President Obama in a head to head in ABC/"Washington Post," and now you're seeing trouble among the base. So you have the base and independents at the same time showing hesitation about him, which suggests they are not exactly on the right track in delivering the message to the country.

PRESS: First of all, as talk show host, I love this. I mean, this just keeps it alive and keeps it interesting. It's so much fun.

O'BRIEN: We're talking about it, OK. Can you say that on tape for us and do an endorsement later on the show. Appreciate that.

PRESS: Obviously, bad, bad news for Romney. He can't close the deal. And he's the deal guy. That's his whole pitch, right? And for Santorum, it is huge. He's not won more -- think of it, he's won more states --

O'BRIEN: Four.

PRESS: -- than Mitt Romney has, right? And he was the third down the list. And the other thing is, I'm glad you brought up Gingrich. This is really bad news for Gingrich because all that time he's been saying Santorum has got to get out. I'm the only alternative. I'm the only alternative. It is totally absurd. Now clearly Santorum is the alternative and Newt just looks silly.

O'BRIEN: Well, we are going to leave it there. We have a lot to talk about this morning and we'll get back to the social issues emerging in this race because they're fascinating. You want to stay with us and the entire CNN team for the best political coverage on TV. I love saying that because in just a few minutes we're going to talk to Rick Santorum and ask him about his big win last night and how he's doing. You wonder if he had a good night's sleep or he tossed and turned because he's so excited. That's ahead this morning. Also, the U.S. is now looking at possible military options in the crisis in Syria. We're going to get you right to CNN's Christine Romans for that and a look at the other headlines of the morning. Christine, good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad.

An escalating crisis in Syria. The Pentagon now exploring military options to deal with that crisis. Anti-government activists say nearly 50 civilians died overnight in the government assault on the city of Homs, including three entire families when militia stormed their homes. Coming up, we're going to explore America's options in Syria when we're joined live by former NATO supreme allied commander General Wesley Clark.

Funeral services for the two young sons of Josh Powell will be held Saturday afternoon near the home they died in. Powell attacked those boys with a hatchet before blowing up their house. And this morning we're hearing for the first time the 911 calls made by the children's case worker in the moments after she brought them for a supervised visit with their dad.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ma'am. Do you know the exact address of the house?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It's 8119 189th Street.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. OK. Stay on the line. Do you know if anyone is in the house?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, there was a man and two children.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just dropped of the children and he wouldn't let me in the door.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Stay on the line for the fire department, OK? I'm going to get them on the line. Do not hang on. Hold on.


ROMANS: ABC News has a voice mail Powell left for his family minutes before he blew up the house with the children in it. In it he says, quote, "I'm not able to live without my sons and I'm not able to go on anymore. I'm sorry to everyone I've hurt. Goodbye."

Susan G. Komen foundation executive Karen Handel stepping down in the fallout over the charity's decision to cut Planned Parenthood funding. That decision was later reversed, but Handel, who opposes abortion, was reportedly behind the original decision. She blasted Planned Parenthood on her way out, calling the situation, quote, "nothing short of a shake-down." The Los Angeles school board has fired Miramonte Elementary School teacher Martin Bernard Springer after he was formally charged with three felony counts of lewd acts on a girl under age 14. Springer pleaded not guilty yesterday. He's one of two teachers at that school facing child abuse charges.

Supporters of same-sex marriage celebrating this morning. A federal appeals court struck down California's Proposition 8. That proposition of course banned same-sex marriage. The court finding it was unconstitutional. Prop 8 supporters are expected to appeal. The case could end up before the Supreme Court next year. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Yes, I think that's very, very likely. Christine, thank you for the update. Appreciate it.

With the panel, have you guys heard about this university offering a plan -- a vending machine that dispenses the Plan B, I guess it's the Plan B pill. Really interesting, interesting issue, I think. We have the vice president of student affairs, and he says, bottom line is they did a survey and the students support it. Here's what he said.


