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Candidates Debate At Crucial Moment; Romney's Biggest Misconception; Lacrosse Player Murder Trial; FDA Panel Backs Diet Pill; Home Prices Lowest in 10 Years; Candidates Debate at Crucial Moment; Bobbi Kristina's "Out of Control"; UC Davis Students Sue Over Pepper Spraying; Utah Senate Passes Tanning Bill

Aired February 23, 2012 - 06:00   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And a very good morning to you. It is a very EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're bringing you the news from A to Z. It is 6 a.m. in the east so let's get started for you.

Five days until the Arizona and Michigan primaries. Mitt Romney on the attack in last night's debate here on CNN against the latest challenger sitting at the top Rick Santorum trying to end his losing streak.

BANFIELD: Jury finally came to a decision, but it really didn't take long. This young man, college lacrosse player, George Huguely, officially now a murderer, a second degree murderer, after the killing of his ex-girlfriend in a drunken jealous rage.

The jury has recommended against a maximum sentence, but wait until you hear how long they think he should be behind bars.

SAMBOLIN: There's a lot of talk about this new magic diet pill that is getting the nod now. Still there are some safety concerns out there particularly for women who want to become pregnant and also concern for the safety for your heart, as well.

BANFIELD: Baby you can drive my car. You just have to fill it up because I'm not going to pay for your gas at 6 bucks a gallon in some places. Believe it or not.

It is a reality. Don't worry, though. It's not going to be fixed necessarily where you are. But it is up another 3 cents just as you slept overnight. Can anyone stop the spike in the price at the pump? We'll tell you how much it is across the country.

SAMBOLIN: If they could, I'm sure they would.

But up first, the dual in the desert. Big debate held here on CNN last night with John King. Just five days until Arizona and Michigan, the primaries there. Rick Santorum getting his turn at the top. Will he stay there is the big question, right? BANFIELD: I'm not so sure he pulled it off and a lot of the critics aren't so sure either. In fact, a lot of people were saying it was a big fizzle, depends, though. Depends on how you feel what they were talking about.

In Mitt Romney's home state, Michigan, of course, they were watching like hawks because he has been talking about the auto bailout there. He's been pushing on the earmarks issue. Both of these guys were going after each other on their records with people's money and of course, their votes in Congress and while they were governor, et cetera.

Sometimes the crowd was applauding and cheering and sometimes the crowd was actually booing. So, if you missed it, we have the highlights for you. Have a look.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: While I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the bridge to nowhere.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You're entitled to your opinions, Mitt.

ROMNEY: I heard that line before.

SANTORUM: You're misrepresenting the facts and you're misrepresenting the facts. You don't know what you're talking about.

Yes, Governor, you balanced the budget for four years. You have a constitutional requirement to balance the budget for four years. No great shapes. I'm all for -- I'd like to see it federally.

But don't go around bragging about something you have to do. Michael Dukakis balanced the budget for 10 years. Does that make him qualified to be president of the United States? I don't think so.


BANFIELD: Did you see them sitting beside each other and not standing at podiums? This is something kind of new. The "New York Times" actually characterized it that they seem like squirmy school children crunched into classroom desks.

I'm sure it was more uncomfortable than even that if you're on the stage. Our CNN political editor, Paul Steinhauser, has not only watched it all live in Mesa, Arizona. He's still in Mesa, Arizona getting up at the crack. Well, it's not even close to dawn in Mesa, Arizona, but he's joining us now.


BANFIELD: It is not even close. You know, in Australia, they say that there is a tall poppy syndrome. When you start to get to be the taller poppy, the whacker comes along and takes you down. Is that really what we see here with Rick Santorum and his performance last night?

STEINHAUSER: Yes, you know, for the first time in 20 debates, he was the man in the middle and yes, he did get some whacking, I guess, you could see from Mitt Romney.

Listen, if this debate at the Mesa Art Center, behind me here, was the last one in this cycle. It was a good one to go out. We had drama. We had conflict and yes, it's centered on Santorum and Romney kind of forced Santorum to defend himself of some issues that maybe unpopular with conservatives.

Like Santorum's support of no child left behind, his support of Planned Parenthood funding, his support of earmarks and his support of Arlen Specter back in 2004 and Romney also pointed out this to Rick Santorum. Take a listen.


ROMNEY: Let's not forget that four years ago, well after Romney care was put in place, four years ago, not only endorsed me, and this is the guy who is really conservative and we can trust him.


