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Super Tuesday Starts In One Hour; Romney Is The "Weakest Candidate"; Gingrich Stumps In Tennessee; Unemployment Rate In Ohio 7.9 Percent; Limbaugh On The Hot Seat; McCain Calls for Syrian Air Strikes; Countdown to Super Tuesday; Obama To Speak During Super Tuesday; Netanyahu On Iran: Israel Can't Wait Much Longer

Aired March 6, 2012 - 06:00   ET



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

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We are bringing you the news from A to Z. It's 6:00 a.m. in the east so let's get started here.

Super Tuesday is finally here. Polls start opening in one hour. We have more delegates at stake today than all the races up until now. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are neck and neck in Ohio.

BANFIELD: And it's a big day for the president, too, because Mr. Obama has picked today, Super Tuesday, to hold his first news conference of the year. It's the day after he told Israel's prime minister, we got your back.

SAMBOLIN: And Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heading to Congress today. He's meeting with Republican leaders now. And he's looking for something a little stronger than all options are on the table with Iran. He's probably going to get it.

BANFIELD: Also, Rush Limbaugh has apologized again and again. All of this after calling this woman, Sandra Fluke, a slut and a prostitute and asking her to post her sexual exploits online because she testified on behalf of the contraception.

And contraception for people with health problems, not just birth control issues. More sponsors are dumping away from this guy. And radio stations are yanking his show as well. How bad is this going to get?

SAMBOLIN: And just one hour to go before the polls begin to open as Super Tuesday finally gets under way, 10 states, 419 delegates at stake. Mitt Romney is hoping that he will be close to clenching the nomination when this day is done.

Ohio is the coveted prize here. Look at this fresh CNN/ORC poll. Look at that, Romney and Santorum in a dead heat in the buckeye state, 32 percent each. BANFIELD: Both candidates are stumping for votes. Yesterday, it was big-time Ohio time. Mitt Romney was telling supporters that he needs the Ohioans vote to win that nomination. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, both trying everything they can do to stop that from happening.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He will be the weakest candidate we could possibly put forward on the most important issue of today.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He can't close the deal, and he can't close the deal in part because people inherently don't trust what he's saying and think that he isn't always very candid with them and frankly isn't straight.


BANFIELD: CNN's political editor, Paul Steinhauser, is live from Mt. St. Joseph, Ohio. So here's the deal, Paul Steinhauser, everybody says Ohio is the big grab, that's the big kahuna, you've got to get Ohio, 63 delegates.

But fewer people, not nobody. But fewer people are saying that Georgia is really the big kahuna because that's 76 delegates. By my math, which is not good, it's more.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: You're right on the money there. Yes, 76 in Georgia up for grabs today. That's a pretty important state for Newt Gingrich. We talked about this earlier.

He has to win his home state if he wants to continue on for the nomination, but all eyes are really right here on Ohio. That's why you see Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney campaigning so much here.

You've seen a lot of ads spending in this state especially by Romney and that "Super PAC" supporting him. TV waves, getting the TV airwaves are getting flooded. Look behind me.

Remember, we were by ourselves last hour and now you could see some polling officials getting ready. Yes, doors are going to open here in less than an hour. But let's talk about some other states, as well.

Because there are some other important states, Virginia and this will be very important for Mitt Romney. Why? Because in Virginia, he and Ron Paul, the congressman from Texas, are the only two on the ballot there so those delegates at stake in Virginia, 46 of them, Romney is way up in the polls. You think he's going to grab a lot of those delegates.

Oklahoma, this could be a very good state for Rick Santorum. He's up in the polls there, Evangelical votes, social conservative voters, very prominent in Oklahoma, 40 delegates at stake.

Let's talk about Idaho, one of the caucus states today, 32 delegates at stake. There are a lot of Mormons there that could help Mitt Romney. Ron Paul has also spent a lot of time campaigning there. He was there yesterday. He's there today. He's really concentrating on those caucus states -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: So I keep going back to Ohio not again because of the numbers, but because of psychology, the old status that no president has ever gone to the White House without winning Ohio since 1960, JFK, he did it.

He went to the White House with no Ohio, but that's the general election. We're still in the primaries. So is it psychological?

STEINHAUSER: Yes, I think so, because it's such an important swing state as you just mentioned. It is very important for Mitt Romney to win here. If he can't win Ohio, that really hurts his campaign.

