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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Chardon Students Return to School; Breitbart's Final Hours; Romney Gaining Momentum; War Over Gas Prices; War Over Gas Prices; No Holds-Barred Memoir

Aired March 2, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning are the folks who are still reeling from the deaths of three classmates. Those are the students returning to school in Chardon, Ohio.

This morning, we're going to talk to the principal of Columbine High School about how they handled the reopening of their school all those many years ago and advice they may have for the folks at Chardon.

Also, bracing for another big hit from Mother Nature. Threat of more severe storm today after those deadly Midwestern storms and in the same exact path. We'll talk about that.

Plus, remembering Andrew Breitbart -- his life and his political legacy. His friend, conservative commentator Ann Coulter, will be joining us this morning.

STARTING POINT begins now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: I like it. I like it. That's from Rick Lazio's playlist. James Blunt, "You're Beautiful." He is one of our panelists.

It's nice to have you. Of course, a former New York congressman.

Also joining us this morning is Terry McAuliffe. He's the former DNC chairman and now the chairman of Green Tech Automotive.

And Amy Chozick -- I mangled your name.

AMY CHOZICK, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": That's all right.

O'BRIEN: Every opportunity I've had this morning. Chozick. She's a corporate media reporter for "The New York Times."

It's nice to have you. Thanks for being with us.

We start with this morning with a story out of Chardon, of course, because students are now back in their classrooms at Chardon High School in Ohio. Classes started roughly 30 minutes ago. And it is the first time since Monday's fatal shooting that three of their classmates were killed. The alleged shooter is a young man named T.J. Lane and he's now charged with three counts of aggravated murder. He's charged as a juvenile, but it is expected that he's going to be prosecuted as an adult.

The death toll though might have been worse if not for this man, football coach Frank Hall chased the gunman out of the school and he made his first public comments about the shooting yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANK HALL, CHARDON HIGH SCHOOL COACH: The families of Danny, Demetrius, and Russell, I want you to know that I was with them. I prayed with them, I wiped their tears, 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 study hall teacher.

The law enforcement, first responders, that came to our aid that day, they are the heroes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Oh, my gosh.

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

And you hear him say, I'm not a hero, I'm just a football coach and study hall teacher. And really, he was. I mean, everybody in that community would disagree strongly. He really was a hero, wasn't he?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely. Because of what he did, you know, I mean, he literally pushed this kid who had a loaded weapon out of the school and ran him out of the school when everybody was petrified.

So, you know, he was the guy that everybody wanted to hear from and, you know, everybody thought he was going to talk about specifically what happened and then yesterday he came out with that statement and we liked him not meeting him. After hearing that, I think everybody in America who saw that absolutely loved this guy. He's the real deal.

O'BRIEN: Talk to me about what the school's doing to kind of move things forward and start the healing.

ROWLANDS: Well, students are back today, as you said. They will have a couple different things going on. Classes technically have resumed but they are going very slowly. There will be grief counselors at the school, and the cafeteria where the shooting took place is different. They've painted it and they moved the tables around in the cafeteria to give it a new look because, of course, that will be the most difficult part for a lot of the students, to go into the cafeteria where four of those young men were shot.

O'BRIEN: Yes. One can imagine, it's going to be a very, very tough day for the students, and the teachers and the staff, too.

All right. Ted Rowlands for us this morning -- thank you. Appreciate the update.

Let's get now to Frank DeAngelis. He was the principal of Columbine High School 13 years ago this April when 12 students were killed and a teacher as well by two suicidal students.

Nice to see you, Frank. It's always great to chat with you, especially sometimes under these, you know, terrible circumstances.

Chardon's back today and in Columbine you had to rebuild a lot of the school. You took months and you didn't go back until the fall. But there are some areas emotionally that were very similar.

What can folks there expect today, the first day back?

FRANK DEANGELIS, PRINCIPAL, COLUMBINE HIGH SCHOOL: I think the most difficult thing is going to be that people are in different places. You're going to have people that want to resume activities, immediately go back to where they were prior to Monday. You're going to have others that are going to grieve differently.

And I think one of the most difficult things are the teachers are not really sure what to expect, that each classroom can take on a whole different environment. I think the most important thing is they do have grief counselors there to help teachers work with the students because they're not sure what the students are going to be feeling at that point. The things that we did -- I'm sorry.

O'BRIEN: I was going to ask you -- go ahead.

DEANGELIS: One of the things that we did -- sure.

We did not return back to Columbine because it was really a crime scene. We did not have access to the building until July and then construction took place and then the students actually came back in August. But we did have to return to Chatfield High School, which is a school within our community about six miles ahead -- or from us.

But one of the things that we did is we reunited our students with the teachers that they had when shootings occurred just to put some bonding there, to talk because there's that special bond and they will remember that when they walk into the classroom. Some students may be re-traumatized and it's going to vary.

And that's the most difficult thing. There's not one plan that'll meet the needs of everyone. So you really have to be flexible. I know they'll do a great job there.

