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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN
Chardon High School Students Return to Class; New Tornado Threat Today; Romney Gaining Momentum; Runway Jeep On Airport Runway; Sheridan returns To Stand In 'Desperate' Trial
Aired March 2, 2012 - 05:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. And welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.
ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Ashleigh Banfield in Harrisburg, Illinois, the scene of deadly tornado.
And to add insult to injury, the severe weather threat is not over yet. I'll get you updated to what's coming this way and to other states in the U.S.
And not only that, in Joplin, Missouri, we saw pets by the dozens who were stranded, and orphaned, and rescued, and some reunited. And that story happily playing out again here -- at least the reuniting part. We're going to give you an incredible story how one dog not only was a survivor once, but twice.
That's all coming up in just a moment.
SAMBOLIN: It is nice to hear some good news coming out of there. Thank you.
Meantime, Chardon High School students heading back to class for the first time since Monday's shootings, the day after the accused shooter was charged with murder. And the scene of the massacre, we understand, will have a different look as the students enter the school.
And take a look at this, a plane had to abort a landing and fly in circles because of that. An alleged drunk driver who decided to take a ride on the runway. We'll have much more on that coming up.
But, up first here, back to school in Chardon, Ohio, has never been like this. Classes resume this morning at Chardon High, just days after a school shooting that shattered that entire community. Three students were killed there.
The shooting suspect, 17-year-old T.J. Lane, has been charged with three counts of aggravated murder. He is charged in juvenile court but that may change. Lane may still be prosecuted as an adult.
The school's assistant football coach, you know, the hero that we're all talking about, Frank Hall, he chased that gunman out of the building. He had this to say yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANK HALL, ASST. FOOTBALL COACH, CHARDON HIGH SCHOOL: 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, 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAMBOLIN: The parents are happy that that man was by their children's side. Frank Hall says it is important students and staff return to show that, quote, "terror and evil do not win out".
CNN's Ted Rowlands is live in Chardon, Ohio.
And, Ted, we understand that they have actually changed the setting as the students come back to the school. Can you tell us about that?
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Yesterday, Zoraida, the students came back for the first time with their parents. They were there for a few hours.
And one of the things that we understood talking to the folks that were there, parents and students, is that they changed the cafeteria around. Of course, that was the spot where this horrific shooting took place, painted the cafeteria. And they rearranged all of the tables, so that when the students come back, it will be different, a sort of a new start is the mentality there.
That was something that was very emotional, talking to students and parents, that when they came into the cafeteria and they saw that it was changed, that it really did bring it home that something had happened there but their fear of going back into that room was allayed a little bit with some of these students.
Clearly, this will be a long process. And they know that. Counselors will be here on site today as the students come back.
SAMBOLIN: Ted, have you had or have you heard anything about the students talking about T.J. Lane? Because initially some of them said that he was a nice guy. Others said he was a loner. The prosecutor said he was not well.
Are the students talking about him?
ROWLANDS: Oh, absolutely. They're talking about the fact that he had changed in years past. The last three to four years, he had become withdrawn. One student said he used to be part of the gang here, you know. And now -- but he just sort of drifted away to himself.
The one thing, Zoraida, that they all said was that he was a nice kid. When they were -- when he was engaged with other kids, he was a pleasant, nice kid.
SAMBOLIN: And I want to end on a positive note here. I heard that they had their first sporting event last night since the shooting. How did that go?
ROWLANDS: Well, I think we have some videos. Just unbelievable.
SAMBOLIN: There it is.
ROWLANDS: Both teams showed up wearing the Chardon red colors, even the opposing team who was blue had red on during the warm-ups. The fans all wore red.
It was really a fabulous night of unity. This was a playoff sectional game. Chardon ended up winning by about 20 points.
But it was really the theme there a community coming together on both sides. And as one person said, letting these kids be kids for the first time since the shooting.
SAMBOLIN: That is a spectacular moment to see. I'm sure it's going to help with their healing.
Ted Rowlands live for us. Thank you very much for that.
And now, let's send it out to Ashleigh. She is live in Harrisburg, Illinois, with the latest there.
And I was reading, Ashleigh, that they are hiring an expert to track the severe storms that are actually headed in your direction, kind of adding insult to injury here.
BANFIELD: Yes, because they want a coordinator to be able to be on hand for all hands on deck but on hand specifically for the weather story.
If there's just one piece of video or at least an image I can draw your attention to, just look behind me at that mess. I'm sure that it's pretty hard to recognize. If you look at the little white dot at the back, it's a license plate. That tells you that's a flatbed truck up on its end.
