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Coast Guard Chopper Crashes; Overnight Tornado Outbreak; Romney Wins Arizona and Michigan; Lane Admitted He Stole The Gun That He Used; Sen. Olympia Snowe Retiring

Aired February 29, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And a very good post-election night morning to you.

Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We are bringing you the news from A to Z.

It is 5:00 a.m. on the East. So, let's get started.

We begin with breaking news: reports of tornadoes tearing across the plains. Actually, one area has a path of damage six to seven miles long in one county. It's causing some injuries, destroying buildings in at least two states.

The severe weather system creating a lot of misery this morning, and the governor has declared a state of emergency in one state.

BANFIELD: And it was indeed a big night, but that was so yesterday. Next stop, Super Tuesday. Mitt Romney may have had a sweep, but you know what? In one week, it is the big show -- the biggest night of primary season.

And it was a close one in his home state. So what? Michigan's a win, right? Win's a win. But what's up next?

SAMBOLIN: And the accused teenage gunman in the Ohio school rampage facing a judge this morning. He could be tried as an adult. We are hearing also the desperate 911 calls from inside the school. We are going to share those with you this morning.

BANFIELD: And one cruise ship hits the ground and topples over. Another cruise ship loses all power and is set adrift in pirate infested seas. Is it a good idea to even embark on a cruise these days? Washington may have some help and some answers for you. We'll let you know why that is.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SAMBOLIN: And we begin this morning with breaking news. The search is on right now for three people after a Coast Guard chopper went down in Alabama. The Coast Guard says one crew member who was rescued has now died. They're searching the waters of Mobile Bay. That's off Point Clear, Alabama. This is where the chopper went down.

The video just came in of the search here. The helicopter that went down, an MH-65 Dolphin, it is a search and rescue helicopter. It was on a training mission when it crashed.

On the phone right now, we have Captain Don Rose. He's the commanding officer of the Coast Guard sector in Mobile.

Captain, good morning to you. Thank you for being with us.

What can you tell us? What is the very latest on the people that are missing still?

CAPT. DON ROSE, COAST GUARD (via telephone): Good morning, Zoraida.

We have multiple boats on scene, divers. We have aircraft up trying to find the three remaining crew. Looking on the surface, trying to access the helicopter below the surface, and hoping that we can find the last three crew members of this helicopter right now.

SAMBOLIN: And do you know what happened?

ROSE: No, we don't, Zoraida. We do know that they were on a training mission shortly after sunset. We lost communications with the helicopter and immediately began trying to restore communications and dispatch resources out to find what they were doing. But they were training with two other boats at the time of the accident.

SAMBOLIN: And, Captain, we understand that the bay is under a dense fog advisory. Do you think that played a role here?

ROSE: The cause of the accident is going to be investigated. The fog has hampered our search efforts a little bit. It's made it difficult, of course, to provide the air cover. Right now, the visibility is not too bad. But as far as the cause of the accident, we really don't know right now.

SAMBOLIN: And do you have any idea what the visibility was when they went out on that training mission?

ROSE: I don't know.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Captain Don Rose, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Good luck with that search and rescue.

BANFIELD: And also breaking this morning, tornadoes, a lot of them. Watches in the nation's heartland and damage at this point running six to seven miles long in Taney County in Missouri. Injuries are being reported in Missouri and Kansas overnight.

Take a look at your screen. You can see in the darkness. This is what those people on the ground were watching -- a funnel cloud captured on video was one of the tornadoes touched down in Reno County, Kansas. There's a small town there called Harveyville, and it's near Topeka, and it's certainly one of the hardest hit in the series of funnel clouds and tornadoes.

The governor has declared a state of emergency already this morning.

SAMBOLIN: And Rob Marciano is at the CNN weather center in Atlanta. I suspect (ph) you're tracking this for us, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's pushing east across Missouri. This is a huge storm system with many facets, guys. It's stretching all the way to the East Coast.

We'll start with the number of tornado reports and bind reports we saw with this. Tornado reported in Nebraska. That's the first time they've reported a tornado in Nebraska in the month of February. So already historic, and then all these wind reports as well, some over 70 miles an hour. And the red dots, those are areas we saw tornadoes touchdown, one potentially near Branson and the other near a town called Buffalo, Missouri. Damage there as well.

And those cells are moving east across the state where we right now have tornado watches that are in effect until 9:00 Central Time. There you see that line heading just south of St. Louis and eventually over towards Evansville, Indiana. And we'll probably see the watches extended.

Meanwhile, to the north, we got a blizzard warning in effect, winds whipping and snow blowing sideways in most cases. Most of the snow is north of Minneapolis, although a dicey commute there. Nine to 11 inches of snow there.

And this reaching to the Northeast as well. Over a foot of snow potentially across Upstate New York and northern New England. Most of this will stay away from the bigger cities, with the exception of Boston. You can see four to six inches of snow.

