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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Whitney Houston Autopsy Complete; Report: Drowning Scenario Investigated; Sorrow Shades Grammy Awards; Athens Burns, Protests Flare; Greece Approves Austerity Plan; Gas Prices Rising; Grammy Awards Honors Whitney Houston; "We've Had a Death in Our Family"; Romney: "Severely Conservative"; Obama Budget Targets Rich; Adele Takes Home Six Grammys

Aired February 13, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It is 6:00 in the east. It is an EARLY START, indeed. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We are happy you're joining us. We are bringing you the news from A to Z. Let's get started here, shall we?

Whitney Houston, her autopsy is complete now. The results are on hold however and they are on lock down this morning. New reports on the drugs that were found on the scene as well. We're going to bring you all of the details that we have.

BANFIELD: In the meantime, the Grammys last night were just incredible to watch. They were all in tribute to Whitney Houston and Jennifer Hudson in particular with such a rendition. But at least one performer schedule hold out saying she was just too shaken up to sing.

SAMBOLIN: And the budget battle, an election preview. The president is unveiling his final spending plan before the 2012 election that is expected today. GOP is already picking it apart saying it is proof that the president failed.

BANFIELD: And also, Mitt Romney fresh off the CPAC straw poll win and a win in Maine as well. And along comes Sarah and says we are not so convinced. So what is the problem and will we he get over it?

SAMBOLIN: Back to our top story here. Did Whitney Houston drowned? The "L.A. Times" reports police are looking into possible drowning and to that scenario as the cause of her death.

Officials have completed the autopsy now, but they are waiting for the toxicology report for that to be complete. And that could actually take months.

BANFIELD: In the meantime, a couple of web sites have different varied reports. TMZ is saying that water was found in Whitney's lungs although the coroner is not commenting on that. Radar Online says the prescription medications, Lorazepam, Valium, Zanax and some sleeping medications were found in her hotel room. The definitive reason will come from the coroner. David Mattingly is live in Los Angeles with the very latest.

So David, it is not unusual after a death for toxicology reports to take weeks and sometimes months and celebrities make no difference. There are labs that are overloaded. So until that happens, we're just not going to really know, are we?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We're looking at six to eight weeks according to the coroner in this case. There were so many questions yesterday when the coroner did come out publicly to talk about what they were doing here.

But because the police have placed a hold on this case, which means they're holding all information from the public about what was found in that hotel room and details about Whitney Houston's death, they're holding that during their investigation.

The coroner wasn't able to say much, but he was able to rule out a couple of important things. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF ED WINTER, LOS ANGELES COUNTY CORONER'S OFFICE: I know there are reports that she maybe was drowned or overdose. But, no, we won't make a final determination until all the tests are in. There were no visible signs of trauma. Foul play is not suspected at this time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: And there it is, two big statements of the day that you could take away from that press conference. No visible signs of trauma. No foul play is suspected.

But again, all of these questions about what did happen to Whitney Houston still lingering here. All the questions about were think prescription drugs found at the scene, were prescription drugs in her system at the time.

That's going to have to wait until those toxicology reports come back weeks from now, possibly well over a month.

BANFIELD: All right, David Mattingly live for us in Los Angeles. Thank you for that.

SAMBOLIN: And the Grammys honored Whitney Houston, the ceremony was tinged with sadness and a lot of mourning.

BANFIELD: And she was remembered in prayer and also in song, remarkable song as Kareen Wynter now reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to say to Whitney up in heaven, we all love you, Whitney Houston.

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the 54th Grammy Awards, the focus shifted from music to mortality.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've had a death in our family.

WYNTER: Host LL Cool J led a prayer for Whitney Houston whose death on the eve of the Grammys stunned the recording industry. Jennifer Hudson paid tribute a haunting version of Houston's greatest hit "I Will Always Love You."

If this had been a normal Grammys, the headline would have been the sensational return of Adele, the British singer saying publicly for the first time since vocal surgery last year and left no doubt she's back.

As expected, she won the Grammy's top honor, album of the year, along with five other awards including record and song of the year.

ADELE, SINGER: Thank you so much. This is ridiculous.