And this is the reality. I have been walking through this community now for 48 hours. And all I hear now are buzz saws, front end loaders, and tractors just trying to scoop up these disaster areas and get rid of it -- get rid of it as soon as possible because there's more to come. We're expecting more severe weather through here.
In fact, there is a broad swath of several states that's expecting severe weather. We had thought there would be a second set of tornadoes coming through here as well. So, you can see people picking through all of their belongings, desperately trying to get whatever they could as quickly as possible, to just salvage it from the coming rains.
We're expecting a heavy downpour possibly in the next couple of hours. Some hail has already been in the forecast and then those strong winds. At least we're not expecting tornadoes again. Thought, that fear really did pass. There are other areas though without question to our east and to our south that may not have as good news as we're having here though in Harrisburg.
And, you know, there were -- there were so many people that I met that were so hopeful even though they were picking through complete wreckage of their homes, that they were alive and that their family members were OK.
And I came across these two girls yesterday who were picking through their grandmother's and their grandfather's home. Lydia and Chloe Lyon told me the story of their elderly grandparents who were in bed. They're in their 70s. Their grandmother has a broken femur and their grandfather has kidney problems. The only warning that they had that there was a tornado coming was when the ceiling of their bedroom fell in on them in bed and the roof blew right off.
Take a look at how they told me they got to safety regardless.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LYDIA LYON, GRANDPARENTS HOME DESTROYED BY TORNADO: Well, they were actually in bed at the time. My grandma was on this side of the bed on her side and my grandpa was on his back over there. They didn't even know there was a storm until their ceiling caved in on top of them.
BANFIELD: The roof is gone.
L. LYON: The ceiling fell on top of them.
BANFIELD: Your grandmother has a broken leg. Your grandfather's in his 70s. He's not well. What did they do to get out of here?
L. LYON: She rolled.
CHLOE LYON, GRANDPARENTS HOME DESTROYED BY TORNADO: She rolled out on the floor. She braced herself on this, pulled herself up. That's all she could do until my grandfather, she said she was screaming for him to get out of bed.
He got out of the debris, comes around, grabs her, walks like this, really more of like a dragging like step, step, pull. Then once they grabbed a sheet, he had a sheet because he saw all the glass on the floor.
BANFIELD: And they were barefoot?
C. LYON: Oh, totally barefoot. Yes. And then they ran into here, went into the bathroom. That's basically all they could do.
BANFIELD: This is where they rode the storm out.
C. LYON: This is where they rode the storm out the last two or three minutes before someone in the family came.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BANFIELD: And, of course, that's always the critical story. If there's a threat coming, get to an inner room, a closet, a bathroom, a bathtub, a mattress over you. And that's how these elderly grandparents actually rode out the storm and happily we can report they're OK. The house is a goner.
But let me tell you something else. As we continue to look at the damage here, we're also looking ahead to the weather systems.
And Rob Marciano has been tracking this for us.
I don't think you've been sleeping much because these things change all the time. But we do have three states, right, that are in possible direct path?
ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. More than that, Ashleigh. This is a big storm. It's going to affect a wide swath of real estate. The bull's eye, so to speak, is in a core of three states.
But we're already starting to see storms fire ahead of this system. Severe thunderstorm watch has been in effect for parts of Missouri and a warning just in effect a few minutes ago for Jefferson City. So these storms will continue to fire -- just thunderstorms that create some hail and high winds. The real tornado threat will come later in the day as we get the main system. This low will intensify.
A little different situation than the last go around, but unfortunately affecting the same people. This will intensify and move rapidly off towards the north and east. Tap the Gulf of Mexico moisture.
And we've got some twists in the atmosphere. Winds coming in different directions and that's the key to forecasting long tractor tornadoes. And we expect to see a fair amount of those as we go through time, especially in through Tennessee, Kentucky. It does include parts of southern Indiana, Ohio.
And the timing for this, you now, will be, you know, 3:00, 4:00 in the afternoon, until 8:00, 9:00, 10:00 or later at night as the storm progresses rapidly of this. And similar situation that these storms will be moving very, very quickly, powered by a strong jet stream, looking at 60 to 70 miles an hour in transport. And some of them could be as strong as the one that hit in southern Illinois where you are.
Ashleigh, we'll keep track of that. Back to you.
BANFIELD: All right, Rob. Thanks very much for that.
I want to mention as well that coming up a little bit later in the program, we're going to have those Lyon daughters, those granddaughters, are here with us to give us an update on how their grandparents are doing. And I've got some good news for you.