We'll keep an eye on the storms as they push of to the East -- guys.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Rob.

BANFIELD: All right. Also, big in the news this morning at five past 5:00 on the East Coast. Mitt Romney, you suppose he's having a good breakfast this morning?

SAMBOLIN: I suppose so.

BANFIELD: Savoring that win -- certainly a nice home cooked meal perhaps as well because the former Massachusetts governor survived that big scare in his home state of Michigan last night, cruising to victory as well in Arizona.

We have totals for you this morning if you were sleeping. Here you go. This is from the Michigan primary. Romney with 41 percent of the vote. Rick Santorum at 38 percent of the vote. You can see Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich falling in behind at 12 percent and 7 percent respectively.

And you can bet your bottom dollar that Mitt Romney is certainly relieved. Appeared so, probably is so. Have a listen.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And in this room are the people who knocked on the doors and made the calls and went to the polls and have made an enormous difference. We didn't win by a lot, but we won by enough, and that's all that counts.


BANFIELD: And you know what? He couldn't be more right, especially when it comes to Arizona, because that's just winner-take- all, no matter how close the vote is. That one really wasn't in doubt, and he pulled it off.

The final vote totals, are you ready? Romney 47 percent of the vote to Rick Santorum's 27 percent. That's a bit of a trouncing in political speak. Newt Gingrich coming in third with 16 percent. Ron Paul following in the bottom at 8 percent.

So, if you're wondering what this all means for the greater picture, the delegate scoreboard, because that's really what it it's all about, racking up the delegates as you head towards convention. Michigan, as of last night, is still being divided up. It's a proportional thing. You kind of go by county and district. But Mitt Romney comes in at this point as of midnight last night with 165 delegates total in this big race. Rick Santorum, just 44 delegates. Newt Gingrich at 38. And Ron Paul at 27.

So you could say Romney's doing pretty well despite what all the pundits say.

Our CNN political editor is Paul Steinhauser, a very hard working man, and he's doing his job today in Pontiac, Michigan.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall of the breakfast tables of not just Mitt Romney this morning, Paul, but also Rick Santorum. I'm not sure he's licking his wounds, just he's thinking, oh, just so close.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: The Santorum campaign is pretty happy. You know, they say a second place finish was basically a win for them. They indicate that, you know, it was only a three-point margin here in Michigan, Mitt Romney's home state.

Take a listen to what Rick Santorum said last night at his speech.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, we came into the backyard of one of my opponents, in a race that everyone said, well, just ignore it. You have really no chance here. And the people of Michigan looked into the hearts of the candidates, and all I have to say is: I love you back. Thank you.


STEINHAUSER: You know, later in the evening, Rick Santorum -- our Jim Acosta caught up with Rick Santorum. And this is what he told Jim: "Listen, this was always going to be Romney's night. The question is how big? It wasn't very big."

A top adviser to Santorum also tells us expect the candidate, Ashleigh, to talk more about the economy the next couple of days. That could be a switch. We heard Rick Santorum talk a lot about social issues and religion over the last two weeks -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: You know how it goes, Paul. A win's a win, like many people said. A lot of times people look at the headline and don't look at the subtext. And the headline is that he won his state. I don't even know how many viewers out there or people who might not even be viewing at this point but might be voting know that it's a proportional thing.

STEINHAUSER: Exactly. That's why the Santorum campaign is pretty happy because they're going to come away, as you mentioned, with a good amount of delegates here in Michigan.

But let's move on. Super Tuesday, six days from now -- 10 states and four big ones. And in four of those, in three of those four, guess who's leading in the polls? Rick Santorum.

So, this fight continues on. It is not over after Michigan and Arizona. We've got some serious battles ahead for Mitt Romney and for Rick Santorum. And, of course, Newt Gingrich is looking to win in his home state of Georgia.

BANFIELD: I put up the leader board up coming into your segment here, Paul. And it was 165 delegates that Mitt Romney has won so far. But should we remind folks that Super Tuesday has a whopping 437 delegates in one night. And a big portion of them are in --

STEINHAUSER: In one night.

BANFIELD: Yes. Guess where? Georgia. Who do you think is going to be looking at a win in Georgia?

STEINHAUSER: Georgia. Exactly. Newt Gingrich is up in the polls there. He is hoping for a win.

Let's also remind our viewers, 1,144. That's the amount of delegates you need to clinch the nomination. So, you know, we've still got a long way to go.

BANFIELD: You do indeed. I'm just glad you didn't mention brokered convention.

Paul Steinhauser, thank you very much. We'll talk to you a little bit later on.

STEINHAUSER: Let's wait on that one.

BANFIELD: Let's avoid that one all day today, shall we? Thanks, Paul.