WYNTER: But on a night when Glenn Campbell is struggling with Alzheimer's gave a farewell performance and the Beach Boys reunited on the Grammy stage, the show will be remembered for an artist who won her last Grammy over a decade ago. Kareen Wynter, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN: A lot of people were reliving one of Whitney Houston's finest moments, the stunning rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Super Bowl. That was in 1991.

That performance right there moved an entire nation as we were fighting the Persian Gulf War. Houston planned a really different arrangement for that with jazz chords and gospel rhythms.

But the NFL asked her to strip it down and she did. The result of it, number one hit. It claimed top spot on the billboard charts.

BANFIELD: It gives me goose bumps. By the way, the Detroit Pistons actually brought that back to life.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, they played it on the jumbo-tron right before their basketball game on Sunday. It's great tribute.

All right, coming up at 6:30 this morning, we're talking to "Rolling Stones" magazine editor, Joe Levy. He will have the latest details of the death investigation, her final performance. We're doing to talk about her lasting legacy as well.

BANFIELD: And also still ahead, have you been looking at the pictures in Athens?

SAMBOLIN: My goodness, unbelievable.

BANFIELD: Athens, Greece, it's the place you want to be as tourists, but not when it's like this. Banks, cafes on fire, soldiers, Molotov cocktails, all of these because they're heavy in debt and the government says, time to tighten our belt. People don't like that one bit. We're going to take you live to Athens next.

SAMBOLIN: And a teen transplant patient unhooked from her IV, taken from the hospital. This morning the mystery is solved. We're going to share the details of that right there that you're looking at. You are watching EARLY START.

BANFIELD: And Rob Marciano is standing by live in -- yes, I guess winter finally arrived for all of us who thought we would get a free pass.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, no passes here for sure. It poured in over the weekend. Cold Canadian air and now some moisture is running into it. We're going to reports of some sleet and freezing rain around the Dallas metroplex, up towards the northwest.

This wintry mix of precipitation will stretch all the way into the Ohio River Valley, two to four so it shouldn't be a big deal, but with the sleet and freezing rain mixing in that have caused some issues.

There's your cold air. Windy conditions across the northeast. That may also create a few problems at the airports in New York in the morning in Dallas and San Francisco and L.A. you've got another west coast storm moving in.

It's 9 minutes after the hour. EARLY START is coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: The music may sound upbeat at 12 minutes past 6:00 on the east, but let me tell you, Greece is not the place you want to be right now. There are violent protests raging on the streets of Athens all weekend long and even up until this morning.

SAMBOLIN: The pictures are incredible. Banks and shops, fire bombed, you're taking a look at it right there. There's a lot of anger over that austerity plan that approved by parliament. The prime minister says the only alternative, folks, a catastrophic default.

So Matthew Chance is live from Athens. Matthew, can you share any of the details of the austerity plan so we can understand why it's causing such an uproar there?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Zoraida, a number of reasons. The first one is, is that Greeks are so angry that they've already endured two years of very harsh austerity cuts, standards of living on the drop of a cliff in this country.

Unemployment has risen to nearly 21 percent between ages 16 and 24, it's 48 percent. So, you know, public service has been slashed already. What are now being told is that they're going to have to endure years and years of further, further cuts.

And that's something they're deeply frustrated about, deeply angry about. We're going to see the minimum wage in this country, which is what most people operate on, frankly, be cut to about 600 or so dollars a month, which you can imagine living in a European capital isn't particularly cheap on that kind of money.

It's not good at all. It's not easy. Even basic necessities aren't going to be easy to buy. Hospital budgets are going to be slashed. School budgets are going to be slashed. Public services are going to be taken away, even those ones that remain.

And so people are very, very angry that this is not the way forward for the country. They didn't want these austerity measures passed but, as you mentioned, the government felt it had no alternative.

The alternative is articulated the prime minister in a sort of chaotic collapse into default and so they passed these measures anyway.

SAMBOLIN: And we're taking a look at some pretty horrific video there. Is the violence increasing?

CHANCE: Now, today, it's not, no. This is an incident last night. It was a protest that was pre-planned. A 100,000 or more people came out on to this central square in Athens to protest while the cabinet and while the parliament debated those austerity measures inside the parliament building behind me.