ROGER SER, V.P. STUDENT AFFAIRS, SHIPPENSBURG UNIVERSITY: We went out and we did a survey of the student body. And we got an 85 percent response rate that students would be supportive of having Plan B in the health center. The machine is really used as much for privacy than anything else.


O'BRIEN: You know, I don't know how I feel about this.

CHIDEYA: One thing I think that we have to point out is that medically Plan B prevents implantation.

O'BRIEN: Right.

CHIDEYA: So it is an earlier intervention against pregnancy than many other types of intervention. And, you know, college students will have sex, some of them.

O'BRIEN: What?

CHIDEYA: Some will choose not to. I know, shocker. And really this is about facing up to the consequences. I know that some parents will be heavily upset by it, but it's better than people sneaking around and then later having to face the choice of whether or not to have an abortion.

O'BRIEN: I guess the question to me was, you don't need a prescription for Plan B, right?

CHIDEYA: Correct.

O'BRIEN: So that was -- it just seemed to dispense medication without even a conversation.

CAIN: You don't need a prescription but it's not sold over the counter. It's sold behind the pharmacist's wall. And this particular vending machine is in the health center. It's not sitting in the cafeteria next to the coke machines. You must go to the health center and talk to the nurse I presume and put your money in the machine.

PRESS: I'm not sure in this case. I think the machine even after hours they can access the machine or before hours.

O'BRIEN: That's right.

PRESS: That's one of the reasons that it's available. I think some people may be upset by it, but to me it's like having condoms available. Kids, young kids are going to have sex and they ought to have condoms and they ought to have access to Plan B. And if this machine --

O'BRIEN: I don't have an issue with the access. It's just there's no human being to talk to about the medication that you're taking. Not to talk you out of it just to say, wow, what are the side effects where normally you walk over to your pharmacist and anything you get over the counter you can say, and do I take this with milk or do I need to take it, you know, with food or whatever.

CHIDEYA: There was a time when some pharmacists refused to dispense Plan B. And so this has been very controversial. But I think it also gets to the question of -- I mean, going off on a slight tangent, I believe that people don't value enough waiting to have sex.

O'BRIEN: That is a tangent, but go ahead.

CHIDEYA: But given that that's not valued in many cases and that there's a pressure among college students to rush to be deflowered, if I can be so antiquated.


CHIDEYA: Then you have to deal with the realities.

O'BRIEN: Interesting.

Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk about this political ad that ran during the Super Bowl, and now it's being called racist towards Asians. Michigan Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra defends the ad. The first Chinese-American woman in Congress, though, says, nope, it's not a good ad. She's going to talk to us about it

The Pentagon this morning exploring military options in Syria. What are the best options going forward? We're going to talk to General Wesley Clark, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander. He will be with us.

And then our "Get Real," a parade for football heroes, go Giants, go Giants, go Giants. But war heroes never really get a celebration. Should there be one for them? We'll talk about that straight ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

CNN's Barbara Starr is reporting this morning that the U.S. Military is now weighing its options to stop the violence in Syria. Though the official line - you know, the official line is still diplomacy and sanctions first. They are talking about military options.

We've got some really terrible images to show you this morning. First, this is a funeral mass that's happening. There are reports that nearly 50 civilians were killed overnight, including three entire families with small children. We continue to hear audible gunfire in many neighborhoods and you can see some of the shelled homes as cars are driving by, surveying the damage.

There are now growing calls to consider all the options. And Senator John McCain says the United States has to take action.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I think we should have a contact group, a joint coalition, and also we should start considering all options, including arming the opposition. The bloodletting has got to stop.


O'BRIEN: The bloodletting has to stop. We should consider arming the opposition, is what he said.

Let's go right to Barbara Starr, who has been covering the story for us at the Pentagon. We're also joined this morning by General Wesley Clerk, the former NATO Allied Supreme - NATO Supreme Allied Commander. I'm not the first person who got that wrong. Nice to have you, sir, in person. We usually have a chance to talk, you know, by satellite.

