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JOHN KING, USA

Interview With Illinois Governor Pat Quinn; Deadly Tornadoes Hit Midwest; North Korea Negotiating

Aired February 29, 2012 - 18:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm John King.

Tonight, breaking news, as devastating storms sweep across the Midwest. At this hour, they're heading for the Southeast and the Mid- Atlantic states. In their wake, at least nine people are dead tonight, among the hundreds of structures damaged, a hospital in Southern Illinois.

Also tonight, an about-face from North Korea's new leaders. They're stopping their nuclear weapons program in exchange for U.S. food aid.

We begin with tonight's breaking news, a line of killer storms hitting the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states right now, as families in at least five states survey what's left of their homes and prepare to bury the dead.

Three people died as the storm swept through Missouri before sunrise after catching people by surprise in Kansas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was sitting there watching TV. The TV went off. So I got up to go in the kitchen and get a cup of coffee. And all of a sudden, boy, the windows went out just like a big shotgun went off. And I told my wife, hit the floor. She says, I'm down here already.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Today's most devastating losses are in Southern Illinois. Officials in Harrisburg say a tornado with winds of up to 170 mile an hour stayed on the ground for several miles, killing at least six people, injuring around 100.

At one point, it hit the hospital. After surveying the devastation to his town, the mayor of Harrisburg and the fire chief spoke with reporters just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC GREGG, MAYOR OF HARRISBURG, ILLINOIS: This morning, the city of Harrisburg had a horrific event.

We have suffered the loss of lives. We have suffered many injuries, and we have suffered millions of dollars worth of damage.

This is something that you never want to see happen in your community. We watched as it happened in Joplin, Missouri, last year. Several of our people from this area went there to help, and today we find ourselves in need.

BILL SUMMERS, HARRISBURG FIRE CHIEF: We did have some fatalities which we couldn't control. But we did and were able to get a lot of people out of the houses. It's just unreal. It's like a war zone, if you haven't seen that area there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The destruction of this storm system is quite far- reaching.

Here's one man's story from Greenville, Kentucky. He went back home after a tornado put seven stitches in his chin and four staples in his head.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVEN VAUGHT, SURVIVOR: When they say you hear a train, you do.

And I got up and took two steps off the couch. And then me and the two dogs I have and the trailer started rolling down the hill. And you can see what's left. And after I rolled five times, I can remember everything about it.

I was -- once it hit the ground on the fifth time, everything just -- I saw daylight. And I was sitting up against the stove down there and just leaned up with my back against it like I was sitting in a chair.

I don't know how I'm here. No doubt the good lord just didn't call me, is all I know. It wasn't my time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: This afternoon the storm swept across Kentucky and Tennessee.

(WEATHER UPDATE)

KING: To find out more on how you can help those affected by the Midwest tornadoes, go to CNN.com/impact there. You will find all the organizations and all the ways you can help people in need tonight. That's CNN.com/impact.

Just a short time ago, I spoke with Vince Ashley, who is the CEO of the Harrisburg Medical Center, a local hospital in Southern Illinois which had to evacuate patients today after, as you can see right there in that photograph, extensive tornado damage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Mr. Ashley, let me just start with the hit the medical center took this morning. What happened?

VINCE ASHLEY, CEO, HARRISBURG MEDICAL CENTER: Well, about 5:30 this morning, a tornado came through town.

And the hospital was on the very northern end of the damage trail. It did hit the hospital and took out about 80 feet of exterior wall, which exposed three patient rooms, an office and a diagnostic room.

And then it took out four windows in other patient rooms and took off significant amounts of the hospital's roof. And fortunately the weather alert system had given us about a 20-minute advance notice. We were able to evacuate all of the patients from those areas into a more secure section of the building. And as a result, we had no injuries.

KING: Thank God for that, sir.

To do all that damage, that's a pretty powerful force that hit the hospital head on.

ASHLEY: It did.

KING: And what now? With the damage you suffered are you able to take care of the people in the community who have been hurt in this tragedy?

ASHLEY: Fortunately, the emergency room and all of the activities that support it were on the other side of the building and were undamaged. So the emergency room, radiology laboratory, pharmacy, all of those services were still functioning.

We had an influx of about 50 patients very quickly. We were able to accommodate them through our E.R. and outpatient areas. We had physicians and nurses from all the surrounding communities that showed up, and as a result we had plenty of professional personnel and were able to take care of all 50 of those patients.