O'BRIEN: We heard from Ted Rowlands. They've painted the cafeteria and they've also sort of changed all of the furniture, the tables in the cafeteria so that when students walk in, it's not sort of reliving the moment that the shooting began. Everything's a little bit different.

Do you think that's a good idea?

DEANGELIS: Yes, it is. One of the things -- one of the toughest decisions we had to make is what were we going to do. As far as our building, there was so much damage done by gunfire when the SWAT teams entered the building. We had to replace all of the flooring in the school because of bombs that were exploding, pipe bombs exploding in the building.

But one of the things that we felt was instrumental in changing the environment at Columbine High School was really not to go back into the library. Originally, there was discussion about changing the makeup of the library, but we just felt we needed to change that whole setup and so basically what we did is the library was off limits because that's where most of the students were killed on that day and most of the students were injured. We did have others that lost their lives outside of the building.

But one of the things that we did the following April when students were released, we actually removed the floor of the library and it was the ceiling for the cafeteria. So, we created an atrium. And meanwhile, about a year and a half later, we built a new library. We felt that was very important.

But it was difficult when the students did enter Columbine in August for students to walk down that hallway. Many students had a difficult time walking by where the library was located. So it was a difficult time.

O'BRIEN: Was it --

DEANGELIS: On a personal note, it was very difficult --

O'BRIEN: Go ahead, sir. I'm he sorry.

DEANGELIS: It was very difficult for me. What I experienced that day when I came out of my office, I know it took me several weeks just to be able to walk out of my office where I wasn't feeling some type of physical trauma or emotional trauma. But --

O'BRIEN: That's because when you walked out of your office, you walked into basically a gun and the only reason you were probably not killed was because they shot someone else who had just happened to walk up the stairs behind you.

DEANGELIS: Yes. That was very difficult for me. When I came out, there was gunfire occurring.

And fortunately my attention was drawn to about 20 girls that were leaving the gymnasium area. They were going to be right in the crossfire and I was able to get them into a gymnasium area. But what I found out later is the reason that I'm probably alive is because my best friend was coming up the stairs at that time, Dave Sanders, and he was shot and died a few hours later.

O'BRIEN: Frank DeAngelis, this is going to be a long haul for these folks. I know it's been a long haul for the folks at Columbine to recover. Thank you for talking with us. We appreciate it.

DEANGELIS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Let's get right to Christine for some other headlines making news today.

Hey, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Soledad.

New developments this morning in that security scare at Philadelphia International Airport.

An air traffic controller with his eye on the ball being credited with helping prevent a disaster when an unauthorized vehicle smashed through a fence and drove onto the runway. The controller spotted something on the radar but couldn't see the ground because of fog. A plane that was just 100 feet above the runway was diverted seconds before landing.

(BEGIN VIDEO 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 the runway niner. We're not moving anybody until we find this guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Police arrested, 24-year-old Kenneth Mazik, charged him with driving under the influence, reckless endangerment and criminal mischief.

More dangerous weather on the way and many of the same areas hit earlier this week in the bull's eye again. High winds, hail, and more large and powerful tornadoes possible from New Orleans all the way up through the Ohio Valley today. Maybe only a tiny window to recover some valuable or memorable things for tornado victims.

New developments this morning in the federal investigation into the child sex scandal at Penn State. Former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky is facing more than 50 state charges that he assaulted young boys. The federal probe seems to be focusing on whether school officials tried to cover up the abuse with bribes to victims or misuse of federal education funds. Investigators have subpoenaed computer hard drives and financial records of Sandusky's charity.

Watching your money this morning: gas prices keep rising. The national average for gas rising another fraction of a cent, $3.74 a gallon, now inching closer to the $4 mark. High oil prices have driven gasoline prices up more than 14 percent since the start of the year.

Now, let's check in on the markets. U.S. stock futures, the Dow, NASDAQ, S&P 500, they suggest a lower stock market open at 9:30 a.m. Eastern. Weak economic reports from Germany and Spain this morning get the blame. E.U. leaders are meeting today in Brussels as well on the debt crisis.

Dow futures down about 35 points right now. Remember, a pull back from the highest level since 2008 that stocks reached this year wouldn't be really that much out of the cards here.

Now, AT&T putting a limit on its unlimited users. Customers with unlimited data plans will now see service slowed after using up to three gigabytes of data in one pay cycle. That's about 10 hours of high definition video. It's a little bit of clarity for outraged users who have been complaining that AT&T was slowing their data service for the top 5 percent of users -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: A little teeny bit of good news for them. All right. Christine, thank you.

Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to take look at Andrew Breitbart's life and his political impact as well. We're going to talk to his friend Ann Coulter straight ahead this morning.

And you've probably seen the show, "Jersey Shore" -- admit it, admit it, admit it. But there is an official poll about what people in New Jersey really think about "Jersey Shore." No more political polls. We're just going to do polls around the "Jersey Shore." We're going to talk about that straight.

