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Countdown To Super Tuesday; Deadly Tornado Damage; Tornado Survivor Helped Save Lives; Obama to Meet Netanyahu; Super Tuesday Showdown

Aired March 5, 2012 - 06:00   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Very good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: We're very happy you're with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We are bring you the news from A to Z. It's 6 a.m. in east. Let's get started.

Super Tuesday just a day away now. Call it the March madness Republican style. If the latest polls are right, Mitt Romney could be a lot closer to the nomination on Wednesday morning.

BANFIELD: And a brother and a sister from Indiana lose just about everything in a devastating tornado outbreak. We are going to ask them about surviving an ordeal in which 39 other people could not.

SAMBOLIN: OK. He runs toward killer storms when others run away from them. In this hour, meet tornado chaser, Jeff Potriowski, he has been putting himself in harm's way for 35 years. He even won an Emmy doing that.

BANFIELD: Listen to the hail on his car. I know firsthand what that sounds like.

Also, Vladimir Putin trying to hold back the tears. Are they tears of emotion or tears of it's cold in Moscow in the beginning of March, folks, especially at night in the wind. Look at those flags. I believe the latter. He declared victory in Russia's presidential election, but did he win this thing fair and square?

SAMBOLIN: Put a close-up on their faces and let's see if anybody else is tearing up, I say.

BANFIELD: Yes, could be although I tear when other people don't in the wind. That's just me. I believe it was the cold wind, but I don't know a thing about him other than that.

So it is 1 minute now past 6:00. We're counting down to Super Tuesday. It looks like it could be fairly super for Mitt Romney if the numbers are anything. He's coming off wins in Michigan, Arizona, and Washington State.

He's got his sights set obviously on President Barack Obama instead of the GOP rivals, somewhat anyway. This is what he told voters in Georgia.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's pretty straightforward, in my view. If Barack Obama gets re-elected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon and world will change, if that's the case.


SAMBOLIN: The polls show Romney is gaining momentum. The NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll shows Romney 38 percent from likely Republican primary voters, Santorum at 32 percent. This is the highest total for Romney to date.

It is eve of Super Tuesday. A lot is at stake. Ten states, 419 delegates at stake tomorrow night. Can Romney deliver a knockout blow? There's only one guy we can talk to about this.

CNN political editor, Paul Steinhauser, live in the CNN center in Atlanta. I got to tell you, Paul. I was looking at all the numbers getting super confused and thought, I get to talk to Paul this morning.

But I don't want you to necessarily to breakdown the numbers, there is a lot of stake here. Romney got two major endorsements this past weekend. He got one from Tom Colburn, Oklahoman Republican and from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, as well.

Reading a lot of articles that perhaps they're trying to rally behind this candidate, can he pull it off on Super Tuesday?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: You know, those endorsements are interesting because those are two conservative politicians and that will help Mitt Romney because he's had trouble kind of coalescing the conservative base around his candidacy.

Can he, yes, he has a big night once Super Tuesday will allow him to do is put some daylight between himself and Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, the other major rivals for the nomination.

This is all about delegates. You showed that 419. That's more than we have seen so far in any contest so far all combined. That's how big a night this is. It's more than a third of the delegates, but a candidate needs to lock down and clinch the nomination.

And what about that momentum you were just talking about it? Take a look at this poll. This is brand new out of Ohio, which is arguably the most important of all the Super Tuesday states.

Look at this. Mitt Romney basically is now tied with Rick Santorum. Santorum had a big double digit lead there just a week ago. But I will say one thing, Zoraida, what if Rick Santorum holds on and wins Ohio, maybe Oklahoma and another state. We will be talking about a very different race on Wednesday morning. SAMBOLIN: But, OK, so then let's go back to the numbers. How is it breaking down because there are a lot of people who are, you know, speculating what the numbers will actually end up being? Can it be such a decisive win for Mitt Romney that he is the candidate?

STEINHAUSER: You know, probably not because it is all proportional here. It's not winner take all like we saw in Arizona. For most of these states is going to be proportional so we're going to see Rick Santorum pick up a bunch of delegates even if he doesn't win any states.

