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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Interview with Congressman Jason Chaffetz; Obama Apologizes for Koran Burning; Interview With Rep. Elijah Cummings; Jobless Claims Remain Low; Interview with Former Chair of Arizona Republican Party; Two Journalists Killed in Syria; Remembering Marie Colvin; Seven U.S. Marines Killed in Yuma, Arizona; GOP Candidates Describe Themselves in One Word

Aired February 23, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good morning, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning is Mitt Romney and his ability or lack of ability to connect. Did he do it in last night's debate? We're going to talk about that.

He did bring some heat at point. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you have not supported him, if we had said no to Arlen Specter we would not have Obamacare. So, don't look at me. Take a look at the mirror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Read well with the audience.

All right. That's an interesting match there. Did Romney succeed in turning things around? We're going to talk about that this morning.

Plus, she says she wants to speak up for women on Capitol Hill. We'll talk to a woman who was not invited to last week's conversation about religious liberty and also contraception. She's going to be here talking about on the Hill today though. We'll chat with her about what she's planning to say.

And gas prices going up, up, up again. The president is set to talk about it. But no surprise, not going to be taking the blame on that one. Will we pay more? I'm going to go with probably yes.

STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Devo. Is this the only song that the Congressman Jason Chaffetz listens to? Because when we were at CPAC with him -- I think secretly he listens to this song every morning.

Welcome back, everybody.

Let me re-introduce you to our panel.

We've got Marc Lamont Hill. He's a professor at Columbia University, with us this morning. And Maggie Haberman is a senior political writer at Politico.com. And Will Cain is a CNN contributor -- all on our panel.

Our STARTING POINT is this debate last night. It was kind of contentious at times but very key -- probably the last debate before the next primary, certainly.

Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum dominated the debate. It was interesting to see John King have to invite at times Ron Paul, invite Newt Gingrich in to have a comment. Both, of course, are battling for front-runner status. They went toe to toe on spending records, and conservative records, and presidential credentials is the word I'm trying to say.

Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah is a Romney supporter and he is with us this morning.

Nice to see you. Is Devo the only song you listen to seriously?

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Twenty-four/seven. It's on my ear right now.

O'BRIEN: I knew it. I was saying that earlier. I knew that to be true.

It's nice to have you.

You know what I thought was interesting, last night at the end of the debate, John King turned to each of the candidates. He said, "Tell me what is the biggest misconception about you." Ron Paul says, "Listen, there's a misconception that I can't win." Newt Gingrich says, "Listen, there's a misconception that there's a lot of work to be done here and I'm a person who's done all this work over many years." And Rick Santorum said, "There's a mess conception that I'm not electable. And here's why the reasons why I'm electable."

And here is what your candidate, Mitt Romney, said in answer to the question. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: We've got to restore America's promise in this country where people know that 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 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 --

JOHN KING, CNN MODERATOR: Is there a misconception? The question is a misconception?

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

KING: Fair enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: I have so been there. You ask the questions and people just give the answers they want. Truly in all seriousness, Congressman, I thought it was a missed opportunity to say, you know, the misconception about me is that I don't connect. I really thought he was going to do that.

And when he went into this script it was like, what's he doing? Did you feel the same way when you saw that?

CHAFFETZ: Well, I felt like he was trying to say we have al these massive things before us and the misconception is that you can't lead to actually achieve and accomplish and overcome those challenges. So I think he was trying to make that point.

But, you know, this whole issue of can he connect or can he not, I would argue, he's connected better than anybody else in the race. If you take all the votes for Gingrich, and all the votes for Santorum, combine them, you still don't even come close to Mitt Romney.

So I would argue that he is connecting and that the more he talks about jobs, the economy, and how he differentiates himself on his background, I think you see people time and time again going Mitt Romney's way.

O'BRIEN: I'm not going to agree with you on that. I think there have been plenty of people who are conservatives, or Republicans, who would say connection is the big problem. In fact, he got this endorsement.

Do we have a shot of this endorsement? Throw that up on the screen.

And, you know, from "The Detroit Free Press". They're essentially endorsing Mitt Romney, but it's the most qualified endorsement. It's this, "For the past 12 months, Romney's been refashioning himself as something other than what his record suggests." It goes on and on and says, "This is a mistake he needs to correct." We're going to give him our endorsement, but here's what he needs to fix because we need to feel it from him is sort of how this endorsement reads.