So let's start with Barbara, though. What's the latest and is there - you heard what - what McCain just said about arming the opposition. Are you hearing talk about that from where you are?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, what we're hearing here is this is very preliminary but significant that they're even talking about it. As one official said to me, we wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't put some ideas on the table. But no decisions for military support for the Syrians.

But, look, it's the first time we're even hearing about the concept of it from people who are involved in these discussions. What we're talking about is commanders are beginning to scope out what is feasible. If the president asks us, what do we have out there, what could we do, what are the risks, what do we tell the president? The U.S. Military doesn't wait for the president to say, what have you got and then say, OK, we're going to spend a few weeks thinking about it. They now want to be ready. The president says it's diplomatic and economic, but in case it moves to the next step, the Pentagon military officials doing the work to get ready to give President Obama some ideas about what they can do, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes. And the U.S. Military doesn't tell the press unless there's some kind of really agenda behind what the strategy could be.

So General Clark, let's talk about that. When they say everything is on the table diplomatically, but at the same time we're having a sort of another plan. What does that mean, exactly?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: First of all, it's a signal to Bashar al-Assad that he's not going to have impunity to kill his own people. I think it's secondly a signal to Russia and China that the United States has other alternatives. They've blocked the United Nations Security Council resolution. Russia has got diplomats going in there.

So there are other alternatives. None of us expect much to happen from the Russian diplomatic mission. I hope I'm wrong, but it's unlikely that they're going to be able to convince Bashar al- Assad to slow down and take it easy.

And then the third target of the message is Iran. I think in Iran, the Ayatollah still don't really believe that there is a military option. And without trying to derail the negotiations, the discussion, the U.N. inspection, the sanctions and so forth, Syria is a kind of a proxy for Iran. When Bashar al-Assad falls, lots of things will change in the Middle East, and the Iranians certainly know this.

And so when the word is out that the U.S. is looking at military options, big signals.

O'BRIEN: OK. So let's draw up kind of a map of the neighborhood, if you will. Could A quick show up on the screen here. So walk me through sort of what strategies militarily, you're in these types and you had been in these types of meetings, what are you looking at?

CLARK: Well, if you're going to do anything - first of all, you always have your sort of basic kit bag. You can do a noncombatant evacuation operation. We have responsibilities for that.

O'BRIEN: You're prepping for that all the time.

CLARK: All the time. Counterterrorism operation. Some kind of a Special Forces insertion. You can always do that.

You could go strike something and drop a bomb somewhere with stealth aircraft and not have to do much. But on the other hand, it would be denied and it may not accomplish much unless, as Israelis did, you were trying to take out a specific target like that Syrian reactor.

So if you're talking about something more sizable, let's say air - a no-fly zone in the air or, let's say, some major effort on the ground to be able to stop ground troops because that's what we had during Libya ultimately -

O'BRIEN: When McCain talked about arming the opposition?

CLARK: It's a tough - that's a very tough way to go. There is an opposition. It's not that well organized. They've got some camps in Turkey. They're already getting arms from some people and some support. When you add more weapons to it, you create more conflict but you don't necessarily resolve it.

O'BRIEN: So - and when people say, well, let's look to what happened in Libya, as a model for what happens or could happen in Syria, is that a flawed sort of analogy?

CLARK: No, it's actually moving in that way, but Syria is a much tougher target, we believe, it's got much stronger military. It's got nine intelligence agencies. They're armed. They're competing against each other. They're entrenched. They're relatively hardened and they're re-enforced by Iran and they're also supported on the Lebanese side by Hezbollah. So it's a much less assailable position than Libya was.

And so when you're talking about heavier military options, now you're talking about the integrated air defense system of Syria. Of course, that can be taken down. Israelis did it in 1982. It's better now, but it's not impregnable. So there are options.

O'BRIEN: Right. Let me go to our final question with Barbara Starr who, as I said, is at the Pentagon. Have you heard anything specifically about arming the opposition?

STARR: Well, what we have heard is the same thing that General Clark is just talking about. It's a very fragmented group.

But, you know, looking at perhaps an even bigger nightmare scenario, what if Assad's regime collapses and people hope he leaves peacefully. If his regime collapses, there's a power void in Syria. You have civil war. You have the Iranians sitting right over the border. The bloodletting could be enormous.