STEINHAUSER: There you go. Take that, Rick Santorum. Listen, I spoke to a top Santorum aide after the debate was over and he said, listen, not my candidate's best debate, but he said, nobody hit a home run, they were not that concerned -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Not only that, Paul, but you had to sort to be a super wonk to sort through all of the big hits last night and while it was a lot of fun to watch and actually a bit of a puzzle, do you think that what they did will actually resonate with the average guy out there? Will they get it? Will Romney be able to sort of say, I really kind of hit it out of the park?

STEINHAUSER: Yes, you know what? Romney did not have his best performance. That is definitely the case, but he didn't have any big screw ups either and I guess, that was enough.

His job of taking Santorum down was successful enough. That's all he had to do. He didn't have to raise the bar that high. Also he took a page out of Newt Gingrich's playbook. Take a listen to this.


ROMNEY: We have to restore America's promise in this country where people know with hard work and education that they're going to be secure and prosperous, and that their kids will have a brighter future than they've had.

For that to happen, we're going to have to have dramatic, fundamental change in Washington, D.C. We're going to have to create more jobs, have less debt and shrink the size of government. I'm the only person in this place -- JOHN KING, HOST, CNN'S "JOHN KING USA": The question is misconception.

ROMNEY: You know, you get to ask the questions you want and I get to give the answers I want.

KING: Fair enough.


STEINHAUSER: Take that, John King. You know, Newt Gingrich was successful going after the moderators. Mitt Romney did that last night with our John King.

Romney advisors say you can imagine, Ashleigh, were pretty happy after the debate was over saying they are confident now. They're going to win Michigan and Arizona.

And for Gingrich, yes, he was a side show as was Ron Paul. But let's be honest, Newt Gingrich had a pretty good debate. Was it enough to get him back in the game? That's debatable.

BANFIELD: Always a popular strategy to take a hit when you can at the media. So they got that one in there again. And by the way, apart from you being a super wonk, I believe John King trumps all of us in super wonking us.

STEINHAUSER: Hands down, he sure does.

BANFIELD: Paul Steinhauser, thanks for getting up so early. It's nice to see you.

SAMBOLIN: It is 8 minutes past the hour here.

Former University of Virginia lacrosse player found guilty in the murder of his ex-girlfriend. George Huguely convicted of second degree murder in the death of Yeardley Love.

The jury recommended a sentence of 26 years in prison. CNN legal contributor, Paul Callan is here. Paul, second degree murder and facing 26 years in prison, are you surprised by the verdict?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: No, I'm not surprised by the verdict. It essentially was a compromise by the jury. The prosecutor was seeking murder one, which would have meant life in prison.

The defense was hoping for manslaughter, which could have meant as little as 10 years in prison and the jury found middle ground, but they found, basically, this was an intentional murder. When he struck her and beat her in the room and left her to die that he knew that he was killing her and that was the ultimate conclusion of the jury here.

SAMBOLIN: You know, when we listen to the details of this murder case, you know, we discuss all the legal issues all the time, but a family here lost a daughter, lost a sister. Do we have any reaction from them? CALLAN: Well, there has been a reaction and you know, I thought, Ashleigh, the prosecutor, Mr. Chatman said it all yesterday and he said that, you know, there were no winners in this case. There was tragedy on both sides.

It's a tragedy for the Huguely family. It's a horrible, horrible tragedy for the Love family and you know, ultimately Huguely will wind up spending most of the rest of his life in prison and this wonderful daughter that the Love family had is gone. So, you know, this is just a horrible tragedy for all concerned.

SAMBOLIN: And there's some talk from Huguely's lawyer that, you know, they're looking forward to some corrections in what happened here. That's what they're going to be looking for. What legal options does he have?

CALLAN: Well, Huguely's lawyer is hinting, of course, that he is going to take an appeal after the sentence in the case. The judge is going to sentence Huguely in April and he can sentence him up to the amount recommended by the jury, which is 26 years in prison, but later there will be an appeal.

I don't know that there's a lot to reverse this case on. One of the criticisms may have been that the prosecutor got a little too emotional in his summation. He actually cried in front of the jury. Something you almost never see a prosecutor do.

I'm sure there will be a claim that he injected too much emotion into the proceedings causing the jury to reach the wrong verdict, but that is a hard road to follow.

There was very, very strong evidence for the prosecution here. There had been a threat to kill by Huguely the day before. Huguely was a trained lacrosse player, a nationally ranked lacrosse player.

A very, very big guy who knows how to be violent and he used that violence against Yeardley Love. So there's adequate evidence to support this conviction. So I kind of doubt that you're going to see a reversal of this if an appeal is taken.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Paul Callan, CNN legal contributor. Thanks for coming in early for us.

