Return to Transcripts main page


Tornado Aftermath; Santorum on the Attack; Cleanup Begins in Devastated Towns; Contraception Fight Hits the Campaign Trail; Herman Cain's Bizarre Commercial; New Line Of Attack On Romney; Jeep On Runway As Plane Approaches; Powerful Conservative Blogger Dead At 43

Aired March 1, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now: we're standing by to hear from the football coach who is being hailed as a hero in Monday's Ohio school shooting as students make an emotional return to the campus.

Also, stories of unbearable heartbreak, as tornado survivors recall those moments before dawn when their lives were literally turned upside-down.

Plus, just five days before Super Tuesday, Rick Santorum opens a new line of attack on Mitt Romney, hitting at one of the his oldest weak spots.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's get to the breaking news in the Ohio school shooting. In the last few minutes, 17-year-old suspect T.J. Lane has now been formally charged with three counts of aggravated murder and two counts of attempted aggravated murder.

There's also one count of felony assault. We're standing by this hour to hear from the football coach who is being hailed as a hero for chasing the suspect out of the school cafeteria where the shootings took place.

Let's go to Ted Rowlands right now. He's standing by with more on what is going on.

Dramatic developments, Ted, under way even as we speak.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the charges just came down within the last few minutes filed by David Joyce, the district attorney here.

As you mentioned, it's three aggravated (AUDIO GAP) all against T.J. Lane, the 17-year-old who still in the eyes of the law is a minor. We do expect that at his next court appearance on March 6, next Tuesday, he will be up to adult court, and from here then on out he will be considered an adult in the eyes of the law.

Right now, we are getting a press briefing on not only the charges, but also other things that have happened throughout the day today. Today the students returned to school for the first time along with their parents and counselors were on site there.

We also are going to hear we believe in the next few minutes from that teacher hero, Frank Hall, the teacher that had the wits about him and the courage to actually chase this young man out of the school. He's being credited with saving lives.

He was chasing T.J. Lane out of the school while being literally shot at. So we're expecting to hear from him, Wolf, in a matter of minutes.

BLITZER: And once he speaks, I want to make sure our viewers get a chance to hear this hero as well, because he is credited with saving lives at that school.

What about today? I understand the kids will formally go back to school tomorrow, but what happened today as far as the school campus is concerned?

ROWLANDS: Well, today the students got their first return to the school, but instead of coming alone, they came with their parents.

The teachers were there and waiting for them along with school counselors. They were allowed to come in just briefly. They stayed for about an hour, 1.5 hours. They had a ceremony of some sort of in the cafeteria, we're told. It was very emotional. It was very emotional in and out of the school. We talked to a couple folks, a couple students and parents and they said it was the perfect way to reintroduce these kids into the school where all of this trauma obviously took place just a few days ago on Monday morning.

BLITZER: We're getting more information also as the days continue about the suspect now formally charged as you point out, T.J. Lane. It seems like he had a very disturbing background.

ROWLANDS: Yes, absolutely.

Not only from the history that we have been able to get a picture of through the court documents, but also talking to people that knew this young man, he was a kid that really did have a tough life at home. His father was arrested, charged and found guilty of assault against his mother and against another woman as well. His father was in and out of jail.

He has a brother that had some problems apparently and his mother also had some problems. So he lived with his grandmother. We talked to one individual that said that T.J. was sort of part of the gang for a while, but then in the last three, four years, drifted off and really kept to himself, and became more of an isolated young man.

And a lot of speculation in this community is that his troubles at home made a big difference. Meanwhile, what we were talking about earlier was today. Today people didn't think about T.J. Lane at all. Today they said was about the victims and about the other students here at the school.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ROWLANDS (voice-over): It was a difficult morning as students along with their parents returned to school for the first time since Monday's shooting.

JEREMY BOLTON, STUDENT: It was pretty emotional, seeing everyone hug and cry, and everyone unite and remembering this hard time.

ROWLANDS: And remembering the three students skilled, 16-year- old Danny Parmertor, 16-Year-old Demetrius Hewlin and 17-year-old Russell King Jr.

Today, the grieving families of Danny Parmertor and Demetrius Hewlin talked publicly about their loss.

PHYLLIS FERGUSON, VICTIM'S MOTHER: Demetrius was energetic and a good young man. Demetrius had donated his organs, and for Demetrius' one life he gets to change eight lives. They took him this morning at five minutes to 8:00 to take his organs. So I'm kind of having a hard time. And this was the last time I got to see him.