CHAFFETZ: Well, I look at it and I see him as the most qualified person to be the president of the United States. He's got the right background.

I think he's -- you know, he gets a criticism sometimes unfairly. He's almost too perfect. He's got this wonderful, beautiful wife, this great family, this great business record. He's been highly successful in business. He's been very blessed in his life.

And people are trying to look for this fallacy that they can find. He's pretty darn good. And so, I think he tries to fight and overcome that. But he's just by far in my mind the best person to lead this nation.

O'BRIEN: Marc?

MARC LAMONT HILL, HOST, "OUR WORLD WITH BLACK ENTERPRISE": Congressman, Marc Lamont Hill. Part of the appeal of Mitt Romney early on was that he was the most electable, that he was the most moderate. But as the primary season has gone on he's had to take more and more right wing stances, more and extreme stances, particularly on things like immigration.

How's that going to help him if he makes it out of primary season and into the primary election? How is he going to appeal to same voters he may be alienating now?

CHAFFETZ: I don't think he's alienating people. Look, I'm the second most conservative person in the House of Representatives according to some of the analysis by Heritage Action and others. I've always viewed Mitt Romney as a very conservative person.

But, certainly, if you're getting elected as the governor of Massachusetts, you have an appeal to independents that I think as Republicans going into the general election is something that we're looking for. Who can attract independents, that middle 10 percent that often sways an election?

And I think that's why the White House is so afraid of Mitt Romney and why I'm so excited about Mitt Romney, because I think he brings conservative credentials but he also has that ability to attract the independents that are need in November.

O'BRIEN: Maggie?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, POLITICO: Congressman, there's been a lot of complaints from people like John McCain about the tone that's taken place in the primary over the last several weeks. Last night was not an exception.

Are you concerned about what you're hearing from all sides, including Mitt Romney, in terms of the tenor of discussion? There were a lot of shots thrown last night.

CHAFFETZ: There were a lot of shots. The debate number 20? I think Mitt Romney is spot on when he said, look, this sparring that we have in the party prepares us for going into November.

If you think the shots are tough now from a Republican colleague or some pundit out there, just wait until you're going up against Obama and the White House and the DCCC, and all of these massive things that will come upon this candidate.

So, I think the process helps kind of shake out the nuts, if you will, from the tree, but it also prepares the candidate for the rigors that are going to come this fall.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Who are nuts, Congressman? Who are the nuts?

(LAUGHTER)

CAIN: This is Will Cain.

Who are the nuts?

CHAFFETZ: Well, they've been shaken out. They've kind of gone to the side here. So --

HILL: Here's a good answer.

O'BRIEN: There you go.

I want to ask you a quick final question. Michigan is looking very, very tight in the polling between Santorum and Mitt Romney. We've talked in the past about what happens if, in fact, Mitt Romney loses what's considered to be his home state.

Tell me why -- and don't give me spin -- I want to really understand what's the difference in Arizona where in Arizona Mitt Romney's holding a sizeable lead. Why? What's working there that's not working in the state of Michigan?

CHAFFETZ: Well, I think in Michigan, it's a little bit different because Rick Santorum has really been big pro-labor. His votes in support -- against right to work play a bit differently in Michigan than they do in Arizona.

I think it's kind of one of the interesting things, right? Mitt Romney, is he conservative enough? Then he takes a very conservative viewpoint in opposing the auto bailout, and then he's kind of getting a little, you know, hit on that there in Michigan. So I think that's one of the differences.

Michigan's a little bit different because, remember, I think it's 13 congressional districts and you compete for your delegates by congressional districts. So it's going to be fascinating to see how that plays out.

But I think if you're worried about jobs and the economy, you want somebody from the outside to come beat Barack Obama, I think that's Mitt Romney.

I don't think that's just spin, that's what I really do believe.

O'BRIEN: And I believe you believe that.

Congressman Jason Chaffetz, nice to see you -- Republican from the state of Utah and Devo lover with us this morning. Appreciate it.

Christine Romans has other headlines for us.

Hey, Christine. Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad.

Breaking news for you this hour: President Obama now apologizing for the mistaken burning of the Muslim holy book at the main NATO airbase in Afghanistan. President Obama sent a letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, saying this incident was intentional, and pledging a full investigation. The Koran burning led to furious protests around Afghanistan.

Also, NATO says two troops were killed by someone wearing an Afghan national army uniform. This happened after the Taliban called on Afghans to kill foreign troops in the country as revenge.