And also coming up, you're going to meet Roxie (ph). What a survivor. And Roxie, a dog, two times being orphaned essentially in a tornado. And she has been reunited with her owner.
You won't believe the path it took and, more importantly, what does happen with pets when this kind of thing rolls through your community. We got a great story about that coming up as well.
And if you want to help, if you want to reach out, I can't stress it enough, there is a lot you can be doing. There are a lot of different ways you can help, too. Just go to CNN.com/impact -- CNN.com/impact. You'll find a whole array of different organizations that you can reach out to.
The Red Cross volunteers always say we need your money, we need your blood, we need your work, you know? So, lots of things you can do even if you're far away. Volunteers come from everywhere after a disaster like this. And the cleanup is only just beginning.
Zoraida, back to you.
SAMBOLIN: We're looking forward to those good stories and great news. Thank you.
And minding your business this morning. U.S. markets are making some gains here. Positive economic news pushing the Dow, NASDAQ, S&P 500 all higher yesterday.
So, let's bring in Ms. Christine Romans now. She is talking AT&T changing its unpopular data, throttling policy for smartphone users.
I was reading this this morning and I thought, I'll just let Christine explain it.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: People were so angry because they said when is unlimited not unlimited? Why is AT&T slowing down my usage when I hit a certain vague level? People were very, very upset about this. Now, AT&T is reacting to those very angered customers. It's a clarifying its policy for you unlimited policy users.
It's called throttling, right, when it all of a sudden, it takes longer to download something, surf the Web because AT&T has slowed down your usage on your smartphone. Now, for unlimited plans, when you hit 3 gigabytes during a cycle, that's when the throttling will begin. Seventeen million users are affected.
Until now, it had been something very vague like when people in your neighborhood reach 5 percent of data usage for the networks, then suddenly you could be slowed down. Look, consumers are angry. We don't like it. It's an unlimited plan. Why are you slowing me down?
Let me tell you how much that is, 3 gigs. It's about 10 hours of high definition video. So when you hit that level, you know, now you have kind ever gobbled up as much as you can before you're throttled by AT&T. Your smartphone is like a mini computer. We're doing so many more things with these now.
SAMBOLIN: Family plans also. So you have a lot of users on that one plan.
ROMANS: Yes. I'll tell you something. What they're trying to did, all of the carriers, really, is they're trying to pushing you into these tiered plans so you're paying more for what you use. They're trying to move into a new way of doing it. These unlimited plans have been problematic for the companies because you're using so much of this stuff in new ways every day. There's only so much spectrum quite frankly.
SAMBOLIN: OK. So this makes me as mad as those bank fees.
ROMANS: I know.
SAMBOLIN: There are a lot of banks out there. So, you can choose another bank. What about this? Do we have other options?
ROMANS: I think when you look at the cell phone stories and you look the at bank stories you can see a consumer tapped out, maxed out, angry. You can see a consumer who is really fighting back on unfair nickel and diming from these industries whether that's really what's happening or not.
And we know from -- yes, we found out yesterday that the credit unions last year got a record number of new -- there were a record number of people every day, thousands of people are leaving their banks and going to credit unions because of fees. They're reacting to fees.
So, I think both of those are tied together because they are the story of the maxed out consumer who's not going to take it anymore.
SAMBOLIN: Yes, shop around and see if somebody else has something better to offer. All right. Christine, thank you very much. We appreciate it.
ROMANS: You're welcome.
SAMBOLIN: It is 14 minutes past the hour here. Time to check the stories that are making news this morning.
Counselors will keep a very close watch on the students at Chardon High School as they return to class just days after that fatal shooting. One student says being together will give them strength.
And more dangerous weather on the way, and many of the same areas hit earlier this week are in the bull's eye again. There are high winds, hail, and more large and powerful tornadoes possible from New Orleans all the way up through the Ohio Valley today. So, beware of that.
And the Coast Guard has recovered the bodies of two more crew members lost in a helicopter crash into Alabama's Mobile Bay this week. The rescuers have now found three of the four people on board that Coast Guard chopper.
And a group of nongovernmental workers from the United States, Europe and Israel have left Egypt after posting bail. The workers are facing fraud charges. The son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is among those allowed to leave.
And this just in, folks, the national average for gas rising another fraction of a cent to $3.74 a gallon. It's inching closer and closer to that $4 mark. High oil prices continue to drive gas prices up and the cost of gas is up more than 14 percent since the start of the year. I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news there.