DOMINIC PARMERTOR, VICTIM'S BROTHER: My brother was the happiest kid on the planet. He never got mad at anybody. He always just loved to have fun. He was going to change the world.

ROWLANDS: Seventeen-year-old Nick Walczak is the still hospitalized with no feeling in his legs. The teacher Joe Ricci pulled Nick into his classroom after he had been shot.

HOLLY WALCZAK, VICTIM'S MOTHER: He is the one that pulled him from the hallway into a room. He is forever our hero.

ROWLANDS: While none of the victims' family members would talk about the accused gunman, 17-year-old T.J. Lane, Demetrius Hewlin's mother sounded conciliatory.

FERGUSON: You have to forgive because if you don't forgive, you hold that in your heart. Instead of your memory of your child in there, you have got that hatred in your heart. This is for my son. This is for my son.


ROWLANDS: You know, Wolf, talking to a lot of people here, they do have empathy for T.J. Lane on some level, as disgusted as they are with what he did and the impact that he had on so many lives here.

We haven't heard a lot of hatred toward this young man. It's an odd sort of situation, to know what he did and then not have any real anger towards this young man. There's a lot of empathy for him as well. It's just a tragic, tragic situation.

BLITZER: I just want to remind our viewers T.J. Lane, the 17- year-old suspect, has been formally charged now, three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of attempted aggravated murder.

Some of the counselors are speaking right now. You know what? I just want to listen briefly to hear what they're saying. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of physical complaints that they wouldn't normally have.

What we advise to promote the healing is, first and foremost, to keep perspective about what a rarity this kind of event really is. We also really would hope that peope maintain as normal of routines as possible, and be very mindful about taking care of their own health. Even if they don't feel like it, make sure they do the basics in terms of getting rest when they can, eating well, getting some exercise.

These might seem simple, but this is what we have got to do, is really take care of the most essential aspects of our well-being. We need to reduce stress as much as possible, making lists, being really patient with yourselves and limiting distractions, especially limiting the exposure to TV or news or Facebook, the things that might sort of keep this going in your mind.

We need to talk to people, reach out and spend time with each other. It's through community that people really heal. Do things that feel good and are good for you, taking walks out in nature, even if it's cold, listening to music, journaling, creating art, giving yourself permission to feel the pain and to share the feelings with others.

There's no need to fight the recurring thoughts or dreams or flashbacks that might occur or probably will occur, because they're normal. Over time they will decrease and become less painful. However, if any of these symptoms do continue to be experienced for a prolonged period of time, then we really stress that it's important to seek professional help.

Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm struggling myself to try to make some sense of this senseless violent act, and I cannot.

What I can assure you is that we will give it the Chardon effort, as we step forward into some quite frankly uncharted territory, as we try to nurture your children in a safe and successful educational environment.

Over the next several days, we will continue to mourn and support the families of our deceased and injured students. I again off my sincere condolences to each family who is suffering and will forever suffer the loss of their child. We cannot begin to understand or know your pain.

What I can assure you is that these children will always have a place here in our school community. To the 3,100 other innocent victims, the students and their families, our teachers, staff and community, I offer you this advice.

I do so as your superintendent, as a husband and as a father. Students, take advantage of our wonderful teaching and professional staff. People are here and ready to help you. Whether it's a friendly smile or counseling session, someone will be there for you.

Parents, be a model for your children. They watch and will embrace everything you do. Send them off to school each day with a hug and a kiss, and the message to do their best. My mom did that for me and my two sisters. I also did that for my daughter.

And if you as parents need help, we will be there for you as well. Our community, you are never alone, not here in Chardon. You need only to ask for help. There are many resources throughout our great Geauga County.

I can assure you that we will do our best with the Chardon local school district and its surrounding communities to continue to provide an exceptional education and remain a wonderful place to live and learn.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you know, many people did many things on Monday that helped the situation from being any worse.

One of those people is Frank Hall, the assistant football coach, study hall monitor and tutor at the high school. Frank chased the gunman out of the building, saving even more bloodshed.

We have asked Frank to say a few words to you this afternoon -- Frank.

FRANK HALL, CHARDON HIGH SCHOOL ASSISTANT FOOTBALL COACH: I ask you to be patient with me. It's an emotional time.

To the victims and families, I want to say that I'm sorry. My thoughts and prayers are still with you.