Syria's government is expressing condolences to the families of two Western journalists. Syria denies reports it was responsible for the attack that killed them. A report in a British newspaper says intercepted military communications indicate these journalists were, quote, "deliberately targeted by Syrian troops."

Meantime, opposition protesters in Homs honored the American Marie Colvin and Frenchman Remi Ochlik with a makeshift memorial.

Coming up at the bottom of the hour, Soledad will talk to Marie Colvin's mother, Rosemarie Colvin.

Arrest in a death of a 9-year-old girl in Alabama. Savannah Hardin's stepmother and her grandmother are accused of forcing her to run for three hours until she collapsed and had a seizure. Prosecutors say the, quote, "all day marathon" was this little girl's punishment for taking a candy bar.

An autopsy found the girl died of extreme dehydration. Both women are now charged with murder.

Gas prices rising for the past 16 days. Up 3 cents in just the past 24 hours. Good morning. Your gas prices just rose.

The national average for a gallon of gas is now $3.61 a gallon. So, look at it this way. If you drive an economy size car with a 12- gallon tank, it costs you about $43 to fill up one tank of gas. If you have an SUV, I'm terribly sorry.

President Obama will talk gas prices and policy at the University of Miami this morning. He's expected to tout his administration's steps toward energy independence, including expansion of oil and gas production. The president has delved into U.S. oil reserves to help ease gas prices. He did that last year. It's a rare move.

But under pressure from environmentalists, he did not approve the Keystone pipeline plan which would have eventually given the U.S. cheaper access to Canada's oil. Although analysts say it would not affect gas prices for several years.

All right. Home prices falling 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 down 2 percent from December. It is the lowest price for a house since November of 2001.

I mean, think of that, 10 years of bubble gone in that market -- all the way back to 2001.

O'BRIEN: I'm still thinking about that story about that little girl.

ROMANS: I could hardly read it. I could hardly read it. It just makes me --

O'BRIEN: That's so awful. Dehydration.

ROMANS: Come on.

O'BRIEN: All right. Christine, thank you for the update.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT: she's being remembered for her bravery and her compassion as well. Reporter Marie Colvin, new details on how she was killed in Syria and her mother's going to join us a little bit later this hour to talk about her daughter.

Also, where are the women? Well, they're right here. Dems schedule their own contraception hearing on the Hill in response to the panel. The first panel was all male. Second panel had a couple women thrown in there.

We're going to talk to a woman who is going to speak later today. We'll get a preview of what she's going to be telling them at that hearing.

And another song, Congressman Jason Chaffetz. Even though he's not with us --

CAIN: He's gone but his music is not.

O'BRIEN: He's gone but his music plays on STARTING POINT: Here's "Jesse's Girl," Rick Springfield.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(LAUGHTER)

HILL: We need to find out who this was. Cowboy.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, you know? I like it. I was kind of slows things down a little in the morning.

HILL: Conservative. Cowboy rides away.

O'BRIEN: It's definitely stereotypically Texan.

HILL: Well, --

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I am what I am.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I was going to say, and I'm going to disagree with you on that.

All right. Let's talk about -- here's something that people don't argue over, the administration's controversial birth control policy. That's, obviously, sarcasm. An unofficial hearing organized by House Democrats is going to happen today, and there's just one woman who will set to testify.

Democrats say this is the woman who was denied a spot on a panel last week where they complained there were no women on the very first panel that ran that day. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CAROLYN B. MALONEY, (D) NEW YORK: What I want to know is where are the women? When I look at this panel, I don't se one single woman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That was Caroline Maloney, and she was mad saying that in the panels, there were two panels. The first panel had all men, five men. The second panel added two women to it. So, there were some women in the second panel. Some Democrats walked out of that hearing. Republicans say the hearing was about religious rights, not healthcare, and the Democrats' witness list wasn't submitted on time.

So, joining us this morning to discuss this further is Congressman Elijah Cummings. He's the ranking Democrat on that committee, and the woman who is set to testify today, Sandra Fluke. She's a Georgetown University public interest law student who will be testifying, and she is the one who was kept from testifying. Nice to have you both with us.

