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Super Tuesday Coverage; President Unveils Mortgage Plan; Saints Admit To "Bounty" Program

Aired March 7, 2012 - 05:00   ET





MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going to let you down. I'm going to get this nomination.


SAMBOLIN: Mitt Romney lands his lead with Super Tuesday wins, but can't land that knockout blow.




ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Rick Santorum keeps hanging around, thanks to the Romney doubters in the reddest of red states.


SANTORUM: We have won in the West, the Midwest, and the South. And we're ready to win across this country.


SAMBOLIN: And Newt Gingrich -- have you learned not to count him out?


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are lots of bunny rabbits that run through. I'm the tortoise. I just take one step at a time.


BANFIELD: The Republican race moves forward on your EARLY START.

And a very good morning to you. It is two minutes past 5:00 a.m. on the East Coast. And it is an EARLY START. And I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're happy you're with us this morning. We are bringing you the news from A to Z.

Let's get started.

It is the morning after Super Tuesday. All candidates are still standing, but Mitt Romney is starting to sound more like the nominee.

Here's where we stand the morning after: Romney took Ohio and Alaska, two races that weren't called until most of you were nice and sound asleep. He also won Idaho, Vermont, Massachusetts and Virginia. Rick Santorum taking Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota. And Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia.

And we have a brand new delegate estimate, including Alaska: Romney at 404, Santorum at 165, Gingrich at 106, and Ron Paul at 66.

That's not the number we wanted to put up for you.


SAMBOLIN: That's how he did with the Catholic vote. We're going to get to that in a minute.

Mitt Romney telling his supporters that he likes that math.


ROMNEY: Tonight, we're doing some counting. We're counting up the delegates for the convention, and that looks good. And we're counting down the days until November, and that looks even better.


SAMBOLIN: Folks here are working very, very hard to bring you all these last night numbers. So I apologize for that wrong graphic.

The exit polls are showing that Catholics really helped Romney squeaked by in Ohio. Forty-four percent of Catholics chose Romney, 31 percent chose Santorum.

Political editor Paul Steinhauser is in Columbus, Ohio, and he is breaking down those numbers for us.

BANFIELD: Aren't you, Paul? Are you there? Can you hear us?


BANFIELD: And you're looking nice and bright and chipper this morning.

STEINHAUSER: Thank you, thank you. Always for you guys.

Listen, it was the closest of victories, no doubt about it. I think you can say everybody was a winner on Super Tuesday, right, because all four candidates did kind of what they wanted to do. Let's talk about Ohio and take a look at, this is the latest vote totals right here. And, you can see, it was a Romney victory by just about 10,000 votes.

You mentioned the Catholic vote. That helped him here, but if you look at those exit polls, he had trouble with very, very conservative voters. Again, he had trouble with born again Christians, evangelicals, and blue collar workers who voted in this contest.

So, how did he do it here? Advertising dollars helped. They vastly outspent the Santorum campaign here in Ohio.

And let's talk about Santorum. You mentioned his victories. Let's take a look at Tennessee. You know, he had a big lead there in Tennessee at one time. But things tightened up. But in the end, he won by nine percentage points -- a pretty convincing victory there. He also took Oklahoma, as we thought he would, and North Dakota. That was a big surprise for him.

And Newt Gingrich, he did what he said he needed to do and he did it convincingly. Look at the vote totals in Georgia. It was a very, very big win for Newt Gingrich there.

So, I guess all three of them, you could say, did what they wanted to do. They all came away a winner in one aspect.

And Ron Paul, he won more delegates. He didn't win a state who would have liked to have done that, but he won more delegates -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Paul, so now we're headed South. We're talking about the conservative vote there. What can we expect?

STEINHAUSER: Yes, the calendar ahead at least for the next couple of weeks is not so favorable to Mitt Romney. He did what he needed to do by winning a lot of delegates last night. But look what's next?

Kansas, those caucuses on Saturday. In fact, Rick Santorum will be in Kansas today, a very conservative state, a lot like Oklahoma. And then, as you mentioned, down South, Mississippi and Alabama are the big two primaries next Tuesday, Hawaii as well.