SAMBOLIN: Hold on that.

It is 10 minutes past the hour here.

And a look at the CNN exit polling in Michigan now reveals why Romney had so much trouble winning in the state where he was born and raised.

CNN's chief business correspondent Ali Velshi got up nice and early for us this morning. He's breaking it all down.

BANFIELD: Look how relaxed.

SAMBOLIN: You know, this is one of my favorite parts because we actually dissect everything that happened. And you've got the dissection by income here, the vote by income.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, this is an important state for Mitt Romney because the Republican establishment had sort of sent out messages that, if he can't beat Santorum in his home state, in the state where his father was governor, maybe they've got to start looking for someone else. So, it was good that he did this for his campaign.

Median income for a household in the United States is about $50,000. That means half of U.S. households earn less than that, half earn more than that. So, we took a look at income by less than $50,000 in Michigan. Of those people, 41 percent of them voted for Rick Santorum. So the blue collar workers in Michigan -- as you know, there are lots of them, and it's got a higher unemployment rate than the nation -- voted for Santorum, followed by Romney at 36 percent, then Ron Paul at 14 percent. Newt Gingrich bringing in the rear at 6 percent.

Now, of the people that we polled as they came out of the polls in Michigan, we asked them what the most important issue was to them. Fifty-four percent said the most important issue is the economy in general.

But take a look at this. Of those people who said the economy was the biggest issue, 47 percent voted for Romney, 30 percent voted for Santorum, then followed by Ron Paul, then Gingrich, and another 2 percent didn't tell us what they wanted to do.

Now, take a look at Democrats. This is an interesting story. Last time in Michigan, 17 percent of the votes were cast by Democrats. Kind of weird in a Republican primary, right? But there was a sense that maybe they wanted to influence the vote and have the candidate win who was less likely to beat Barack Obama.

This time, it was 9 percent of the vote. So, these are Democrats who voted -- 53 percent of the Democrats who cast a ballot in Michigan last night voted for Rick Santorum, the thinking being Rick Santorum doesn't have as good a chance against Barack Obama as Mitt Romney did. Of those Democrats who voted, 18 percent voted for Romney. They may have been thinking, well, I'd like -- if there's a good chance Barack Obama doesn't win, I'd like Mitt Romney to be president.

Seventeen percent voted for Ron Paul. That's because that was an opportunity for Democrats, independently-minded people who like his libertarian view. And only 3 percent voted for Newt Gingrich. That would be a bit of a stretch figuring out why they voted for Newt Gingrich. It was a very small number.

That's how the numbers break down. I'll be bringing them to you throughout the morning -- Soledad.


VELSHI: I'm looking at the prompter here, and it says Soledad. And I'm thinking Soledad isn't here for a couple of hours.

I will be joining Soledad as well, Zoraida and Ashleigh.

SAMBOLIN: They good save.

VELSHI: Cover this prompter thing. I don't need that.

BANFIELD: You know what? Ali, it confuses us to at 5:13 in the morning on the East Coast.

VELSHI: Right. You guys call each other all sorts of things in the morning. I don't know.

I'm Ali. Good to see you guys. I'll be back next hour.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Ali. We appreciate it.

And it's time to reiterate that at 7:00 on "STARTING POINT," Soledad O'Brien will be joined not only by Ali Velshi, but by Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee. We will get his take on Romney's big night, and, of course, looking forward to Super Tuesday.

BANFIELD: In other big news, it is 13 minutes past 5:00. We have been following this the past two days.

A community now coming together to heal at a prayer service in Chardon, Ohio. A lot of people came out in the cold last night. Look at that. The pictures tell the story. They were lighting candles to give their thoughts and prayers to the families and friends of the three victims of Monday's high school shooting rampage.

The Ohio governor as well asking people to reach out to the families.


GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: This town will rise. They're a wonderful group of people here. They're closely connected. They're faithful people. They're hard working people. They're the best of what we have in Ohio.

And from one end of Ohio to the other, today, tomorrow, and the days to come, we all live in Chardon in a sort of way.


BANFIELD: A suspect, 17-year-old T.J. Lane, made his first court appearance yesterday. Prosecutors say T.J. Lane has admitted to the rampage, has admitted to unloading 10 rounds. The 911 calls were released as well. Well, you can certainly hear the fright in people's voices. Have a listen.


DISPATCHER: 911, what is your emergency?

CALLER: We just had a shooting at our school. We need to get out of here. Oh, my God.

DISPATCHER: OK, ma'am. We've got a school shooting. Ma'am, what school?

CALLER: Chardon High School.

DISPATCHER: Chardon High School?

CALLER: Yes, ma'am.

DISPATCHER: All right. Can you get administration?

CALLER: Everyone's running away.

DISPATCHER: Where is the student with the gun?

CALLER: I don't know. He was in the cafeteria, and everyone just started running.