Also it's important for Rick Santorum, a couple of reasons. It's a blue collar state. He is trying to appeal to the blue collar voters. If he can't win here, that's troubling and Ohio, of course, neighbors Pennsylvania where Rick Santorum comes from.

That's why you're seeing both of those candidates spending so much time right here -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Paul, I am glad you have some friends with you now. It looks like a warm and inviting place. Enjoy your day today. I hope it's super. Paul Steinhauser live for us today.

SAMBOLIN: I hope it's full there eventually, right?


SAMBOLIN: It's 6 minutes past the hour. Jobs and housing, two issues GOP primary voters will take with them to the booth today.

BANFIELD: And it's also an issue that Christine Romans thinks of nothing else. She's just on it. She's looking at the health of the economy in the Super Tuesday states for us. It's critical for these voters.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It really is. I want to pick up on something that Paul just said about Ohio, some are calling it Super Ohio, not Super Tuesday because Ohio looks a lot like the country as a whole right now.

And Ohio is kind of looking a little bit like the future, it's manufacturing, finance, and things are improving a little bit there. So a lot of folks are saying Ohio is really key. I want to look overall at the Super Tuesday states where you live and where your bills, how you pay your bills, most important things here.

Let's start with jobs. In six of the 10 Super Tuesday states, ladies, the unemployment rate is lower today than when the president took office. Alaska, Massachusetts, North Dakota at 3.3 percent, Ohio also at 7.9 percent, Tennessee and Vermont.

In Ohio that rate is down from, you know, its peak, but it's still an uncomfortable 7.9 percent, about half a million people there out of work. So still a painful situation, but getting better.

In Tennessee, the rate is above the national average, which remains pretty high, 8.5 percent, but also coming off of its worst levels. I want to look at these other states here.

You've got Georgia, Idaho, Oklahoma, and Virginia. Candidates in these states can rightfully say the jobless rate is higher from when Obama stepped into the White House. In Newt Gingrich's home state of Georgia, 9.4 percent is the unemployment rate.

In 2010, Georgia's unemployment rate, guys, was an all-time high of 10.5 percent. Idaho, Oklahoma, and Virginia, they all have higher unemployment rates today when the president took office.

But look at Oklahoma and Virginia, just above 6 percent. That's better than the national average. On to housing quickly, because a lot of folks are underwater. That means you owe more on the home than the home is worth.

They will be going into the ballot box with that in the back of their mind, in the back pocket. Super Tuesday states have some of the highest levels of underwater mortgages in the country.

Georgia, look at this, 33 percent. Think of that, a third of the people in Georgia are living in the house that's worth less than what they owe on it. Idaho, it's 25 percent. Virginia, 23 percent. Let's talk about Ohio again, 24 percent there.

The national average is about 22 percent according to Core Logic. So those folks that are going to the ballot box in Ohio or the voting booth in Ohio, a quarter of them are under water right now.

It's one of the reasons why people say that Ohio is almost a proxy really for the GOP nominee, what he faces in November. Do voters focus on how bad things got or on the fact that things are improving slightly? And that's what these -- that's what these candidates have to bank on.

BANFIELD: Depends on who is stumping, right?

ROMANS: You're right -- and where, yes.

BANFIELD: You hear how good it is from President Obama. Christine, great numbers. Fascinating stuff.

SAMBOLIN: I can't wait to see the exit polls on this as well. That's going to be a lot of fun. Thank you.

BANFIELD: I think she's going to be really busy tomorrow. Get some sleep. At 7:00 in the morning, I want to let you know about "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien, she's going to be joined by Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah, a big Romney supporter.

And also Congressman Allen West of Florida, a freshman Tea Party member is being pushed by Sarah Palin as possible candidate. We're going to ask him why he hasn't thrown his hat behind anybody as of yet.

And CNN's Super Tuesday coverage begins tonight at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, special edition of "JOHN KING, USA." It's immediately followed by primary results coverage with the Best Political Team on Television, starts on 7:00 p.m.

And also we have a very EARLY START tomorrow. Right here on the program, we are going to air at 4:00 a.m., an hour early on the east coast. Make sure you join us for the early start to EARLY START, 4:00 a.m. Eastern.

I guarantee you we may still calling some races at that point. We might have to kick Wolf Blitzer and crew off the air so that we can actually continue the coverage.