The problem we have now is that all of the air handler units which were on the roof of the building were blown away. And so we have no heat in the building. And because we have no heat and obvious holes in the roof, we have evacuated all inpatients, and we have successfully done that. But we are still operating the emergency services.

KING: And in terms of the emergency services, sir, help me understand the range of the injuries and the trauma you're dealing with.

ASHLEY: We had four fatalities that came through our E.R.

We had three more major traumas that were airlifted to other facilities. And the rest, they ran the gamut from chest wounds to a lot of broken bones and a lot of cuts and bruising. But it was a very long morning.

KING: I understand your point about the heat and your inability to keep inpatients because of that.

In terms of the emergency services, are you short any medical supplies you need urgently, any power issues, anything on that front where you would have needs?

ASHLEY: No, the utility folks got our power back on. We were on generator for probably four hours. And we have received backup supplies from several of the hospitals in the area.

And local businesses have shown up at our backdoor with things like cases of bottled water, and just a wide variety of supplies and food items. And it's been quite an outpouring. And so we're still in business and still seeing emergency patients. And they are still finding people in the debris and bringing them in.

KING: Still finding people in the debris and bringing them in. What is the prognosis, sir? Do you have any sense of how many are missing in the community, how long you have to find them?

ASHLEY: No, I don't.

KING: Have you ever seen anything like this?

ASHLEY: I have not, no.

I know these things happen. And I have seen tornadoes before, but I have not seen one quite like this. And to have it hit the hospital and we continue to operate is I felt quite an achievement and a tribute to my staff.

KING: Vince Ashley is the CEO of the Harrisburg Medical Center.

Sir, we appreciate your time on this traumatic day. And God bless you and those working to help you there in the community.

ASHLEY: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And the Illinois governor, Pat Quinn, as we speak is in that town of Harrisburg devastated tonight. We're going to talk to the governor in just a couple of moments.

There's also some late-breaking political news we want to tell you about tonight and it takes of a bit of the luster off Mitt Romney's double wins in the Arizona and Michigan primaries last night.

CNN now estimating Romney and Rick Santorum will split Michigan's 30 convention delegates right down the middle, 15 each, even though Romney clearly won the popular vote. Romney gets all the Arizona delegates, that state winner take all.

Also tonight a Senate campaign source tells me the former Pennsylvania senator will report raising $9 million from more than 100,000 contributors in the month of February. That same source says today has been one of the Santorum campaign's best fund-raising days of the cycle.

Coming up we will have an update on where today's deadly storms are heading tonight, plus a major policy shift today from North Korea's new leadership. We will dissect the new developments with the Bush administration's former top North Korea negotiator.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Right now, we're watching a line of strong storms moving into the Mid-Atlantic states and across the Southeast. Tornado warnings extend, get this, from Ohio through Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.

Right now we're seeing reports of 100-mile-per-hour wind gusts associated with a line of thunderstorms in Northwestern Alabama.

Storms killed at least nine people in Illinois and Missouri today.

The Illinois governor, Pat Quinn, joins us now live from Harrisburg, a Southern Illinois town that was devastated today.

Governor, let me ask you straight up. I spoke to the hospital CEO earlier today. He said they were taking care of patients but he didn't know how many more they were going to bring.

How many are missing tonight in that community? And what is the potential, sadly, for the fatalities to go up?

GOV. PAT QUINN (D), ILLINOIS: Well, there's nobody missing as far as we know. Everybody's accounted for.

We got about 100 injured, various degrees of injury. We want them all to recover. We lost six people. We pray for their repose of their soul and we thank God for their lives. It was really inspiring, I think, how people came together at 4:30 and 5:00 this morning, telling their neighbors to get to safety.

And right now you can hear the sound of chain saws and carpenters with hammers and fixing up roofs. We have already deployed our whole state government resources and we're working with the federal government. I got a call from the White House to use all federal resources to help people get back on their feet.

KING: We can see the shopping center over your shoulder, sir. We're showing other pictures of the devastation on television right now. As you make your way through the community, you say everyone's accounted for. If that's the case what's the biggest need, the biggest question mark at this hour?

QUINN: Well, any time you have a traumatic event like this, 175- mile-per-hour winds coming right through your house and your stores, it's traumatic. People have to kind of get back on their feet, say prayers that they recovered, and just sort of hold each other.