CALLAN: Nice being with you, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

BANFIELD: It's 11 minutes now past 6:00. We always talk about the magic pill that will melt of all the pounds. So you can just eat all the pizza you want and still not suffer when you step on the scale, but the pill was rejected once. So, why is it safe now?

SAMBOLIN: That's a good question. We're going to try to find the answer to that. But first, let's get a quick check of your travel forecast. Rob Marciano live for us in Atlanta. Hi.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, good morning again, guys. Pretty active weather pattern shaping up. Tremendous amount of wind yesterday. Take a look at these numbers, 90 plus in Wyoming and Colorado. Not just the higher elevations, but some of the low country, as well.

It's 88-mile-per-hour gusts in boulder and at times, sustained as near some of these levels a lot of wind damage and roads closed because of that. That wind energy comes into the plains today and another front of severe weather across parts of the eastern third.

And also a decent amount of snow forecast for parts of the high plains and the western great lakes. Some of our computer models predicting four to six to eight inches of snow just north of Omaha, but Chicago you could see six to ten inches of snow by this time tomorrow morning.

Temperatures will be cooling there, 41 degrees in Chicago. You'll be on the warm side in New York. All rain when it gets to you tomorrow night, 55 degrees for the high temperature in the big apple today. EARLY START coming right back.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 15 minutes past the hour. Here it's time to check the stories that are making news this morning.

BANFIELD: It was a bit tense, I think you could say, at the final CNN GOP Debate for Arizona and Michigan Super Tuesday. Contests come rolling around and Mitt Romney battling with his latest super challenger, Rick Santorum, over spending and voting and just about anything else they could come up with. Both the candidates having to awkwardly sit next to each other are locked in a pretty darn tight race for the next two states.

Also making news and this one is really intriguing. The U.S. envoy is meeting with North Korean officials today. Not happening there, it's happening in Beijing. But nonetheless, they're going to discuss whether North Korea is willing to suspend its nuclear program. Officials are also going to be talking about human rights and humanitarian issues. Good luck with that.

Bankruptcy judge is approving some $370,000 in bonuses. Yes, you're seeing the sign on your screen saying Solyndra. It's for nearly two dozen employees at that controversial company. The solar panel company that got $500 million loan before it just went ahead and declared bankruptcy, and reports say that some of those same employees who were about to get the bonuses approved by a judge just got pay raises of up to 70 percent. So that should get your blood boiling.

SAMBOLIN: There could soon be a new diet pill on the market. It's the first new diet drug in 13 years and it's called Qnexa. An FDA panel just backed it. So a big question here, could it be the magic pill to control obesity? We've got an expert to weigh in on this morning. Joining us now, Dr. Louis Aronne, Director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at New York's Presbyterian, Weill Cornell Medical Center. That is a mouthful. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.


SAMBOLIN: Good morning. So first, we want to talk about the results and then we'll talk about the possible side effects here. So there were some clinical trials. What were the results in terms of weight loss?

ARONNE: The studies that were presented to the FDA were in more than 3,000 people and they showed that the average person lost about 10 percent of their body weight. That's a really good result for medical treatment of obesity.

SAMBOLIN: So, this is not the first time that the drug has been up for approval. A company behind it submitted the drug to the FDA back in 2010. Back then it was actually rejected. What has changed since then?

ARONNE: Several things have changed. First of all, it's our attitude towards obesity. We recognize that obesity is a major health problem (ph) on the healthcare system and on individuals who are not making any progress by telling people to eat less and exercise more. And, secondly, the only options we have beyond that are surgical. So, we've got to do something else.

The second thing is there's new data. There's up to two-year data showing on Qnexa showing that it's effective out to two years and that there's a good safety profile.

SAMBOLIN: But there are some risks. You said safety profile, but I was reading risks to women who potentially want to have children and then also something about a risk to the heart.

ARONNE: Well, when we look at the safety in women who could be having a child, that's something where a strong education program and limited distribution can prevent that from happening. Only certain pharmacies will carry Qnexa and those pharmacists will be instructed who can get it and they wouldn't give it to women who could potentially have a problem with it.

Secondly, as far as the heart issues are concerned, Qnexa lowers blood pressure and has many other potentially beneficial effects, but the FDA has recommended that an outcome study where we look at how people do in the long run. Do they have heart attacks, strokes, that will be done once the drug is approved.

SAMBOLIN: But what are the short term results? I thought I read something about heart palpitations.