BANFIELD: Just sends chills.

Ted Rowlands is live in Chardon, Ohio, this morning for us.

Ted, that appearance yesterday was a first appearance. By all accounts, it's a juvenile appearance. T.J. Lane is 17 years old. There are very few people at this point who believe this process is going to remain a juvenile process.


The judge addressed it a little bit in the hearing yesterday, saying that the prosecutor will have to just basically submit the paperwork to have a hearing on this. He's reserved a date for it. And the issue, of course, should this young man, T.J. Lane, be looked at as an adult in the eyes of the court or a juvenile? Prosecutor later in a press conference said that absolutely they're going to push forward for this.

And Ohio law allows for it. It's a very easy transition when you talk about the age. The closer an individual gets to the age of 18, the more easily it is that that person will go up to an adult court and face adult responsibilities.

And the seriousness of the crime is also factored in. You can't get more serious than this in a crime. And he's 17 years old.

I think it's a foregone conclusion that, by the end of his next court appearance, he will be an adult in the eyes of the court.

BANFIELD: Well, certainly, the prosecutor has voiced as much, which is absolutely no surprise given the severity of these crimes. I mean, I just looked at the fact sheet a little while ago in Ohio. They allow for aggravated murder, which is sort of the same as first degree murder in other states as well.

But to that charge itself, this young man has made some pretty startling admissions, if what we're hearing is true -- admitting to not only unloading those rounds but admitting to have the weapons on him.

And also, as I understand it, Ted -- and clear this up for me -- admitting that he just did this randomly.

ROWLANDS: Yes. One of the questions apparently asked of him by officers at some point -- and they did make a point during the hearing that they read him his rights and that he was aware of his rights before he admitted certain things -- but one of the things they asked him was about the targets. Did you intentionally target these young boys? And he said no. He told officers that this was completely random, and he said he didn't even know who he was shooting at the time. That came out in court yesterday.

So clearly, he's cooperating, and clearly the case against him, when you take into account, there's a surveillance tape of the incident happening, it's very, very solid.

BANFIELD: Ted Rowlands, that is little comfort to anybody in this case and certainly the families for those who were killed. Ted Rowlands, thanks very much from Chardon, Ohio, this morning.

SAMBOLIN: It is 18 minutes past the hour here and it's time to check the stories that are making news this morning.

The Coast Guard says one crew member has now died. Three are still missing after a chopper went down during a training mission. This is in Mobile Bay, Alabama. The Coast Guard says it has two other helicopters and a boat out there right now conducting a search.

Mitt Romney regaining some much needed momentum with primary wins in Michigan and Arizona last night. He defeated Rick Santorum by three points in his home state, by 20 points in Arizona. Super Tuesday now just six days away.

Tunisia offering Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad asylum if he will agree to step down. This, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested, that he is a war criminal. The death toll in Syria's bloody crackdown now estimated to be as high as 7,500 people.

BANFIELD: Tonight, President Obama is set to host a dinner for Iraq war veterans. It's going to take place at the White House, and it's an event that some folks are calling a state dinner for the troops. Pentagon spokesperson says it is only the beginning of a massive "thank you" to these brave vets. But one vets group says this is no substitute for a national day to honor our returning troops.

And for the first time in nearly four years, the Dow is sitting above 13,000. Investors sending stocks higher yesterday when oil prices pulled back. You heard me, oil prices pulled back. What? Wow. We'll talk about that in a minute.

Also, consumer confidence showed some signs of improvement as well.

The Dow rising 23 points to ding, ding, ding -- 13,005. We haven't seen these levels, if you can remember, go way, way back, May 19, 2008. Bad memories back then.

SAMBOLIN: Ahleigh, do you think our gas prices will go down too now?

BANFIELD: That's exactly what I want to know.

SAMBOLIN: Wouldn't that be great?


SAMBOLIN: Nine -- oh, 20 minutes past the hour.

Still ahead, mustachioed. Is that how you say that?

BANFIELD: Mustachioed.

SAMBOLIN: Mustachioed, Americans with mustaches demanding tax breaks for facial hair. I'm serious. They're planning a 1 million mustache march in Washington. This, my friends, is not a joke. I have the proof right in front of me.

BANFIELD: And also, in just a bizarre story -- cruise ship from hell. Food, flashlights, phones -- all of these necessities having to be airlifted to a cruise ship that is just adrift in pirate-infested waters. Yes, it's being slowly tugged to shore. But are they going to make it there safely? We'll let you know.

SAMBOLIN: I hope so.


You're watching EARLY START, folks.


BANFIELD: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. It's 23 minutes past 5:00 in the morning on the East Coast.

That crippled Italian cruise ship, the Costa Allegra, is on a slow tow to land.