That's one of the nightmare scenarios right now. If that were to happen and you have that void, and you have that kind of civil unrest, then what does the United States do? What do the allies do? The opposition becomes many groups. The government-backed forces are fragmented. It just becomes a bigger problem. They want to get this over and done with in a controlled fashion.

O'BRIEN: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us.

General Clark, always nice to have you Although, I have to say you make me more anxious when you're here in person and we're talking about Syria than when we do it from the double box, because this is really scary stuff as it -

CLARK: It is.

O'BRIEN: -- clearly heading into civil war.

CLARK: We've got a tough summer ahead of us between Syria and Iran.

O'BRIEN: Gosh. Well, thanks for being with us.

CLARK: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate that. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk to Rick Santorum. He's going to join us live. Won all three GOP races last night. So how does he build on momentum when the fact is he doesn't have that much money?

Plus, a six-year-old boy in Texas was attacked by a mountain lion. Have you seen his pictures? Oh, poor (ph) kid. But his father saved his life using a pocket knife. Very MacGyver-ish, but look at the little boy alive today.

And then our "Get Real" this morning, a parade for football heroes. Go, Giants. But what about the war heroes? Why is that an issue? We're going to talk about that straight ahead as STARTING POINT continues. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Time for "Get Real."

It was a celebration fit for the kings of pro football. Nearly a million people turned out yesterday in New York City for a Ticker Tape Parade that honored the New York Giants following their Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots. Go Giants, Go Giants. Anyway, (INAUDIBLE) I digress.

The players were treated like heroes along the parade route. My kids were dying to go to this. I've even let them skip school. It was a city that really wanted to win and they showed their love.

But the Giants parade led to one group of veterans asking what about a parade to honor some real life hero soldiers who fought in Iraq. The head of a group which called Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America says the American people want a chance to say thank you and a chance to respect and remember those who served.

There are a million veterans in the war in Iraq from the time it began in 2003 in March through the end of combat in December. That's eight years, nine months, two days. More than 4,800 American service members gave their lives there. The end in Afghanistan could be in sight. The U.S. soldiers have been fighting there since October 7th, 2001, which ten years, four months, one day. More than 2,800 people have died there.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the time is not right for a parade or a celebration because Americans are still on the battlefield in Afghanistan.

So our "Get Real" this morning, and we have to say why not honor heroes who serve the country and you could do it without dishonoring troops who are still fighting. That is our message this morning as we say "Get Real."

This morning, still ahead on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk to Rick Santorum live. He had a three-state sweep. We're going to ask him this morning how he intends to build on that momentum.

Plus, problems inside the Federal Air Marshal Service. Are women, gays, and minorities being targeted?

You're watching STARTING POINT. We'll have those stories straight ahead. Stay with us.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Rick Santorum is our top story this morning stopping Mitt Romney's momentum right in its tracks. Strong victories in the state of Missouri, strong victory in the state of Minnesota, and a close win in the state of Colorado, but the win.

Rick Santorum joins us live this morning in St. Charles, Missouri. It's nice to see you, sir. Congratulations are in order. I guess I should say congratulations for Iowa, too, because kind of by the time we figured out that you had won that everybody has moved on to the next contest. Four states you've now won. How are you feeling?

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, obviously, we feel great. We're very appreciative of the people of those three states and frankly, of folks across the country for the great support.

I mean, Soledad, even as we were not doing particularly well in Florida and Nevada we saw our contributions online just continue to go up. This last couple of weeks have been frankly the best two weeks we've had at the campaign fundraising wise.

So it's not just those three states, which we're most appreciative of, but you know, I believe conservatives are beginning to get it, that we provide the best opportunity to beat President Obama.

O'BRIEN: Colorado was your biggest upset. And I know this morning that the Romney people are saying, listen, this is a symbolic victory. The delegate math doesn't really add up for you. Minnesota and Colorado are non-binding caucus states. Missouri has no delegates, you know, you know those arguments. How do you respond to them?