It dissipated after about five or six hours. but it was extremely violent. Buildings were set ablaze. Petrol bombs were thrown at the police as well as rocks. They responded with tear gas and stun grenades. It was a running street battle in the center of the Greek capital.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Matthew Chance live from Athens for us. Appreciate that report.

BANFIELD: It's now 15 minutes past 6:00 on the East Coast. Time to check top stories making news this morning.

The Los Angeles Coroner's Office says it could be up to six or eight weeks before it's officially known what caused Whitney Houston's death. Right now, there is no sign of trauma and no sign of foul play.

Her death is -- is absolutely ringing throughout the news. And last night at the Grammy's, what a chill throughout the auditorium as Jennifer Hudson performed a riveting rendition of "I Will Always Love You."

And Adele took home six Grammy's in her first public performance when she underwent vocal cord surgery. SAMBOLIN: The Europe League is proposing a joint peacekeeping mission in Syria with United Nations while urging its members to provide money and political support to the Syrian opposition.

And a frantic search in St. Louis for 14-year-old kidney transplant patient Brittany Jones. It's ended in Wisconsin. The teenager was seen on surveillance video being unhooked from her IV by her father who then walked out of the hospital. But she's been located along with her father in another hospital in Milwaukee.

BANFIELD: Strange.

SAMBOLIN: Very strange story.

President Obama is unveiling his budget for 2013. That is scheduled to happen today. It will feature tax hikes for Americans making over $250,000 a year and a permanent college tax credit.

And the man who's expected to become the new president of China in 2013 arrives in Washington this morning. China's Vice President will meet tomorrow with our Vice President Joe Biden along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama.

BANFIELD: And still ahead at 6:16 on the East Coast, could Jerry Sandusky actually be getting more freedom? He's all smiles in this video, but I don't know, could go either way. We'll find out a little later on.

You're watching EARLY START.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, we still got to talk about gas prices.

BANFIELD: Oh, indeed.

SAMBOLIN: And Ashleigh, why they may keep going up through the summer, and what it could mean for President Obama as he looks for term number two.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It's 6:20 in the East Coast.

Bit by bit, gas prices are creeping up again and we are expecting them to keep rising throughout the summer.

BANFIELD: You know, I feel like you and I -- we could play a tape of our newscast from the last 10 years on this date and have that same headlines. It drives me bananas.

It's turning into the big sticking point, of course, for the GOP candidates on the campaign trail and they're attacking the president on this.

But let's bring in Christine Romans who's in Atlanta with the straight dope on this one. You always know what the issue is, why the story is, what it is. It's a little different every year. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It is. It is. And you're right -- and what you're talking about, Ashleigh, what you're complaining about is that -- is that annual ritual of transferring from the winter formulation of gasoline to the summer formulation and you head into the driving season and gas prices move higher.

But this year, you have gas prices already higher than where they were last year. And you could be heading to $4 a gallon in some parts of the country. Right now, according to AAA, we're at $3.51 a gallon. Ashleigh and Zoraida, a year ago it was $3.12 right now. In 2010, it was $2.67. That's real money that's coming out of people's pockets so you're feeling it right now more than you did last year, more than you did the year before.

In part because the economy is getting better, in part because of that seasonal stuff that we talk about every year. But also, you know, there is a big issue going on with European crude oil right now. And some of that European crude oil is used to make gasoline in this country, too. They're watching a conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. They're watching Iran. They're watching a whole lot of different events in the Middle East and around the world that are causing prices to go up there.

And everyone is saying prices will continue to move up in this country. Look, the lowest prices are in Denver right now, according to the Lundberg Survey, another survey of gas price. The highest on Long Island, $3.82. Best guess is that through May you see these gas prices continue to move up, you guys.

BANFIELD: You know, I always wonder, if -- we used to always say, well, it sure is bad here but if you were in Europe, it is awful. Are we catching up to them or are we all sliding up on a curve?

ROMANS: We're all going up on a curve, you know? And they do it in liters and they have more taxes. And when you look at the United States at how differently we're taxed in different states is a very big wide variety of gas prices.

But when you bring this back to what it means to this president, it's pretty interesting because on the campaign trail what you've been hearing from the GOP is how much gas prices are up since the president has been in office, 84 percent or something. I mean -- and that's true, but because the economy has been improving and because of some of these other things that have been going on in the rest of the world.