ARONNE: Those - there are some side effects like that that may be seen. But in general, the overall cardiovascular profile is beneficial. One of the outcomes of the study was looking at do people have more or less heart attacks and strokes?

And actually people who were on the Qnexa group who lost 10 percent more weight than people in the group that got a placebo pill had fewer heart attacks and strokes, about half as many. So it looks pretty good.

SAMBOLIN: All right. I got one last question for you. Because a lot of people are going to want to know it was an FDA advisory panel that approved to this. So it's not on market right away. When do you think it could make it to market?

ARONNE: Well, the FDA now has to make the final decision and that is going to take at least two months. And after that, it may take a few more months. So, I wouldn't expect it for at least three to six months and then it could be available. But this is not something that you're just going to go to your local pharmacy and get. SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much, Dr. Louis Aronne. Thanks for coming in this morning.

ARONNE: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Still ahead, the hits and the misses from last night's CNN GOP Debate. Did the roller coaster ride take another turn?

And also, some brand-new concerns over Whitney Houston's daughter, Bobbi Kristina. Reports that her drug problems are, quote, "out of control."

You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Twenty-three minutes past the hour here. Welcome back to EARLY START.

Home prices fell to their lowest point in more than 10 years in January. This is according to a new report from the National Association of Realtors. This report says the average price for a home fell to $154,700 last month, that's the lowest since November of 2001.

BANFIELD: I don't know that I always believe them. They're not always so accurate.

SAMBOLIN: You know who you do believe, Ms. Christine Romans, right?

BANFIELD: I believe everything Christine Romans says, and you're - and especially when you have a data wall to back you up.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I know. I know I've got a data wall with lots of different sources of data. So we can make sure we really cover our bases here. BANFIELD: So Christine, what's the deal? I mean, look, is it - is it a great thing because you can buy a house cheaper? Is it an awful thing because you're going to lose money to sell your house?

ROMANS: It depends if you're a buyer or seller, right? And it depends on where in the country you live, because all real estate is local.

But first I want to show you what it looks like according to the National Association of Realtors. You know, you talked about that 2001 November. Remember, we were all in shock from September 11th. It was a decade ago. The whole world was a different place then and that's where home prices are now.

You look at this chart, you could see where we've come from the peak in prices in 2007 when you had prices that were well over $200,000 on average for a price of a house, and now you're more like $154,000, so that's real money that has really hurt people.

But let's take a look at where things are going now. This is where I'm going to bring in Zillow. It's another - another source of data on home prices. So, 2011, according to Zillow, the average - the price - the medium price, home prices down about five percent on average in this country. And they're saying 2012, this year, where are we going? Probably down another almost four percent.

But it depends on where you live. You guys know this. Real estate is so wildly different. So I want to break this down to you and show you according to Zillow where things are still falling, where home prices are still falling. Places like Atlanta, you could see another 8.5 percent drop in the medium price of the home.

Chicago, Zoraida, down about -

SAMBOLIN: I don't want to hear.

ROMANS: I know - about eight percent. Seattle, Cleveland, Sacramento, St. Louis, Minneapolis, St. Paul, these are parts of the country where home prices are still falling.

So let's take a look at where things appear to be bottoming out. Places like Dallas Ft. Worth, also San Diego, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, probably wouldn't lose any more ground.

And then you look at places where prices are rising, where the bottom is probably in and things are getting a little better. How about Baltimore, Maryland, Riverside, California, Phoenix, which has had a huge crisis there in housing and foreclosure. So there are a few places, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., as well, where prices are starting to move a little bit higher.

But, again, it's been a very tough road, but many people are saying that with home prices so low and with mortgage rates at rock bottom, it's a good time to buy if you're in the right position.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Christine Romans, thank you very much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BANFIELD: I still wanted to know where New York was on that. Was New York on that gauge?

ROMANS: New York, let me look, New York, New York.

BANFIELD: I always love New York prices.

ROMANS: I know.

BANFIELD: It's just - it's just fun to watch.

ROMANS: There it is, down 1.7 percent.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, wow.

ROMANS: So I would call that on the cusp between bottoming out and still a little bit weak. All right, there you go.

BANFIELD: Thanks for that. You are fast. That's little print. Small print. You don't even wear glasses.

ROMANS: I know Dean (ph) found it actually. He went right to it with the camera and then I follow like a little puppy.

BANFIELD: All right. Since we're talking money, let's talk about money and politics and how they have been battling it out, especially last night. The candidates just hammering each other at the CNN Debate.