SAMBOLIN: Poor folks, but they have a lot of fun.

BANFIELD: They will be thrilled.

SAMBOLIN: A lot of fun. I'm going to talk about your favorite story.


SAMBOLIN: The last couple of days, new big sponsors are pulling ads from Rush Limbaugh's radio show. AOL now on the list of 13 advertisers that are dropping Limbaugh after conservative radio host went on a three-day offensive against Georgetown law student, Sandra Fluke, for her testimony on contraception.

So now he's famously called her a slut and prostitute and suggested that she and Georgetown women post sex videos online as well. Two radio stations are now pulling his program from their air, KPU in Hawaii and WBEC in Massachusetts.

So Limbaugh has issued an apology for, quote, "two words." Telling radio listeners he is sincere then he slams liberals.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST: I again sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for using those two words to describe her. I descended to their level when I used those two words describing Sandra Fluke. That was my error. I became like them.


SAMBOLIN: So Fluke says that the statement doesn't change anything. She says Rush never called her, Rush Limbaugh, that is, never called to apologize personally.

We have a lot of political heavyweights weighing in as well. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann on CNN's "PIERS MORGAN" and David Axelrod on "AC 360." Listen.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: I have gone through myself an experience, more things said about me, and I have never seen this level of outrage on the left about what left-leaning commentators said about me. No, really, I mean, honestly, if you're a conservative woman, it seems like there is no level of vitriol that's beyond the pale.

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: There's been a coarsening of our politics from left to right. I don't excuse anybody's inappropriate and in this case vile language, whether it's aimed at someone on left, right, or the middle.


SAMBOLIN: So joining me is the editor and publisher of "Talkers" magazine, Michael Harrison. Thanks for being with us. It is a rare apology for Rush Limbaugh, although he did not call her directly to apologize.

You followed his career for decades. And I got to tell you you're probably in the minority this morning because you really do feel that his apology is sincere. Why?

MICHAEL HARRISON, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "TALKERS" MAGAZINE: I think he's a very smart man. And I think if he did not really have sincerity in apologizing for the use of the words, he didn't apologize for the sentiment behind it or his political stance, just the use of those words, knowing Rush Limbaugh, he wouldn't have apologized.

He would have dug in. He thrives on this kind of controversy. He's not sitting there going, my gosh, people don't like me anymore. He's being talked about by politicians. He's being talked about by us. This man is just a radio entertainer at the core of what he does.

He's being talked about on same level as if he's a president or a senator or an appointee, a Supreme Court justice. It's amazing the kind of gravity that surrounds this man. So if he actually said, I apologize, something he has never done in many situations that were even more controversial and he faced even more heat, I think he means it.

SAMBOLIN: Well, don't you think there's a little pressure here, right? We have 13 advertisers that have pulled their ads from the show. So is he bowing because of the money that's being affected here?

HARRISON: I don't really think so. I think the "Rush Limbaugh Show" having as many millions of listeners as it does, and it will continue to have. As a matter of fact, it will have more listeners as a result of this than it had before.

I think that it just has so much momentum and you have to remember, the people that listen to him like him. They're still listening. The only people who hear those advertisements, ironically, are the people that like Rush Limbaugh and like to hear what he has to say.

So it's not as if somehow these advertisers are being besmirched across the spectrum of American media. As a matter of fact, many of them are taking advantage of this to get far more publicity than they would have had, had they stayed on the show.

I'm not accusing any specific one of doing that, but it doesn't appear out of the possibility that some of them are thinking that way. Just as two radio stations that have dropped him, they're being talked about all across the nation. Two stations that otherwise probably never would have attention outside their own markets.

SAMBOLIN: Well, I know that his getting a lot of attention, but it is negative attention. Sandra Fluke appeared on ABC's "The View" on Monday. Listen to this, and then I want to ask you about it.


SANDRA FLUKE, GEORGETOWN LAW STUDENT: I'm going to leave that up to the sponsors, up to Clear Channel Communications, and to the members of the American public who support those companies. And what I'll just say is that Americans have a long tradition of supporting companies that share the values that they have, and I'm sure that they will continue to uphold that tradition.


SAMBOLIN: She is credible. She is well spoken. She appeals to a lot of people. She is calling for a boycott. Do you think more companies will listen?