SANTORUM: Yes. Well, Iowa is a nonbinding caucus, too. That turned out to be a pretty important race and everybody participates in that every year, every presidential election year. These caucuses are important. I mean, I talked to a whole bunch of people last night who were elected delegate for me at these caucuses. They're going to go through the process, up the chain. I have no doubt in both those states, we have very strong organizations.

I suspect we will hold that percentage and maybe even do a little better in some of these states. We definitely are campaign right now with the momentum, the enthusiasm on the ground and we feel very good that the delegate count will at least match or maybe even exceed what we received in Colorado and Minnesota.

O'BRIEN: You might have the momentum, but you don't have to money if you compare your money to Mitt Romney's money. I think he's got something like, yes. That's a bar graph you don't want to see when you're the lower bar in that, which shows that he's got something like $19 million to your $1 million.

And Al Credenis of the C-PAC says it's going to be tough if millions of dollars are spent on Republicans attacking Republicans. Are you expecting sort of a pile on of negative ads, but a lot of money truthfully were not spent on these three contests?

SANTORUM: Well, they did spend money in at least two of the contests that I'm aware of. In Minnesota and Colorado, they both spent more money than we did on the ground and direct mail and in other ways, robo-calls.

We know lots of folks they received a lot of nasty robo calls from the Romney campaign. They were running on, you know, under the -- underground type of campaign. We understand that. We were right above board talking about the issues.

And we feel very, very comfortable that money isn't -- money made the difference we wouldn't have won four primaries so far. The fact is ideas, contrasts, someone who had a good strong record and great vision for the country.

O'BRIEN: But you don't seriously think that money is not going to make a difference at all, right? Because I think Newt Gingrich could call you and tell you how negative ads have affected some of his showings in past campaigns. Are you worried about that?

SANTORUM: Well, again, well, of course, I mean, that's part of the game. But we're doing very, very well raising money. I think last night we raised a quarter of a million dollars online. So we're doing really well. And we feel like going forward we're going to have the money we need to make the case we want to make.

O'BRIEN: So Mitt Romney has said -- his strategy in criticizing you and this might change over the next couple of days with these victories is sort of you're one of them and them being those people in Congress who have an 11 percent approval rate. I want to play for you what he said. We'll talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a clear choice. I'm the only person in this race, Republican or Democrat, who has never served a day of time in Washington. In the world I come from, leadership is about starting a business, not trying to get a bill out of committee.


O'BRIEN: Are you worried about that as a strategy, because, you know, I don't have to tell you, people do not like Congress.

SANTORUM: Well, it's funny because I ran for the United States Senate the same year Mitt Romney ran for the United States Senate. We both ran in 1994. I won and he lost.

It's not that Governor Romney didn't want to be Senator Romney. He tried to be Senator Romney, but he ran as a very liberal Republican in Massachusetts who had just become a Republican and he lost.

And he lost badly in a year where Republicans had the one of the biggest election sweeps in history. It's when the Republican revolution occurred. Look, Governor Romney had a great career in the private sector. I'm not going to criticize him for that.

But we're not running for the CEO of the country. We're running for someone who can lead this country, someone who has an understanding of what's necessary to get the jobs created and someone who has the wisdom of when the role of government should be involved and not.

And on those issues, Governor Romney, Mr. Outsider, was for government takeover in health care, was for government takeover of the private sector of the Wall Street bailout, and was for the government takeover of industry and energy with the cap in trade.

So Mr. Private Sector was Mr. Big Government when he was out there running for the private sector.

O'BRIEN: So Donald Trump would say you lost, too. He was interviewed by our Ashleigh Banfield who does "EARLY START" and he said, listen -- I'll play what he said but it's basically, you lost. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, ENTREPRENEUR: Rick Santorum was a sitting senator who in re-election lost by 19 points to my knowledge, the most in history of this country for sitting senator to loss by 19 points.

It's unheard of. Then he goes out and says, OK, I just lost the biggest margin in history now I'm going run for president. Tell me, how does that work? How does that work?