Newt Gingrich even going so far to push the president for supporting what he said was legalized and fantasize (ph). Is that fair? We're going to break down the key moments in a moment.

SAMBOLIN: And Michael Jordan suing a Chinese company for identity theft. We're going to get to the bottom of that.

You are watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Hi, welcome back. It is 6:30 a.m. on the East Coast. Nice to have you here with us. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: Hi. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

It is time to check the stories that are making news this morning.

Rick Santorum's spending record as a senator under attack at the final CNN GOP debate before key primaries in Arizona and Michigan. And, of course, all the Super Tuesday states. Mitt Romney leading that attack, hoping to pull ahead, again.

George Huguely is now waiting sentencing for second murder in the death of ex-girlfriend and Yeardley Love. A jury has recommended 26 years in prison. A judge will decide his fate in April.

A Connecticut hospital worker is in custody this morning for allegedly shooting two supervisors. Police say it happened after a disciplinary dispute. The shooting victims are reported in serious, but stable condition.

BANFIELD: Some changes to a controversial Virginia bill requiring women to have ultrasounds prior to undergoing an abortion. The bill still requires that the ultrasounds happen, but at least lawmakers now say they're changing it so only the less intrusive abdominal ultrasounds are used.

Eight more bodies found in the wreckage of that Italian cruise ship that ran aground, the Costa Concordia. That means now 25 people are confirmed dead, seven people still missing. Italian authorities have now expanded their investigation and, guess what? Seven more ship employees are now suspected of manslaughter, shipwreck and failing to alert authorities -- facing charges.

Michael Jordan, superstar, now suing a Chinese sporting goods company for using his good name to sell shoes -- but not his official shoes. Along with his number, 23, apparently Jordan says this is not about the money, about principle and protecting his good name and his brand.

SAMBOLIN: It is 32 minutes after the hour, the latest debate before the contest that could change everything. It was right here on CNN.

BANFIELD: You couldn't miss it. It was loud, boisterous, and real, real wonky. Mitt Romney versus Rick Santorum is what the headline really comes out to be.

By the way, if you look at the front page of "New York Times," that's all you get -- the two guys. There were four on stage, but the two guys were really the headlines.

And it really comes at a crucial time for Mitt Romney, as well, because he's just trying to recapture all that mojo that he was getting leading up to all of this. The mojo -- is his mojo rising especially with endorsements?

Let's go to our panel, shall we?

Republican Matt Keelen is joining. Democratic strategist Penny Lee is also with us. And Anna Palmer is a money and politics reporter for "Politico".

So, first things first, guys, it was just breaking this morning, that we have another endorsement rolling in for Mitt Romney and it's where he needs it, in Michigan, where he was born and grew up.

This one is the "Detroit Free Press" giving him an endorsement, but with reservations, and this follows yesterday's "Detroit News" endorsement.

But, Matt, did the endorsements matter at this point and have they mattered along the way?

MATT KEELEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Ashleigh, I don't think endorsements from newspapers are a big deal. Some local politicians, the governor of Michigan is probably a bigger endorsement that Romney has got. And as you said, Romney needs to start getting the momentum back and really needs to start taking the race to the president instead of Santorum and the other Republicans.

BANFIELD: So, a lot of us were wondering what kind of fireworks and sparky moments might actually recapture momentum for any of these four. I want to play this particular moment. This is where Mitt Romney was going hard at earmarks with Rick Santorum, have a peek.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our games are successful. But while I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the bridge to nowhere.


BANFIELD: Penny Lee, that was just a quick snippet, but you get the idea. Do you think that was a little home run?

PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It was a great sound bite. But why did Mitt Romney who wants to run as the outside Washington get into a debate about the arcane process of earmarks for goodness sakes? I mean, that just, you know, put him into places that he never should have been.

Again, he missed an opportunity to kind of lift the debate and actually speak to the American people about his vision. He has a 59- point vision to take this country in a direction on economics. Didn't mention it once. Instead, he got into this kind of verbal battle and really lost an opportunity.

BANFIELD: All right. Anna, so jump in on that. Is it fair to call you a super wonk, as well? Since you do politics reporting. You must have been in your element watching this stuff last night.

But, you know what? For the average guy out there, they're probably like, ear -- what? Voting records on who? Why aren't these guys just telling me like it is?

ANNA PALMER, MONEY AND POLITICS REPORTER, POLITICO: Absolutely. I think it was a real missed opportunity. I mean, both -- first of all, there was no love lost between Santorum or Romney, and they kind of hate each other. But really on, you know, voting and how many votes it takes to get a Supreme Court, you know, nominee. Those kinds of issues aren't things that are going to win voters at the polls next week.