HARRISON: I think maybe one or two or three might. I think in the long run attention deficit disorder will kick in and Rush Limbaugh will continue and others will be forgotten. Just like the stories I've been talking about for the last 20 years have been forgotten.

I'm not condoning what he did. I certainly am not even weighing in on my opinion about it. I'm just looking at it from a broadcasting industry perspective. And we've been down this road so many times.

SAMBOLIN: Well, you know, let's talk about that. Don Imus lost his job in 2007, right? It was over racist and sexist comments that he made on air about the Rutgers women's basketball team. Do you think that we'll go there with this? Do you see any similarities?

HARRISON: There are many similarities. The only difference is Rush Limbaugh has a far larger and more loyal following than Imus did, and Rush Limbaugh is, to be frank, more successful at this time than Imus was at that time.

So, Limbaugh has more momentum and in some cases I guess the term is, he's too big to fail at this point. His leaving his show and his suddenly disappearing from the scene would be a terrible blow for the broadcasting industry. And not just the conservative branch of news talk radio, the entire broadcasting, the radio broadcasting industry would suffer -- whereas Imus really was just an interesting story.

So I think they're similar but I also think there are differences.

SAMBOLIN: It's going to be interesting to see how this continues to play out.

Michael Harrison, editor and publisher of "Talkers" magazine -- thanks for sharing your thoughts today.

HARRISON: My pleasure. Thank you.

BANFIELD: I think the headline on this one, money talks. Is that about it? Is that what this comes down to? If you're really, really successful, you can say whatever you want.

And, by the way, Michele Bachmann, if anybody ever called you a slut, I'd be the first one to get this on this airwave and, you know, complain about it. I don't know that I heard that. Her comments, I'm not sure how ugly it got to her out on the trail, but I sure hope it didn't get that ugly for her.

Still ahead: T.J. Lane is a young man who is facing a lot of trouble. He's the suspected gunman in the Chardon, Ohio school shooting. He's on his way back in the courtroom today. But what's he going to hear -- more charges possibly or something else?

Also, Senator John McCain -- tough talk on the Senate floor, saying air strikes in Syria led by us might be necessary. Can we afford this? Can we stomach it? Are we going to do it?

You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: And still ahead, Senator John McCain is calling for air strikes in Syria. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says, not so fast.

The two are set to square off face to face tomorrow.

BANFIELD: Also, hold on to your hats, check out this disorder in the courtroom. Oh, my goodness. A couple of guys trying to get their hands on an accused killer in a courtroom, probably a few things, and the court officers getting busy.

It's not the only time it happens, folks. This happens a lot. This one caught on tape.

You're watching EARLY START.


QUENTIN DARRINGTON, ACTOR, "MEMPHIS": Hi, America. My name is Quentin Earl Darrington. I'm an actor and I travel every single week of the year.

It is a fantastic musical. It's about the birth of rock 'n roll.

Welcome to my dressing room. This is where it al goes down before the show.

I do have a very, very specific ritual that I developed.

I study one of the greatest blues singers we've ever had before I go on stage.

We have some hair and makeup going on over here.

What's up, ladies?

This is one of our prop areas. I use a cigar in the show. It's totally fake, mama. I don't smoke.

My key to success in this business is giving to others. I volunteer wherever I can.

I love to always sing and put a smile on their face. That's what I really, really, really love.

Thank you so much, America, for joining us. God bless you. Hope to see you in the city soon.



BANFIELD: Twenty-five minutes now past 6:00 on the East Coast.

Twenty-six people, 26 more killed around Syria in just the last 24 hours. And according to the opposition forces there, it's as bad as it's been.

Senator John McCain says this is now the time to bomb Syrian President Bashar al-Assad right out of power.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through air strikes on Assad's forces.


SAMBOLIN: The Pentagon says that the time is still not right for the air strikes. They're kind of looking at the circumstances here.

Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon for us.

Another thing that Senator McCain said is that shame on the United States for standing by. The United Nations says about 7,500 deaths right now and people on the ground are saying perhaps 9,000.

What needs to happen in order for there to be a U.S. intervention?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, for right now, Zoraida, the Obama administration is holding firm that they are hoping diplomacy and economic sanctions work. It's been the case all along that what they are looking for would be, I think, starting with Arab League nation involvement. They want nations in the region who are already pressuring the Assad regime to get more involved in all of this, as well.