Congressman Cummings, let me begin with you. The congressman, Darryl Issa who was running -- the chairman was running all this, and he said, listen, the reason that Ms. Fluke was not allowed to testify was that she was not, quote, "appropriate or qualified" because the hearing was limited to questions of religious freedom. Is that accurate?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) MARYLAND: That was absolutely ridiculous. This was a hearing that was all about women's access to contraceptives. It was also about, of course, religious freedom but, again, I don't see how you could talk about religious freedom with regard to women's contraceptives without bringing in women. And, yes, there were two panels, by the way, but all of the ten witnesses that were presented all favored Mr. Issa's opinion.

And that simply wasn't fair. We simply wanted Ms. Fluke to have an opportunity to talk about what the effects of policies that pushed back on women being able to have access to contraceptives. We wanted her to have an opportunity to talk about that.

O'BRIEN: We'll have an opportunity --

CUMMINGS: How can you talk about it unless you have women?

O'BRIEN: Right.

CUMMINGS: Does that make sense?

O'BRIEN: She'll have an opportunity to talk in that hearing today. The actual panel last week was called lines crossed. Separation of church and state or has the Obama administration trampled on freedom of religion and free come of conscience. You have said, Ms. Fluke, that this is not an either/or, that you can be pro- catholic and also pro-women's health. How do you mean? Explain that.

SANDRA FLUKE, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY PUBLIC INTEREST LAW STUDENT: Absolutely. Many of the women whose stories I hope to share with the committee today are catholic women. And, you know, I spoke on a panel last night, along with representatives of Catholics for Choice.

There are many catholic organizations who've come out in support of this contraception policy, the Catholic Health Association, the Association of Jesuit and Catholic universities and colleges are just a few of them. So, I think many Catholics don't see any contradiction, including the 98 percent of catholic women who use contraception during their lives.

O'BRIEN: Tell me about some of the stories that you're going to be highlighting today. Some of them are very sad stories.

FLUKE: Yes. Frankly, I think they're all sad stories. I'm going to be talking about one woman who I talked with recently who needs contraception to prevent seizures, grand mal seizures from happening several times a month. Another woman, a close friend of mine, who has polycystic ovarian syndrome, and she actually -- she lost an ovary because of lack of access to contraception.

Another woman who recently gave birth and her obstetrician recommends that she have contraception so that she doesn't become pregnant with her husband again too soon because that would be detrimental to her health and dangerous to the life of any potential child she might carry.

So, women need contraception access and affordable access for many reasons, including preventing pregnancy and for reasons of consequences for their health. And that's why this regulation is so vitally important to women. O'BRIEN: Congressman Cummings, some people say, OK, all those women need contraception, they should go buy it. An institution shouldn't necessarily have to foot the bill for it when they have some kind of moral or religious exception to it.

CUMMINGS: Well, I think the president took that into account when he came back a week or so ago and said that women would be able to deal directly with their insurer, and they would still get those contraceptives for free. And that the -- that way, the religious organization is not endorsing it nor paying for the contraception, but you got to understand what's happening here.

We've got a situation where there are numerous bills in the Congress that are pushing back on women being able to have access to contraceptives. And one of the interesting things, they're all experienced by men. There's something absolutely wrong with that picture. And so, there's a balance here. I think the president struck a good balance.

As a matter of fact, Ms. Fluke, you can see, she's a well- qualified witness, but at our hearing today, something that has never happened with regard to the Congress, the Republicans are saying we are not going to allow our recording studio to record it because they don't want to hear her testimony.

So, once again, they're shutting out a woman's opportunity to speak about the effect of policies on them. And I think that's absolutely ridiculous and very insensitive.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Elijah Cummings is a Democrat from Maryland and Sandra Fluke is a Georgetown University public interest law student joining us this morning. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

CUMMINGS: Good to be with you.

FLUKE: Thank you for having us.

O'BRIEN: Thank you.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, remembering Marie Colvin, the reporter who covered war with incredible courage. Her mom is going to join us to talk about her daughter this morning.

And then, remember Solyndra, the solar panel company that got half a billion dollars in taxpayer cash? Well, guess what, some of those employees are getting bonuses.

Here's a song we leave you with from Maggie's playlist. I love the Black Eyed Peas. "I got a Feeling."

MAGGIE HABERMAN, REPORTER, POLITICO: I'm original.

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: No, it's not. No, it's not.

HILL: I like Sugarland. I'm confessing. I like Sugarland.

O'BRIEN: And we like it, too.

HILL: I lost all my street credit.

O'BRIEN: You did. Like that.

HILL: Just like that.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: We'll have to put something else in.