To the families of Danny, Demetrius and Russell, I want you to know I was with them. I prayed with them. I wiped their tears, and I know God was with them. I don't know why this happened. I only wish I could have done more.

I'm not a hero. I'm just a football coach and a study hall teacher. The law enforcement, first-responders that came to our aid that day, they are the heroes. To the chief, sheriff, Mr. Bergant, Mr. (INAUDIBLE) thank you for the training that we have received. We all wished that we never had to use it, but we used it, and it worked.

To the teachers and support staff that carried this training out, that went above and beyond, that put their kids before themselves, I thank you. You're the best America has to offer.

A while back, I read a book about Tel Aviv and Israel. And after a terrorist attack on one of their markets, the mayor was so adamant that the very next day the markets be opened to show that terror and evil would not win out, that their way of life would not change, their faith would not change. I'm here to tell you that, tomorrow, our schools will be open. Our teachers will be there. Our administration will be there, our parents and community. But, more importantly, our children will be there. I can't tell you how great these children are, how great these kids are.

I want to leave you now with some Scripture, Matthew 5:14: "You are the light of the world, a town built on a hill that will not be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on a stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that you may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven."

There's so many people I want to thank, I can't -- I just can't do it all right now, to our administration, Mr. (INAUDIBLE) to my two good friends, our head coach, Mitch Hewitt, our (INAUDIBLE) Doug Craw (ph) and Doug Snyder (ph) that's been with me through this whole time.

To my lovely wife, Ashley (ph), who's been with me through it all, I want to say thank you.

God bless, and thank you.



BLITZER: There he is, Frank Hall, the teacher, the football coach who saved lives in Chardon, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland on Monday when he chased the suspect in this case, T.J. Lane, and the headline out of all of this we're seeing, formal charges have been put forward, aggravated murder, three counts aggravated murder, two counts aggravated murder, one count felonious assault.

We'll stay on top of this story, update you more. Martin Savidge is on the scene as well. Stay with us for more on this developing story.

Also, stories of unbearable heartbreak as tornado survivors recall those moments before dawn whether their lives were literally turned upside down. CNN's Don Lemon is on the scene and standing by to join us live. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: Hundreds of home damaged or completely destroyed. This is the scene people in several states are dealing with this hour, utterly complete devastation. The death toll is climbing from the massive storm system and the several tornadoes it spawned. Thirteen people are now dead.

CNN's Don Lemon is in one of the hardest hit area, in Harrisburg, Illinois.

What's it like there on the ground, Don?

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's always amazing to see the scope of this destruction, when you're talking about an EF-4 tornado. I mean, that's almost the biggest one you can get. I'm standing in front of a sporting goods store. We've been seeing what's happening to the retail properties and business all around the area.

But I'll tell you what struck us the most today is the devastation from the people, the personal devastation because you can replace all this stuff. What you can't replace are the lives and the broken hearts. And we learned that today when we went out and met the people of Harrisburg.


LEMON: How are you doing?

DENA MCDONALD, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I think God is the only thing getting us through this. We know our mother is in a better place, and, you know, I'm sure it will hit both of us at some point.

LEMON: And this is where she lived?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what's left of her home. Yes.

LEMON: And she just moved here just in November?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Right before Thanksgiving of 2011, she moved in here, yes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She loved the place.

LEMON: She did?


PATTY ANSLINGER, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I heard the sirens and could hear a locomotive sound coming straight at us. And I went ahead and put her in the bathtub, and made her scoot down, and I am top of her and we held on to each other in that tub.

LEMON: You lived up there in the corner?

JEFF STREET, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I lived in the very last one on the right. Straight across from the Rands (ph), who both passed away. I found them. I found the other lady under some debris. I found the Cottums (ph). She was free, but he was pinned in.

LEMON: Six people died that all lived right in this area. Do you know all of them?


LEMON: You saw --

STREET: I saw two of them, and they were already gone.

LEMON: You're just walking back to your house for the first time?

STREET: For the first time, yes, until since they got us out of here yesterday morning and took my wife and grandkids to the hospital. This is my first time back.

LEMON: When you ran out, you had to come around the street?

STREET: Yes. I came out that bathroom door. You see where I busted it to go out. I crawled over all this stuff and came out to hear, hollering for anybody. This is my oldest daughter as a baby. These are my old junior high yearbooks. I wished I could find some pictures of my grandsons, I could show you the one that's in the hospital.