And I have been doing that with lots of people all over Harrisburg and Southern Illinois. Folks have come from every part of our state and other states to help their neighbors. Even folks from Joplin, Missouri, came. And I think that's what America is all about. It's -- the heart of America is the heart of a volunteer. We have a lot of volunteers helping their neighbor.

KING: Is there anything that people need, the community needs right now that people from surrounding communities could maybe help out with before the government can get its resources together?

QUINN: I believe in the power of prayer. You can always pray.

And also I think the resources of our state government are being deployed. We have a great Emergency Management Agency. Our state police, our conservation folks, everybody's in, nobody's left out. And then the other thing we're going to have to do, I have declared it a state disaster area. We have got to assess all this damage and then ultimately we will file something with the federal government for federal disaster area.

But the federal government has really been rising to the occasion. I got a call from Janet Napolitano a few minutes ago. And I was told by the White House that the president asked right away this morning, what can we do to help Illinois and the people of this wonderful town of Harrisburg?

It's really inspiring to see Americans come together in tough times.

KING: It certainly is, Governor. We wish you the best. And we wish those communities the best and we will keep in touch in the days ahead. Thank you for your time on a difficult evening, sir.

QUINN: OK. Thanks, John.

KING: Take care, sir.

We want to shift now. We will continue to track the severe weather system as it makes its way across the country.

Want to move now to important international developments today. In a very significant policy shift today from North Korea's new leaders, they have agreed to suspend their nuclear weapons program and they say stop testing long-range missiles in exchange for food aid from the United States.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed the deal while testifying on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Today's announcement represents a modest first step in the right direction. We, of course, will be watching closely and judging North Korea's new leaders by their actions.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: With us now, the former State Department official Christopher Hill. He led the U.S. negotiating team during the Bush administration's talks with North Korea and its neighbors.

Mr. Hill, it's good to see you on this important night.

You could hear the caution, maybe even a bit of skepticism in Secretary Clinton there. You have sat across the table in the prior regime. Is the first issue here trust?

CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I think the first issue is really where we're going with this.

And I think Secretary Clinton was absolutely right to be very cautious in her statement. It is indeed a first step. On the other hand, it's the first step that we have seen from this new government, it's the first decision they have made in this regard during this Kim Jong-un period.

So I think it is significant. But we need to be careful with it and regard it as modest.

KING: You understand this regime, at least the prior regime, as well as anybody on the planet, sir, from the American perspective. Do you believe there could be an opening under this new, young, untested leader?

HILL: Well, it suggests that they might be prepared to move back to the negotiation.

The problem is they essentially made the negotiation impossible back in '08 when they wouldn't give us the verification we needed to go check on suspicious sites. They would only allow us to verify the actual plutonium reactor, which we could already do from outer space and frankly from everywhere else.

So the real question will, of course, be in the details. But the fact that we have this kind of pre-step, as Ambassador Davies referred to it, is something that I think we need to follow up and we need to see if this can get us somewhere.

KING: And the administration previously had declined and been very reluctant to link food aid to any concessions if you will in the nuclear standpoint.

Is this a good move, a smart move?

HILL: Well, I think the administration is still reluctant to do that. You notice the State Department statement was very careful in that regard.

But as I understand it, there's going to be a discussion directly with the North Koreans. There have already been some discussions to determine precisely their need and most of all the monitoring requirements of food. So I think that assuming a food deal does go through, it will be very consistent with how we do food aid in the rest of the world. That is to assess the need, to assess the relative need elsewhere, and very importantly to make sure that we have the monitoring of the food aid that we need. I'm sure all those conditions will be met.

KING: Let me ask you lastly, how long will it take for you to be satisfied that when the inspectors go in, International Atomic Energy inspectors go in, that they're actually getting all the access they need and want, as opposed to this being some kind of a stunt?

HILL: Well, first of all, the inspectors who go in there will be monitoring what the North Koreans have said they're doing, which is to stop the -- any enrichment activities.

So it will be very interesting if they get into the enrichment facility. So far, only one U.S. scientist had a very fleeting glimpse of it. So this will be important.

But in terms of finding out whether they have another facility, which everyone suspects that they may have, I think that's kind of down the road. And I think there's going to be a lot of negotiation. I do believe, though, this is an important day for the U.S. and China relationship. It appears that the Chinese worked hard on this and also the South Koreans. So I do believe it's a step in the right direction.