O'BRIEN: How does that work?

SANTORUM: Why don't you ask Abraham Lincoln who lost just about every race he ran before he run for president? A lot of folks lose races, but I didn't lose, unlike Governor Romney, my principles. I stood up and fought for what I believed in, in a very tough election year.

Guess what, Governor Romney was up for re-election that year, too. His poll numbers were so bad he decided not to run for re- election. I stood for what I believed in. I ran a tough race against a great name in Pennsylvania, Robert Casey, in a very bad election year and we stood by what we fought for, which was entitlement reform.

I talked about the fear I had of a nuclear Iran at a time when no one wanted to hear about Iran, talked about Social Security reform. I talked about deficits that were coming down the line and no one back then was talking about those things.

So I'll stand by my record. I'll stabbed by what I fought for. I stand by the fact that I didn't, you know, wasn't a well-oiled weather vane out there looking for whether where the American public is going. I stood by principle and I'll do that as president.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question. Do we have a video, guys, of Senator Santorum's speech from last night because in the speech you can see behind you is Foster Freis, the is, you know, he's on stage with you with.

And he has been bankrolling your Super PAC. I know you know by law you are not allowed to discuss campaign strategy with him, but you're really close to each other. Does that send a bad message to people seeing that?

SANTORUM: No. I mean, Foster Freis doesn't run my Super PAC. He may be a donor to it, but the people who personally runs my Super PAC I haven't spoken with in about five months. So, no, I mean, as far as the conversations we have, Foster has been a long personal friend for 20 years.

And we have spent a lot of time together. But we also know what the law is and foster doesn't run the Super PAC and we don't talk about anything regarding those matters. So he's someone, again, who is a friend and will continue to be a good friend.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask a final question. We've talked to the past about your daughter and you said it was a really a blessing when you were heading home anyway on the campaign break when she got sick because you were able to be there to help get her to the emergency room. How much of a struggle has this been for you with a sick child? How do you manage that?

SANTORUM: Well, she's not a sick child. She was sick this past couple of weeks ago, but she's not sick.

O'BRIEN: She's better now? SANTORUM: Yes. She has condition similar to Down Syndrome. So while she may be susceptible on occasion to upper respiratory infections and while she does get them, it's a very, very serious matter. She's 95 percent of the time like every other kid, wonderful, happy, center of the world in our family.

I miss her. I miss all of my kids. That's why I tried to bring some of them out on the campaign trail. We had our two oldest kids with us last few days.

And this weekend we're traveling out to the west coast and I've got my two middle kids who are going to be joining me. So we try to flip in, you know, different kids and so we get a chance, a little dad one-on-one time, which is always great.

O'BRIEN: On the campaign trail, got to be crazy busy. All right, Senator Santorum, congratulations on your win. Thank you for talking with us this morning. We appreciate your time.

SANTORUM: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a CNN exclusive, a controversial Super Bowl ad today is being called racist to Asians. Congress' first female Chinese-American representative is going to join us to respond to that straight ahead. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. He is hitting it out of the ballpark on the music. Will Cain, watch and learn. Alice in Chains "Wood." We're rocking out this morning. Here, take notes, Will Cain. Take notes.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Just give me your play list. From now on I'll give it to compliments.

O'BRIEN: That is so smart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We gave you our play lists right?

O'BRIEN: It's coming. Patience is a virtue. Acquired if you can, seldom in a woman, but never in a man as the saying goes.

CAIN: Rhymes this morning.

O'BRIEN: This morning we're talking about this controversial Super Bowl ad. Did you see this ad?

CAIN: I have seen it.

O'BRIEN: OK, so it's been called racist and disturbing by some folks. It's a political ad from the former Republican Pete Hoekstra who -- the ad ran in Michigan. And he is challenging Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow for her seat. Here is what the ad says. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Thank you, Michigan Senator Debbie Spend- It-Now. Debbie spends so much American money, you borrow more and more from us. Your economy get very weak, ours get very good. We take your jobs. Thank you, Debbie Spend-It-Now.