HILL: We need some cheesy (ph) up next just to fix it.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Yes. We'll bring right back on. All right. Let's get to gas prices that are skyrocketing. New national average for a gallon of gas is $3.61. That's just up three cents from yesterday. Christine Romans is following the story for us. How worried should we be? And I'm going to guess your answer is going to be very about these prices going really high.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I mean, I think they're going to keep going up. I mean, if you're just filling up a half a tank today, try to fill up a whole tank, because if it goes up three cents overnight, Soledad, I mean, it's going to keep moving higher here. And one thing is that economists are saying like maybe 30 cents of the price of gas right now of every gallon of gas is tension with Iran.

We don't use oil from Iran here in the United States. So, we have a world oil market that we're all a part of. And all this worry about Iran is adding to the price of a barrel of crude oil. That adds to gas prices. Here's the thing also. You know, we know that hedge funds and commodity pools and investors and speculators have been buying energy contracts.

I mean, they are looking at, you know, the array of things out there that you do when you make an investment decision. And they say, hey, this looks like it could be higher down the road. So, speculation is adding to this overall, because demand is down. Demand for gas is actually down in this country. The prices are up.

So, that's got a lot of people kind of talking a lot, too. So, if you're filling up your gas tank right now and you got a 12-gallon tank, it's 43 bucks, you know? And it's just going to keep going higher. We got SUV, I'm really sorry, it's going to cost even more than that. So, this comes at a time politically, I think, it's interesting, Soledad, because the president has the payroll tax holiday under his belt and the stock market is doing better.

The jobs market is slowly improving, but the thing we feel every week when you fill up your gas tank is going in the wrong direction here. One guy I talked to says $3.75 to $4.25, Tom Cloesa (ph), the Oil Price Information Service, that's where he thinks it peeks out. It will be higher in some parts where, you know, like on the coasts, Hawaii, and stuff like that.

In Florida now, they're saying really high prices in some places, but 3.75 to 4.25 that's where he thinks it's going to top out.

O'BRIEN: Yes. I heard it's like $5 or $6 in Orlando.

ROMANS: I know. Close to the airport. If you look close to the airport where you have to return the rental car, it's always higher there.

O'BRIEN: We should look into that.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Christine, thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, lots of jabs. No knockout blows, though. Did Mitt Romney do enough to try to dominate yesterday? We're going to get a look at Arizona from a key supporter straight ahead.

Also, remembering Marie Colvin, a reporter who covered war with an uncommon courage. Her family is going to join us coming up. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Got some news just in. It's the jobless numbers. Let's get right to Christine who has a look at that for us. Hey, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. That's right, the Labor Department just telling us that 351,000 jobless claims were filed for the first time last week, 351,000. That's unchanged from a revised figure for the week before. It's pretty good news. Any time this number comes in less than 400,000 it shows the labor market is moving in the right direction.

U.S. and North Korean officials meeting today for the first time since the death of Kim Jong-il. A U.S. envoy is in Beijing so find out whether North Korea's ready to shut down its nuclear program. Before his death former leader, Kim Jong-il, he discussed ending that program in exchange for food assistance from the United States. In today's meeting the U.S. will also raise the issue of human rights and humanitarian affairs.

Former University of Virginia lacrosse player George Huguely, is now awaiting sentencing for second degree murder in the beating death of his ex-girlfriend, Yeardley Love. A jury has recommended Huguely spend 26 years in prison. A judge will decide in April.

U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning is expected to show up at a military court this afternoon for an arraignment hearing. Manning is accused of handing over classified documents to the WikiLeaks website. If convicted, Manning could face life in prison.

A bankruptcy judge approving some $370,000 in bonuses for nearly two dozen employees at Solyndra. That's the solar panel company that got a half billion collar government loan before going bankrupt. It was apparently a true win fall for several of those employees. Reports say that just months before they arrived they received pay raises of as much as 70 percent.

You can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him. Actor Sacha Baron Cohen's planning one of his guerrilla stunts at the Oscar's Sunday, walking the red carpet dressed as a Gadhafi-esque dictator. This is of course to promote his new movie. The academy is threatening to ban him from the ceremony if he insists on doing it in character. Officials say the Oscar red carpet is not a proper platform for promotional stunts. We're going to have complete Oscar coverage tomorrow along with a wrap of the awards this Monday.