And still ahead on EARLY START:
A runway jeep -- a runaway jeep that is on the runway -- look at that -- causing a huge scare in the air, on the ground, a huge scramble. We're going to bring you some details on that crazy and bizarre story.
And President Obama gets the last laugh after firing back at a heckler during a fundraiser in New York. If you missed it, we've got it.
You're watching EARLY START.
SAMBOLIN: That is Elton John, "Philadelphia Freedom." And on that note, we say, good morning, Philadelphia. It is 39 degrees there now. A little later, it's going to be nice and sunny for you and 52 degrees.
Let's stay in Philadelphia, shall we?
It was a security scare at Philadelphia International Airport. A plane was just seconds from landing when a man, take a look at this, drove his jeep through a fence and onto the runway.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got a rogue vehicle driving around on the airport,we're not talking to him, we can catch him.
Hold short on runway niner. We're not moving anybody until we find this guy.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SAMBOLIN: Police quickly caught up with the jeep. They surrounded the suspect after he hit a couple of runway lights.
Police say that suspect, 24-year-old Kenneth Mazik, appeared to be intoxicated. He is now facing a number of charges including reckless endangerment and criminal mischief.
Rafi Ron is the president of the New Age Security Solutions and he joins me now on the phone.
Thank you for being with us this morning. I want to get right into this. And I also want to mention that you are the former director of security at Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport, because that is probably one of the safest airports at least I've ever traveled through.
You have been concerned about security, safety -- perimeter security for years. You even testified about this.
This actually happened in broad daylight. How is it possible that something like this happens?
RAFI RON, NEW AGE SECURITY SOLUTIONS (via telephone): Well, I think it's the natural result of the fact that our security -- national security policy has not been balanced from the point of view that we've been investing for the last 10 years almost all of our efforts in the passenger's -- these bags and the cargo and other terms, everything that goes on the aircraft. We've paid relatively very little attention and resources to securing the airport itself and its perimeter.
And this has been exhibited more than once. Actually, every week, you hear about an incident somewhere across the country where the perimeter has been breached mostly by pedestrians or in extreme cases like this one, by a vehicle.
SAMBOLIN: Well, here in this case allegedly this man was intoxicated, but you really worry about this being a terrorist threat, don't you?
RON: Yes, of course. Even on the level of the incident that occurred yesterday, I think the public should be concerned because this is not the first time that a drunk person has driven a car across the perimeter of an airport and ended up either on the runway or near the runway.
And as you can see from the video, the proximity of the car to the aircraft on the runway, 70 percent is a public safety issue which is rather extreme.
SAMBOLIN: Right. It was actually 15 seconds before landing. They had to abort that landing.
We're taking a look at the airplane coming in now. Let me ask you about this because a homeland security expert told one of our affiliates that you could bankrupt an airport, A municipality, even a country if you tried to secure the perimeter of every airport.
So, how do you do this?
RON: Well, every airport is a single airport. There are certain responsibilities for public safety and for security. These responsibilities are shared between the government, the federal government, and the local airport authority.
It has been for years that FAA has been regulating public safety issues and dictating standards for the perimeter security even prior to 9/11 on safety basis. But I have to say that since 9/11, when TSA took over the security at airports, perimeter has not received the tremendous amount of attention and you can see that --
SAMBOLIN: It's definitely a concern.
But I have one more question because I'm going to lose you here in a moment. We do know that there was some fast action that happened here, and I'm curious, they say that the ground radar kicked in. The tower was alerted immediately. They made sure to divert the flights that were coming in. They quickly shut down the airport.
Is that something that is training that's provided to every airport or was that just somebody's quick thinking?
RON: Well, it certainly worries me in every airport. I would assume that most large airports, this is the case. But again, a lot of it depends on the ability to detect the breach at the time when it occurs. And sometimes it's very difficult to detect these breaches, especially when they occur at night and not necessarily by a car but by pedestrians.
And we don't even know that the breach has occurred before we realize that we have a disaster on our hand.
SAMBOLIN: Very scary moments. Well, we appreciate you coming in and sharing your experience. Rafi Ron, president of New Age Security Solutions -- thank you.
And still to come on EARLY START, a tense hostage situation at a bank in California. We're going to show you how it all ends.
And hundreds of animals like this one went up for adoption after the Joplin tornado. One ended up in Harrisburg, and guess what? He was almost lost again. We're going to meet her. We're going to meet her owner. Ashleigh Banfield has all of the stories for us.
You're watching EARLY START.
SAMBOLIN: It is 27 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START.
It's time to check the stories making news this morning.
Students at Chardon High School in Ohio will try to move forward. Classes will resume just days after the deadly shooting there. The suspect T.J. Lane is charged with three counts of murder.