LEMON: And, Wolf, it is so sad to hear some of those stories. Your heart can't help to go out, you want to help as much as you can, but we have to do our jobs as journalists and remain ourselves and just really tell the story.

But I want to tell you, they're moving on from this sort of destruction to this. They're looking forward to the future here, Wolf. You can see the workers out here putting roofs on buildings, new shingles, tarps -- anything that will shore these buildings up. The once that can't be shored up, they're going to have to demolish them. The bulldozers are going to come and tear them down.

And guess what? Friday another round of bad weather expected to come through. Lots of rain. If that's the most they get, they'll be happy for that. They're hoping they don't get those high winds as they did just yesterday, Wolf.

BLITZER: These emotional stories are so powerful, Don. Thanks very much for sharing with our viewers.

A new storm -- meanwhile, a new storm system is brewing that could bring more trouble.

Let's get right to our meteorologist Chad Myers.

Chad, the system that's developing could produce even more tornadoes. Is that right?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it could be worse than the one we had yesterday, worse in a different way, worse with more tornadoes.

Now, there's no way to tell whether those tornadoes are going to hit a town like Harrisburg or like any other town, because most tornadoes that touched down hit farmland. They hit farm field. They don't go into cities like Tuscaloosa. This is just been kind of a recent thing.

But you have to think, too, that, Wolf, the towns are getting bigger, people are moving away from the counties, and into the cities. So, as cities expand, they are more likely to get hit as well.

Here's what it looked like the past couple of days and the weather has now moved well off the East Coast, the tornadoes have also moved of the East Coast.

Here's what the setup is for tomorrow, though. As we move you ahead, the storm system is setting up a lot like yesterday we had yesterday, with cold air coming in. Behind it, warm air. It will be very warm.

It will be so moist in Nashville, it will feel like you're sitting on a beach in Miami. That's how much humidity will be in the air. That humidity and heat that feels like Miami weather is volatile. When you get cold air to push it up into the air, that air wants to bubble straight up, those bubbles make thunderstorms and as they begin to twist, and they probably will, we will get tornadoes.

I'm expecting at least 20 tornadoes tomorrow alone, some may be small, some may be big. And all we have to hope for is no towns get in the way like those towns, Branson and even some other ones got in the way, including Harrisburg the other day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks. Obviously, Chad, we'll be in very close touch with you tomorrow as this new system moves its way forward.

Herman Cain is out with a shocking new video. Why he says this is the economy after the stimulus. Stand by. You'll hear it. You'll see it and an entirely new ad of Herman Cain.

And the battle over ensuring contraception -- did the Obama administration, quote, "directly attack the First Amendment"? Mitt Romney says yes. A key member of President Obama's reelection campaign is here. She will respond live. That's coming up.


BLITZER: The Republican amendment to President Obama's controversial contraception directive has failed. The administration's mandate requiring most employers, even religious affiliated universities and hospitals, to cover contraception, but most Senate Republicans want to give employers the option to opt out of the coverage if they disagree on, quote, "faith principles".

Let's discuss this and a lot more with a key member of President Obama's reelection campaign, the deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter.

Stephanie, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: I'll read to you what Mitt Romney, who may -- repeat -- may be your challenger in November. He put out a statement saying, "The Obama has directly attacked the First Amendment of our Constitution and individual liberty. The president of the United States must protect and defend the Constitution, not ignore it."

Go ahead and respond.

CUTTER: Well, let's get our facts straight. This was a decision that was made at the recommendation of a series of medical experts and independence scientific bodies about what was best for women's health. The president put a rule out that says that employers have to provide insurance coverage, and insurance companies have to provide coverage for contraception with no out of pocket costs for a simple reason. It protects women's health. It prevents cancers, keeps women healthy, who wants to make their own health care decisions.

Now, there was an important exemption in there for religious institutions, for churches. The president expanded that for religious organizations like the one that Governor Romney is mentioning, for hospitals and universities to opt out of that so that they can exercise their conscience.

BLITZER: The bishops aren't happy with that compromise.

CUTTER: Well, the bishops -- let's remember, the bishops are against contraception. There's not a compromise to be had there.

But the president, you know, expanded the exemption, he heard from the Catholic community and he did what they asked. He expanded the exemption.

What Mitt Romney is talking about is giving any employer, if I work for a pizza --

BLITZER: Let's say you're a observant Catholic, and you have a small business, you have 10 employees, you don't want to have to pay for contraception if you believe that's morally wrong.