SAMBOLIN: The ship lost power after a fire in the engine room. That was on Monday. More than 1,000 passengers and crew are on board. The sister ship you've heard of. It's the Costa Concordia.

It's being towed in dangerous pirate-infested waters by a French shipping vessel to a port in Seychelles. It's escorted by the coast guard, and it is expected to arrive at some point today.

CNN's David McKenzie is on the phone. He is in Nairobi, Kenya.

Thank you for being with us this morning.

I wanted you to clear something up for us. Yesterday, we were saying it would go to a specific island in the Seychelles, and that was changed, apparently for security reasons. Can you tell us what happened?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well, basically, as they were going to go to Descroches, a small island south of the Seychelles. It really isn't a security concern in terms of the pirates that ply these waters.

It's more of a case of the Costa Allegra. It's too big, and the island is too small. They wouldn't have been able to effectively dock at Descroches Island. It's an island with one exclusive resort that's well-known basically for the British royals like to hang out there.

But basically it's a decision it would be too risky to get all those passengers off on that tiny island. What it means is that these stranded passengers in the stranded ship will have to wait at least another 24 to 36 hours being dragged now by two fishing vessels and two tug boats towards Mahe, the main Seychelles island.

SAMBOLIN: I think we were reporting yesterday there were about eight Americans on board. What are the conditions for everybody on board?

MCKENZIE: Certainly, it's uncomfortable. The power is out. This is a huge cruise line.

It's actually a converted container ship. It's a very large ship -- as you said, more than 1,000 passengers and crew. So the majority of those passengers are from European countries, eight Americans, and several other nationalities. They've been in the common areas of the ship.

The helicopter from the Seychelles government distributed like 400 flashlights and bread, but they have managed to get a small generator on board to help get some hot food for the passengers.

Certainly, the bigger picture here is the P.R. nightmare for the Costa Cruise Lines. As you mentioned, Costa Concordia went aground of the coast of Italy in January, more than 21 people killed there. Certainly a lot of lawyers will be looking at this current case and trying to find a trend, as it were, with this company, which is an Italian company. But ultimately, the parent company is the American Carnival Cruises.

SAMBOLIN: We're happy to hear, though, there are no issues with piracy. I know there was a huge concern for everyone.

CNN's David McKenzie, live from Nairobi, Kenya -- thank you very much.

BANFIELD: Twenty-six minutes past 5:00.

And if you needed any evidence that Washington is maybe a little bit broken or a lot a bit broken, you will find that evidence in one Olympia Snowe. She's decided to call it quits, and guess why? It's just a big pain in the you-know-what to try to do your work there. We'll explain.


SAMBOLIN: It is 30 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START. That was fast for you?


SAMBOLIN: Was it fast for you? Thanks for joining us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BANFIELD: Good morning, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. And it is time to check your top stories if you are sleeping and just getting up and getting ready to get out the door. This is what happened overnight while you were sleeping.


BANFIELD (voice-over): A desperate search under way right this minute for three missing people in Alabama after their coast guard helicopter crashed into Mobile Bay. That was all during a training mission. One crew member who was rescued has sadly died. Fog has been a big problem, they report, during this search and rescue mission.

Tornadoes have also been slamming the nation's heartland in the dark. Major damage has been reported in parts of Missouri and Kansas. If you can see, try to squint through the darkness. You can see that funnel cloud out on the horizon. It is not something you want to see, but it was caught on tape as a twister touched down in Reno County, Kansas last night. Tornado watches are in effect this morning.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): The suspect in the Ohio school shooting appearing in court after it was announced that a third victim of the rampage died. A source says T.J. Lane admitted to the rampage and told authorities that he stole the gun that he used from his uncle.

Maine Republican senator, Olympia Snowe, has decided not to run for re-election. Snowe, a well-known moderate, has served three terms. She says she is fed up with the political polarization in Washington. Her retirement could hurt the GOP'S chances of re-taking the Senate in November.


BANFIELD (on-camera): The petty fogging. She's had enough. She's had enough of the petty fogging. That would be our word of the day.

SAMBOLIN: Word of the day.

BANFIELD: OK. The petty fogging is quibbling over really insignificant things.

SAMBOLIN: I think we're going to have to do that. Actually, put the word up with the definition, and sometimes, you just put it out there because you're not quite sure how to use that, right?

BANFIELD: You know what, it's the crew. I just want to let you in on the joke here, the crew gives me this word every day, and then, they don't give me any love when I actually give them their word. They just kind of like dead silent (ph).

SAMBOLIN: When you hear a crazy word, you know.

BANFIELD: There's the love. All right.


BANFIELD: By the way, speculation, since we're talking about politics and some pettiness and all the rest, reports of Mitt Romney's demise? Premature, folks. Former Massachusetts governor is regaining some real momentum heading into Super Tuesday, which, of course, is next week. It was a convincing 20-point win in Arizona. Look at those numbers.