And a high threat for more tornadoes today, and many of the same areas that were hit earlier this week are in the bull's eye again. High winds, hail, and more large and powerful twisters are possible from New Orleans, all the way up through the Ohio Valley today.
And a hostage situation at a California bank ended abruptly with the gunman being shot. The suspect had earlier released 10 hostages during negotiations but kept the bank's manager inside with him.
And a skier who was buried alive by an avalanche for several hours, survived -- and listen to this -- with only a broken leg. The wall of snow hit a group of skiers in the back country near Lake Tahoe. One skier was killed.
AT&T easing up on the throttle. The company announced it's increasing limits on smartphone data usage. That is a response to you, all of your customer complaints, about slowdowns that were put in place last summer due to all of the soaring data usage.
And two days after honoring combat troops with a White House dinner, President Obama finishes up the week with a visit to wounded warriors at Walter Reed National Military Center.
And now, let's send it out to Ashleigh Banfield. She is live in Harrisburg.
And I understand with one lucky dog, Ashleigh.
BANFIELD: Yes. Oftentimes, Zoraida, oftentimes we forget when we're doing big stories on cleanup and survival, which are critical in a story of a tornado hitting a community. We forget about those smaller victims, that pets that often scramble out of fear and run -- and run a long way away.
And that's the next story I want to bring you. It's the story of little Roxie. Little Roxie is not only a survivor of the tornado here this week in Harrisburg, but also a survivor of the Tuscaloosa tornado from a year ago. She was racing for cover, and no one could find her owners. And she had to be adopted, and she was luckily adopted by one Nick Lambert who just happened to be visiting from college to Harrisburg, Illinois, when this tornado hit here.
This story is so remarkable, Nick. And you're also joined by Trish Stilley who runs a pet rescue. It's called the Companion Pet Rescue. Roxie has been with. You've been her adopted owner for six weeks. The tornado strikes. You're visiting your family here. You get the family to safety and what happens next with the dog?
NICK LAMBERT, TORNADO SURVIVOR: And then, she ran, I guess, out the window with all the commotion and couldn't find her for about 15 or 16 hours.
BANFIELD: How did you, eventually, find her?
LAMBERT: We went out to social media and put her picture up everywhere. Eventually, I got a call from -- down in Alabama, the vet down there. I guess, they scanned her microchip next to register down there --
BANFIELD: It wasn't your information, right? You just --
LAMBERT: I've never put my information in yet.
BANFIELD: You just adopted her.
LAMBERT: Yes. And they finally got a hold of me and I went and found her about eight o'clock. It's about 15 hours later after the tornado hit.
BANFIELD: I think I heard someone about a mile away?
LAMBERT: That's where she ran. Yes. Mile away is what they found her.
BANFIELD: When you got to our location this morning, she was really nervous.
LAMBERT: Oh, yes.
BANFIELD: She's visibly --
LAMBERT: She's skittish. Yes. And loud noises are bothering her. But, I think that's going to wear off here in the next week or so, hopefully.
BANFIELD: Two-time survivor of a tornado, that little dog, but reunited with you this time. Not reunited with her other owners. Do we know about her other owners?
LAMBERT: I don't. She was just bound walking the streets after the tornado down there. So, I don't know, you know, what happened to them, but I'm glad I got her back.
BANFIELD: Yes. And Tricia this is, oftentimes, the story, just kind of reached across you. Oftentimes, the story, pets are terrified, and they take off and don't necessarily come back, do they?
TRISH STILLEY, PROVIDING FOSTER CARE FOR HOMELESS PETS: That's correct. And very often, they hide, and that's our fear in the red zone that we have a lot of animals that are hiding.
BANFIELD: This is the red zone that's under curfew from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., and you can't get in there.
STILLEY: We can't get in there at any time. We're hoping today that's going to lighten up, and we're going to be able to get some folks in there to start searching.
BANFIELD: What's a good tactic for people to try to draw pets out of (INAUDIBLE) hiding and powering in fear?
STILLEY: The first thing we suggest is that food is put out. We'll have trouble with the weather. That's not going to proper eat very well. These animals are going to be scared. They're going to be injured, so we want to make sure people aren't going to get hurt, get bitten. So, that's -- our first focus is to try to get food to them.
Let them, you know, see us, that we're there trying to help them, because they'll be watching. They're hiding. They're going to be seeing what's going on.
BANFIELD: How many animals have you gotten rescue right now, in shelter?