CUTTER: Well, it actually saves employers money. It doesn't cause employers any money. But --


BLITZER: I know, for religious reasons, you may not want to be able to --

CUTTER: You know, I heard somebody say earlier today that what Mitt Romney is advocating is really putting bosses in your bedroom.

So my boss, regardless of where I work, if he finds it morally objectionable that I want to use contraception then he can make the decision about my health care.

That's not right. You know, I think women all over this country are looking at the debate and scratching their heads and wondering, why is Mitt Romney --

BLITZER: So you think this is a winning issue for the president in November?

CUTTER: I think that the president made this decision based on what was best for women's health, based on the independent science, prevent cancer, keep women healthy. I think the way that Republicans have overplayed their hands is a problem for them politically.

I think women all over this country, independent women especially, who they will need if they want to win in November are running away from them because of this debate.

BLITZER: Let's move to another issue that's generating some buzz today, this tweet that the president put out @barackobama, I'm sure you follow him on Twitter as millions of others do.

And he says this, it's pretty simple, he says add your name to demand that the Koch brothers make their donors public. Koch brothers, very wealthy, billionaires, Republicans, active in opposing many of the president's policies.

The argument though is that the president wants them to make their donors public, but he has a similar "Super PAC" that supports the president that he's not demanding they make their donors public.

CUTTER: Well, the president has said that they should make their donors public.

BLITZER: But they don't.

CUTTER: You know, the Koch brothers, remember, have said at their last conference that this was the mother of all wars, the mother of all wars to defeat President Obama. They're raising hundreds of millions for that one single reason to defeat President Obama. They should tell exactly where that money is coming from.

BLITZER: "The Priorities USA," which is run by people who obviously support the president of the United States, Bill Burton who used to be the deputy White House press secretary, you worked with him at the White House.

Our own Paul Begala a political contributor here. You want all of their donors, "Priorities USA," all of their names to be made public just like the Koch brothers "Super PAC" should be made public.

CUTTER: We think everybody's donors should be made public, everybody. That's why we make our bundlers public. Mitt Romney doesn't make his bundlers public. We believe in full transparency, the president has been very clear on that.

BLITZER: Has the president called Bill Burton and said to him make those donors public?

CUTTER: He's not allowed to make a phone call based on the rules, but, you know -- BLITZER: He could say that publicly if he wants.

CUTTER: But, Wolf, an important point. A couple weeks ago, we made a change in our own strategy where we would --

BLITZER: You're talking about the Obama re-election campaign.

CUTTER: That would lend our support to "Priorities" and do fundraising events or only doing events for the side of "Priorities" that discloses their donors.

So we feel very strongly about this. If the Koch brothers are going to raise that money in secret from oil executives all over the country, why not tell the American people who's giving? What is it that they have to hide?

BLITZER: All right, let's move on and talk about Herman Cain, remember him?


BLITZER: He used to be a Republican presidential candidate. He's got a new organization out there, and he's got a new video that he just posted. I'm going to play it -- have you seen this yet?


BLITZER: OK. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: This is the economy. This is the economy on stimulus, any questions? Any questions?


BLITZER: You see Herman Cain standing on the ledge over there. Pretty brutal video, if you look at it.

CUTTER: Well, I think it's very creative. It's also factually wrong. If you look at where the economy is today, 24 straight months of job growth, the stock market has hit the 13,000 mark that it hasn't been at since 2008.

You know, the economy is moving forward. There's a direct connection to when this president passed the stimulus bill and implemented it or when this economy turned around.

Now, you know, Herman Cain and other Republicans might not want to believe that or have voters believe that, but those are the facts. Instead of talking down the economy and talking down the future of this country, they should just get on board and help us move forward.

BLITZER: Are you guys ready for what's going to be a brutal, brutal campaign?

CUTTER: Well, you know, thanks to the Koch brothers, I think it will be brutal campaign.

BLITZER: The president is raising hundreds of millions of dollars. Do you think it's going to raise a billion dollars? Remember all those reports that -- his re-election campaign where you're the deputy campaign manager, going to raise a billion dollars?

CUTTER: Yes, well, we never said a billion. It was reported -- reported as we want to have enough money to ensure that we can tell the president's story.

That we can get the grassroots engaged and ensure we can defense against some of the attacks. Half a billion dollars is being raised directly for one simple reason to defeat the president of the United States. We'd like to be ready for that.