And it's also interesting, the president is making the case for his payroll tax cut, making it permanent, he actually uses gas prices and rising gas prices as an example. Look, people need an extra $40 a week in their -- in their paychecks because of these things like rising gas prices. So he kind of takes this thing the GOP is turning as a negative and he's trying to use it to his own advantage to sell payroll tax holidays and just being a political maneuver.

SAMBOLIN: And you have some cities where the taxes are so high that you're going to see beyond that $4 a gallon.

ROMANS: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. No question, yes.

BANFIELD: So that $40 in your paycheck wouldn't cover -- it will only cover half a tank.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. All right, Christine Romans, live for us in Atlanta. Thank you.

And ahead on EARLY START, the death of Whitney Houston, we have all of the latest details and a special guest as well. Joe Levy, contributing editor with "Rolling Stone," he's going to talk about her legacy.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

BANFIELD: I'm Ashleigh Banfield. We're busy this morning at 27 minutes past 6:00. Let's get you caught up on the top stories making news this morning.

The investigators say it could take weeks before they're really going to know the cause of Whitney Houston's death. The coroner and officials will say now only that they're going to hold information about the autopsy that was completed yesterday. All of this at the request of police detectives who are investigating the singer's death.

Also making news, President Obama unveiling his 2013 budget today. It's rolling up to the Hill, folks, and Republicans are already blasting his plan to hike taxes for Americans making more than $250,000 a year.

And in Pennsylvania, a judge is expected to rule today whether former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky will be confined indoors until he goes on trial to face child sex abuse charges or whether he might be able to spend some time out on his porch.

SAMBOLIN: And gas prices are still rising. We just talked about it. According to the Lundberg Survey, prices have climbed 12 cents a gallon since late January. The nationwide average now, $3.51 a gallon.

And Washington State on the verge -- it is on the verge of becoming the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage. The governor is expected to sign that bill today.

And Adele dominating at the Grammy's. The singer scooping up six awards, including Record, Song, and Album of the Year.

BANFIELD: And the top story and it was resonating through the Grammy's, as well, learning some new details about the final moments of Whitney Houston's life. The investigators say that she was found in the bathtub of her Beverly Hills Hotel, that was on Saturday afternoon. The autopsy is now complete, but the details under seal. The authorities say at least there is no evidence of foul play.

But, here's the clincher, it could take six to eight weeks before the toxicology tests come back and those could really tell you the cause and the manner of death.

SAMBOLIN: And one day after Houston's death, a cloud overshadowed what's usually a celebratory event, the Grammy Awards. They opened last night with a prayer. And host LL Cool J saying we've had a death in our family.

And then later, Jennifer Hudson paid an amazing tribute to her idol singing "I Will Always Love You."

(JENNIFER HUDSON SINGING "I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU")

SAMBOLIN: Joe Levy, contributing editor of "Rolling Stones" is joining us right now.

And as we're watching that moment, what did you think of it?

JOE LEVY, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "ROLLING STONE": Jennifer Hudson moment was extremely moving. She was moved. The crowd was moved.

They had been waiting for this all evening. Even though at the start, as you said, LL Cool J led the crowd in prayer, they were waiting for that specific moment, that tribute.

And I thought Jennifer Hudson did a beautiful job of it. You know, no one can be Whitney Houston. The good thing about what she did last night is she didn't try. She paid tribute in her own voice, a voice clearly influenced as so many female singers are by Whitney Houston.

SAMBOLIN: That is very well said. You know, we've had a lot of divas before Whitney Houston, right? Aretha Franklin, Diane Ross, but a lot of people are calling her the first diva, nonetheless.

What made Whitney different?

LEVY: Well, what made her difference, and it's interesting that you mentioned Aretha Franklin. Aretha Franklin was Whitney's godmother. Whitney came from musical family, from musical royalty. There are singers who learned by listening to Aretha Franklin records. Whitney could learn from Aretha herself.

And the difference between Whitney and the singers who came before was that she did what she did with a pop, jazz, R&B sophistication. She wasn't gritty. That wasn't her thing. What she established for every female singer who came afterwards was the mountain top.

She is the influence, the key influence on everyone, from Mariah Carey to Lady Gaga. And it's really quite amazing in that way. It's a generation of singers who came after who really owe what they do to what she established.