The same thing for Gingrich and Ron Paul and for Gingrich, let's say one more thing about him. He needs to win Georgia tomorrow. That's his home state. He needs to win there. If he doesn't, it's trouble for him. I don't know how he continues on with his bid for the nomination -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Well, we know you're going to be watching all the numbers for us. Thank you, Paul Steinhauser.

Keep it on CNN now through November for the best political coverage on television. It's 7:00 a.m. Eastern on STARTING POINT. Soledad O'Brien goes one-on-one with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor who I just told endorsed Mitt Romney over the weekend.

And at 8:30, Soledad faces off with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He says he has to win his home state of Georgia tomorrow like Paul Steinhauser said, to remain a credible candidate. Soledad will ask him what happens if he doesn't.

Santorum would love him to just foul out of the race and our Super Tuesday coverage begins at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow evening with a special edition of "JOHN KING, USA." That is followed by primary results coverage with the Best Political Team on Television. That is beginning at 7:00 for you.

BANFIELD: It is now 5 minutes past the top of the hour. They are cleaning up and coming together, all of those communities who were just devastated by that string of tornadoes that went through the Midwest and southeast.

They're coping with almost unimaginable disaster. The death toll now standing at 39 people that across five states just from Friday's storms. Not even the storms before that. Kentucky's governor is asking for disaster assistance, asking the federal government for help.

Small town of West Liberty was all but levelled. Our CNN's Rob Marciano has been live in West Liberty, Kentucky. And at last hour when we joined you, you were covered in snow, which I found alarming, the fact that we were going to Kentucky. But it really does sort of speak to the bizarre fronts that are going through there.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. And just how incredibly intense the two air masses were that spawned this massive tornado outbreak on Friday with the numbers climbing there as far as how many confirmed tornadoes on the ground.

Regardless, this is shaping out to be the worst March tornado outbreak since at least 1994 and on the back side of this now, we've got snow that's coming in about three or four inches on the ground. It's beginning to ease up enough, but the damage is done here.

It's obviously going to hamper recovery efforts. We're standing just above the main street over the parking lot of 100-year- old bank. This is also kind of the command center here where they're running operations.

But you can see, main street is pretty much leveled. Only the municipal building, which is all brick is still standing. This tornado, I just read the storm survey, was a mile wide. So an EF-3 with 140 mile an hour winds, a mile wide, that's the widest storm of this tornado outbreak.

So there is barely a building in this town that has gone untouched. Residents have not been allowed to come back. A few business owners have snuck in to take stock of the situation, but they're very, very frustrated and shocked and scared. I caught up with one storm survivor yesterday.


LANA PRATER, WEST LIBERTY RESIDENT: Everything was here for us, you know. You know, we don't know what -- nobody knows what to do now, you know, really. It's just devastation.


MARCIANO: Take a look at the video that we're getting in now of the funnel itself. As mentioned, it was a really wide storm. Frightening as it came over the ridge and just tearing up this town with 140 plus mile an hour winds. It's really remarkable that more people didn't die.

But the end result of not only this storm and the others that came through Kentucky, 21 of the 39 fatalities in this state. Senator Mitch McConnell was out here. I spent some time with him. He says he hadn't seen anything like it since 1974.

He's going to try to expedite things as far as trying to get FEMA relief here. FEMA is going to be out here to assess damage today and hopefully get that ball rolling. Hopefully today more residents will be allowed back in.

But right now, this town continues to be on lockdown as they just try to clear some of the roadways to make it passable enough for people to get around.

BANFIELD: Rob that video you just showed is absolutely unbelievable and I think the woman who is probably heard praying while she was filming this, I think the credit says Stephanie Fann, and I'm not sure if that's the voice we're hearing. I don't know whether she's just assuming it's coming for me and there's nowhere I can go anywhere so I will just pray. I felt like that's where so many people's heads are at. You may know the warnings, but sometimes there is just nowhere you can go but pray. Rob, thanks for that. Appreciate it.

MARCIANO: You bet.

SAMBOLIN: And residents had warnings, but even the best forecasts can't give exact locations of where those twisters are actually going to hit. Terry Mock lost his house, his sister Julie, money, lost her car, but both have their lives.

They are at the ruined restaurant where Julie and her husband took shelter and helped save lives. Thanks for joining us all this morning. Holly, you're with us as well. We appreciate it.