Mitt Romney coming in 47 percent over Rick Santorum's 27 percent, and that equated to a giant exhale, not just there, but also a bigger exhale in his home state of Michigan. A loss there could have been a bummer, to say the least. But he did pull out a three-point win over Rick Santorum, just three points, though, in your home state. But he was sounding very presidential and refocusing on President Obama. Have a listen.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He thinks he deserves a second term. He says, we can't wait. To which I say, oh, yes, we can.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) BANFIELD: Oh, yes, we can. Huh. Adopting a very popular phrase among some folks last time around. The quadrennial thing that happens every four years, that was our other word of the day. From Washington, I welcome our Republican strategist, Matt Keelen, also here in New York, good friend, John Avlon, senior political columnist with "Newsweek" and the "Daily Beast." Nice to see your happy face this morning, John.

And in Washington, Marjorie Clifton, a Democratic strategist and national editor of

John Avlon, I want to start with you, because, as we got through this last squeaker in Michigan, I was reminded of some of the things that Mitt Romney was facing going into Florida and Michigan. Let me remind our viewers what he was saying about Florida going into Florida, a place that was desperate about mortgages being under water. Have a listen.


ROMNEY: Don't try to stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom, allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes, and let it turn around and come back up.


BANFIELD: Ouch! Not the thing you want to hear if you're under water, but he prevailed well in Florida. And if that wasn't enough, as he was heading in to his home state of Michigan, he was reminded of his 2008 op-ed in the "New York Times," which had this headline, "Oh, just go ahead, let Detroit go bankrupt."

And yet, John Avlon, with a headline like that, he still prevailed in his home state as well. I'm not sure I quite understand it. Is it just that Republicans are great with super fiscal conservatism? And how is that going to play when we get to the general election?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I mean, look, Romney, it was a narrow win in Michigan. It actually turned out to be a delegate split. And remember, this is really a fight for delegates to get to the nomination. So, he was denied -- he won it with nine points four years ago.

So, while the Romney camp is breathing a deep sigh of relief today because it would have been disastrous to lose Mitt's home state, he's in a good position heading into Super Tuesday, but there's still a lot of doubts, especially base activists, among his campaign, but he's got two wins on the board, strong win in Arizona, as you said.

And those comments about Detroit did not prove to be dispositive. He was able to carry on to fight another day and have a double win heading into Super Tuesday, which stops the sense of bleeding of confidence that his campaign had been suffering from. BANFIELD: Yes. But those numbers sure switcheroo when you see the independents and the Democrats weighing in on whether they like those kinds of headlines and those kinds of comments. Let me switch gears a little bit to what you're alluding to and that is next week. You know what, Michigan and Arizona was so yesterday, and Super Tuesday, the Big Kahuna, has 437 delegates at stake on one (INAUDIBLE) night.

There's your map right there. Just to highlight a few of the biggies, Georgia, Idaho, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia. Matt Keelen, I'm trying to figure out how that map is going to play out. I don't sense a sweep anywhere, but do you sense that one of these four is going to emerge extraordinarily happy from Super Tuesday?

MATT KEELEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Ashleigh, I think everyone has been looking to Ohio as a bellwether right now. Rick Santorum is leading, but I do think Motown is the place where Mitt got his groove back. And if he's going to be able to string together a couple of weeks where he can reclaim the mantle of frontrunner, he's going to have to do it in Ohio next week, and then, Georgia, Newt Gingrich has to win Georgia to say stay in this race.

BANFIELD: Do you think -- there's 76 delegates in Georgia. That is big. Big, big, big. Do you think he's going to do it? He's polling well there, but we've got another week to go.

KEELEN: I do think he'll end up winning in Georgia, and this thing will continue to go on for several more weeks to come.

BANFIELD: So, I guess, if we look at Super Tuesday, a week is an eternity in this race, it has proven to be. Is there enough momentum coming out of this sweep from yesterday to pull Mitt through Super Tuesday well, Matt?

KEELEN: I think this is going to be the true test if he can put together several week weeks. You know, every week, we seem to have a new frontrunner, but no one has been able to really, really keep that mantle. So, if Mitt Romney is going to turn it on and get to the nomination, he's going to do it right now.

BANFIELD: All right. So, Marjorie, I want you to take a look at the leader board. I've got the delegate count as of midnight last night, and you know how it's kind of weird in Michigan. There's a whole proportionate, allotment, and delegates. You know, per district, they allot who the winners are. You can win the popular vote and still not come out with more delegates.

But as of midnight, Mitt Romney comes in 165 delegates. That's compared to Rick Santorum's mere 44. I mean, there's a big discrepancy in the leader board in this election, so far. Does that equate in voters' minds as we move forward? Do you think people are looking at, wow, look how many delegates Mitt's won so far or they just looking at what happened, you know, yesterday or last week?