SAMBOLIN: You know when I think of her, Joe, I think of elegance and grace. But she, you know, had quite a troubled life. She talked about her demons in public. In 2002, she said the biggest devil is me. I'm either my best friend or my worst enemy.

Of course, you know, there are talks about her drug addiction, her drug abuse. Was she still facing her demons? She was in rehab for a while.

What can you tell us?

LEVY: She was in and out of rehab. And anyone who knows a family member or friend who struggled with addiction knows this story.

Addiction is extremely difficult. Drugs don't care about your level of sophistication. They don't care about your talent. And they don't care about your wealth. They want your life.

SAMBOLIN: We're taking a -- looking at a picture right there. Maybe you can shed some light on this because we were talking about this. This was, you know, just this past week.

Do you know what was happening there? There was blood on her leg. A lot of folks were talking about this.

LEVY: Yes. I don't know. These pictures were snapped when she was exiting a pre-Grammy party, I believe, on Thursday night. And I don't know the specific details.

I will tell you from my experience that there certainly are moments when pictures look a lot worse than they are. There's a crowd. Someone's trying to get out of a club. People are yelling and things look worse than they are.

I will also say these pictures don't look particularly good.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Whitney sold 117 million albums. As we're looking back at her life, what will her legacy be?

LEVY: The legacy is the songs, the legacy is the way she transformed those songs. What's amazing about her singing is that she takes songs about heartbreak and makes them into triumphs. She transforms what she does and takes a sad song and makes it into a joyful song.

And really that one key lyric, "you cannot take my dignity" from a song early on, that's a signal moment for her. That's what she's communicating time and time again. She's taking all of that vocal virtuosity, that incredible technique and putting it in service of that emotion, that sense of human triumph.

SAMBOLIN: I can't let you go without talking about her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, 18 years old. There were reports that she was taken to the hospital.

You now, she was married to Bobby Brown for 18 years. If he was on the road and he didn't return until today to Los Angeles.

What can you tell us about that?

LEVY: I can't shed any specific light on it. I can say that he had a concert commitment the night that she died. He chose to honor it.

I don't think this is shocking. I don't think we should read too much into it. They were divorced. At this particular moment, what I would say is let's be respectful to the family and assume that Bobby had a commitment he needed to honor and got back to his daughter as soon as he could.

SAMBOLIN: And do you know anything about Bobbi Kristina and her condition? We're taking a look at her picture there at the hospital.

LEVY: Well, what we were told is that she was taken to the hospital suffering from shock, exhaustion -- the typical emotions you might experience in a moment as charged as this. Because, remember, this is not just a death in the family. This is the death in a hotel with one of the major events, really the major event right before the Grammys, about to transpire.

And you also have to consider, what we were told was that Whitney's body could not be removed from the hotel because of that party going on. This was a very high-pressure, shocking situation for a young girl, for a daughter to be in.

SAMBOLIN: So, Joe, I want to end on a positive note. How will you remember her?

LEVY: You know, I'll remember her singing "I Will Always Love You" -- one of the greatest moments in pop music in the last 30 years, an absolutely stunning vocal. Something no one else could have done, just an incredible song and a major hit. Fourteen weeks at number one when it came out in 1992. That was a record at the time.

SAMBOLIN: And on that note, thank you very much for joining us this morning. Joe Levy, contributing editor "Rolling Stone."

BANFIELD: Still ahead on EARLY START: Mitt Romney trying to win overall those conservatives and actually using the phrase "severely conservative" in describing himself. Is that going to go over well and how would all those accusations that he may have bused in the votes for the CPAC straw poll win? We'll parse it in a moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For many years or many, almost decades, we kind of talked to ourselves out of being makers, that we're smart shoppers or consumers. And I really want to turn that around and say we are makers. We make our world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Good morning, D.C. Twenty-five degrees. A little later, it's going to be sunny and 47. And apparently we're not supposed to be worried, we're supposed to be happy for the next several days.

BANFIELD: Eleven days. Yes. No contests. There's no debates. There's nothing.

These candidates can just kickback.

SAMBOLIN: Right. I think they're going to be very were worried.