KING: Christopher Hill, I appreciate your help and your insights tonight on this very important development. Thank you, sir.

HILL: Thank you.

KING: And we're tracking that violent storm system that swept across the Midwest and continues to threaten parts of the country today, coming up, where it's headed and the destruction it left behind.

Plus, closing in on a deal that could allow 16 Americans to leave Egypt -- new details tonight on just how they might come home.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Important breaking news this evening.

Tornadoes, you see them there, possible tonight along a line of storms from Ohio to the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern states all the way to Mississippi. You see that line of thunderstorms responsible for 100-mile-per-hour wind gusts that northwestern Alabama briefly had a tornado warning associated with, but that now has been canceled.

Storms killed at least nine people today in Illinois and Missouri, as we continue to track the severe weather.

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: When we come back: tonight's serious breaking news. One tornado survivor says he could hear buildings ripping apart. More firsthand stories from the path of the storm -- live pictures right there, Harrisburg, Illinois -- more firsthand stories from the devastation right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In this half hour, cars in lakes, a strip mall demolished, a hospital's roof and wall ripped away. We'll survey one town suffering on a day of killer storms.

Also, a look at the question each Republican candidate needs to answer in a very important month ahead.

And just when it seemed like things couldn't get worse, an ominous new development in Syria.

A huge storm that sent deadly tornadoes spinning through the Midwest has left at least nine people dead. And the danger isn't over as that storm system now moves east and south tonight. We'll check in with Chad Myers in just a moment about the coming threat.

So far no place hit harder than Harrisburg, Illinois, where six people died. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAYOR ERIC GREGG, HARRISBURG, ILLINOIS: It's a horrific event that's happened to us here in Harrisburg. The loss of life, the injuries, the devastation is just -- it's very profound. And it's heart-breaking, to tell you the truth.

KING (voice-over): Harrisburg's mayor says crews are searching for survivors piece by piece, making their way through destruction as wide as four football fields.

At a medical center a wall vanished in winds up to 170 miles per hour.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard the wall implode. And the storm did not actually sound that close. But then the wall blew out, and the door blew out and the ceiling tiles started coming down.

KING: A shopping center leveled in a moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's unbelievable. I can't believe the measure of damage it did to this building. It's like there was just no structures, and it just took it completely out.

I mean, as you can tell, it's total devastation. I've not ever seen anything like it all the way down through this whole area. I'm just glad that it happened at night when no one was at work. This would be horrible for people to be in this building when that happened.

KING: Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky also reeling, trying to come to grips with what happened early this morning.

STEVEN VAUGHT, SURVIVOR: I don't know how I'm here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

VAUGHT: No doubt. The good lord just didn't call me is all I know. Wasn't my time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm on the second floor. You could just hear building tops just tear open. You know, and it was just like -- my mom refused to come out of the house and stuff. I'm like, "Mom, you need to come. Let's go."

KING: Missouri Governor Jay Nixon says three people died in his state. He visited the town of Branson today and says the community will rise up.

GOV. JAY NIXON, MISSOURI: You can rebuild it. You will rebuild, that you're going to stay calm during now. We're going to keep the law. The bottom line is we are confident that Branson will be back, bigger and better than ever.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: With me now is Chad Myers tracking things in the CNN severe weather center for us tonight as we look back at the devastation you're also looking ahead at what could come.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We probably will see just as many tornadoes tonight as last night. But last night towns got in the way. Typically that doesn't happen. You know, we'll get ten tornadoes a night on a spring type night, but it hits a bunch of farmland. But last night, Branson got in the way; Harrisburg, Illinois in the way.

Now, the Harrisburg tornado was an EF-4. We go through these numbers all the time. People, I think, understand that the hurricane category one, cat two. I'm not sure they understand the Fujita scale or the enhanced Fujita scale.

So let's get to it. An EF-0, if you hear that going through your neighborhood, you're going to lose some shingles. Minor damage. The metal and the wood of your roof still going to be OK. Shingles will be gone.

EF-1, between 86 and 110 miles per hour. You will lose some of those broad, big pieces of wood. The plywood on top plus the shingles, of course, but the walls of your house will still be there.