BANFIELD: OK. So, let me play this other little moment. This might be more of what some of the average guys out there really do respond to. It's when the audience responds. Sometimes cheering, sometimes booing.

This is a moment when Rick Santorum was trying to fend off the attacks of support at one point for Title X, which funds Planned Parenthood. Have a listen to how he tried to sort of push back to Mitt Romney.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think I was making it clear why I have a personal objection to it, even though I don't support it I voted for bills that included it and I made it clear in subsequent interviews that I don't support that. I never supported it. And on an individual basis, have voted against it.


BANFIELD: Matt, you know, he made a good point and, yet, that audience, which is primarily made up of Republicans and a bunch of journalists still booed.

So, is that where it is at when you hedge a little and have to fudge around something and you get a -- I'm not buying it?

KEELEN: Well, it sounded a lot John Kerry's I voted for before I voted against it back in 2004. And as Penny said earlier, they got into the weeds of policy debates and the average voter looks at this thing and says, well, tell me how you're going to make my life better over the next four years and not earmarks and how you voted for this and you didn't mean to vote for that.

They need to get back to the substance of taking on the president and they're going to continue to see their negatives go up.

BANFIELD: All right. Anybody want, you can all chime in at once. Any winners, yes or no?


LEE: Barack Obama.

BANFIELD: Well, I wasn't expecting that. But, OK, I'll take that.

LEE: His numbers keep going up, the more debates are out there.

BANFIELD: Isn't that funny how you're the Democrat on the panel?

LEE: Go figure.

BANFIELD: Penny and Matt and Anna -- it's nice to see you all. Thanks for getting up with us.

KEELEN: Good morning.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-seven minutes past the hour here.

Whitney Houston's only daughter reportedly in a bad way. A new "Us Weekly" story says she is facing, quote, "out-of-control problems." The "Us Weekly" senior editor is going to join us and tell us why family members are very concerned about this young girl.

You are watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: It is 40 minutes past the hour.

And there are new concerns this morning about the health and welfare of Whitney Houston's only child. According to some reports, family members are pretty worried about 18-year-old Bobbi Kristina Brown.

SAMBOLIN: Sources tell "Us Weekly" magazine that, quote, "Bobbi's problems are out of control." And that story is in the new issue. You're taking a look at it there.

Joining us this morning, Bradley Jacobs, senior editor at "Us Weekly."

Thanks for getting up early with us this morning.


SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you.

We have gotten some glimpses of Bobbi since her mother's death. I'm going to put one up here. Probably the one we have seen the most. This shot of her actually going to the funeral.

We've heard a lot of stories about her. We know she was hospitalized a couple times shortly after her mother's death.

What do you know about her health and her state of mind?

JACOBS: Remember, this girl is 18 years old, and she's been sort of, you know, out of the picture for a while, just living her life with her home in Los Angeles. She hasn't really been around Cissy and the rest of the family too much.

Only now have the whole family that this girl has been having problems for a while. There had been alcohol problems. Her mom and she fought a lot. Her mother wanted her to get help and that was a big source of tension between them.

Also, Whitney and Bobbi Kristina always behaved more like girlfriends than mother and daughter, which contributed to their kind of strange dynamic.

SAMBOLIN: There were some reports that she disappeared after the funeral. That Bobbi Kristina did. That she did not attend the post-funeral dinner.

Some folks are saying that she was found in a hotel room, perhaps doing drugs. What do you know about that?

JACOBS: There was a "Daily Beast" report. They said that they had two sources saying that she did disappear to do drugs afterward and that she couldn't be reached. Her cell phone was turned off. The family has disputed that.

But what is not in dispute is that Bobbi Kristina has a lot of issues, problems that she's going through for a while. She'd like to emulate her parents' lifestyle. She saw her parents doing drugs and she, you know, wanted to live that lifestyle. She had aspirations to be a musician and an actress like her mom.

And it's been troubling in the family and they've been urging her to get help for a long time.

SAMBOLIN: Now, you mention she's 18 years old. She's turning 19 actually in March. Is somebody in her family trying to take control? And can they, given her age?

JACOBS: Well, she is almost 19, as you say. I mean, she's an adult. She can do what she wants. You know, she was very close with her mom.

She is, you know, she does see her dad. There were pictures Bobby Brown, Whitney and Bobbi Kristina out to dinner in Beverly Hills just a week before Whitney died.