And we'll play you out with Terry McAuliffe's playlist, Lady Gaga, "Bad Romance".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

We're learning that conservative media voice, Andrew Breitbart, spent his final hours doing what he did best, which was talking politics. According to the Hollywood reporter, Breitbart spent Wednesday night at a bar. He was debating the field of Republican candidates.

He died about an hour later at the age of 43. He was a very influential voice on the Internet and often criticized for controversial stories, and just sometimes, non-stories. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW BREITBART, CONSERVATIVE BLOGGER: I'm so sick of having to be apologetic for who I am. I'm so sick of people in Middle America being called flyover country or slope headed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Ann Coulter is a conservative commentator, also a friend of Andrew Breitbart. She's live for us in Los Angeles.

It's nice to see you, Ann. Thanks for talking with us. You know, it's interesting, people keep having conversations about his passionate, sometimes, angry voice and his talks about conservatism, but very rarely have I heard people talk about his family.

When I saw him at the CPAC, because he did our show, we both have four kids. One of his boys is named Charlie, my son's named Charlie, too. That's really what we talked about. Talk to me a little bit about Andrew Breitbart as a father who leaves four small children behind.

ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Well, it's affably sad. It's got to be very quiet in the Breitbart household these days. He was, from what I saw, a fantastic father. He was a kid himself. I remember when he was showing me his kids, two boys shared a room, and it was sort of a trundle bed.

And you know, normally, parents are trying to get the kids to stop jumping on the bed and Andrew ran into the room and showed me, look, you can jump from the top bed down to this bed.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTER: He used to do it with them.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTER: I mean, Suzy had five children.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: It's like four plus one, big one. He was talking reportedly about the GOP slate in a bar right before he died suddenly, and he had a tremendous passion for politics, a passion like people often agreed with strongly or disagreed with just as strongly, right?

COULTER: Oh, yes. The other part I love about that story from the Hollywood reporter, and this was so Andrew, was that it was just a complete stranger he started talking to in a bar. He was like that. If you were in, you know, 50 yards of him, he just had a gravitational force that people wanted to be with him. And he was such a rock-on tour (ph). He would just end up with crowds around him, and he'd leave with 20 friends.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about his impact. I want to play a little bit of what some people said they think his impact -- the impact of his death is going to be. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Anybody out there who has just more energy, you know, out there constantly driving and pushing.

DANA LOESCH, EDITOR, BIGJOURNALISM.COM: He definitely inspired me to really look at journalism with new eyes, to think of it as citizens being their own watchdogs.

JOEL POLLAK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF BREITBART.COM: You've got controversy going, because, often, the mainstream media would look the other way when there was a story they didn't want to report.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: He changed the conversation, I think, it's fair to say, in the conservative movement. What do you think the impact will be as people assess his legacy?

COULTER: It was so huge. There is no one like Andrew Breitbart. I mean, when Drudge first got, Matt Drudge, first got a computer, Andrew, at some point, you know, was helping him see how to use it. Well, there's the Drudge Report. I mean, Drudge did it, but there's the famous story of his father driving him to the airport and saying, let me get you a computer and him saying, what do I need the computer for?

Then, Andrew goes on to start up the "Huffington Post." He found Greg Gutfeld and kind of pushed him on Fox News for the great late night show, "Red Eye," now. He has all of this web page, big Hollywood, big media, so on. He's been very involved in a secret Hollywood right wing group, mostly led by Gary Sinise where, you know, secret right wingers in Hollywood can get together.

And he just had a way of putting people together, finding native talent, pushing people to be their best. He never needed credit to himself. I mean, the James O'Keefe story, Andrew Breitbart got ACORN defunded. Andrew Breitbart got Anthony Weiner to resign.

He did have some big stories that wouldn't have come out, otherwise, had enormous influence, but mostly -- I mean, the influence he had on friends and connecting people and seeing connections. He was the glue and the energy behind so much of the right wing. There is just no one like Andrew Breitbart.

O'BRIEN: We'll leave it at that. Ann Coulter is in L.A. this morning. Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us and sharing some of those stuff. Appreciate it.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we showed you yesterday a tornado ravaged town in Harrisburg, Illinois. Well, now, the Midwest is bracing once again for even more severe weather. We're going to check back live in that town and see how they're doing today.

Plus, her departure is a big blow for Republicans. We're hoping to take back the Senate. Olympia Snowe is now speaking about exactly why she's leaving Washington, D.C. That's ahead. We leave you with Amy's play list. Coldplay, "Lovers in Japan." All Amy today. Amy, Amy, Amy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN NORTON, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Sounded like a train. She headed to the basement. I headed to grab our daughter who's in bed. She's handicapped.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was down in the basement, and I'm screaming at him, grab her, grab her, just grab her.

NORTON: We went down in the basement and all the water starts running to the floor and flooding the basement, so then, we came up out through the cellar door and noticed the church was all gone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I started to cry. I was just so thankful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Thankful, but for these folks, they lost absolutely everything. The tough clean-up, of course, begins across the heartland today. Might only be a short window, though, for people to get in and grab their stuff because more bad weather is on the way. Ashleigh Banfield is live for us in Harrisburg, Illinois this morning. Hey, Ashleigh, good morning.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Soledad. I'm not even sure we're going to have that much of a window, I'll be honest with you. When you see a debris pile in a field like this that spans as long as it does and you hear what I'm about to tell you, I don't think anyone is coming anywhere near this stuff.