EF-2, now we're looking at winds to 135 miles per hour. You certainly will lose all the windows in your house. Do not go and open the windows to try to relieve the pressure. That is an old myth. That's a 50-year-old myth. If you open the windows, if you get near that glass, you're putting yourself in danger of being cut by the glass. If that tornado wants the glass, it's going to take it, whether it's open or closed.

That's going to give you strong damage. Some of the outside walls will be gone from your house.

EF-3. Here's where we're getting kind of dangerous. We're getting up in here to 150, 165 miles per hour. There may only be two or three inside walls still left.

Same story with an EF-4. You still will be able to notice, though, even at 200 miles per hour, that there was a structure there at some time. Maybe the bathroom will still there be or a car will still be in the garage. You'll still see that that was a building.

But when you get to EF-5 at 200 miles per hour or more, all you will see is a hole where the basement is or a slab. Everything else will be completely gone.

We probably won't get 3s, 4s and 5s tonight, but we still could get 1s, 2s and 3s. And that means if you're in the way of one of those you will lose parts of your house.

I want you to get a NOAA weather radio. If you don't have one tonight, that's fine. But before this season really gets going, go and buy a NOAA weather radio -- John.

KING: Chad, appreciate that perspective. Thanks so much. We'll continue to track those storms as they move across the southwest and southeast in the Midwest.

But we have also some ominous news overseas. In Syria tonight it looks like government forces are starting a full-scale offensive against the besieged city of Homs. Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, monitoring the situation from Beirut, Lebanon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, a significant development in the fighting in Syria today. Activists in the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs tell us for the first time Syrian government forces have been using helicopter gunships to fire on them on the ground below.

They also tell us in this Baba Amr neighborhood there was a ground incursion by Syrian military forces. This has happened before, but they said they came in in greater numbers. They had tanks, and they were supported by their helicopter gunships.

They have long feared in that area, Baba Amr, they have long feared that there would be a ground offensive by Assad's military forces. Today they believe that they were saved by the weather. Late evening it began snowing. The helicopters pulled off. The troops pulled back.

And they believe that this tactic of using helicopter gunships is something that they're going to face in the coming days.

Another thing, as well, that we've seen in Baba Amr today, activists there tell us the water, the electricity in the whole city has been cut off. It has been very hard for us to communicate with them. Much harder than normal. They say this is because they're running their communications equipment on generators.

The shelling there, they say, was so incredibly intense today they haven't been able to get out to take video clips as they normally do.

And so the image that's emerging is the stranglehold, and the intensity of military force that's being used against them is increasing day-by-day. The fact that we're not able to see and haven't been able to see through the day, video clips, get updates on death tolls, numbers of injuries is an indication, they're telling us, of just how intense the fighting is. And they fear from today it's only going to get worse and the helicopter gunships, they think, will be back -- John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Nic Robertson tonight tracking the horrible situation in Syria from Lebanon. Thank you, Nic.

Mitt Romney closes out February with two primary wins. But can he close the deal with Republican voters? For that matter, can Rick Santorum learn to watch his words? Up next we'll walk through this campaign's big "what ifs."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Latest now in this hour's breaking news. A line of strong storms moving into the mid-Atlantic states and the southeast tonight. Tornado watches extend from Ohio through Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. A line of thunderstorms that produced 100- mile-an-hour wind gusts a little bit ago now moving toward Jasper, Alabama, northwestern Birmingham.

The storms killed at least nine people today in Illinois and Missouri.

We'll continue to track those storms.

Shifting now to "Raw Politics," February is over, and it was not the decisive month Mitt Romney had hoped for. Far from it. Yes, he won Michigan and Arizona last night and has every right to claim bragging rights and at least modest momentum.

Here's tonight's "Truth." As we raise the curtain on March, still more questions than answers in the Republican nomination chase. Will Governor Romney ever close the trust deficit with the conservative base or learn to bite his tongue when it is about to reinforce his "rich guy who just doesn't get the average Joe" image.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Guys, we're going to start lining up so you probably need to be back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two feet? Three feet?

ROMNEY: Keep going. You don't want to get hit. I'm going to press a button which will be my heavy lift in terms of manufacturing today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Can Rick Santorum learn to bite his tongue when he's about to speak about anything but jobs? And is talking about his mom enough to close a gender gap that gave Governor Romney Michigan?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She was a professional who actually made more money than her husband. I grew up with a very strong mom, someone who was a professional person who taught me a lot of things about balancing work and family and doing it well and doing it with a big heart and commitment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: More questions: for example can Ron Paul get a win somewhere? And can Newt Gingrich rise again?