Newt Gingrich has been throwing some red meat at voters across the south. He made headlines when he said this about hybrid and electric cars.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president has said, you know, you ought to buy smaller cars. Now, let me start with the simple premise that most Oklahomans will understand -- you cannot put a gun rack in a Volt.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: OK. So one volt owner decided to take the challenge and prove that you can put a gun rack in the back of a Volt. He says he posted the video on YouTube to respond to the, quote, "cheap shot" Gingrich made against the volt.

Minding your business, markets, they like the jobless claims report, Soledad. U.S. stock futures ticking up a bit. DOW, NASDAQ, S&P 500 looking like they'll open slightly higher this morning. Markets closed lower yesterday. Look, there's a lot of volatility because of instability in Europe and concerns about the future of Greece. All of that still in play overall. The market's kind of hit a wall. S&P is up 8 percent so far this year. Now everyone is searching for what else is there to drive it up.

O'BRIEN: Christine, thank you. ROMANS: Sure.

O'BRIEN: Rick Santorum viewed by many as the GOP front-runner for the first time at last night's debate really was taking heat from all sides. Trading most blows with Mitt Romney. It set the stage for what could be a few weeks of back and forth that could eventually decide the nomination.

Randy Pullen is the former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party and he is a Mitt Romney supporter. Thanks for being with us. You have predicted that Rick Santorum might win the physical vote there in the state of Arizona but that Mitt Romney would win because of the voting -- the early voting. I guess what I felt you meant by that was that Rick Santorum has the momentum. Watching the debate last night, do you think that's still true?

RANDY PULLEN, FORMER CHAIRMAN, ARIZONA REPUBLICAN PARTY: No, I don't. Actually, I think I was very encouraged by the governor's performance last night. I think he pretty much has stopped the Santorum momentum in Arizona. I believe that the governor will win on Election Day here in Arizona.

O'BRIEN: So you have also said that Mitt Romney was having a hard time connecting. This is exactly what you said. "It comes from the heart, talking about Rick Santorum. Santorum connects with people. Unfortunately, my guy, Mitt Romney, has a hard time doing that." Do you think last night there was any indication of connecting better?

PULLEN: I thought he connected with the audience. I think --

O'BRIEN: Where? In what part?

PULLEN: I was sitting right in the middle of the audience. I know a lot of people in the audience so it was interesting to hear what they had to say. I think a lot of people came in not having made up their minds what they were going to do, and I know that I heard the senator say last night that it was a Mitt Romney crowd. I don't think it was. I think it was a crowd that wanted to hear what the candidates had to say and I think they responded very positively to governor Romney's answers and they did not respond very well to senator Santorum's answers on a lot of the questions that were posed to him.

O'BRIEN: There was a decent amount of booing last night for sure. Not sort of hostile booing. Maybe that's contradictory. It wasn't like South Carolina. That was kind of a crazy crowd. But more booing than I had heard in more recent debates.

Let me ask you another question, then I'll open it up to our panel. Mitt Romney definitely trying to tackle more social issues. I think he has looked at what Rick Santorum has been able to do successfully and move those numbers in polls and doing the same thing. Here's a little chunk of what he said in the debate last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I stood up and said I would extend the right of life. When the legislature passed a bill that said life would now be defined not at conception but later. I said no. When there was an effort to put in place embryo farming and cloning, I vetoed that. When the Catholic Church was attacked saying we're not going to allow you to continue to place children in homes where there's a preference for a man and a woman being the mom and dad, I worked for the catholic church to put legislation in place to protect their right to exercise their religious conscience.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So do you think that's a strategy that's going to work for him or could this back fire if he does, in fact, get the nomination in a general election?

PULLEN: Well, it's about our First Amendment rights, and that's what this whole discussion has really been about over the last couple of weeks. And I think some of our church leaders in the Christian faith, the Catholics, had what we would call a "Come to Jesus" moment when they realized the federal government was trying to step into their business and tell them what to do.

And it brings back to me as a conservative Republican the worlds of Ronald Reagan, those famous eleven words, "Hi, I'm from the government, I'm here to help you." And the government starts out helping you but pretty soon they end up telling you what to do. I think our church leaderships are beginning to understand that's exactly what the problem is.

O'BRIEN: There are plenty of people who would say it's not necessarily about religious freedom, or it's about religious freedom and it's about contraception. And if you start debating contraception, something that women have had access to since 1960s, you are doing a slippery slope when it comes to certainly female voters.