O'BRIEN: Asian-Americans, many offended. Hoekstra is standing by it, though. Here's what he said.


PETE HOEKSTRA, (R), FORMER MICHIGAN SENATOR: I'm not apologizing for the ad. I said if someone believes that we were insensitive, I'm sorry to them. But, no, I'm not apologizing for this ad at all.


O'BRIEN: Representative Judy Chu is the first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress, and chairwoman of the Congressional Asian- Pacific Caucus, and speaking out about this ad for the very first thyme.

When you saw the ad, what did you think?

REP. JUDY CHU, (D), CALIFORNIA: I was offended. I was stunned. I couldn't believe that there would be somebody that would run such a violent, hateful ad.

O'BRIEN: What did you find violent and hateful about it?

CHU: Well, it stereotyped Asian-Americans. It has this Asian- American woman speaking in a fake Chinese accent gleefully saying that they were stealing American jobs. And what is even more offensive is that Hoekstra is running this in Michigan, where 30 years ago Vincent Chen got his head bashed in by two unemployed auto workers who thought he was Japanese-American and blamed him for losing their jobs.

O'BRIEN: Do you worry this kind of ad is going to stir up hate against Asian-Americans?

CHU: Oh, yes. This meant to stereotype. It's meant to stereotype. It's meant to blame Chinese persons and Asian persons for stealing American jobs. The economy is in a downturn right now but there are lots of reasons for it. And the ad basically blames Asian- Americans for that.

O'BRIEN: Hoekstra has said, listen, this is -- in his -- wasn't really an apology, but it was sort of one of those, people are, well, I'm sorry for them, kind of thing. But he said it's about money. He said really at the end of the day, I'm trying to highlight the issues of the amount of debt that America owes to China. Which he says --

(CROSSTALK) CHU: Well -- well, he fails to recognize that we are in this situation of debt because of George Bush's -- unpaid for two wars, tax cuts for the wealthy, and a Wall Street that was out of control.

O'BRIEN: So what do you do about it? Have you talked to him? Is there sort of saying, listen, I'd like you to pull the ad. He said many times he has no intentions to pull the ad, and the more we talk about it I'm sure it seems to be working for him.

CHU: Well, we did issue a statement immediately and wrote him a letter. And we are going to keep up the pressure. Asian-American groups and community people are outraged all across this nation.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Judy Chu is joining us this morning.

It's nice to have you. Thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

CHU: Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the White House health care law mandates that employers cover birth control on insurance plans. Religious organizations say it violates their beliefs. We're going to talk to both sides about that coming up next. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. The White House may consider changing a controversial contraception plan. At issue is a rule that would require employers to offer free birth control in their health care plans and that includes Catholic universities and charities. And it's been prompted debate about religious freedom.

We'll start this morning with Democratic Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal who supports the plan.

Morning, sir. Nice to talk to you. Thank you for talking with us.


O'BRIEN: There was some confusion yesterday, when you saw David Axelrod talking about the desire to, quote, "respect the prerogatives of religious institutions." That sent a lot of people into a dizzy. They thought the White House is now backing away from this. The White House tried to clear up the confusion, saying that the president wanted to find, quote, "appropriate balance between religious beliefs and convictions." What does this all mean? Where does this stand this morning?

BLUMENTHAL: Where it stands is the essential principle is that the costs of birth control really should be covered. It's about $500 a year for every individual woman. Because it respects the rights and opportunities for women to make basic choices. And that rule was recommended by the Institute of Medicine, an unbiased scientific group, as a matter of health policy. Politicians and politics should, in effect, not be interfering with those rights and with good health policies. So 28 states respect that rule. They have respectful, balanced laws that require coverage for birth control. And the effort now to take away that right or revoke it or restrain it is simply unfounded. I'm hoping that the administration will stick to the rule.

O'BRIEN: I know you know that religious institutions have said politics should stay out of our business. Politics should restrict that -- so that we are exempted from this rule because it goes against what we believe. Archbishop Timothy Dolan said it's un-American. The Boston archdiocese is talking about dropping health care coverage for employees. Was this impact of this decision not foreseen, that Catholic organizations would come out against it very strongly?