I just talked to Bob Van Dillenfrom HLN who is our sister network weatherman, and he told me the bad news is, in about two hours, we are expecting some of those straight line winds that are about 40 miles an hour, hail, and torrential downpour. Forty miles an hour is nothing like the 180 miles an hour that caused this disaster, but you don't want to be near any of this stuff when those kinds of winds come through.

So, to that end, this community has called off all the volunteers. They've said don't come out. We need to get out of the woods. And here's something else, they're not out of the woods yet for the tornadoes. Not expecting anything like the F-4 that did this path, but they are not out of the woodwork yet in terms of possible tornadoes.

I want to take you on the path that just was a giant blender for this strip mall that ultimately ended up at this lake here and dumped a lot of its mess, and trash, shards into the lake but kept on going across the lake, Soledad, to where you and I were broadcasting live yesterday, the Garden Heights Apartment complex, where the majority of the deaths in this community occurred.

Five out of the six deaths in Harrisburg occurred across that lake right over there. But here's the thing, while that did happen, there are good stories. There are miraculous stories, stories of people who survived this kind of unbelievable physical carnage and were able to, somehow, come out relatively unscathed.

Janis Choisser with a cut, bruised lip is one of those people, and she stood amidst the wreckage of her home yesterday and told me that she literally got sucked out of the roof. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANIS CHOISSER, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I closed the door and was holding it. That door pushed back so fast and I think that's what happened to my hand and my lip. I think the door hit me. And then, all of a sudden, I was just absolutely out flying around.

BANFIELD: Sucked out through the roof?

CHOISSER: Sucked out through the roof. I don't know where. I guess, the roof, yes.

BANFIELD: And you ended up over here by the dishwasher?

CHOISSER: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: And Soledad, I just want to mention that across the street, we went to go grab some coffee at the local McDonald's and happened upon a spontaneous prayer session. We saw six men around one of the tables, and they were praying, deep in prayer for a solid 20 minutes. Four of them were pastors, two of them were professionals praying for this community.

It was really quite heartwarming to see this kind of, I don't know, just commitment to the love of God that maybe they can get through all of this. President Obama has already called six governors to lend his thoughts and prayers to those governors. And with this weather that's still coming, let's just hope he's not going to have to call anymore governors after today's tornadoes or potential tornadoes rip through more states.

O'BRIEN: Yes. They're going to need all those prayers, right? Ashleigh, thank you for that update.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Mitt Romney getting his group back. Maybe just in time as we head to the GOP's final four on Super Tuesday. And why Ohio might be the most important state of all that day? We'll talk about that.

Plus, what do New Jersey residents really think about the "Jersey Shore"? There's a new official poll, Quinnipiac University, that usually does all the political polling, a little free time, they decided to poll about the "Jersey Shore." We're going to tell you what they found. We'll leave you with Amy's playlist yet again. It's Pitbull, "Calle Ocho."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: All right. This is Van Morrison. "Brown Eyed Girl." And this is Congressman Lazio's choice. (INAUDIBLE) face. I like that. I like that.

Let's get right to our headlines this morning. Christine has a look at those for us.

Hey, Christine. Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there, Soledad.

Red Cross workers on the move now in Syria. Trucks are delivering food and medical supplies to people in the besieged city of Homs right now and they're evacuating the wounded. Meantime, the voice of the Syrian uprising. An activist known as Danny was able to escape to Lebanon. He told CNN's Anderson Cooper last night that he's dreading the regime's next move in Baba Amr.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR, ANDERSON COOPER 360: What do you think is going to happen now in Baba Amr?

DANNY, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: 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 the revenge on the families. They will torture women. They will torture the kids. They will steal every single thing they find in the houses.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: British Prime Minister David Cameron says the Assad regime must be held accountable for crimes against its people. And French President Nicholas Sarkozy says they're closing France's embassy in Damascus.

Iranians heading to the polls this morning in the first election in that country since 2009. Forty-eight million Iranians are eligible to vote for the power struggle emerging between Iran's most powerful figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the president, Mahmoud ahmadinejad.

Iran also facing outrage and sanctions over its nuclear programs. Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat, on the Foreign Relations Committee, telling CNN's Erin Burnett the U.S. would know if Iran was on the verge of developing a nuclear weapon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: That uranium that needs to be enriched is under the International Atomic Energy Administration's supervision and so we would have a pretty good sense between our intelligence and the intelligence of our allies that the Iranians are headed in that direction. And that would evoke the opportunity for us to act.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Two hundred ninety parliament seats are up for grabs today in those elections.