So Julie, I wanted to start with you because we're taking a look at you there in front of that restaurant. You actually left your home, which was eight miles away, in order to go to the restaurant behind you. Why did you do that?

JULIE MONEY, TORNADO SURVIVOR: We looked at the radar and it looked like it was heading for our home in Scottsburg. Our friends owned the restaurant and called us and asked us to come down to their basement.

So we stopped and picked up our best friends, John and Monica Jenkins. We barely made it here. When we got here, there were people waiting to pick up their children, standing in front of the school.

They couldn't see the tornado coming over the back of the school so we screamed, my husband screamed and screamed until they responded and they went inside, thank God. I know that's why God put us here in Scottsburg -- or in Henryville --

SAMBOLIN: Part of the reason that you left your house is because you don't have a basement?

MONEY: Correct.

SAMBOLIN: How did your house do?

MONEY: My house is fine. Scottsburg is fine.

SAMBOLIN: Isn't that something? Now, you hid in the basement. Can you tell us what you saw, what you heard, what you felt?

MONEY: We saw the tornado. We stayed upstairs watching a little too long. We got in the basement and a few seconds later our ears, the air sucked out of the room, I think, and our ears felt really strange.

There was a large boom, large roar. The pressure let off our ears and then it was just glass. You could hear cracking, popping, just everything you could imagine. It's only lasted a few seconds.

SAMBOLIN: Julie, we're taking a look right now at that bus that is inside of the restaurant. Did you feel that or hear that when you were downstairs? Can you hear me, Julie?

MONEY: Yes. I didn't know it was a bus. We had no idea what it was. We thought the building probably was gone on top of us. It was only after we came out we realized that it was a school bus.

SAMBOLIN: My goodness. All right, Terry, you fled your house with your 3-year-old daughter. Where were you going?

TERRY MAUCK, HOME AND CARS DESTROYED BY TORNADO: At that point, I really didn't have any idea. Just felt safer away from the modular home that we live in. We also do not have a basement or a storm shelter.

I was actually going to try to go to an overpass or a very low area. But as I was traveling, we came upon top of a hill and that's when I could see the storm approaching and got very nervous because two tornadoes had dropped down, but not touched the ground.

And then they dissipated and then we seen the large tornado on the ground. So I took a few moments to try to figure out what direction it was traveling and we averted it by going south.

And when I felt that we were in a safe position, I stopped, parked, and took some pictures of the actual tornado from about a mile, mile and a half.

SAMBOLIN: We were just taking a look at some of those pictures that you took. I would imagine that you were probably pretty scared. Did you hear the sirens go off?

MAUCK: No, Ma'am. We sure didn't. I had been watching the news and they had been putting out a lot of warnings and were pretty adamant about what was going to happen that day. And about 15 minutes before it happened, I decided we needed to be out of our home.

SAMBOLIN: I imagine you're very happy that you did.

MAUCK: -- my daughter and leave.

SAMBOLIN: I would imagine you are happy you did leave because we're looking at the pictures of your home and it's devastated, so you saved your life and the wife of your daughter and your wife. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. We wish you well. We know that you've got a lot ahead of you still.

MAUCK: We've had --

SAMBOLIN: I'm so sorry he got cut off. It's 13 minutes past the hour here.

Later on "STARTING POINT," at 7:50 Eastern Time, Soledad will talk to the owners of that restaurant where Julie and her husband found shelter from the storm.

And to find out more on how you can help those affected by the Midwest tornadoes, go to You'll find all the organizations and all of the different ways that you can help those in need. That's

BANFIELD: It's 14 minutes now past 6:00. Still to come on EARLY START, was he crying or was he just tearing up because it was awful cold in Moscow in the winter time when the wind is blowing? No matter what, it was an overwhelming victory for Russia's Vladimir Putin, but was it fair?

And also can President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu somehow ease the rising tensions that they both are facing over Iran and its nuclear program. These two guys don't necessarily see eye to eye on how to deal, but will Obama's view prevail? You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: It is 18 minutes past the hour. Time to check the stories making news this morning.

BANFIELD: Mitt Romney surging in the on polls on the eve of a big day, Super Tuesday. Ten states, 419 delegates up for grabs. In the latest NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, Mitt Romney has 38 percent support among likely Republican voters. And that puts him six points up on Rick Santorum.