So, she is in contact with them. Of course, we all know about the Houston family. They're a big family. They're important and warm family.

And I think that Bobbi Kristina has been here on the East Coast since the funeral, of course, since all this happened with her mom, and they're doing their best to look after her. But she is an adult and she can behave as she chooses.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Bradley Jacobs, senior editor, "Us Weekly" -- thank you for your time this morning.

JACOBS: Thank you.

BANFIELD: It's now 44 minutes past the hour. Time to get you caught up on the top stories if you're trying to make your way out the door.

The final four in the GOP presidential race squared off one last time here on CNN, before the next crucial wave of primaries and caucuses, including big old Super Tuesday, which is right around the corner. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum just going at it, going after each other on everything -- taxes, spending, voting, as they battle for Michigan and Arizona, two big prizes.

At least 29 people were killed overnight in Baghdad in a series of terror attacks in that country. There had been no claims of responsibility yet, but authorities in Iraq say the wave of bombings and shootings appear to be a coordinated effort by militants there.

And the jury in the University of Virginia lacrosse murder case has recommended 26 years for that young man on your screen, George Huguely. He was found guilty of the lesser count of second degree murder in the killing of his ex-girlfriend, Yeardley Love.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Nineteen students and alumni from the University of California Davis are suing the school over that right there, remember that? The campus crackdown on occupy protests last fall?

BANFIELD: Oh, I hate looking at that.

SAMBOLIN: Campus police pepper sprayed the sitting protesters who had set up an occupy camp back in November.

And Utah Senate approved tougher tanning laws. They passed a bill requiring minors to have parental permission for each visit to a tanning salon. The bill now goes to the House.

BANFIELD: Snooki will not go to Utah. I bet. I'll bet you.

SAMBOLIN: And tonight, Lin-sanity meets LeBron as the New York Knicks star, Jeremy Lin, is taking his talents to south beach now where the Knicks meet LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Can't wait to see what happens there.

BANFIELD: He's a big deal. Yes.

SAMBOLIN: Which one?

BANFIELD: Yes, I know, right.


SAMBOLIN: They're both a big deal.

BANFIELD: Who's going to get more ink?


SAMBOLIN: One is more of a proven deal than the other one, right?

BANFIELD: Soledad O'Brien, the inkiest of all of us, gets all that press for all the fabulous reporting. No, hey, look, your interviews get traction, my girl.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST: Well, thank you, but I was trying to decide if I thought that LeBron James is, you know -- I don't know, that's a tough match-up.

Coming up at the top of the hour, 15 minutes or so on "STARTING POINT," we're going to be remembering a fearless war correspondent, Marie Colvin. As we told you yesterday, she was killed while telling the world about the horrors that were unfolding in front of her in Syria. We're going to talk to her mother live this morning.

Also, can you kick the habit cold turkey? Apparently, there's a pill for that. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to join us to talk about how we can help alcoholics and other people who are suffering from addiction. Those stories and much more on "Starting Point" at the top of the hour. EARLY START is back right after this commercial break.


BANFIELD: Good morning, Orlando. Katy Perry is waking you up with "Part of Me." Orlando, you look a little cloudy. Sixty-six degrees. You know, it's hazy because they're going to have isolated storms, but they'll be 86 degrees. So, there's that trade off. You have to have the storms --

SAMBOLIN: I'll take the 86 degrees.


BANFIELD: No kidding.

SAMBOLIN: Fifty minutes past the hour. President Obama will address the skyrocketing gas prices later today. Right now, gas prices are the highest that they have ever been in February, and we all know they are getting higher.

BANFIELD: I get sick of hearing that. I don't know about you, but AAA says they jumped more than 3 cents just as you were sleeping. So, good morning. And there is talk of the prices going up another 20 cents by Monday. Yes. There's that for your weekend to contemplate.

In Orlando, Florida, they're already paying $6 a gallon at one station there. And there are new fears that higher gasoline costs could affect the economy and the outcome of the presidential election, as well. Man, oh, man, Jim Lacamp of Macro Portfolio Advisors.

It's a good thing you're here with us today, because a lot of people are jumping at their pitch forks, and they want to go somewhere and complain to someone. So, who should they be complaining to, Jim?