BANFIELD: You're right. I think you're absolutely right, because even after winning a key endorsement at the CPAC convention, Mitt Romney is still trying to convince Republicans that he is conservative.

Live from Columbia, South Carolina, our Republican strategist Joel Sawyer is going to weigh in; from Washington, our Democratic consultant Ed Espinoza will join us on this topic, and our CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser is also with us.

All right, folks. Here's how I want to start this segment. With Mitt Romney trying to convince us that he is severely conservative and with Sarah Palin throwing some water on that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I fought against long odds in a deep blue state, but I was a severely conservative Republican governor.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: I am not convinced and I don't think that the majority of GOP and independent voters are convinced. And that is why you don't see Romney get over that hump.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BANFIELD: All right. So I'm having a little problem hearing you guys, but I'm going to throw this out there right away.

And, Joel Sawyer, maybe you can jump in on this one. Can he -- can Mitt Romney hold the CPAC momentum or did Sarah really take the wind out of sails?

JOEL SAWYER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That's an interesting question. One thing he has had trouble doing throughout this process is generating momentum. He came off a big win in New Hampshire and generated the momentum, came off a big win in Florida and generated the momentum.

And, you know, looking to CPAC results, he got 38 percent. He's been in this race longer and spent more money than anybody else. What it really tells you is that 62 percent of the people in that population are unconvinced that he's the right guy going forward.

So, I think at this point, you know, he has to give up hope on momentum and just hope enough that enough of these people stay in long enough where he can split the vote and won enough delegates to go forward.

BANFIELD: All right. Let me do a quick spin around here.

Paul Steinhauser, since you're our numbers guy, let's talk about money numbers. Newt Gingrich, there's a lot of talk that he is running low on dough. That he's now, according to "The New York Times," having to focus on donors rather than focus on voters. And his strategy has been all along, wait until Super Tuesday and just see what happens in the Southern states.

But that's March 6th and that's a long stretch from now.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Yes, he's out in California today, too. He's got a couple of public events. But I think the real reason he's out there is to fundraise, a lot of Republican money out there.

Exactly, he needs that cash to keep going and to make it to Super Tuesday. His argument all along is that I'm the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. But you know what? Rick Santorum kind of stealing the thunder the last two weeks now, and that's making Newt Gingrich's task a little tougher when it comes to campaign cash.

And there's Sheldon Adelson, of course, the man who's been bankrolling that pro-Gingrich super PAC. That money may now be drying up.

So trouble for Newt Gingrich, no doubt about it. Nice touch there on "Don't Worry Be Happy." I remember the movie "Cocktail."

BANFIELD: Do you like that?

STEINHAUSER: I'm not an old guy, I remember "Cocktail."

BANFIELD: It just came to me on a whim that this would be a nice l 11-daybreak if they could take a break.

All right. I want to spin to the next contest because it may be 11 days away, Mr. Steinhauser, but I can't wait. I can't wait for Michigan and Arizona. These are big ones. These are just 60 delegates that might be up for grabs on one night.

And here's the thing. Romney's got an edge in both of these states. And here's why: in Michigan, he was born in Detroit. OK? Here's a nice edge, first of all, in the national poll. He's ahead by so many points. Look at him over Santorum, 34 percent to 22 percent.

But in Michigan, let's talk about his edge in Michigan. He was born no Detroit and his dad was the governor of that state for six years. In Arizona, he's got Senator McCain's endorsement in that state and there's also that little aspect of 11 percent of 2008 GOP primary voters being Mormon. So, that looks good.

But, Ed Espinoza, I have seen things turn before. In Minnesota, he had a great endorsement in Pawlenty and didn't carry out that state. In Arizona, gee, could it go the way of Colorado where he also had a huge Mormon population and he couldn't pull off that state, either?

ED ESPINOZA, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Yes, in South Carolina, he also had Nikki Haley's endorsement and that did not work out so well for him.

BANFIELD: Good point.

ESPINOZA: But he's got some humps to get over here. Michigan is not a winner-take-all state. And Santorum is competing there. So, he could really put a dent into his delegate lead.

Arizona is winner-take-all. He might win it. That's 29 delegates that he could really use.

The problem he's got with conservatives, same problem he's had all along is that running against -- running is as the not Obama candidate is not good enough. He's got to really state what his conservative credentials are. He hasn't been able to do that, short of saying he's severely conservative, which is severely weird, I think.