BLITZER: As I've been saying now for weeks, if everybody think this Republican campaign is tough, brutal, nasty and ugly, just get ready. When they get their nominee, whoever it happens to be --

CUTTER: It's been a negative primary on the Republican side.

BLITZER: It's going to be very, very tough. Stephanie Cutter, thanks for joining us.

CUTTER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: The vice president of the United States, Joe Biden is also on the offensive, this time going after Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. Why the vice president says Santorum has an ideological divide with all of America.

Plus the sudden death of powerful conservative blogger, Andrew Breitbart. We'll talk about it with Donna Brazile and Mary Matalin. They're standing by live. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."


BLITZER: With two fresh primary wins and a caucus victory now under his belt, Mitt Romney is certainly gaining ground in the polls, but his nearest rival, Rick Santorum is opening a new line of attack with just five days to go before Tuesday, and its 10 primaries and caucuses.

Our senior correspondent Joe Johns is following all of this for us. Joe, what's the latest on Romney and Santorum?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, once again it seemingly two steps forward, one step backward for the Romney campaign. In the latest poll, clearly he has regained his footing, but even now some of Romney's old campaign troubles continue to haunt him.


JOHNS (voice-over): In this roller coaster ride of a race, the sign that frontrunner status and momentum is back on Mitt Romney's side. The latest Gallup national tracking poll conducted after the primaries in Arizona and Michigan, showing Romney out to a big lead on the morning after his win in the Wyoming caucuses.

But it wasn't all joy for the Romney campaign, because the old rap on him, the charge that he flip-flops on policy issues resurfaced in a big way. The issue was Romney's initial conditions on a proposal just now tabled in the Senate.

That would have allowed health insurance plans to deny contraceptive coverage if it runs counter to a sponsor or an employer's religious belief. When first asked about it on Wednesday, Romney said this.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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 woman, husband and wife, I'm not going there.

JOHNS: Romney quickly clarified saying he misunderstood the question and that he actually supported the proposal, which had been introduced by Republican Missouri Senator Roy Blunt as a conservative response to a new and controversial Obama administration rule.

ROMNEY: I'm in favor of the amendment.

JOHNS: But by then, Romney had opened himself up to the charge that he tried to do a switch, and at a rally in Atlanta, Rick Santorum pounced.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When Governor Romney was asked that question, his knee-jerk reaction was, no, I can't be for that. After his consultants talked to him, then he came back he said I didn't understand the question.

Maybe he did or didn't, but I tell you if I was asked a question like that, my gut reaction would be always, my gut reaction would be, you stand for the first amendment. You stand for freedom of religion.

JOHNS: With the last weekend before Super Tuesday, Rick Santorum's campaign was preparing for a whirlwind from Atlanta to Washington State then planning to go to Central Ohio by noon on Friday.

His fundraising hay skyrocketed. For his part Newt Gingrich has been focusing hard on Georgia, the state that he represented while he was in the Congress, hoping that voters here keep him viable after Super Tuesday.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have to win Georgia I think to be credible in the race. But if I win Georgia, the following week we go to Alabama and Mississippi, I think I'll win both of those, and we have a good opportunity to win in Kansas.


JOHNS: Meanwhile, tonight authorities in Michigan struck a blow to the Rick Santorum campaign, by announcing that Mitt Romney is receiving one more voting delegate to the Republican convention than Santorum will receive.

So this means Santorum will no longer be able to claim that he tied Romney in Michigan. Santorum pushed back today, calling that change a back room deal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So Romney will get 16 delegates from Michigan. Santorum will get 14, is that right?

JOHNS: That is exactly right. Before that Santorum had been claiming that because -- he thought he was going to get 15 and Romney was going to get 15. He could say it was a tie. Now 16-14, no tie, Romney the winner in Michigan.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Joe, for that.

While Romney and Santorum were stumping today in other parts of the country, they'll be back in Ohio. That's a key Super Tuesday battleground.

One reason geography, it's situated right between Michigan, Romney's home and Pennsylvania, Santorum's home state, so each man thinks he has strength there.

Let's talk a little bit about Ohio with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. Ohio I think is the biggest prize come next Tuesday.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Because, Wolf, it really is a test of both the seriousness and the staying power of any presidential campaign in either party.

And when it comes to the Republicans, there are a lot of diverse constituencies there. So if you can prove you can win among these constituencies, it's important in order to have national appeal.

Take a look at this. First of all, this state Ohio is a bellwether for the general election. No Republican presidential candidate has ever won without winning the state of Ohio.