JIM LACAMP, SR. VP, MACRO PORTFOLIO ADVISORS: Well, actually, it's a perfect storm, Ashleigh, for oil prices, because there's a lot of reasons why oil and gasoline prices are going up, and a lot of people point to concerns about Israel and Iran or the fact that there's sanctions on Iran that ships out a lot of oil. Some people point to increase demand from around the world like places like in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

The fact of the matter is, one of the big reasons is that we have ultralow interest rates, not only here, but around the world. And when you have ultra low interest rates, what happen is, unfortunately, small business owners and medium size business owners that you'd like to see take advantage of that aren't, because they don't have enough demand to justify increasing their business through loans. So, what we're seeing happen is big institutions and speculators and hedge funds are using ultralow interest rates to borrow money to buy things like oil and gas and silver and gold and other commodities and that's driving the price up. So, even though --

BANFIELD: You kind of lost me there. You're so incredibly smart, but you did really lose me there for a bit. Are you telling me that they're kind of doing some hedge investing? They're borrowing money to invest in oil and gas? Is that what you're saying (ph)?

LACAMP: Yes. What we're seeing happen is that ultralow interest rates are designed to boost the economy. But instead of boosting the economy, what's happening is they're driving up the prices of commodity.

And the way that it works is hedge funds and speculators and even pension plans are saying, look, we can borrow money very, very cheaply and use that money to invest in things that might go up in value or up in price. And oftentimes, these include hard assets like commodities, which include gold and silver and oil and gas.

BANFIELD: OK. So, if that's the case, and I'm just thinking about all those mortgage-backed securities which are so popular, too. Is there a possibility that that kind of speculation could burst, and the bubble would actually benefit all of us if it does burst and prices would go down?

LACAMP: Well, what you're talking about, and that's a very good point. The reason that housing prices haven't gone up because of ultralow interest rates is because there's already too much debt in the housing system. Now, could too much speculation in oil and gas lead to a burst in these prices?

Yes, it could, but, unfortunately, what we could see happen first is another spike like we saw in 2007 and that really derailed our economic recovery at that point. So, that's what I'm concerned about is, sometimes, when you start to see these prices move up, it causes even more speculators to come in and jump on the band wagon and that pushes prices even higher. So, this is what I'm concerned about.

BANFIELD: Well, Jim Lacamp, you have thoroughly flummox (ph) to me now. I thought I had it all figured out with Iran and with supply and demand and the Strait of Hormuz, and there you go with hedge funds. Thanks a bunch.

LACAMP: It's all tied together. It's not mutually exclusive, unfortunately.

BANFIELD: Yes. It's nice to see you. Thanks for coming in, sir. Appreciate it, Jim.

LACAMP: Thanks for having me.

BANFIELD: Jim Lacamp joining us live.

SAMBOLIN: OK. So, we're going to clear up the confusion. (LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: Christine Romans is going to weigh in, as well.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting because it is all tied together. I mean, you got speculators who are looking at what's happening in the world and they're saying, we think that oil is going to be higher before it's lower, and we got a lot of money to invest. So, we're going to buy hard assets.

We're going to buy things that you really can touch and feel like silver, like gold, like gas, like oil contracts. And so, you got activity in the future's market that's telling us that this fear over Iran is driving up prices more than they probably should be based on supply and demand, but you always have speculation in the oil markets, you always do.

And whenever they go up, when oil prices go up, we all start screaming about investors who are driving up the price of oil. One thing that's really interesting to me is that demand in this country for gasoline is not up.

BANFIELD: It's down. People are jumping their Hummers.

ROMANS: That's the interesting thing about this. So, there's kind of this moment in the oil markets where we're watching it go up and it's making people a little bit concerned. But again, I'm going to go back to Tom (INAUDIBLE) last hour. He's from the Oil Price Information Service.

He says, don't get hysterical. He thinks $3.75 to 4.25 is where gasoline is going to settle out. You know, fill up today. All you can do is fill up today. Unless, you got a million dollars in the bank and you want to go buy oil futures, I mean, I'm not even sure that's a sure bet either, because you guys such a big round up that --

BANFIELD: And fill up today with 100 cans that you can store in your basement.


ROMANS: Don't put gasoline in your basement.

BANFIELD: Come on! I'm kidding.

SAMBOLIN: Christine, thank you.


BANFIELD: All right. Christine Romans doing the job for us this morning.

And still ahead, a whole bunch more on "STARTING POINT." Rick Santorum and President Obama under attack from last night's debate. We're going to hear from both campaigns.

SAMBOLIN: And cold turkey in a pill? Why not just shut off addiction? Dr. Gupta investigates.


BANFIELD: And that is EARLY START, the news from A to Z. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And "STARTING POINT" is next with Soledad O'Brien.

O'BRIEN: Hi, ladies. Good morning. Nice to see you.