BANFIELD: Severely weird, OK. One word, this is the game we like to play. Zoraida and I have been having great sport with y'all when we ask you to weigh in with one-word answers. And this is what I'd like you guys to answer one by one.

I'm going to start with you, Joel. Is this next 11 days time for vacation or time to dig in?

SAWYER: Dig in.

BANFIELD: All right. Paul, vacation or dig in?

STEINHAUSER: Definitely dig in. Definitely dig in.

BANFIELD: And, Ed, what do you think?

ESPINOZA: Definitely dig in.

BANFIELD: OK. So, I completely mischose the music coming into this segment.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: You completely took my thunder away. All right. Joel and Ed and Paul, nice to talk to you all. Thanks for being with us this morning.

SAMBOLIN: It's a nice song to remember, though, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: I like it. SAMBOLIN: It is great.

BANFIELD: I'm standing by it.

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

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, ladies. Good morning to you. Coming up in just about 10 minutes on "Starting Point," we're going to be devoting the "Starting Point" playlist to Whitney Houston and remembering Whitney Houston this morning.

Also, some new details about her death. We're going to talk to her godmother and Reverend Jesse Jackson as well this morning.

Then, did you hear this? Tony Bennett was the headliner at Clive Davis' Annual pre-Grammy party, and he said something very strange about legalizing drugs because of deaths of stars like Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. Didn't make a whole lot of sense. We'll talk about that straight ahead this morning. That's all on "Starting Point." We get under way in just about ten minutes. EARLY START is coming up right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: The voice --

BANFIELD: Never gets old.

SAMBOLIN: No.

BANFIELD: Just never gets old.

SAMBOLIN: Forty-nine minutes past the hour here. Here's what's making news this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): The Los Angeles coroner's office said it could be up to eight weeks before it's officially known what caused Whitney Houston's death. Right now, there is no indication of trauma or foul play.

And a new plan to stop the slaughter in Syria. The Arab league is proposing a joint peacekeeping mission with the United Nations while urging its members to provide money and political support to the opposition.

BANFIELD (voice-over): And later today, President Obama is going to unveil his 2013 spending plan. It will feature tax hikes for Americans making over $250,000 a year and a permanent college tax credit.

And if you were watching last night's Grammy awards, Adele making such an impression on this auditorium, bringing home six awards. All of this and her first public performance since undergoing surgery on her vocal cords.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): I wonder how the fashion went last night. We're going to talk fashion here a little bit. One of the hottest fashion houses going right now built its reputation without an advertising budget.

BANFIELD (on-camera): Hard to even believe that, right? In this day and age, a business model? But if you say the word Marchesa --

SAMBOLIN: Oh, yes.

BANFIELD: Heads will turn in Hollywood. Alina Cho is now here with -- you're just like -- you know everything about fashion.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not everything. I just happen to be passionate about it.

SAMBOLIN: Well, you look good.

(LAUGHTER)

CHO: Didn't Adele look great last night --

SAMBOLIN: Oh yes.

CHO: -- in Giorgio Armani.

BANFIELD: You sell yourself short, because I know full well you know that this story about Marchesa is about a power dynamo couple. It's not just about pretty dresses, this is about business.

CHO: It is about business. And they built a business model on the backs of celebrities. You know, how many times have you watched those red carpet pre-game shows and heard the name Marchesa? It happens a lot. But I was surprised to learn recently that it's also a brand that's built its entire business on the free press generated by red carpet dressing. Think about it. Not a penny on ads. So, how do they do it?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Marchesa designed it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Marchesa.

CHO (voice-over): You don't have to travel far on the red carpet to hear the name.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One-of-a-kind Marchesa.

CHO: This year alone, dressing Viola Davis, Sofia Vergara, Lea Michelle, Renee Zellweger was the first wearing this red Marchesa dress to the 2004 premier of "Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason."

Do you remember what it felt like to see her walk down the red carpet?

GEORGINA CHAPMAN, MARCHESA CREATIVE DIRECTOR: Oh my goodness. It was amazing. And I woke up the next day and said every newspaper with a name Marchesa, oh, my gosh, I couldn't believe it.