Secondly, it offers a microcosm of the electorate, urban, rural, Evangelical, Catholic, conservative, moderate Republicans, all of them in the state of Ohio.

And thirdly it tests how whether you have a true crossover appeal. This is an open primary and so Rick Santorum, for example, hopes that he can appeal to those Reagan Democrats, those blue collar voters, who will be very important in the general election should he become the nominee.

So very, very important state, 63 delegates, but actually it's not even the number of delegates that counts, you just have to prove you can win there.

BLITZER: What are the most recent polls there show? BORGER: Well, first of all, let's say, we haven't had one since Tuesday's primaries, but the most recent poll in Ohio shows that Rick Santorum is 11 points ahead.

What we'll be able to see when we get another poll, perhaps as early as tomorrow, we'll be able to see whether Romney has any momentum coming out of his twin victories the other night in Michigan and Arizona.

But one important thing, don't forget, Wolf, is money. Mitt Romney has a lot more money to spend not only his campaign, but also his "Super PAC." So far he's outspending Rick Santorum 4-1. He's already been up on the air in the state. Rick Santorum has, what, five or six days to catch up.

BLITZER: Yes, I always say I would like to be an owner of a local TV station in Ohio right now.

BORGER: You and me both.

BLITZER: We're going to be dealing a lot of ad money. Thanks very much, Gloria.

A plane is seconds from landing on air craft, the controller send it back to the skies. How an air traffic controller prevented a possible disaster when a jeep suddenly ended up on the runway.


BLIZTER: A passenger plane was just seconds from landing in foggy weather when a jeep crashed through an airport security fence and drove onto the runway.

CNN aviation and regulation correspondent Lizzie O'Leary is here. She's working the story for us. So what happened here?

LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN AVIATION AND REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a pretty dramatic incident. Thankfully no one was hurt. It happened in Philadelphia International Airport. This man in a jeep drove through barriers some sort of chain link fence onto the runway in Philly only seconds away from this plane.

It happened around 11 a.m. this morning and the local air traffic controllers' union president says a controller spotted something on the runway on the ground radar. It couldn't exactly see what it was because of the fog.

But at the same moment, a U.S. Airways express plane was about a 100-feet above the ground that's 10 to 15 seconds from touchdown, about a quarter mile from the end of the runway, the controller send that plane back up into the air.

But we have audio of them realizing there's something in the way. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody there's going to be a delay. You guys can shut down. We have a rogue vehicle driving around on the airport. We're not talking to him. We are not moving anybody until we find this guy.


O'LEARY: A rogue vehicle so the controllers closed the airport. They watched as the local cops chased this guy all over the runways. They went up and down the main runway, across the departure runway, across the secondary runway. That's three of the four runways overall.

The local traffic control folks told us it was a dangerous one. It was only by the grace of God that the controller happened to be scanning. Had he not picked it up, it would have been bad.

Now we don't know how many people were on board on the flight. It went from Pittsburgh to Philly, but the kind of jet involved here can hold about 76 passengers.

The police in Philly have released a photo of the man they arrested. There he is, 24 years old, Kenneth Masik. He'll be charge with a bunch of different things, nine counts of reckless endangerment, aggravated assault, the charges keep coming.

There's an investigation continuing. He could face federal charges as well. The police chief there told us this appears he was high on something, no nexus to terrorism. The FAA says arriving flights were delayed by about 30 minutes, but they found this guy by looking at the runway.

BLITZER: You can imagine if you're on that little U.S. Airways plane and it's only 100 feet off the ground and you're about to land, and all of a sudden --

O'LEARY: Going right back up.

BLITZER: That could scare you.

O'LEARY: Yes, indeed.

BLITZER: But fortunately, everybody was OK. Lizzie, thanks very much.

The death of a powerful conservative blogger, loved by the right. A lot of people didn't love him by the left. Our "Strategy Session" will weigh in.


BLITZER: Conservatives across the country woke up to shocking news today. The right wing blogger, Andrew Breitbart dead at the age of 43. Breitbart was certainly a driving force in the Tea Party Movement as well as a very influential political voice on the internet heading up his own web site after helping to run drudge report and launch "The Huffington Post." But he's also known for controversial stories and some non- stories that he broke among them New York Congressman Anthony Weiner's infamous Twitter picture, which led to Weiner's resignation from Congress.