STILLEY: Well, right now, we have -- I currently have 13. I believe there are several others at other places. Right now, we don't have that many. We have been able to re-home nine. So, -- it's been wonderful.
BANFIELD: That's great. She's looking a little less scared right now. Hi, little one. How are you? Well, good luck to you in your efforts. I think what you're doing is terrific. And you, lucky man. Congratulations. And we're thankful that you brought Roxie to meet with us. She's truly dear, and it looks like she's a little more relaxed.
Very nice. Oh, gosh. That's great. All right. You, too, thanks very much. Nick Lambert and Trish Stilley joining us here on the location.
And I just also want to let you know that while we're talking about the pet stories, of course, there are so critical stories that not only those who are trying to sift through wreckage as we're watching some bad weather starting to come in now. There's been some lightening that's been going on behind us. So, we're keeping an eye on that.
But also, one of the hard hit areas in this tornado in Harrisburg, Illinois, was actually the medical center. And there were patients in that medical center, and they had to be evacuated to safety. Take a look at those pictures. How do you think patients could have survived that? They did.
And not only that, they have all been moved to a safer place. You're going to find out how they pulled that unbelievable fete off. And not only that, you're going to hear from the person who was running that show and how they think they're going to have this place up and running in just a couple of days from now which is really truly remarkable.
If you want to help, I can't stress it enough. I keep repeating myself., and I will do it again, CNN.com/Impact. CNN.com/Impact. This is a time when you need to help your neighbors even if they are states and states away. You can give money, you can give blood, you can give time, you can give volunteering efforts, you can do a lot. So, CNN.com/Impact.
We certainly hope that you can help out. And live in Harrisburg, we'll be right back with a whole lot more, and we are watching this weather story as it develops.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 37 minutes past the hour here.
If the poll numbers are right, Republican voters are starting to rally behind Mitt Romney in a big way here. Rick Santorum campaigning in Georgia yesterday selling his message of not Romney, comparing the race actually to a reality show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is an episode of survivor. We just need to stay on the island, not get voted off, keep plugging, stay on message, and have, hopefully, the grassroots of conservative movement support us. And I think you're seeing that now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAMBOLIN: And it's not looking good for Santorum in the latest Gallup poll, Romney 11 points ahead among registered Republicans. In one week, Romney's gained eight points while Santorum has dropped ten points. So, we're going to talk about this.
Live in Washington, Democratic strategist, Penny Lee, is joining us. From Columbia, South Carolina, we have Republican strategist, Joel Sawyer. And from Washington, D.C., CNN political editor, Paul Steinhauser.
I want to get to those numbers in a minute, but first, I want to begin with Andrew Breitbart's death. And if each of you can weigh in on the impact that he's had on the political world. Paul, I'll begin with you.
PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: You know, I saw Andrew Breitbart a lot, at CPAC, other conservative gatherings, at the first Tea Party convention. He was a force, definitely a force, in a conservative movement over the last decade. And, he will be missed by the right.
PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I was with him recently a couple months ago on another set, and he was a passionate conservative, but someone that you also agreed with personally. He had a great passion for his family, and my condolences to his wife and children as they survive and go through his loss.
SAMBOLIN: Our sentiment as well. And Joel.
JOEL SAWYER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. Great guy. I mean, he's a very nice guy on a personal level. Very gracious and his passion and ideas will be missed.
SAMBOLIN: Yes. Gone too young, I say. Gone too young.
OK. Paul, let's turn back to politics here. Santorum out on the trail in Georgia yesterday selling his message of not Romney. Let's listen, and then, we're going to talk numbers. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANTORUM: The best chance for us to win is to not to go along, but to go a voice who always want to nominate a moderate. The best chance for us to win is to create clear, sharp contrast. Give America a choice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAMBOLIN: Choices are really great, but the polls seem to show that people are starting to choose someone other than him. We had the polls up earlier. I think we're going to put them up here again.
And typically, what we're saying, Paul, is that we see this sway of, you know, who you're going to support based on the results of, you know, the primaries or caucuses, but this poll is too early to reflect the wins in Michigan, Arizona, and Wyoming. So, what do these polls mean?
STEINHAUSER: Yes. The national poll is interesting, and it is a dramatic shift over the last week, last week and a half, no doubt about that. But, the polls in the states are crucial member, the battle for the nomination. It's a battle for states and the delegates in those states. Ohio, let's talk about that, one of the most important if not the most important Super Tuesday state.
Well, the most recent polls which were conducted about a week ago had Santorum up by about double digits. We're going to have five new polls, Zoraida, five new polls in Ohio starting today through Monday. So, I can't wait to take a look at those. In Tennessee, in Oklahoma, Santorum was also on top in those most recent polls.