Republican Senator Olympia Snowe is offering more insight into why she won't seek another term. In an op-ed in the "Washington Post" today the moderate Republican from Maine quotes founding father James Madison's notes on the role of the Senate. She follows that by saying, quote, "Yet more than 200 years later the greatest deliberative body of human history is not living up to its billing." And she cites last year's budget battle and the debacle over raising the debt ceiling limit.

Some breaking weather news to get to. There's some potentially bad news for people already hit hard in the Midwest this week. Let's get straight to meteorologist Rob Marciano -- Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Christine, the storm's prediction center out of Norman has just upgraded the risk for severe weather with tornadoes to high today. That is their highest ranking. In this pink area there is basically a 30 percent chance of a tornado touching down within 25 miles at any one point. That's an extremely high probability.

So from Nashville up to Louisville, even Lexington, and north towards Cincinnati, and even south into north parts of northern Alabama is where we'll see the storms fire this afternoon. Two rounds of convection. One round happening right now across parts of the southeast as a warm front comes on board.

These storms have wind and in some cases golf ball and baseball size hails so dangerous storms. But the real show will be later on this afternoon and tonight. And these will be, in some cases, dangerous, strong, and long track tornadoes much like what we saw just two days ago -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, thanks, Rob.

Even real New Jersey residents don't like the reality show "Jersey Shore." A new Quinnipiac University poll finds just 9 percent of New Jersey residents had a favorable view of Snookie and the snitch and everybody else. Sixty-nine percent said the show is bad for the Garden State's image. And even bigger majority agree with Governor Chris Christie's decision to block a state tax credit of more than $400,000 towards the show's production -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: I'm not surprised. What would they like about the show? I mean, the state of New Jersey. It's not like everyone's like, wow, I want to go visit there because that show is really making it look good.

ROMANS: But people are watching. People are watching.

O'BRIEN: Yes. But people who live there are like, we don't look good in this show.

All right, Christine. Thank you.

With two fresh primary wins and a caucus victory under his belt Mitt Romney is now gaining grounds in the polls once again. The latest Gallup shows Mitt Romney now up by 11 points even though Rick Santorum had a very strong lead just a week ago.

We're also seeing the race narrow a bit in Ohio. It's' a crucial state. Their voters on Super Tuesday are going to look forward. Santorum going from a seven-point lead just a week ago to a four-point lead. So technically that is all a statistical tie.

Kevin DeWine is the chairman of the Ohio Republican Party.

Thanks for joining us. Nice to see you this morning. Welcome to the panel. Let's look at a little more closely at those national polls. Really it's showing momentum. When you look at something like that and you see Mitt Romney winning by 11 points and really gaining eight points and at the same time that Rick Santorum is losing 10 points, what do you credit these changes to?

KEVIN DEWINE, CHAIRMAN OF THE OHIO REPUBLICAN PARTY: Well, I think it's -- let's talk about what's going on in Ohio. I think in Ohio, what you're seeing is a very fluid race. In Michigan last week Governor Romney was down by double digits and yet he pulled -- he pulled out a three-point win Tuesday night. I think you're seeing the same sort of thing going on here in Ohio. Senator Santorum had a -- had a significant lead. That is closing as the campaigns have focused their time and their energy on the great Buckeye State.

I have told people for the past few days don't pay any attention to any of the polls that came out earlier in the week. This thing is going to be a dead heat. This thing is going to be a two-man race. It's going to be very, very close in Ohio over the course of the next few days. And it's going to be -- it's going to be because of two things. You're seeing all the candidates in here spending time and energy putting campaign ads on TV and doing radio ads, but you're also -- the Buckeye voters are also getting a great opportunity to see the candidates up close and personal doing real, real retail politicking. And I think that's having an impact as we -- as we roll into Super Tuesday here in the Buckeye State.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Lazio.

RICK LAZIO (R), FORMER NEW YORK CONGRESSMAN: Yes, hi, Chairman. Rick Lazio. I just wanted to ask you, Mitt Romney has got arguably the most popular politician in Ohio. Rob Portman as his chairman over there. What kind of a difference do you think that's making and is this focus on the economy, talking about 20 percent across the board tax cuts, job creations record as an entrepreneur and job creator? Is that resonating?

DEWINE: Well, first of all, we love -- we love Rob Portman. And if there's a way for him to serve this country, we'd be happy to see that. We don't have to hog him and be selfish just keeping him here in the Buckeye State.

(LAUGHTER)

LAZIO: I get that message

DEWINE: We're fine with that.

LAZIO: He'd be a great vice president.

DEWINE: Look, Rick, you know the most important issue on the hearts and minds of not just Republicans but independents and Democrats in the state of Ohio is still the economy. And so my advice to both -- to both candidates, to all the candidates, has been to focus on the five or six words that voters care about. The economy, jobs, debt, deficit, taxes and spending.

If we're not talking about those issues both in the primary and in the general election, we're going to have a difficult time winning here in Ohio.

O'BRIEN: OK. So then when you --

DEWINE: But I don't see that being the case.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but sometimes there have been conversations that continue, and I think especially for Senator Santorum about social issues, even when he says he's sick of sort of everybody talking about him on social issues. He then delivers speeches that are really overwhelmingly about social issues. So how is that resonating with the folks in Ohio?