And also, she was called angel and she has died. The Indiana toddler is the latest victim of last week's fast-moving tornadoes. Angel Babcock briefly survived after her parents and two siblings were killed in those twisters. The death toll from Friday's storm stands at 39.

Vladimir Putin is headed for his third term as Russia's president, declaring victory with 64 percent of the vote. His opposition though is claiming that that vote was rigged and that that win was just fraud and intimidation rife. The protests because of that are scheduled for later on today.

SAMBOLIN: Like father, like son. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes his first visit to the demilitarized zone since taking over for his late father. That visit comes amid threats of a sacred with South Korea over joint military drills with the United States.

And for an expanded look at all of these top stories, head to our blog at You can always like us on More options for you. You can follow us on Twitter @EarlyStartCNN.

BANFIELD: So, get right to it because that's a lot of work to get through all that.

And still to come on EARLY START: they may not be seeing eye to eye, but they're going to have to sort of put on a brave face today anyway, because our president and Israel's president -- big meeting at the White House today, all about Iran and how they see what they're going to do about Iran's nuclear program. It's not going that well. Let's put it mildly that way.

You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Twenty-three minutes past 6:00.

President Obama is going to spend the better part of the morning trying to convince the Israelis to hold off, don't attack Iran so quickly. The president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are going to meet face to face at the White House just over four hours from now.

They agree that Iran is doing naughty things but they disagree on how to stop Iran from doing naughty things with regard to its nuclear program.

President Obama is saying, hey, hold on, let's get urge some calm here, take some time. Maybe wait for sanctions to work, have a little diplomacy. The Israelis -- not so sure that's the best route, saying we don't have all that time because at one point a window is going to close and we can't take, you know, proactive attack, you know, effort in this respect because they won't be able to.

So the president, our president, addressed the America Israel public affairs committee meeting yesterday and said, "We got your back, Israel."


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel's destruction.



BANFIELD: Our Brianna Keilar is live in Washington, D.C. She's covering this story today.

So, Brianna, everyone knows that America and Israel is a very strong bond, but as things have ramped up in Iran, it seems our relationship with Israel is getting a little testy. Are you seeing it this way or is this just a one off thing until they get your story straight?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, I think that this is actually something that you've seen for some time now, specifically between these two leaders, President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. There's been a lot of tension, Ashleigh.

And I think you look back historically over the last few years and you can kind of see really specific instances where you can see that this relationship is perhaps not as good as either side would hope. There was last year when Netanyahu came here to the White House and seemed to really lecture President Obama and you could really almost read that body language and see things weren't going so well between them.

There was also the time where President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy were caught by an open mic during the G-20 last year talking about Netanyahu in a way that sort of belied some of the issues they may have. I think the thing though here is the reality that I think critics and supporters of President Obama alike though feel is that these two sides need to work toward a common goal and certainly this is a relationship that can be preserved.

But I think you might call it cordial more than anything.

BANFIELD: Yes. Common goal is what everybody would like to see, especially as things heat up. But I get the sense, just reading those who are watching this process between these two leaders, that they're not going to achieve much in this meeting today. They're not going to come out of here with some great big taunt, are they?

KEILAR: No, I think that's really is the expectation, Ashleigh. What big question is, what is the red line? Obviously, we know that Israel their concern is that if Iran gets the capacity to build a nuclear weapon, it's a little more blurry when it comes to the U.S., seems more to be that it's the actual building of a nuclear weapon.

And then you also have this issue that complicates the matter. Israel and the U.S., they have different military abilities to stop Iran militarily should it come to that. Certainly, the U.S. has more capability. And so, there's a question if Israel did want to go it alone and not rely on the U.S., they might pursue a military option sooner than the U.S.

But you can see the tension kind of builds into this really, this gap between President Obama and Netanyahu and how the two countries are trying to find a solution to this.

BANFIELD: I wonder how much the U.S. would appreciate maybe not knowing so that they could say we weren't complicit in this preemptive attack. I don't know, one viewpoint anyway.

Brianna Keilar, nice to see you. Thanks for that.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-seven minutes past the hour. Here ahead on EARLY START, we are counting down to Super Tuesday. Mitt Romney is gaining momentum in the polls, but can any Republican beat Obama?