PULLEN: Yes, but that's -- that's not what President Obama was doing. He was really mandating what the Catholic Church had to do in their charities, Catholic health services, Catholic Health Care West. There's all kinds of church organizations that provide the health care to their members and they don't have insurance. So really they're self-insured. And so what do they do? They don't believe in abortions and contraceptives, things like that. What do they do then? How are they going to provide the contraception?

O'BRIEN: Randy Pullen --

PULLEN: That becomes the question.

O'BRIEN: Randy Pullen is the former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party joining us this morning to talk about Mitt Romney who he is supporting. It's nice to see you. Thanks for being with us.

PULLEN: Well, thank you. O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, remembering war reporter Marie Colvin reporting on war's innocent victims up to her final hours. The last story she did with Anderson was heartbreaking. This morning we're going to talk to her family. Her mother and brother and sister will join us live. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: She called herself the "fireman for the world." Marie Colvin was one of the most fearless foreign correspondents around. She reported from war zones around the world during her 26 year career at "The Sunday Times." She lost her left eye when she was hit with shrapnel in Sri Lanka in 2001. Of course that eye patch is what made her instantly recognizable. Yesterday Marie and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in a rocket attack. It was just hours after they spoke to Anderson Cooper. Here's what they were discussing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIE COLVIN, THE SUNDAY TIMES: Every civilian house on the street has been hit. We're talking about -- you know it's a very kind of poor, popular neighborhood. The top floor of the building I am in has been hit, in fact, totally destroyed.

There are no military targets here. It's a complete and utter lie that they are only going after terrorists. There are rockets shells, tank shells and aircraft being fired in parallel line into the city. The Syrian army is shelling a city of cold, starving civilians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: A few hours later, she would be reported dead. Rosemarie Colvin is Marie's mother and her brother is Michael and her sister is Cat. And they all join us this morning. Thank you for talking with us and our condolences to you.

I have to tell you, she was a true hero to journalists, just going into places that many of us were so afraid to even -- to even think about going into. I'm curious, you could be in your home and just with your grief and left alone. And you've very much stepped out to talk about your daughter and your sister. Why is that?

ROSEMARIE COLVIN, MARIE COLVIN'S MOTHER: Well, I -- I think that it was important to talk about what she did and what her life was like. And as a journalist, I really felt that she wouldn't want our talking to be a "no comment" but to talk about how important her life was.

O'BRIEN: She spoke a lot about how important it was for a journalists to be in a place where a story was unfolding. In her interview with Anderson she used the word "murder". And said, listen, this is -- you know anybody who says this is not murder of civilians is wrong. They're lying.

You were listening to her report with Anderson. What were you thinking when you were hearing her coverage? Were you worried for her?

R. COLVIN: Yes, I was. But it was really wonderful to hear from her because we hadn't heard. Her phone wasn't working over there. And she was being blocked. So that -- that interview was -- it was kind of wonderful to hear her and to see that she was all right.

I really thought she would get out. I think she's been in so many life-threatening situations and always gets out. Maybe not safely, but she makes it out. And I was just so shocked that she didn't this time.

O'BRIEN: In 2001 she was in Sri Lanka and we're showing a picture where she has that eye patch over her left ear, I'm sorry left eye excuse me and she got shrapnel in her eye and her brain. And that's part of the reason that she had to wear that eye patch.

Did you sit down with her and say, why do you do this? Did you ever want to understand what -- what was behind her driving need to go to the heart of the action?

R. COLVIN: Some people have asked me that and truthfully, I would never talk to her like that because I know that, first of all, it would be a total and absolute waste and -- and because, you know, she was always determined and very committed to what she was doing and it just wasn't something that I would try to talk her out of or get involved with.

CAT COLVIN, MARIE COLVIN'S SISTER: She really thought if she could just convey it, the horrors of war more clearly, that somehow people would pay attention and she'd have an impact and find another solution.

MICHAEL COLVIN, MARIE COLVIN'S BROTHER: I think -- I think she -- I think when -- when you hear that, when we hear that a city is being shelled or bombed, we think of buildings and bridges and things like that, you know being, going away or disappearing. But she knew and she wanted to show everybody that it's people, and a lot of them were innocent people.

And I think that's what -- that's what her passion was that you know, that to make -- to personalize it, to make it more of a personal thing. And I think if she -- that was her point and that's what she died trying to prove to everybody.

R. COLVIN: You know and I just heard the replay of her -- of her interview with Anderson Cooper, them murdering people. And my daughter was murdered by these people the next day. That's what they've done.