And Gingrich was on top in Georgia. So, you know, we have to see more of these state polls by the end of the weekend before we can truly understand what's going to happen on Tuesday.
SAMBOLIN: Well, I appreciate that you're the numbers guy, and we're going to continue tracking those, but I'm going to stay on this other poll. It's wonderful right that those show Romney ahead, but Joel, I want to read a part of a new endorsement that might sting a little bit for Mitt Romney. It's from the "Seattle Times."
It says, "The former Massachusetts governor has the most potential in a thin field to represent his party in head-to-head competition with Democratic president, Barack Obama." This is certainly no endorsement of Romney's candidacy. For purposes of the Washington caucuses, Romney is the practical choice. What kind of an endorsement is that?
SAWYER: It's not much of one to be honest with you. And it's kind of interesting that you say that. You know, finding a fired up Romney supporter is like a game of where's Waldo. I mean, it's that he's the practical choice. You know, he's the choice that you make with your head.
But you look at these rallies across the country, and you know, when they were here in South Carolina, Santorum, Paul, Gingrich all have a very passionate base of support, where as with Romney, it's almost like people are resigned to support him. And that's got to be frightening for him heading into these Super Tuesday contests.
SAMBOLIN: All right. Penny, I'm going to talk about your president here, and I'm going to stay on the polls here. We've been saying that Romney doesn't have support because he doesn't have all of that passion, right? But if he's really that bad, then Obama should be trouncing on him, at least, that's what we think here, but not so, right?
Obama barely beats Romney in a match-up. Robert J. Samuelson in the "Washington Post" wrote this, "Logic and most evidence suggest that the election is over, but the polls seem to dissent." Could it be that the real story is that Obama is not a shoe in even when he should be? What is your reaction?
LEE: Look, we are in March, and this election isn't until November. What we've seen already to date is that there is a lot of ups and downs, tosses and turns, and there's a lot of unpredictability. So, the president, I would say, really hasn't gotten into campaign mode yet. You saw some fired up speeches for the first time and driving a lot of passion in the crowd and others.
So, he is just starting to get into a little bit of campaign mode. And, the Republicans on the other side have had many, many months to get their messages out and begin to define who they are. So, I would say, just relax. It's March. And there's a long way to go.
SAMBOLIN: There is a long haul. Paul, Joel, and Penny, thank you for joining us this morning. We'll see you again at the six o'clock hour.
And there is a lot going on this morning at CNN. At 7:00 eastern on "Starting Point," Soledad O'Brien will talk politics and immigration with Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy.
And in the 8:00 a.m. hour, Soledad will be joined by the always provocative conservative commentator, Ann Coulter. She will share her memories of her close friend, the late Andrew Breitbart.
And ahead for us on EARLY START, how President Obama handled a heckler in New York just last night? You're watching EARLY START.
SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 47 minutes past the hour, and it's time to check the stories making news this morning.
SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Grieving students to return to class today at Chardon High School in Ohio. It's for the first time since the school shooting. Three students were killed there. The suspect, 17-year-old T.J. Lane was charged with murder in juvenile court, but he may still be tried as an adult.
And a high threat for more tornadoes today, and many of the same areas hit earlier this week are in the bull's eye again. High winds, hail, and more large and powerful twisters possible from New Orleans all the way up through the Ohio Valley. So, be careful there.
And a Pennsylvania man facing DWI and many other charges after his Jeep crashes through a fence on to an active runway at Philadelphia International Airport. A plane that was just seconds away from landing had to be diverted until they got him off the runway.
Actress Nicollette Sheridan, returns to the stand today a day after giving her lawyer a good slap. Sheridan was showing the court how the producer of "Desperate Housewives" hit her, a move she said ultimately led to her character being killed off.
And President Obama was interrupted by a heckler in the middle of a fundraising speech. This was in New York just last night. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: None of this change -- none of -- nobody's announced a war, young lady, so -- but we appreciate your sentiment. You're jumping the gun a little bit there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAMBOLIN: About 900 people paid anywhere from $1,000 to $35,000 each to attend last night's event, which was hosted by Deepak Chopra and Russell Simmons.
SAMBOLIN (on-camera): And still ahead for us on EARLY START, food and medicine coming in. The wounded finally getting out. Syria letting the Red Cross into a besieged neighborhood in Homs. We're going to have a live report for you. You're watching EARLY START.
SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 52 minutes past the hour.
The voice of the uprising in the Syrian city of Homs has escaped to Lebanon.