We're going to talk to our panelists about that. They're going to weigh in on Rush Limbaugh as well.

You are watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Hi. It is 30 minutes past 6:00 on the East Coast. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

It is time to check the stories that are making news this morning.

Mitt Romney surging in the polls on the eve of Super Tuesday. Ten states, 419 critical delegates, are attack tomorrow. And a new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll shows Romney nearly doubling his support among conservatives since January while opening a six-point lead on Rick Santorum.

BANFIELD: Assessing the damage from last week's tornado devastation in the South and in the Midwest. Twenty-one twisters striking Kentucky alone. In the town of West Liberty, Kentucky, all but leveled. Kentucky's governor says it looks like a warzone.

Vladimir Putin celebrating his win in Russia's presidential election. Yes, he's done before. This time he picked up 64 percent of the vote.

His rivals say, yes, maybe 64 percent through fraud. They're quoting massive fraud. And they're saying protests are scheduled for later today because of it.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-one minutes past the hour.

On to politics now, we are down to the final four. We have been for a little while. If the poll numbers are right, Mitt Romney is looking like a front-runner on the eve of Super Tuesday. A lot is at stake tomorrow -- 10 states 419 critical delegates.

Can Romney deliver a knockout blow?

The polls show Romney is gaining momentum. NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll shows Romney gets 38 percent support from likely Republican primary voters, Santorum has 32 percent -- the highest total ever for Romney.

And in Ohio, it is considered the most crucial of the 10 states. It is a statistically dead heat in the latest NBC News/Marist poll. Santorum, you're seeing there, 34 percent, Romney, 32 percent.

So, let's to our panel.

Live from Chicago, conservative commentator Lenny McAllister, and here in New York, we have Dean Obeidallah, frequent contributor to And live from Washington, Joe Williams, White House reporter from "Politico" -- always a smile on your face.

All right. Joe, I'm going to begin with you this morning.

Romney might take the delegate majority on Super Tuesday. He's got a lot of strong endorsements, especially over the weekend. Senator Colburn, Senator Cantor. But here's the deal, there are a lot of reports online that we're reading that say that the Republican Party really wants this over by Super Tuesday.

Is it possible that Mitt Romney will be the GOP candidate?

JOE WILLIAMS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: In a word, no. But the longer explanation is that this primary system is built for the long haul. The delegates are awarded proportionately.

He'll get a substantial lead, likely take some early momentum and likely to get that front-runner status cemented. But he's got some tough ones coming up, especially in the South where he struggled. And the way that the delegates are awarded, chances are he can't lock this up with one Super Tuesday sweep.

SAMBOLIN: All right. I'm going to switch gears here, Dean. The candidates were on the trail this weekend talking about Iran. You know, we've been covering quite a bit this morning, specifically the threat of nuclear weapons.

Here's one of them talking. We'll chat on the other side.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've had no evidence that the president is prepared to take steps to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. They talk and the Iranians build. They talk and the Iranians build. I mean, we're being played for fools.


SAMBOLIN: So, this is giving an opportunity to the Republicans to appeal to Jewish voters, right? And then there's a "Washington Post" poll that says only 33 percent of people approve of how President Obama handles Iran.

Could Republicans gain some strength by taking the hard line position on Iran?

DEAN OBEIDALLAH, CONTRIBUTOR TO CNN.COM: I don't think so, to be honest. Honestly, look, the Republican Party, the people who brought us the Iraq war want to bring us the sequel, the Iran war.

I don't -- I saw a recent poll, 17 percent of Americans support military action, 60 percent want diplomacy. And that's what President Obama wants.

You know, their saber rattling to get votes I think is irresponsible, frankly. Let the diplomatic mission take its toll, let's see if it works. That's what we want. Don't put people in harm's way again, costing us more money.

In fact, we don't have the money in America to wage another war. Maybe he can send an angry e-mail at this point. We're not going to blow things up.


SAMBOLIN: Well, "The Washington Post" poll say only 33 percent of the people approved of how President Obama is handling Iran.

OBEIDALLAH: I mean, I don't -- at the same time, though, look at the flip side. How many people want military action? That's what they're talking about. Only 17 percent in a CNN poll from just three weeks ago, 60 percent want diplomacy. No one in America wants war again.