Super Tuesday should provide some answers. Ten states, 419 delegates at play, next week. Team Romney's banking on Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia and Idaho. Santorum is a heavy favorite in Oklahoma. Ditto for Gingrich in Georgia. North Dakota and Alaska look ripe for Ron Paul, which leaves Ohio and Tennessee as the tossups and the testing grounds. Winning both and six out of ten next Tuesday would make Romney a formidable frontrunner.

But Santorum leads in both Ohio and Tennessee at the moment. And if he gets through to next week, well, he would be in the chase for real. And Gingrich?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to win the Georgia primary and win it decisively. And that is the key.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But truth is, just Georgia won't be enough. Like Congressman Paul, Gingrich needs a bigger splash and soon if he wants to be more than a role player.

For more on this Super Tuesday, we're joined by CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

When you look at that, Tennessee and Ohio, the big battlegrounds.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

KING: Santorum favored at the moment. I was told tonight they raised $9 million last month. So at least for a week, fundraising's not an issue. He's on par financially with Romney. Should Romney try them both? Should Romney pick one or the other?

BORGER: Well, I think he's going to try Ohio, Ohio, Ohio. I mean, this is a state that's like Michigan only without the family ties. And it's a bellwether state. You know how that -- it's an important state in the general election. I think Romney has to prove that he can win in the Midwest there.

And I also think, by the way, that he's got to show that he's got some strength in the south. I mean, he may very well win Virginia. Could take on the battleground -- on the battle, Paul's doing very well there, I gather. But so that's Romney. He's not going to get a lot of credit for that.

But Republican candidates need to show strength in the south, as well. And so if Newt Gingrich wins Georgia, you know, this thing has yet to play out. I mean, I think Romney's formidable, but he keeps making these unforced errors. And that's a problem.

KING: Romney and Santorum are clearly the top of the pack right now. Gingrich has come back in the past. Is just Georgia enough?

BORGER: No. I don't think so. I mean, look. I think if he loses Georgia...

KING: Over.

BORGER: Game over. But is Georgia enough to put him up to the top of the pack? I really -- it's hard for me to see how that is. I think if he has a win in Georgia and somewhere else, then yes, maybe he can start moving up. But I think he's putting all his eggs in that basket. I don't know if it will be enough, John.

KING: Let's show an example of the world we live in and a world that candidates should know, especially serious candidates should know they live in. This is Governor Romney earlier today doing an interview with the Ohio News Network. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mark Rubio is being debated, I believe, later this week that deals with banning or allowing employers to ban providing female contraception. Have you taken a position on that? He's said that he was for that. We'll talk about personhood in a second but he's for that. Have you taken a position?

ROMNEY: I'm not for the bill, but look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, a husband and wife? I'm not -- I'm not going there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, the question was admittedly a bit convoluted.

BORGER: Right. KING: The questioner did note at the beginning Blunt-Rubio. If you speak Washington, and maybe Governor Romney doesn't speak Washington, Roy Blunt is a supporter of Mitt Romney. This is federal legislation that would create a religious exemption. So if you're the Catholic Church and you give your employees health insurance, you don't have to cover contraception.

The Romney campaign has quickly done a cleanup operation, saying no, no, no, he misunderstood the question. He supports that legislation. But in today's world, the blogosphere jumped on it.

BORGER: Jumped on it like that. Not only conservative Republicans but Democrats and Democratic National Committee jumped on it.

Look, of course Mitt Romney was trying to go after Rick Santorum here. Santorum supports something; OK, I'm opposed to it. I answered the question on contraception.

But then, you know, this is what happens in a campaign. In a split second you make a mistake like that, because of course, his campaign points out he does believe in the conscience exception as they call it. And then suddenly conservatives are saying, there's that trust deficit you were just talking about, right?

KING: That's the issue with him. We all make mistakes. He misunderstood the question. If he misunderstood the question. He rushed on a Boston radio show to say, "I didn't understand the question. I support the amendment."

But he has that trust deficit. If Santorum had done this, people would say, "Maybe we'll just assume wait a minute. It was a misunderstanding." But since Romney has that trust deficit it becomes a bigger...