MARJORIE CLIFTON, NATIONAL EDITOR, GOVOTE.COM: Yes. I think that, while we'd like to believe everyone outside of Washington understands the entire process, the whole delegate, super delegate, is sort of a mystery even to those politicos. So, I think the public, really, is going to be watching what is said in the coming weeks. We do not have a debate leading up to Super Tuesday.

So, it's all going to be how the message coming out of Michigan and Arizona. And while, I think, you know, as Matt said, Romney got his groove back a little bit. What we've seen historically, it's been a bit of a seesaw. We've had Santorum rise and the Romney rise again. And I think it's really going to be a toss-up coming out into Tuesday.

BANFIELD: All right. You heard it here first. Matt, John, and Marjorie, thanks very much, guys.

KEELEN: Thanks, Ashleigh.

CLIFTON: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-eight minutes past the hour.

Ahead on EARLY START, the Dow closes above 13,000. It's the first time it's been that high since the crash of 2008. Is it a trend? You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: And this just in to CNN. Take a look at your screen. We're getting some of the first video of tornado damage in Kansas. Severe storm damage has actually (INAUDIBLE) not only Kansas but also Missouri. There have been multiple tornadoes all being reported overnight. As you were sleeping, storm chasers were capturing some of the video that's been pretty remarkable.

One of the funnel clouds touching down in Reno County, Kansas, and obviously, these are some of the images that we see once those funnel clouds and tornadoes tear through areas like this. This was Harveyville. It is near Topeka, Kansas. We're also watching and waiting to find out any reports of injuries.

But, certainly, you can see the power and the force of Mother Nature going through that community overnight.

SAMBOLIN: The latest report said that there were injuries but no fatalities, but of course, we're checking this terrific video. Seven- mile stretch in one area. Really hit hard. Forty-three minutes past the hour.

"Minding your Business" this morning, the Dow closing above 13,000 yesterday. The NASDAQ was up almost one percent. The S&P 500, that's the best indicator for what's in your 401(k), that gained about .3 percent.

CNNMoney, Poppy Harlow, in for Christine Romans this morning. You know, the question is, why does it matter the Dow closed above 13,000? Are you kidding me?

(LAUGHTER) POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM: it matters for this reason. That's a psychological milestone. Technically, it doesn't really matter, but, folks, you've heard it so many times. Confidence is the cheapest form of stimulus. Let's keep this run going. There's few things playing in here. First, the best rating we've gotten on U.S. consumer confidence in a year. That helped out a lot.

You've got companies that keep turning record profits. One example, Apple. Over 530 bucks a share yesterday. So, strong profits. Sort of a tale of two Americas (ph) still because the huge job crisis continues, but companies are lean and they're strong and they're turning profits. We got some negative numbers yesterday, too, but investors widely ignored them. Some weak housing numbers.

Housing prices down four percent in the fourth quarter of last year. Also, durable goods orders. Big ticket items like your refrigerator, your car, et cetera, those numbers were not good. But guys, it played out overall pretty well. I think we have a few things going on here.

We have to keep an eye on oil. Oil fell about two bucks yesterday. We still have the 22nd straight day of rising gas prices. That matters for Americans.

BANFIELD: I just checked overnight AAA website, $3.73 for a gallon of gas. If you do the math, that's up a cent and a half from yesterday. And I'm thinking, wait a second, Poppy Harlow is going to come here and tell me the gas prices -- or oil prices dropped. How does that lag --

HARLOW: It lagged. It can lag a few weeks. It also has to do with where this defines. Is it in the U.S.? Is it overseas? We're not seeing an exact correlation here between oil prices and gas prices. Actually, if we were, gas prices would be higher because we're at $106 a barrel. So, we'll keep an eye on that.

Bit out layer (ph) here. Europe, let's keep a close eye on Europe heading into the market today, but a strong start. And of course, the naysayers ask, is this market ready for a pullback? Let's hope not.

BANFIELD: Naysayers already? We're barely at --


SAMBOLIN: This is being spun in so many different directions, right? Thank you so much, Poppy. We appreciate it.


Still ahead, one flew over the cuckoo's nest? Really? A man accused of using a fake I.D. to open a bank account with this photo? Look closely. Look closely. Yes, you got that right. That's Jack.

SAMBOLIN: What people do, right? Never ceases to amaze us.

BANFIELD: That's a real clever, clever criminal. All right. You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 48 minutes past the hour here. We're hearing for the first time from Frank Hall. That is the heroic teacher and assistant coach who put his life at risk by chasing T.J. Lane out of the cafeteria. This was a school shooting in Ohio. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to say that I'm sorry to the families, to the victims. I wish I could have done more.