How do they want him to handle it, I'm not sure because there's no easy for Iran. There's no silver bullet. It has to be diplomatic first or war. What are the options if we don't want war?

SAMBOLIN: All right. Lenny, we're talking about a lot of stuff this morning, and something you and I were texting a lot about this morning.

It's the Fluke controversy, right, with Rush Limbaugh. He made some comments about the Georgetown law student. She testified in favor of all insurers covering birth control.

I want to play a little bit of this because some people have not heard the controversy yet, and then we'll talk about it.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke who goes before congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.


SAMBOLIN: Everybody is talking about it. Not everybody had heard it. I felt the need to play it there.

Is Limbaugh's statement a symptom of the problem with the GOP?


And the overall problem is this -- when you look at the Democratic Party, you have people on the far left and you still have blue dog Democrats.

You look at the Republican Party and you basically have nothing more than the most part the hardcore right taking over the Republican Party. To be called a moderate Republican, an M.R., in today's Republican Party, you might as well call it M.R. and M.F. because it's a bad term to be called a moderate Republican in today's GOP.

When you have that, you have this type of political purity going on where things keep driving to the extremes and there are times when it drives off the rails. Unfortunately, you start also having people that are driving that philosophy that don't have to go up for a vote. He's going to lose sponsors. He's still going to make $40 million this year, and the Republican Party has to answer for that not only in the primaries, the presidential candidates right now have to answer for it, and we're going to have to conversations to answer for this movement throughout 2012.

That's the reason why this big tent philosophy that they used to have needs to start coming to the fold where they can continue to have principles but have some semblance of balance within the Republican Party.

SAMBOLIN: All right. I'm losing time here. But, Dean, I wanted you to weigh in very quickly on this as well.

OBEIDALLAH: Unbelievably despicable and I'm also upset. Mitt Romney's response was -- I wouldn't have used those words.

No, Mitt Romney, get a backbone. You're running for president of the United States. You come out and say these words are despicable, you have no place -- I think Rush Limbaugh, honestly, this is just like Don Imus' comments.

Rush Limbaugh should be fired. That's it, plain and simple. He's made racist comments about African-American before, horribly sexist comments. And this is a cherry on a horrific sundae that is Rush Limbaugh. Good-bye, Rush Limbaugh.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, a lot of people are comparing the two.

Joe, Dean, and, Lenny -- thanks for joining us this morning.


SAMBOLIN: And you can keep it on CNN now through November for the best political coverage on television.

At 7:00 Eastern, on "STARTING POINT," Soledad O'Brien goes one- on-one with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who just endorsed Mitt Romney.

And at 8:30, Soledad faces off with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He says he has to win his home state of Georgia tomorrow to remain a credible candidate.

So, what's his plan if he doesn't? We're going to try to found out for you. We'll be right back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We decided to build a 100-foot long double helix made out of 512 individually computer-controlled full color LEDs, and then connect all that to music source. We have a deejay come. And the light sequences or preprogrammed to play along with the tempo of the music. And it was beautiful.



SAMBOLIN: Forty-one minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START.

An artificial pancreas is being called a game changer for nearly 5 million diabetics in this country who use insulin.

BANFIELD: Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has a story of a young girl who was once of the first to try this device out. She joins us now, along with that patient, Elle Shaheen and Elle's mom Stefany, as well.

First, let me start with you, Elizabeth, for the nuts and bolts of this story.

Exactly how does this work? And what does it mean for a diabetic in the grand scheme of the disease?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Ashleigh, diabetics -- their pancreas has basically pooped out, and that's not a scientific term. But why mean is that their pancreases cannot process sugar the way that they needed to process it in order to stay alive.

So, I'm going to introduce you again to Elle. We're going to see pictures of her at home. She has to test her blood sugar 10 to 12 times a day, prick her finger, and then estimate how much insulin she needs, again, in order to stay alive. Her mother wakes up every three hours at night --


COHEN: -- in order -- and the reason why is that in the middle of the night, you can have a sugar low that can kill you. And Stefany will tell us how she has caught several sugar lows that could have killed her daughter.

Now, when she wears the artificial pancreas which she wore for an experiment at the Mass General Hospital, what happens is that that device tests the sugar all the time, every five minutes it's testing her blood sugar and then it uses an algorithm to decide how much insulin she needs. So, in other words, it takes a lot of the guesswork out of treating diabetes.