BORGER: You know, and you have to admit it was a mistake, and you have to correct yourself immediately. I mean, what we have with Rick Santorum was that after he said he was -- the JFK speech made him throw up, he then said, you know, that was a mistake, but it may have cost him Catholics in the state of Michigan by about 8 points. So a little too late.

KING: He took that one back. Romney cleans this one up. Maybe we could actually talk about jobs and the like, it would be a better conversation for the country, but we'll see, Gloria.

BORGER: Next time.

KING: Best of luck next time (ph).

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is coming up the top of the hour. Erin tracking the very important tornado damage in the Midwest tonight.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it's amazing the death toll isn't higher when you look at the destruction that we've seen. Two football fields wide. An entire strip mall just completely obliterated. We're going to be talking to the mayor of Harrisburg, Illinois. We're going to be talking to the mayor of Branson, Missouri, the resort town that was sort of completely decimated. Sort of been described as a Las Vegas-like resort town. That area now completely gone.

Also going to be talking to a man that worked in one of those strip malls. His alarm went off this morning. He thought that someone was trying to rob his store. He immediately got up, went to the strip mall, and it was completely gone. He'll be joining us tonight. Plus someone who lost a very dear friend in the tornadoes today.

Also as you know, John, we are getting some more information tonight about T.J. Lane, the student, the young man, 17 years old, who killed those students in Ohio. We have some more information on his juvenile history and exactly what he might have done and when. We're going to be talking about that tonight at the top of the hour.

Back to you.

KING: Erin, we'll see you in a few minutes. All important stories. Thank you.

And still to come here, how did you spend your Friday night?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John King's doing a great job. John King's on the yellow line.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A dream come true at Daytona next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Here's Kate Bolduan with the latest news you need to know right now.

Hello again.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, John.

Good evening, everyone.

Lots of talk today on Capitol Hill about Senator Olympia Snowe's surprise decision not to seek re-election this year and even more talk about the reason why. Snowe, a moderate Republican from Maine, says she's fed up with what she calls the polarization and the "my way or the highway" attitudes in Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: People are deeply frustrated and angered by the inability of, you know, of elected officials here in Washington to get together to solve problems.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: In other news, Monkees singer Davy Jones died today at the age of 66 after suffering a heart attack. Jones was on a solo tour in Florida and complained of chest pains yesterday evening.

And Tiger Woods' ex-coach says the golf star wanted to become a Navy SEAL. The instructor, Hank Haney writes in his new book that Woods seriously thought about quitting golf to join the elite unit, even making trips to naval outposts to train in 2007. Haney says that fascination even got in the way of Woods' going for the majors record.

Woods' agent calls that ridiculous.

John, I guess we all have our day jobs and then the jobs we wish we had.

KING: Yes, we have day jobs and jobs we wish we had, Kate, and on that point, stay right there.

BOLDUAN: OK.

KING: And finally, tonight's "Moment You May Have Missed." I want to be clear: I love my job, but we can all fantasize, right?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was cool. Down they go, as Joey Polter (ph) goes flying into the catch fence just past the start-finish line, and that will be John King will win at Daytona.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: No, not me, but for 23-year-old John King from Kingsport, Tennessee, the biggest win of his life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KING, RACECAR DRIVER: Man, I'm a rookie. I'm not supposed to be here. Oh, my gosh. This is unreal.

KING: And the Daytona champion joins us now, John King. It's nice to meet John King.

First, congratulations. What's it feel like to be a rookie on the track and to all of a sudden see that checkered flag?

KING, RACECAR DRIVER: It's unbelievable. I mean, I had never been to Daytona Speedway in my life. No, I take that back. As I driver I had never been to Daytona Speedway. I had been there a hundred times as a kid, but to roll in there and make my first laps at Daytona and ultimately to win, that's an amazing feeling.

KING, ANCHOR: So I was in Orlando at the NBA all-star game with my two teenagers and I get an e-mail saying I'm trending on Twitter. So I go and check this out, and it turns out it's not me; it's you. But there was a little bit of confusion. And so then I sent you a tweet saying, "I'll let you play with my magic wall and map out your races if you'll let me drive your truck." How about that?

KING, RACECAR DRIVER: I mean, we -- it would be a pleasure to have you anytime you can make it up to the racetrack, and if not, we'll have you to our pit facility and have you do some wild pit stops with us.

KING, ANCHOR: What is it -- you know, you're down in Daytona. You're in the truck race. The 500 was also this past weekend. Rick Santorum came down. Mitt Romney came down. What is it about NASCAR that attracts the politicians?