In 2010, Breitbart was heavily criticized for posting an incomplete video of Agriculture Department employee, Shirley Sherrod, which appeared to show Sherrod discriminating against a white farmer.

She was forced to resign before the truth came out that the video was edited and that she had actually helped the white farmer. Breitbart appeared on CNN's "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" only hours before his death to talk about the results of Tuesday's Arizona and Michigan primaries.

Breitbart's web site says his death was from natural causes. The L.A. County coroner's office says an autopsy is planned for tomorrow.

Let's talk about this and a lot more with two CNN contributors, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile and the Republican strategist, Mary Matalin.

Quickly I want to get your reaction. Mary, first to you to Andrew Breitbart's sudden shocking death.

MARY MATALIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It was shocking. I knew Andrew before he was Andrew, if you know what I mean. He is relentlessly curious, charming, jolly, and it was comforting to hear rush talk about him today, how kind and thoughtful he was.

These are not the caricature that's been made of him in his political life. But the shock of his premature death is balanced by his belying the notion that we only live a fraction of our lives.

He was a carpe diem guy. He lived every day, but the greatest joy of his life with his family and I hope his wife and four children are comforted by however much he accomplished in his political life, they were his real life.

BLIZTER: I know you were upset about his role in the Shirley Sherrod episode in 2010, Donna, but what's your reaction?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, I had an opportunity to talk to Andrew about that. We frequently talked on the phone. We shared each other cell numbers, e-mail accounts. We didn't always agree.

Look, he was tough. He was tenacious. He showered his friends with love and shamed others who disagreed with him. He was fearless, conservative combatant, Andrew enjoyed politics. He understood it was a contact sport.

And he had no shame in bringing to light anything that he thought the left was doing that he disagreed with. But, you know, I think of him as someone, you know, who had just a deep passion for political participation, and he loved his kids, his wife, Susie, and he was a fun guy.

When I would disagree with him, I would call and say, can we stop talking about this and start talking about things we enjoy talking about? But he was -- he was fun. I tried to get him to talk to Shirley Sherrod, to apologize, to put this behind him, but he still wanted to dig into it.

He was thoughtful again, and on some special -- how to aggregate the media. If you wanted to ask him a simple question about the internet and where it was going. Andrew spent time on the phone.

Let me tell you this and Mary probably knows this. You did not get off the phone with Andrew after two minutes. He kept you on the phone for often 40, 45 minutes. He was a good guy in that way.

BLITZER: Let me make the turn to the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, and Mary, first to you. Listen to what the vice president said reacting to Rick Santorum slamming the president for urging high school kids to get some post high school eduction.

Rick Santorum saying that the president was simply a snob. Listen to the vice president.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think there was an ideological divide between Rick Santorum and all of America on this. I don't think it's between the parties, you know.

Look, I've been going to college campuses and high schools all across America for the past six months, talking about what the facts are. Six out of the 10 jobs over the next 10 years are going to require an advance degree, a degree beyond the certificate of degree beyond high school. It's that simple.


BLITZER: Is the president a snob for wanting high school kids to get a little post-high school education, maybe a university, maybe a college, maybe a technical school, maybe some sort of post-high school training? Does that make the president a snob, Mary?

MATALIN: Absolutely not, but the vice president is distorting the clear context of Santorum's comments just as Santorum distorted the clear meaning of President Obama's notion.

What I presume, Rick -- what Santorum was saying in the context of -- to whom he was delivering it with a manufacturing blue collar audience that there are worthy lives outside the Ivy League, a state schoolgirl and steel mill girl. I felt that disdain.

Donna and I went to the states schools. We did OK, but everyone in higher education knows there's a big problem. People need to be attached to jobs. They need to be attached to apprenticeships.

There are all sorts of these activities underway in higher education. I think that's what the president clearly meant, and I think Santorum responded poorly. The sad thing about this is he can't advance an argument without having to bash Obama in every instance.

BLITZER: I'm going to let that stand right now. Unfortunately, we're out of time, Donna, but I know you'll be back with us tomorrow. Thanks, guys, very much.

BRAZILE: I agree.

BLITZER: This is note to our viewers. This is your chance to go behind the scenes with me and CNN's political team. Join us Super Tuesday, this coming Tuesday at noon Eastern for a live virtual roundtable where our political experts will answer questions from participants including CNN I-Reporters.

We'll also explore pressing topics from the candidates' stances on top issues to how this year's election will affect you. That's this coming Tuesday.