The simple fact is, as Senator McCain even said himself, air strikes are very problematic. Syria has a very significant air defense system. All the radars and missiles that would pose a significant threat to aircraft coming into the country, and it could be a massive bombing campaign.

You don't just bomb someone out of power. I think that's perhaps a lesson learned over the last 10 years if nothing else.

So, it would be a difficult situation. It was something that McCain himself talked about.

SAMBOLIN: Well, what about the humanitarian relief efforts? We've heard a lot about an effort being made, but actually because we keep on seeing all of the bloodshed, right, and we want to see something happen, is there an effort to make that happen?

STARR: One of the things McCain was talking about is this very point, which is, could you take out enough of the Syrian military capability in key areas like northern Syria to establish a safe haven, to give the people of Syria who are so beleaguered, somewhere to go to be safe and then use it as a staging area to get humanitarian assistance into the country.

Still, a very difficult proposition by all accounts.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon for us. Thank you.

BANFIELD: At 6:28 and still ahead, President Obama is getting a major boost on the campaign trail in one former President Bill Clinton. Is this his new money man? How's that going to work out for him?

You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Top of the morning to you. Thirty-one minutes past the hour.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BANFIELD: Hi there. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

It is time to get you caught up on the top stories this morning.

Super Tuesday, great day to get up and vote, isn't it? Well, if you're in one of the 10 states, guess what -- 419 delegates in those states up for grabs today. So it's a big one, folks.

And Ohio, one of the biggest. It's 63 delegates. That's really one of the most coveted states. Right now, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum want it and want it bad. And they are in a dead heat -- not statistical tie, a dead heat at 32 percent of the vote each. That according to a brand new CNN/ORC poll.

Also, police in Houston are hoping a $10,000 reward is going to help them resolve a bizarre mystery. An Iranian college student and activist was gunned down while she was driving home two months ago. And now, the case is getting worldwide attention because there is some speculation that she may have been the target of an Iranian political attack.


SAMBOLIN: Take a look at your screen. Have you experienced this? Your car slipping and sliding, wiping out perhaps? This was the icy streets of Ohio.

It's black ice. And it's sending several cars flying into guardrails and into ditches in Columbus.

I got to tell you, folks are lucky that there were no major injuries reported there. Good gracious.

BANFIELD: Oh! I hate seeing those. It's terrible. Terrible.

SAMBOLIN: And you don't know it's there.

BANFIELD: Yes, a good place to sprinkle salt.


Former President Bill Clinton will be making several appearances with President Obama on the campaign trail this year. "Bloomberg News" is reporting the 42nd and 44th presidents will appear together at fundraising events in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

BANFIELD: Happy Super Tuesday, at 33 minutes past 6:00 on the East Coast. That means we are about 27 minutes until polls open in a number of the states.

SAMBOLIN: You do that math fast.

BANFIELD: I know. I actually did it while you were talking, which means I was trying to process everything you were saying, too, really.

SAMBOLIN: I can't do. Excellent.

BANFIELD: So tomorrow by this time, we could actually be reporting some real winners and some real losers to you. And we may be actually a little bit closer to perhaps knowing who the nominee is going to be to challenge President Obama. We're not going to know who it is.

But like I said, with numbers like this, 419, we may know a little bit better who's got the mojo going in.

And Ohio is really the coveted prize in terms of mojo. Both Romney and Santorum were campaigning there yesterday. There are 63 delegates at stake in this critical bellwether state. It's not the most delegates of all the contests today. But it's a critical one

A new CNN/ORC poll has Romney and Santorum -- look at that -- neck and neck, dead heat at 32 percent apiece.

So what does this mean? Does it mean anything?

Let's just talk about it anyway, shall we, with CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser, who's live in Mt. St. Joseph, Ohio -- smiling because he's in a polling station and he's finally being joined by real people there.

Also live from Washington is Democratic strategist Penny Lee, and Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak is with us again today.

So, Paul, I'm going to start with you, only because you're the numbers guy and every day we've been coming to you with a new poll, whether it's a CNN poll or another network or other news organization. And, little by little, Mitt Romney, going up into almost every contest in my recent memory, has been chipping away at his deficit margin.

I don't know what's at stake or what's at work or what's at play, but how has he been doing this right up to the very day when he seems to close them almost entirely?