DEWINE: Well, it's -- we can talk about both. We don't have a problem talking about both. It's an important part of the base of our party. And so our presidential candidates need to be able to communicate on all those various issues, but I will tell you for whoever's -- you know, winning Ohio is a very symbolic win. It is a battleground state in the primary. But as you all know, it's a battleground state in the general election as well.

And really of the 16 states, really Ohio and Florida are probably going to play a pivotal role for both -- for both the Republican and Democrat strategy to carry the White House. That being said, the candidate that can come in here and best articulate a message about jobs in the economy, about turning this economy around, and getting people back to work, bringing about economic prosperity I think will have the best shot of winning not just on Tuesday but I think will have the best shot of carrying the Buckeye State this fall.

O'BRIEN: Kevin DeWine joining us this morning. Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us.

TERRY MCAULIFFE, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: OK, Soledad, he -- I think Mitt Romney has to win Ohio.

DEWINE: You too. Thank you. MCAULIFFE: If he doesn't win Ohio, Rick Santorum beats him, his campaign, I think, is on a death spiral. I think he also has to show he can win in a southern state outside of Virginia because only he and Ron Paul are on it.

O'BRIEN: OK. But we've heard --

MCAULIFFE: He's got to win Georgia.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Have I heard that now, 10 times?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was with you on election night when Hillary Clinton won Ohio. Huge win for her. We were -- you know, all celebrating that night with her and then she went on to lose the -- you know, lose the election so --

MCAULIFFE: Well, first of all, very close election.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean there's no doubt that Ohio is important, but it's not --

MCAULIFFE: But Santorum has -- if he wins in Ohio, it is a stall for Romney that shows he can't close the deal. He can't get over 25 percent. He can't close the deal with conservatives. And that's why I think winning a southern state, he can put a nail in the coffin. I think if he wins Ohio and then wins in Oklahoma, maybe a Georgia, and upset Newt Gingrich down there, he -- Romney has to have a game changing event on Tuesday. Ohio is a big piece of it. Winning a southern state, otherwise he's just going to limp in to the convention.

LAZIO: No, I totally disagree with that.

MCAULIFFE: And Barack Obama will go on for a big victory.

(CROSSTALK)

LAZIO: I think -- you know, people keep raising the standard here. You know he wins Arizona by 20 plus percent. He wins across all demographic groups. He wins Tea Party people in Michigan. He was 12 points behind. He ends up winning it by three. He's won in Florida by a large margin. And he's won in large states with big cities and diverse demographics. There is no one state that Mitt Romney needs to win from here until he secures the nomination. It's just a matter of building, building, building.

MCAULIFFE: And the biggest problem Mitt Romney has is these debates have been horrible for the Republican candidates. His unfavorables with independents now are over 50 percent.

O'BRIEN: But there's a long time until the election.

MCAULIFFE: Yes, but it's hard to change unfavorables. It's not been helpful. You and I were talking before the show. O'BRIEN: Yes. Maybe. Maybe.

MCAULIFFE: Our primary in '08 was a long, tough one.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

MCAULIFFE: But you did not have these candidates with divisive rhetoric that went on between these candidates. If you remember back in '08 --

O'BRIEN: I think it's when you -- when you enter a general election and bring in, when everybody starts focusing on Barack Obama, I think the tenor is going to change.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Because right now --

MCAULIFFE: They haven't focused on him yet?

O'BRIEN: No, because right I think you have most -- many fronts. I think you have candidates with many fronts so they're doing a little answering to this and doing this. And when you actually start getting a coherent -- I think that those numbers are very fungible and --

MCAULIFFE: So we feel their best candidate is Mitt Romney.

O'BRIEN: And November is a long way away. We've got to go to commercial break. Still ahead, though --

MCAULIFFE: All right. Weak field.

O'BRIEN: Going to talk about rising gas prices. President Obama's energy speech has Republicans blasting back at him. We'll talk about energy.

And growing up and breaking free. This is a story of a Jewish woman who has a tell-all. It's called "Unorthodox." It was absolutely fascinating read. We're going to have that as well. We'll come back. See you then.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

President Obama fighting back against criticism that he is responsible for high gas prices in a speech yesterday in Nashua, New Hampshire. He called again for an all-of-the-above approach and told Congress it needs to take action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's put every single member of Congress on record. You can -- you can stand with the oil companies or you can stand up for the American people. You can keep subsidizing a fossil fuel that's been getting taxpayer dollars for a century or you can place your bets on a clean energy future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: He's talking about that, I think it's $4 billion in energy subsidies for the oil and gas companies. The price of gas in Nashua, where he was, was $3.75 a gallon which is expensive and people there are feeling it. Obviously the White House and I think across the board people would agree, an individual in the White House does not set the gas prices. But clearly there's got to be some long range solution. You obviously know this field.

MCAULIFFE: Yes.