SAMBOLIN: Oh, you did a lot, sir. The suspect in the Ohio school shooting appearing in court after it was announced that a third victim of that rampage died. The source says T.J. Lane admitted to the rampage and told authorities that he stole the gun that he used in that shooting spree from his uncle.

BANFIELD: What an amazing guy, Frank Hall. And you're right. Oh, you did a lot, sir.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my goodness.

BANFIELD: That's such an amazing story he could have done that, and we thank you for your bravery.

You know, every so often we go to the crime file and we find these very unusual crime stories. And today's crime story, I think you could file it under really, really unusual. A brazen thief arrested trying to use a fake government I.D. with a picture of Jack Nicholson on it. Are you ready for this? He was trying to open a bank account.


BANFIELD: He's been charged, obviously, with (INAUDIBLE) documents. The police say the 41-year-old man looks absolutely nothing like Jack Nicholson. And, we'll just see how that court case plays out and what the jurors think if they get to see the evidence ever in that particular case.

SAMBOLIN: Interesting. Interesting.


SAMBOLIN: All right. Here's an example of your tax dollars really hard at work. Lawmakers in Washington may soon be debating the Stache Act.


SAMBOLIN: Seriously, I have the paper to prove it. The measure calls for $250 of a tax break for Americans with mustaches, and this includes men and women.

BANFIELD: Well, good.

SAMBOLIN: Aha. Yes. Equal opportunity there. It says the mustache maintenance costs qualify for and should be considered a deductible expense. This is sponsored by the American Mustache Institute. They're calling it a facial stimulus.

BANFIELD: Oh, boy.

SAMBOLIN: They're also planning -- there's more. Oh, there's more -- planning a million mustache march in Washington on April 1st. Republican congressman, Roscoe Bartlett, of Maryland actually sent the measure up the legislative pipeline. There he is with the stache. We're trying to reach him for comment.

The Stache Act is now in the hands of the Ways and Means Committee, even though it appears that this was meant as a parody, and perhaps, to just kind of got through somehow and sitting in front of means and ways. Interesting.

BANFIELD: Yes. This is why I think Olympia Snowe is really getting out of Congress. I don't think it has to do with the petty fogging. I think it has to do with --


SAMBOLIN: All right. Fifty-one minutes past the hour here.

Ahead, survivors of the Costa Concordia shipwreck will testify today. They're going to focus on cruise ship safety as another ship gets towed through pirate infested waters, a sister of the Costa Concordia no less. You are watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Fifty-four minutes past 5:00 a.m. on the east coast. Welcome back to EARLY START. As the Costa Concordia's sister ship is towed in pirate infested seas to the Port of Seychelles, Congress is set to vote some hearings on, what else, cruise ship safety. Last month, remember, these pictures, that ship run the ground off the coast of Italy, and 21 people were killed.

SAMBOLIN: CNN's aviation and regulation correspondent, Lizzie O'Leary, is live in Washington, D.C. And Lizzie, I understand that you talked with some of the survivors of the Costa Concordia who are expected to testify today. What do they tell you?

LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN AVIATION & REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes. This is Divya and Sameer Sharma. This was their fifth wedding anniversary. They were taking a trip together, and they described this moment. They were eating dinner where the ship shuddered, and it was essentially chaos.

No one told them what to do. Listen to Divya talk about how she felt basically getting no instructions from the crew for several hours.


DIVYA SHARMA, COSTA CONCORDIA SURVIVOR: There was a gash that like ripped open three compartments. Fifteen minutes is a long time from then to come around and say, you know what, everything is under control. Stop lying. Stop lying. If they would have not lied, mistakes happen.

We're all human beings, OK? I'm not saying I haven't made a mistake in my life. Accept it and say, you know what, this is what has happened. Let's proceed to the muster station, OK? Have the crew members come around instead of like pouring champagne in the glasses.


O'LEARY: They were actually pouring champagne at first because they thought this was an electrical problem, it will be wrapped up soon. Clearly, it was much more serious than that.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It's great to hear from them. What are they saying that they believe should be done in order to avoid something like this from happening again?

O'LEARY: We are to talk about muster stations. That's this idea of getting a full safety building. They never got one when they got on board. And it's not U.S. law to have one before you leave port if your ship leaves in the U.S. Cruise ships are voluntarily doing it now, but the chairman of this committee told me it might be something they want to put into law, guys.

SAMBOLIN: Do it as soon as you board that ship. Lizzie O'Leary live for us in Washington. Thank you very much.

BANFIELD: Fifty-six minutes past five on the east coast, and still ahead, a twister caught on tape in the night sky but not so dark you can't see that funnel cloud. That coming towards the shooter as another one tore through a small town in Kansas.

The severe weather threat is moving east and tearing quite a swat. We're going to give you all the details on what happen and what may still be about to happen. You're watching EARLY START.