PAUL STEIHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, here in Ohio I think TV has something to do with it. Both Mitt Romney and that super PAC that is supporting him, Restore Our Future, have been flooding the airwaves in Ohio, spending a lot more money than Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul.

And that's one of the reasons why here in Ohio, you see it in our poll, dead even. Four other polls also show it is not enough here in Ohio. Two weeks ago, Rick Santorum had a double digit lead here. So, I think that's one of the reasons we've seen in Tennessee, a similar story. Romney spending a lot more money on the airwaves. He's also tied it up there according to the latest public opinion polls.

And, Ashleigh, we've seen the national polls as well. Two weeks ago, Rick Santorum had a large lead. Now, it's just the opposite. Mitt Romney has that lead.

BANFIELD: So, we've been talking about great length about Ohio with its 63 delegates at stake. And, you know, there's Georgia with 76. So, those are two big states. But the big number which we all have to keep our eye on is 1,144. That's what's needed to actually pull off this race.

And by doing the math, Matt, there's very little chance anybody can come out with what's need to actually win.

So, talk to me a little bit about the best it can get, say, for Rick Santorum or for Mitt Romney. And while you're at it, I'd throw in a little Newt Gingrich there.

MATT MACKOWIAK, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: OK. Yes. There is a math lesson here.

The proportional delegate system we have this time around means it's a slower start. But once you get past a certain period, which I think goes into April, you start having winner-take-all primaries in every state.

So I think what most Republican folks believe that are watching this closely in Washington are -- they believe that Romney is going to have a good night tonight in Super Tuesday.

BANFIELD: But a good night, Matt, means about 400 and a bit?

MACKOWIAK: Well, no. I mean, there's only 400 at stake.

BANFIELD: No, no. His total, his tally will go up to 400 by tonight?

MACKOWIAK: Sorry. I didn't understand. You're right.

BANFIELD: I'm not always clear.

MACKOWIAK: Yes. The question is, does he win half or so, the delegates? It's also going to be sort of the narrative coming out of Super Tuesday. Does he win Ohio? If so, that's a battleground, Midwestern blue collar state that goes towards his narrative on the economy.

I think what Romney -- Romney's campaign wants to say after the Super Tuesday contest is that no other candidate can get to 1,144 but us. And so, it's going to force the unification that Romney knows that he needs from conservatives, from the establishment, from the different demographic group, different folks across the country. That's what he's going to want to say.

What Santorum is looking for is an opportunity to perhaps pick up Ohio, win some Southern states like Tennessee and Oklahoma and essentially end the Newt Gingrich candidacy.

And what Newt is looking for again is seeing, you know, Santorum's, you know, turn at the wheel of being the anti-Romney ends so that he wins Georgia and going forward, perhaps winning Alabama and Mississippi next week.

So, again, it's all about momentum. It's all about a narrative. It's all about a path to the nomination.

My sense is that Super Tuesday will result in Romney being by far the strongest candidate, the candidate that's likely to be the nominee, and I think the party is going to unite behind him.

BANFIELD: Well, let me throw in this little bit of wisdom from one of my favorite people in the entire political landscape and it's former First Lady Barbara Bush. She had this to say about this race and how she has discovered it -- let's see. It's her assessment of what this race has become. Have a listen.


BARBARA BUSH, FORMER U.S. FIRST LADY: It's been, I think, the worst campaign I've ever seen in my life. I just hate it. I hate the fact that people think compromise is a dirty word.


BANFIELD: Penny Lee, does that mean they all come out losers? Or is that Barbara Bush appealing to all of us and yet it's still all going to go on exactly as I planned?

PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIC: Those are strong words coming from the formers first lady. I think we can all agree, this has not been a good event -- set of events for Republican candidates out there. They have continued to see as they have slung mud and they've really got into kind of, you know, hand-to-hand combat out there and with high negatives, you have seen all of the candidates have increasingly negative numbers as they've gone through this process.

It has not been healing. It has not been uniting. Unlike what the Democrats went through in 2008 where we actually did have momentum coming out of the primaries and we actually did propel us into winning into November, that has not been the case.

Four out of 10 of the last surveys have said this has been a highly negative and unproductive part for the Republican Party. So, they have got -- if they are to kind of heal some November, they have got a lot of work cut out for them.