BANFIELD: So, it does the measuring. But then what about the actual insulin? Does it manage that as well?

COHEN: It does.


COHEN: It manages that as well. It actually gives you the insulin. And if you go to, you can see all the details about how this works.

BANFIELD: Well, Elle looks pretty in pink right beside us right now, Elizabeth.

And, Elle, I want to ask you about -- I think you're 12 years old, if you haven't had a recent birthday. But at 12 years old, this must be a really huge deal for you.

ELLE SHAHEEN, USING ARTIFICIAL PANCREAS: Yes, it is. It's really hard to go to sleepovers and birthday parties.

BANFIELD: And not only that, you've been doing this on your own for a while, right? Like you test your blood sugar like Elizabeth just said, and you inject yourself with insulin at the ripe young age of 12. So, is this going to be sort of a whole new life for you if you get to continue the use of this device?

E. SHAHEEN: Yes, I won't have to test my blood sugar, estimate how many -- how much insulin I have to take.

BANFIELD: Stefany, your daughter is absolutely adorable. I was just looking at you smiling as she was speaking. It's not just because she's well-spoken.

I'm sure that this just gives you an incredible freedom. But at the same time, are you at all worried about this in terms of approval by the FDA? Whether you -- I mean, hmm -- it just makes me nervous to just say you're kind of a test case, right?

STEFANY SHAHEEN, ELLE'S MOTHER: Well, that's part of the reason we're so appreciative for this opportunity to participate in this type of research because we understand that in order for the science and technology to advance, they have to be able to use the device on patients. And so, we're very anxious to have the opportunity to use the device in a home setting.

We spent three days at Mass General Hospital with the device. And, we were very inspired by the promise and what a difference it could make in Ellie's life.

BANFIELD: Well, Stefany Shaheen and Elle Shaheen, thank you very much for joining us to tell us your story. Really, we wish you the best of luck of this. And Elizabeth Cohen, thanks for bringing it to us. Thanks, everybody. What a great story. Wow.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. I hope it all works well for them.

BANFIELD: Me, too.

SAMBOLIN: Forty-five minutes past the hour. Time to check stories making news this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Ten states and more than 400 delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday. Mitt Romney opening a six-point lead over Rick Santorum. That's in the latest national poll of Republicans conducted by NBC News and the "Wall Street Journal."

And the rush of tornadoes that raked five states now blamed for 39 deaths, and among them, 14-month-old Angel Babcock. She was taken off life support after somehow surviving a twister that wiped out her entire family in Indiana. Her grandparents were by her side.

Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and President Obama meets face-to-face this morning at the White House. The president is expected to urge the Israelis to use restraint when dealing with Iran and its nuclear threat so sanctions and diplomacy can have a chance.

BANFIELD (voice-over): No apparent let-up from Syrian troops in Homs. Opposition activists report raves (ph) and arrests. They say regime forces are targeting other cities, too, across the country, at this point, killing at least five people.

Vladimir Putin tearing up, literally, at a rally celebrating his victory in Russia's presidential election. Not sure if it's emotion or the very cold wind. Tears were there. The tears were real. He's now headed for his third term winning 64 percent of the vote, but his rivals say 64, mixty-four. That election was rife with fraud, and they're going to protest later on today.

And gas prices up, up, away again. AAA saying the new national average for a gallon of gas stands at $3.77, and that is up just a fraction three times of the cent in the last 24 hours. But it is the 27th straight day that we've had a rise in gas prices. We're getting closer and closer to that awful mark, four bucks, four bucks a gallon.

Yes, I know that some states and some areas have it, but not everywhere, folks. The experts say that $4 is when people really start to get that emotional reaction and curb their consumption to start saving money.


BANFIELD (on-camera): And our Soledad O'Brien, busy, busy, prepping for a lot of really great interviews. She joins us now with, basically, a menu of what's coming up.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST, "STARTING POINT": Yes. You know what, I'm having that emotional reaction. Our gas is $4.17 when I was driving upstate a little bit this weekend.


O'BRIEN: Yes. High, expensive.