BLUMENTHAL: The rule does exempt --

O'BRIEN: Narrowly.

BLUMENTHAL: -- all churches, 335,000 churches.

O'BRIEN: Yes, churches, not universities and the institutions that are run by those churches. Those are not exempt.

BLUMENTHAL: And individuals who are employed or students who go to those institutions can make those individual choices based on their religious convictions or conscience or other principles. Those individual decisions are to be respected. And, remember, that the institutions are not required to provide services, only coverage for services that individuals can make a decision to use or not use. And we're talking about basic health policy, good, preventive health care recommended by the Institute of Medicine because it is cost effective.

O'BRIEN: Does it become a political issue? When you look at the map of sort of the states where there are not those 28 states that you talked about. Those are states that are the swing states. And those are the states that are in white where the provision has not been passed. So do you worry about that as a political issue?

BLUMENTHAL: The main point is that politics has no role, should have no role in health care policy. And the outpouring overwhelming across the country when the Susan Komen Foundation for the Cure decided to ban grants to Planned Parenthood I think shows that people generally feel that politics should not be interfering in those individual choices.

Remember, 99 percent of all women use birth control at some point in their lives. The polls show that people generally think these decisions ought to be made by individuals as a matter of their own conscience and religious convictions. This rule basically strikes a respectful balance. The effort, ideological base to take away that right I think is really unfounded.

O'BRIEN: Senator Blumenthal, I thank you for your time.

We'll get right to Senator John Hoeven who is a Republican from North Dakota. Nice to see you.

You just heard what the other Senator said. What do you think of his position?

SEN. JOHN HOEVEN, (R), NORTH DAKOTA: Look, our country has been founded on the principle of religious freedom. This decision goes counter to that founding principle. And in essence, religious organizations and their affiliates now have to provide services through their health insurance program that go against their moral beliefs.


O'BRIEN: Provide options, right? They're providing the option. If the person decides they don't want to have birth control pills, they certainly don't have to purchase them, but in terms of insurance, they have to provide the option.

HOEVEN: Under the Obama health care plan, they're required to provide insurance that includes things like contraceptives, sterilization, things that go against the teachings and the beliefs, the value system of that religious organization. And they're required to provide that through their affiliates, whether it's a school or a hospital.

O'BRIEN: They're required to provide the option for it. The person who has the insurance could decide if they actually wanted to go ahead and get the service or not.

But let me ask you a question about this poll. I know you've seen this. Senator Blumenthal talked about 99 percent of women in their lives who are sexually active have used contraceptives. That number in the high 80s for Catholic women. 55 percent of Americans agree, in this poll, employers should be required to cover contraception plans. Contraception is really expensive. It's like 600 bucks a year. 58 percent, so higher than overall-Americans, 58 percent of Catholics agree. Isn't the issue really between Catholics who want to use contraception, in a way, the employer should stay out of it and offer the choice?

HOEVEN: It's not just Catholics, it's any religion. It's requiring any organization to provide services that violate their belief system. Look, our Constitution, our whole system of government provides for freedom of religion. This is a clear infringement. And this is an example of what we're going to get with government-run health care. It's not just the Catholic Church that's pushing back. You will see it -- you see it already on a broad basis across the country. This is -- it's the wrong approach. And I think you're going to see a very, very strong push back until the administration does do the right thing and reverse it. Matter of fact, myself and others have legislation to do just that.

O'BRIEN: Senator John Hoeven joining us. He's a Republican from North Dakota.

It's nice to have you, sir. We appreciate your time this morning.

HOEVEN: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Thank you.

Ahead, Santorum sweeps, but what about Gingrich? Can he stay in the race until the convention as he's been promising? We're going to talk to someone from his campaign at the top of the hour.

Plus, the first lady is on Jimmy Fallon.


Oh, my god, this is so funny.


We'll talk about that straight ahead.

You're watching STARTING POINT.