BANFIELD: It just makes me wonder though if it's going to force them away from the polls or because they'll be outraged about the negativity they will go right for the polls. Well have to watch for it.

Paul, Penny, Matt, nice work. Thank you all. Appreciate it.

MACKOWIAK: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Plus, CNN Super Tuesday coverage, need to remind you, begins tonight at 6:00 p.m. Eastern with a special edition of "JOHN KING, USA," immediately followed by primary coverage with "The Best Political Team on Television." That starts at 7:00 p.m.

And it's a very early start for us on EARLY START tomorrow. You can set your alarm for it, why not? If you're that keen on the politics, we go to air at 4:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow with complete primary results and reaction. And the races may not even be over by then.

In the meantime, quick break for us. Back in a moment.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It's 43 minutes past the hour.

T.J. Lane, the teenager charged in the deadly Ohio school shooting, will appear in juvenile court today for a pretrial hearing. Lane has admitted to shooting -- to that shooting that killed three students and injured three others. Prosecutors are planning to move Lane's case to adult court. Also moving to block media access to other records that are related to Lane.

Officials have already released records revealing Lane's violent pass. At 15, he was charged for putting piece uncle in a chokehold and punching him in the face.

BANFIELD: Also today, there's a funeral planned for one of Lane's alleged victims. Sixteen-year-old Demetrius Hewlin.

Our Martin Savidge is live right now in Chardon, Ohio, where the shooting took place.

Martin, there's a lot of talk about moving this case to adult court. But there's not as much talk about the number of charges that this young man is facing right now. Is it possible (AUDIO GAP)?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDNT: It is possible. And it probably, if it's going to happen, Ashleigh, would happen at the time when he is bound over to adult court. Right now, he's going to make a second appearance, actually, his initial hearing in juvenile court -- the charges are going to be read against him. And there are six charges right now, including three counts of aggravated murder.

However, if he were to go to adult court, in Ohio in the past what has happened is that they have filed, sometimes, additional charges based upon the number of potential victims that were in the room. Well, in this particular case, you're talking about Chardon High School, the cafeteria.

At that time, and I'm roughly guesstimating, about 50 students could have been there. So, it could be additional charges of, say, 50 charges of attempted. So, it could go that way, but probably, not until he gets to adult court.

BANFIELD: You know, oftentimes, in a case like this, I have no idea about the finances of his family or what kind of legal help they can afford or if they have just been given a public attorney. What is the story behind his representation? Is it adequate? SAVIDGE: You know that question has been raised a number of times. And let me sort of explain. We believe that this attorney has been selected by the family. We don't know the circumstances, but the man who is currently representing T.J. Lane is known as an equine attorney, equine as in equestrian as in horses. this is very big horse country here.

He's very prominent when it comes to selling or buying horses, or say, putting horses out for stud. Millions and millions of dollars worth of business, but not criminal defense. And that's what some of the legal experts I've spoken to are very concerned about because they say, look, you know, big difference between selling a horse and defending a young man who is in a lot of trouble.

And we should point out, there's already been some very early gaffes on both sides. The prosecutor came out last week, and he described T.J. Lane as not well, but many picked up on that and said, look, the prosecutor was giving the perfect defense for the defense team. The prosecutor isn't supposed to do that.

BANFIELD: No. You're absolutely right. I think I remember hearing his defense attorney saying as well that he was very sorry. Good luck with, you know, any kind of defense that involves, you know, your head and what your state of mind is as well. So, we'll have to watch for that. All right. Martin, thanks very much for that. Appreciate it.

SAMBOLIN: It is 46 minutes past the hour here. Time to check the stories that are making news this morning.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Voters begin heading to the polls just about 15 minutes here, with 10 states, 419 delegates up for grabs on this Super Tuesday. Ohio and its 63 delegates are considered the top prize with Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in a dead heat now in that state. That's in the latest CNN poll.

President Obama speaking on Super Tuesday as well. The White House says he will hold his first news conference of the year today. CNN will carry that live at 1:15 eastern. Soledad will ask DNC chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz about the timing of this. That's happening in our next hour.

BANFIELD (voice-over): Take a good look at your TV screen, folks. Yes, quiet in this courtroom in Springfield until that, whoa. Yes. That's the family. Whoa, whoa. Look at those officers. It's the family of a murder suspect's victim, alleged victim going after that suspect as he was brought into the courtroom.