We're going to talk this morning about President Netanyahu of Israel -- I'm sorry, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and President Obama sitting down talking at the White House today. The president has been talking tough about Iran and Israel, but the two countries are said to be very far apart on how they see the next steps. They're going to talk about that.

Also, politics. Mitt Romney now leading in the national polls, first time I think, since November. We'll talk about what his strategy could be come tomorrow which, of course, is Super Tuesday. We're going to also speak to the former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, this morning.

Senator John McCain is going to join us as well, and we'll speak to the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, will be joining us this morning.

And finally, Rush Limbaugh apologizes, kind of, sort of, not really. We'll talk about that. That's all ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, which begins right at the top of the hour. We'll see you guys back on EARLY START right after the break.


BANFIELD: 6:5 1 on the east coast. Nice to have you here with us. In the words of Pink Floyd, most people run like hell from tornadoes, especially like the ones that we've just been seeing in the last week, but a rare breed of person runs toward them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm in the town of Henryville. It has major damage. Hail, roll down our windows behind me. Softball size hail. Oh, my gosh!


SAMBOLIN: Jeff Piotrowski with He's chasing storms with video cameras for 35 years now. He arrived in Henryville just after touchdown Friday, shooting video as rescue workers scrambled to search for all of the injured and missing. He is based in Oklahoma, and he joins us from Tulsa. Good morning to you. you know, my first question is, why do you do this?

JEFF PIOTROWSKI, TWISTERCHASERS.COM: Good morning. You know, just like on Friday's event, you know, it's so critical to get that early warning out, to get that eyes on the ground to see the tornado, record it in real-time live as it's occurring, and that critical information as we experience in Henryville just seconds makes and saves lives. And that's why I do this.

It helps the local officials as well as the weather service, and when you're out and you're storm spotting and relay that critical information at what's happening in real-time, especially when the storms are moving at 65 miles an hour, it makes a huge impact on the end result at the end of the day.

SAMBOLIN: So, let's talk about what was happening. You were on the heels of that twister. You went to the school complex. Here's what you saw and you heard. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)



SAMBOLIN: So, at that point, what was going through your head and what are you doing? What are you gathering there?

PIOTROWSKI: Well, I'm gathering is that when we arrived at the school, it was very (Inaudible). There was a group of about approximately 70 kids with another 20 faculty members that where in the school when the tornado hit. They rushed out of the school after the second tornado passed the school and trying to find out if there are still kids in the school. I was told yes, I was told no.

But yet from all over, EMTs were rushing into the scene as well as Indiana state police. Assumption was that there were still kids in the school trapped, either in elementary or high school. So, I just followed the firemen inside. And when I went inside the building, you can see what the video was like. It was unbelievable.

SAMBOLIN: Now, you were talking that there is a specific problem in this area geographically that made things tricky. What is that?

PIOTROWSKI: In any area, you know, from Evansville, Louisville in the southeast, you've got a lot of hills, a lot of rolling terrain, a lot of very high trees, so, seeing the tornado, it was extremely difficult. Also, factors in the fact that the storm was moving at 60 plus miles an hour made it a very, very bad situation as far as the likelihood of not seeing a tornado until really it's on top at you, and that's quite likely what's happening in all of those areas in the southeast on Friday.

SAMBOLIN: There was a man that we talked to earlier that actually went towards the hail. He left his home, went towards the hill with his family and survived the tornado. He said that he never heard any sirens in the area. What kind of advice would you, a person who has toward (ph) the storm, give people?

PIOTROWSKI: I think the first thing we need to talk about is, you know, two to three days in advance of a Storm Prediction Center as well as NOAA and local media have been telling the people in the southeast, get ready, this can be major outbreak of weather.

And I think that what we've got to start with first is when you hear the local officials and local weather service and cable channels to tell you there's going to be outbreak through two and three days in advance, heed that warning. Have a plan, and at the end of the day, you've got to have a plan to know that when severe weather is breaking out, you need to have a plan to take action for survival.

SAMBOLIN: Jeff, that's great advice. I'm sorry that I have to cut you off. I really appreciate you coming in this morning. Jeff piotrowski, storm chaser, We're going to take a quick break, and we'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: And EARLY START, the news from A to Z. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. STARTING POINT with Soledad O'Brien begins right now.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much. Good morning, ladies.