CHO: When Zellweger wore that dress, Marchesa was just starting out. Designers, Georgina Chapman and Karen Craig didn't have the budget for ads so they made a strategic decision to build Marchesa not on advertising but on the backs of celebrities instead.

HAL RUBENSTEIN, FASHION DIRECTOR, INSTYLE MAGAZINE: The celebrity or the star in effect is their advertising campaign. And you know, the more women who are coming down there wearing Marchesa and the more beautiful they look, the more desirable the brand becomes.

CHO: So, what does it take to get a Sandra Bullock in Marchesa for the Oscars?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. Come in.

CHO: During award season, Marchesa takes out a hotel suite in Beverly Hills.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have like, you know, racks of dresses. We have beautiful shoes.

CHO: Then the real work begins. Take this gown Vanessa Hudgens wore to the Oscars in 2009.

CHAPMAN: I took the whole dress apart and started again.

CHO: Wow! In five days?

CHAPMAN: We were working through the night. We actually got miner's lights so we could put them on our heads so the light was good enough in the dark.

CHO: Then there's this.

What about what they call the Harvey factor?

CHAPMAN: The Harvey factor, oh, my goodness!

CHO: Chapman is married to Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood producer of the artists and the iron lady. Does having a Hollywood heavyweight behind your label help?

It doesn't hurt.

CHAPMAN: It doesn't hurt. No, of course, it doesn't hurt. I think you know his relationship with actresses is a very different relationship. I don't think that anybody is going to let Harvey tell them anything.

CHO: And when it comes to the red carpet, actresses make game time decisions.

HALLE BERRY, ACTRESS: They usually have about three or four choices. So, I give myself some leeway to have a feeling on the day.

CHO: Because those pictures can last a lifetime, and that's good business for Marchesa.

CHAPMAN: I think red carpet dressing really has made Marchesa what it is today. And I'm not sure Marchesa would be here today if it wasn't for red carpet dressing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO: Well, Georgina Chapman is being very humble. You know, you won't believe just how far Marchesa goes to please a celebrity. Chapman will often go make house calls on the day of the Oscars to make sure everything fits just right, and they will customize, too. Listen to this, last year, Haley Steinfeld, you know, she wore this beautiful pink Marchesa gown to the Oscars. It wasn't originally pink. It was originally a white wedding gown.

BANFIELD: On the day of, they changed it?

CHO: Not on the day of, but over the course of several weeks, they dyed it pink in a huge tank with dye, but it worked. She wore it on the red carpet. When people asked her what she was wearing, she said Marchesa and that is press you cannot buy.

SAMBOLIN: Right. And I've always wondered whether they get to keep all of those fabulous dresses.

CHO: You know, it depends. You know, sometimes, they give them back because if you think about it, once a celebrity wears a gown on the red carpet, she can't wear it twice. But Sandra Bullock, a couple of years ago, she won for "The Blind Side" she was in a beautiful Marchesa gown. Georgina Chapman called her and said, you know what, it was such a special night, it was such a special gown, we want you to keep it.

SAMBOLIN: How fantastic --

CHO: We'll have to keep our eyes on it and see if it shows up on another event.

BANFIELD: Alina, nice work.

SAMBOLIN: That was great. Give to it a charity to auction it off. Can you imagine that?

CHO: Better (ph) idea.

SAMBOLIN: Big money.

CHO: Thank you.

BANFIELD: So, coming up next on "STARTING POINT," obviously, the latest on Whitney Houston's death investigation. Soledad O'Brien is going to talk to her godmother, Darlene Love. And also Reverend Jesse Jackson is going to talk about Whitney Houston. He honored Houston at the Newark church where she first started singing. You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: No bells, no whistles, just Whitney.

BANFIELD: Just pure, unadulterated talent, the likes of which we may not see for a very long time, if at all, in our lifetime. That's the news from A to Z. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien coming up next. I hear you have a lot of Whitney music this morning.

O'BRIEN: Yes. You know, we are going to devote and dedicate our morning playlist to Whitney Houston.

SAMBOLIN: Nice.

BANFIELD: It's nice.

O'BRIEN: That's how we like to do it here at "STARTING POINT."

SAMBOLIN: Great idea.

O'BRIEN: People have been singing along because, really, it was Whitney's voice that we all love.