O'BRIEN: You own a car company now.

MCAULIFFE: We're building electric cars. I tell everybody watching today, Soledad, that's the answer. But it's much bigger than that. It's and it's -- it's not a partisan issue. We have a supply and demand problem. We have issues in the Middle East today. But we also have China, India and Brazil that are rapidly consuming more energy.

This is a long-term problem we have in this country. I mean, listen the President -- we're drilling now more than we've ever drilled before. He's approved more pipe lines. We're doing all as he said all of the above. We have huge problems in this nation about our consumption. We spend a billion dollars a day shipping money over to the Middle East to buy oil to bring back to the United States of America.

O'BRIEN: Tell me about your littler car. What's this car called?

MCAULIFFE: It's called My Car Green Tech, it's electric.

O'BRIEN: Do we have a picture of the car? Let's pop a picture of this little car up. My kids call this a cheese car because it's looks a little like a piece of cheese.

MCAULIFFE: Yes. Listen, it's a good little story. We went to China, bought one of their biggest car companies. It's moving to America, it's now all made in the United States of America. Our production line has just started.

O'BRIEN: This is the production line there.

MCAULIFFE: Right.

O'BRIEN: There is the car.

MCAULIFFE: First week of July, July 4th, we're going to roll these cars out. We've sold a bunch to Denmark.

O'BRIEN: So they can't go on the highway.

MCAULIFFE: They are called NEVs. We're selling them for about $15,000. Our goal is it's not green unless it's affordably green. People have anxiety about buying electric cars today. So we're trying to build a vehicle that everybody can afford. It'll get you 100 miles to a charge 1.2 cents per mile.

O'BRIEN: Have you sold any here in the United States?

MCAULIFFE: Well, we sold the first one to Denmark. They've -- they've purchased it because they're going very green over there.

O'BRIEN: So then Europe they have a lot of those cars. But here in the United States you don't see them all.

MCAULIFFE: Go to Green Tech for America and sign up right now. We've already sold out.

O'BRIEN: How am I going to put my four kids in that car?

MCAULIFFE: We've sold out our first year of production. It's made by U.S. workers.

O'BRIEN: You did. So you have a line in --

MCAULIFFE: In Mississippi we have great workers down in Mississippi -- Horn Lake, Mississippi. We've just announced a new factory in Tunica. We're going to begin construction next week on that in Tunica. Chinese company brought to America now made by U.S. workers and selling around the world. That's a great American success story. We need to go electric.

Just remember, 80 percent of Americans drive less than 25 miles a day. Average is 17 miles. We waste one person one car driving to work inefficient use of energy. Let's get electric. You can plug in at home, drive it, it's spectacular. It's what we've got to do. It's national security, it's environment. And it's creating U.S. workers.

O'BRIEN: All right. All right, we're going to continue this conversation about energy a little bit later.

MCAULIFFE: Ok.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead, though on STARTING POINT this morning. A woman rejecting her roots as a Hasidic Jew and writes a tell-all book about her community. It's called "Unorthodox" and it's a memoir. We'll talk to her straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: It's a world that very few people get to see from the inside. Hasidic Jews are known for being secretive and mysterious and isolation. But there's a new book that's giving a very rare look inside this world. Its author is Deborah Feldman. She was raced in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And her memoir describes an oppressive community. And she says she was taught to believe that outsiders hated her.

She entered into an arranged marriage at the age of 17 having only met her husband once. And then on the eve of her 23rd birthday she left her husband and the community behind taking with her, her 3- year-old son. The book is called "Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots". And Deborah Feldman joins us live.

This book is such a riveting read and I guess it's even all the more strange for me because we're talking about Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We're not talking about another country far, far away and yet it does seem at times like it's another country.

DEBORAH FELDMAN, AUTHOR: Well yes and certainly it seemed for me like for a long time I didn't really know that the sort of outside world existed.

O'BRIEN: So you were part of a sect called the Satmar.

FELDMAN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Which is -- it has its roots in -- in Hungary.

FELDMAN: Yes it does.

O'BRIEN: Describe for me what does that mean if you're a Satmar?

FELDMAN: What it means today is that the Satmar rabbi who came over to the U.S. after the war because he survived the Holocaust, he started a community that was sort of rooted in the belief that Zionism was wrong and that the Holocaust was a punishment for assimilation and enlightenment. And his idea was let's create an extreme community, let's create a -- a sort of an idealized ghetto, a place where we're going to go back to our roots and start living like our ancestors did.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Which meant what specifically?

FELDMAN: Which just meant taking sort of all the old ancient Jewish traditions and laws to an extreme. I mean, he introduced a lot of sort of new customs and he sort of revived some old ones, including the shaving of women's heads after marriage. He decided to sort of make that common practice. And he asked the women to cover their shaved heads with scarves, wigs, hats and so on.

O'BRIEN: What was the point behind all of that? It was to really hide most of your body to a large degree -- long skirts?