DANNY, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: This is one of the tanks that have been hit in Baba Amr. This is one of about 50 or 100 of them. We're expecting them to attack this.
SAMBOLIN (voice-over): You've seen Danny's reporting on CNN and on YouTube. This young activist bravely telling the world about the slaughter of Syrian civilians for the better part of last month. He managed to get out of Homs earlier this week escaping to Lebanon and agreeing to sit down exclusively with CNN's Anderson Cooper. He was asked why he keeps returning to Homs.
DANNY: I, actually, went back not to pick up a camera. I went back to join the free Syrian army. They did not allow me to join. They said I have no army training. So, they told me you got good English, try and get the news out to the outside world. We want them to know the truth about what's going on. So, I just picked up the camera, started shooting doing reports.
Most of the images I remember he first week because I wasn't used to seeing pieces of bodies in the street, seeing bodies I can't save, I can't even move because a sniper would shoot me if I tried to move the body.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: What do you think is going to happen now in Baba Amr?
DANNY: Well, I know what's going to happen now in Baba Amr. The army will enter Baba Amr. They will have revenge on the families that live there. They will take out revenge on the families. They will torture women. They will torture the kids. They will steal every single thing they find in the houses.
SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Danny also told Anderson his biggest disappointment is the fact that the Arab league, the United Nations, and the United States have done nothing to stop the slaughter in Syria.
Meantime, we have new information at this hour. Aid to Syria is on its way right now. The Red Cross says seven trucks are heading to the battered city of Homs to deliver desperately needed food and medical aid. British Prime Minister, David Cameron, said the Assad regime must be held accountable for crimes against its people.
He made those comments at the EU summit in Brussels where European leaders are discussing the situation in Syria. CNN's Nic Robertson is monitoring all of the developments in Syria, and he joins us live now from Beirut, Lebanon. Thank you so much for being with us.
There's a lot we want to cover this morning. I want to start with the Red Cross and its efforts to get some aid into Homs. What can you tell us about that?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they've told us that they have made it to Homs, but the area that they've been allowed to go to, the area that they've said that they were going to Baba Amr, the area where Danny was reporting from, the area that, just yesterday, the free Syrian army had to withdraw from leaving the civilians to the whim of Bashar al-Assad's forces, that area, the Red Cross have not been able to get to. And that was the whole purpose of their journey, and they're still waiting to get into that area. Indeed, while they've been waiting an activist group said ten civilians have been killed elsewhere in Homs, and they would like the Red Cross to go and investigate that right now as well.
SAMBOLIN: I've got to tell you as we're watching all of these images, you know, I worry about the safety of the Red Cross going into that area. How do you ensure their safety?
ROBERTSON: Well, there have been negotiations with the Syrian government through the Syrian Red Crescent to allow them to get into that area. There has to be some kind of ceasefire in place. Now, in Baba Amr, there is, as we understand, only government forces now. The free Syrian army has withdrawn. But, the Red Cross people we were talking to yesterday said they had no idea what they would find.
They would have no idea of how secure the situation would be for them. And in towns and in situations like this, it is not uncommon for there to be last-minute problems trying to organize ceasefires, access through checkpoints, talks of sporadic shooting or whatever it may be that can hold up operations.
So, no doubt, some of these issues will be on the forefront of the minds of the Syrian Red Crescent and Red Cross as they go in. They don't want to get caught in some kind of cross fire somewhere.
SAMBOLIN: What can you tell us about the journalists that made it out, and also, a lot of people want to know about Marie Colvin's body? Will it be returned to her family?
ROBERTSON: Well, the Syrian government has said that they -- since they entered Baba Amr, they have now dug up Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik's bodies. They were buried and given a short service by the activists, the doctor who worked for so many long hours in the surgery there, read a statement for the burials.
Now, the Syrian government said they have exhumed the bodies of Marie and Remi, and they are taking them to Damascus for forensic examination, and they have demanded that the American and French government provide DNA samples to the Syrian government to prove authenticity. And only then, through the Syrian Red Crescent, will the bodies be repatriated to their countries.
The Syrian government they are not making this easy. They now have possession of the bodies. And for the other journalists, Edith Bouvier, the one who had the most serious injuries to her thigh, she is out. She's in a hospital here in Beirut being taken care of by doctors and French diplomats, and French officials say she may well could be flown back to France on a medical transport plane later today.
SAMBOLIN: There's a little bit of good news. Live for us in Beirut, Lebanon, Nic Robertson, thank you very much.
We're going to take a quick break, and we'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)