KING, RACECAR DRIVER: I think it's such a big stage, and there's so many fans across the country and they span from north to south, east to west, coast to coast. NASCAR is -- it's a big deal. I mean, there are more Fortune 500 companies that participate in NASCAR than any other sporting event in the world. So I mean, it's a large scale; it's a big area to get your face seen if you're around NASCAR. And I think that's what probably everybody wants to come see.

KING, ANCHOR: You're from a Super Tuesday state, registered to vote now in a Super Tuesday state, Tennessee. Is John King going to vote in the Republican primary in Tennessee, and any idea who, if you are going to vote?

KING, RACECAR DRIVER: I have no idea who yet, but I will be voting, yes, sir.

KING, ANCHOR: The candidates like to use crash metaphors sometimes. All the candidates stumble. Rick Santorum was talking about, down at Daytona, that he started way back in the pack and suddenly now, he's surged up to where he's a contender on the race.

What's it like to be on the track, and you're in a competitive race? You think you've got a chance to win, and then what happened to you over the weekend happened. You see the trucks flying in areas. You see the fires and the sparks. What goes through your mind?

KING, RACECAR DRIVER: I want to make it to the end. You know, ultimately, that's what they want to do, too, just make it to the end. You have to miss, you have to bypass all these big deals.

We went to -- we opted to fall to the back at the end and miss a lot of the big crashes and a lot of the controversy and ultimately, picked our way up through the field and found ourself in contention at the end and pulled it off. So I think that's -- that's probably what everybody wants to do is miss all the controversy.

KING, ANCHOR: Smart strategy on the track; a smart strategy in politics, as well. John King, it's a pleasure to meet you. I appreciate your time tonight. I'm going to come see you at the track soon.

KING, RACECAR DRIVER: All right. Thank you very much. We'll see you later.

KING, ANCHOR: So, Kate, which John King has the cooler job?

BOLDUAN: Ooh! That is putting me on the spot. I'm going to be diplomatic. I think both of you have the perfect job for you.

KING, ANCHOR: I don't know. He's got the cooler job. I've got a great job, but he's got the cooler job.

BOLDUAN: That was really fun. It was cute. He didn't -- it didn't even seem to register that he had won. He was in awe of it all. Pretty awesome.

KING, ANCHOR: It's pretty cool. We were tweeting back and forth on Friday night. He jumped up right away and says, "Sure, I'll come in." So we're going to have him here. We're going to have him work the magic wall. It will be a lot of fun.

BOLDUAN: That's what I love about you. Only you, John King. It's just oh, you know, Friday night, just tweeting the Daytona winner. You know, just happens. Just a regular Friday night for you.

KING, ANCHOR: Just happens. How about it, though? You want to go? If we go down the track, do you want to come along? Can you drive? Think you can drive a truck in that speed?

BOLDUAN: I'm definitely in. My husband will tell you, I've always wanted to be a racecar driver. He will, of course, never allow me to speed in a car. But I am in. Sign me up. I'm on board.

KING, ANCHOR: Well, what I love is the loyalty of the fan base. If you looked on Twitter when this was happening, he's @JohnKingRacing. I'm @JohnKingCNN. And it was just a hoot. People were jumping in and saying, "No, that can't be John King from CNN. It's this new guy." And people in the NASCAR community cleaned it up. And so we're going to have a lot of fun.

I learned to drive in Boston, so that qualifies me for NASCAR.

BOLDUAN: Oh, sure. Absolutely. Always comes back to Boston for you. Work in the Red Sox, please. Work in the Red Sox.

KING: No, no. This was all about racing. We'll get to -- we'll get to baseball soon enough.

All right, Kate, thanks.

And before we go, we want to return to a much more serious note and update you on this hour's dramatic breaking news. A line of strong storms moving into the mid-Atlantic states and across the southeast.

Tornado watch is extended now from Ohio, through Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. Remember that list as you watch these storms. Please check in, use your weather radio, keep track of us here at CNN. A line of thunderstorms have produced 100 mile-an-hour gusts of wind down moving toward Jasper, Alabama. That's northwest of Birmingham.

The storms killed at least nine people today in Illinois and Missouri. Some of the worst damage is in the resort city of Branson, the southwest part of the state.

Stay with us here on CNN as we continue to track this. That's all for us tonight. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.