FELDMAN: Yes I mean, you know modesty for women has always been a part of the Jewish tradition. It's been part of many religions, it's part our caste society. But his idea was if we can keep women very modest, then we can keep the men sin-free. And we can keep our community holy. So he did everything he could to keep us as modest as possible.

O'BRIEN: You write about your arranged marriage when you were 17 years old. And you said you -- you -- you met your husband-to-be for 30 minutes. FELDMAN: For 30 minutes, yes. I actually read the part of the book where I write about the conversation we had, I read it out loud at a book store reading yesterday. And it's funny. It's funny because what can you talk about to a person that you're going to marry in 30 minutes? We talked about nothing whatsoever. It was -- I only, I barely remembered it afterwards. And it was just silly, meaningless conversation.

O'BRIEN: At the time did you think, this is so strange or is this just how you were brought up so, of course, this was so normal.

FELDMAN: Oh it was normal to me. I did not think it was strange at all. No, it was what I -- I expected my whole life. I knew it was going to happen.

O'BRIEN: Why did you rebel? How did you rebel?

FELDMAN: I rebelled because of my son mostly, because I don't think -- up until I had him I don't think I would have had the courage to leave.

But then he came into the world and I felt an enormous sense of responsibility because if he had stayed, he would have gone to Yashiba from 9:00 to 5:00 every day, he would have never gotten a high school diploma, he would never have gotten to go to college and have a future and enjoy life. And I wanted him to have happiness. And I didn't think it was fair to force the life I was living on to him.

O'BRIEN: What was the backlash?

FELDMAN: They were just so angry.

O'BRIEN: Your mother had left?

FELDMAN: My mother left when I was very young. You know my mom is kind of my trail blazer. She is very inspiring to me. She's brilliant. She's got a career that she loves. She's openly gay and I'm very proud of her for having the courage to come out. The community has a lot of condemnation for gay rights and gay people. And when I was young they told me she was mentally ill because they see homosexuality as a mental illness. And I love my mom. I'm so proud of her -- so.

O'BRIEN: What happens now? People are angry about the book. You give out a lot of secrets about a sect that most people don't know about and that the sect wants to keep it that way.

FELDMAN: I want to help others. I want to help women I mean, get out if they want to. I've gotten letters, so many letters from women who are trapped inside who say they're too scared to speak out but I'm speaking out for them and they want help.

O'BRIEN: So you're a writer now. Are you going to do another --

FELDMAN: The thing about this book is I started writing it the day I left and I finished it nine months later. And so I think a lot of people feel that the ending is somewhat unsatisfying. Everyone wants to know, well what happened next? And you know, are you ok?

O'BRIEN: You built in a sequel.

FELDMAN: Yes, definitely.

O'BRIEN: You are a good writer.

FELDMAN: Thank you. Appreciate that.

O'BRIEN: Deborah Feldman, thanks for having you. Thanks for coming in to talk to us.

FELDMAN: Oh, thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: We appreciate it. The book is the "End Point" here.

FELDMAN: Lovely to be here.

O'BRIEN: And likewise. Likewise.

We're going to take a short break. Back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Amy and I have come together. This is from both of our play list. This is Rihanna and Jay-Z, "Run This Town Tonight" . It's time for "End Point" which is a summation of our thoughts today. Who wants to start? Terry, you want to start with us?

MCAULIFFE: "End Point", we have to stop the disenfranchisement of voters. I think Congressman Willis is exactly right. It already happened 47 years ago, we have to make sure we're not denying people the right to vote. Make it easy. Buy electric cars and Mitt Romney has to win Ohio on a key southern state.

O'BRIEN: You're just covering all the ground. No one else has anything to add to our "End Point". What do you have for us, Amy?

AMY CHOZICK, CORPORATE MEDIA REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think, you know as a media reporter, I think of Andrew Breitbart. And love him or hate him, you have to give him credit for really being a pioneer of new media. How he invented himself on the web and used it to break stories and incite people is pretty amazing. So I think that's something to think about. I also think Ohio isn't as important as Terry does.

O'BRIEN: You respectfully disagree, sir. All right, Congressman?

MCAULIFFE: You are the media.

LAZIO: I think it's the incredible capacity for courage and people that rally to one another. The people that don't necessarily make the headlines and are just among us. And it's the coach in Ohio, you know just --

O'BRIEN: Yes in Chardon, Ohio.

LAZIO: Just doing something that is so exceptional and remarkable and not wanting credit for it. I think it's a common story that the people that are the most courageous, that are the most -- should most likely be held up to our kids as role models are the ones that least want to be thought of as a hero.

O'BRIEN: And never really necessarily get the time, right. We're talking a lot about Snooki this morning --

LAZIO: Right.

O'BRIEN: -- and not as much about the coach who was a remarkable human being and everybody would say even as much as he protests that he is a hero and saved a lot of lives. I agree with you, Congressman. And you have a very good play list. You can come back any time you want.

LAZIO: Thank you. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You as well, thanks for being with us.

Let's get right to "CNN NEWSROOM" with Fredricka Whitfield. It begins right now. Hey, Fred.