O'BRIEN: She's -- she spoke once about her job, what she saw as her job. And she said this, "Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction, and death and trying to bear witness. It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes, or terrorists clash. And yes, it means taking risks, not just for yourself, but often for the people who work closely with you." When you hear what she describes as her own job, does it give you any solace that she died you know doing what she really felt was just morally and ethically important and right to do?

C. COLVIN: I think that -- I think that she probably felt that this is the way she would have wanted to go, doing what she believed in. But it's not a great comfort for us, I don't think, at least for me. We still lost her.

O'BRIEN: Our condolences to you.

R. COLVIN: I think there's --

O'BRIEN: Go ahead, Mrs. Colvin. I'm sorry.

R. COLVIN: No, I think that's true. I think that, you know, there was always that danger. But we never dwelled on it and always hoped it would end the way it usually did with her survival and even being injured. And now it didn't happen and we're going to miss her terribly.

O'BRIEN: I know you will. Mrs. Colvin and Cat and Michael, thank you for talking with us this morning. We appreciate your time.

M. COLVIN: Ok.

O'BRIEN: We're going to take a short break. We'll be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We are getting confirmation that seven Marines have been killed when two helicopters crashed. It appears that they collided in mid air. It happened near the Yuma, Arizona area. The details at this point are sketchy and the circumstances as well.

It is unclear exactly what has happened. But this word coming to us from a U.S. Marine Corps official. We're going to continue to do update you as the story develops and we get more information. But the word we're getting now is that seven Marines have been killed when two helicopters collided mid air near Yuma, Arizona.

We're going to take a short break and STARTING POINT is back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: I like this song. I like Estelle (ph) and I can kind of sing in this range. So it works for me.

In case you didn't see it last night, sort of toward the end of the debate, each of the GOP candidates was asked to describe himself in one word. Such a brilliant idea because really, these guys can talk and talk and talk. Here's what they said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Congressman Paul?

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Consistent.

KING: Senator Santorum?

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Courage.

KING: Governor?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Resolute.

KING: Mr. Speaker?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Cheerful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: I like that. That was great. Cheerful. Not everybody would use that word, but he did.

Let's do our "End Point" now before we run out of time. Will Cain, you want to start it off for us?

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. A couple of segments ago we had an interview with Michael Scherer from "Time" magazine. Will Latinos decide the vote in that upcoming elections. I would ask the audience and I'd ask you guys this. Who has struck the right tone? We talked about the importance of tone. Who's been able to strike that tone of friendliness, of welcomeness to Latinos while also being strong on the border.

Now, show me somebody from either side of the political spectrum. Show me the model of success.

O'BRIEN: That doesn't mean that has anything to do with how Latinos will vote. Ok. Said with love, but that's true.

CAIN: I don't understand.

O'BRIEN: Meaning I don't know that you need to have tone and strength on the border. I think tone is what a lot of people are interpreting.

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: What I'm saying is you might be asking something impossible of people who are strong on the border.

O'BRIEN: Possibly. Maggie.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, POLITICO: Randy Pullen, Mitt Romney's supporter said that he thinks that Mitt Romney did what he had to do, stopping Rick Santorum's momentums. I ask viewers looking forward do they think that's the case? Has there been sufficient change going forward into Michigan next week and Arizona.

O'BRIEN: We're going to ask the voters going forward because --

(CROSSTALK)

HABERMAN: That's right.

O'BRIEN: Let's do the math looking backwards at some point. Marc?

MARC LAMONT HILL, PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: My last point builds on Will's last point and that is there is a way to do this -- to take a reasonable humane stance on immigration and still secure the border if that's your thing.

I think Newt Gingrich has done it earlier in the primary season. He was pilloried for it. George W. Bush did it a long time ago.

The problem is the longer these debates go the harder it is to take a reasonable stance because they keep dragging each other to the right, seeming to be more draconian. That's why I love to watch these Republican primaries continue because you're making yourself so far right wing that you alienate yourselves to moderate voters and it really ensures President Obama's victory.

CAIN: I think it's interesting George W. Bush and Newt Gingrich as the models of compassion.

O'BRIEN: Look at those numbers too, 40 something percent of Latinos voted for George W. Bush. Right? And that number goes down and down --

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: Because that the main reasonable stance is on that issue.

O'BRIEN: That is it. Stop. Time to get to "CNN NEWSROOM" with Kyra Phillips. It begins right now. We'll see everybody back here at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. Hey, Kyra.