The courtroom officers had to tackle the alleged assailants in all of this. A real mess. Total disorder in the courtroom. No word at this point, though, if anyone is going to be charged for whether that hearing got back.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Oh, goodness.

BANFIELD (on-camera): Violent. The mood in those kinds of hearings is just so tense. That's why you have that many officers in a courtroom, especially when you're talking about charges that serious.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Forty-eight minutes past the hour. Soledad O'Brien joins us now with a look at what is ahead on "Starting Point." Good morning.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST, "STARTING POINT": Good morning to both of you, and so much is ahead this morning on "Starting Point." We're going to talk to Sam Lahood. He's going to join us for his first television interview since he was detained in Egypt. Of course, he is the son of the transportation secretary, Ray Lahood.

You remember, he was not allowed to leave Egypt. There was a travel ban on him. We're going to talk to him about what happens now that he's back in the United States.

Also, you've been talking about Super Tuesday. We will continue those conversations. We're talking to Congressman Jason Chaffetz, we're talking to Congressman Allen West, we're talking to Congressman Aaron Schock, and we're also going to talk to Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz this morning to focusing on Super Tuesday.

And, a huge scandal in the NFL that those bounty pools that Coach Greg Williams has now admitted to. We're going to talk to a former player who says it happens all the time. He's not surprised. Those stories and much more straight ahead right at the top of the hour when "Starting Point" begins. We'll see you then.


BANFIELD: Welcome back to EARLY START. 6:52 on the East Coast.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will make the rounds on Capitol Hill this morning meeting with House-Senate leaders. At the White House yesterday, Netanyahu and President Obama tried hard to present a united front on that growing nuclear threat that's coming from Iran, but they're far apart.

President urging restraint to the Israelis to, perhaps, let diplomacy and sanctions work. But Prime Minister Netanyahu saying Israel needs to protect itself, and he drove that point home in a speech last night to the pro-Israel lobby group, APAC.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAEL PRIME MINISTER: Israel has waited, patiently waited, for the international community to resolve this issue. We've waited for diplomacy to work. We've waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SAMBOLIN: Concerning a military option in Iran, "The New York Times" op-ed says this morning, the United States military is far more capable of doing serious damage to Iran's facilities than the Israeli military, but the cost would still be high. With many of the same dangers and uncertainties, Mr. Obama is right that military ction should only be the last resort.

But Israel should not doubt this president's mettle, neither should Iran. CNN's Dan Lothian is live at the White House. And Dan, Prime Minister Netanyahu also said I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation. Has his patience worn thin?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly, as you heard there, clearly, Benjamin Netanyahu is impatient. They have been waiting on the international community to see if sanctions will work. And there's a skepticism that despite this pressure from the international community, these economic sanctions, and otherwise, that Iran still has not been moved off its nuclear ambitions.

And so, that's why you heard that message from Benjamin Netanyahu saying that ultimately Israel is responsible for its own security.

SAMBOLIN: So, do you think that he will be able to convince the president that his approach is the better approach?

LOTHIAN: Well, look, you know, based on yesterday, U.S. officials tell us that, no, you know, there was no real moving off these positions. In fact, the president reiterated many of the key positions, one of them being that the U.S. seeks to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, where Israel sees it differently.

They want to stop Iran from getting the capability to develop a weapon. They were, however, reassured by the U.S. position that all options remain on the table, including a military one.

SAMBOLIN: Well, it was, I think, back in early February where "The Washington Post" has an Israeli official that said you stay to the side and let us do it. Do you think we've arrived a that point?

LOTHIAN: Well, you know, I don't think that the U.S. will stay to the side. I mean, you heard yesterday Benjamin Netanyahu just before he met with the president face-to-face, that they said that, you know, you are us and we are you. That's how Iran sees them tied together. So, there is this sense of unity. They will remain by each other's side, but Israel clearly making the point here that they have to make the ultimate decision.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Dan Lothian live for us at the White House. Thank you very much.

BANFIELD: It's five minutes now to seven o'clock on east coast. And just ahead with Soledad on "STARTING POINT," Naftali Bennett, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's former chief of staff is going to join Soledad to talk about preventing a nuclear Iran. So make sure you stay tuned for that. You are watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Officially, that is the news from A to Z. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

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