And everyone is asking me, will I send to Hawaii. Sorry, not going to happen. Those Southern states are going to be favorable to Santorum and to Gingrich, to a degree. It's going to be tough for Romney. In fact, our Gloria Borger learned that Rick Santorum already going to be pouring a lot of ad dollars, a lot of spending to get commercials up in Mississippi and Alabama.

We've got a while to go. No real big, big day again until April 24th when New York, Pennsylvania, and three other states have primaries -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: A lot of people are asking whether Gingrich will actually drop out of the race now. Some folks saying, that would be really bad news for Romney, wouldn't it? So, we're going to talk about it later.

STEINHAUSER: He would not like that.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, thanks for clearing up those numbers. I vote for you to go to Hawaii, for what it's worth.

STEINHAUSER: I like that. Thank you.

BANFIELD: Yes, just so it ain't me. I'm telling you, I'm not in bikini mode. That's all what I'm saying.

SAMBOLIN: I'd go anyway.

BANFIELD: You're always in a bikini mode.

SAMBOLIN: I know I'm in a bikini mode, but I'm certainly in warm weather mode.

Six minutes past the hour here.

Throughout the morning, keep an eye on the bottom third of your screen. That's where we'll be posting the results and the delegate results from each of the 10 Super Tuesday states. Those numbers are changing.

And, by the way, this may not have been the outcome that Mitt Romney was hoping for, although, yes, I'm sure he's thrilled with Ohio, but those rivals, those pesky rivals, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich really picking away at him and doing more than enough to keep this race alive.


GINGRICH: We survived the national elite's effort to kill us in the summer because of you, because of people who said we are not going to allow the elite to decide who we are allowed to nominate.

SANTORUM: This was a big night tonight, lots of states. We're going to win a few. We're going to lose a few. But as it looks right now, we're going to get at least a couple of gold medals and a whole pack full of silver medals.


BANFIELD: And all that basically means that ain't over until it's over, which means John Avlon still has his work cut out for him, senior political columnist for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast." He's live with us this morning.

Smiling away because he loves this wonky stuff.

And also live from Atlanta is Democratic strategist Maria Cardona, who also puts in a late night and follows every moment of the race.

All right, you two, I want to put up a map. Just so we can do our job this morning as well. But there's method behind my madness. The map is of Mitt Romney's wins last night. And the reason I wanted to put it up is because he shows a very disparate kind of win.

Take a look at all those regions. He's got wins in the Northeast. He's got wins in the South. He's got wins in that blue collar belt. And he's got wins sort of way out west in libertarian states and Alaska as well.

Here's my question, John Avlon, doesn't that sound like a guy who can pull off a general election win if he can cover wins in all those kinds of states?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's exactly the argument that team Romney is making today. The problem is, if you outspend your opponents four-to-one, and you're struggling to put Rick Santorum away, you clearly haven't won the appeal of your base. And that's the problem here.

The math of this process, because it's proportional, does not lead to a knockout punch. Mitt Romney still has a long way to go, more than 1,000 delegates. By my calculation, the earliest he could clinch this is -- could be May. So this is going to go on. That's just the reality. The next couple of contests are unlikely to be friendly to Mitt Romney.

BANFIELD: Although I'm still fascinated by the facts that all sorts of different kinds of folks and different strokes turn out for him and like him.

And here's someone else that lots of different strokes for different folks like, one Sarah Palin. She's emerged from the ethereal clouds of Alaska to give us a great sound bite about running, even as soon as this year for 2012.

Let me have her tell you, and then let's talk on the other side. Here she is.


REPORTER: It's the open convention question. If we wind up with an open convention, and someone wants to place your name -- throw your name into the hat, would you stop them? Would you be open to that?

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: As I say, anything is possible. I don't -- I don't close any doors that perhaps would be open out there. So, no, I wouldn't close that door. And my plan is to be at that convention.


BANFIELD: And all I can say is -- yay.

Maria Cardona, listen, say what you will about Sarah Palin. She has her lovers and has her haters, but doesn't she energize people? And isn't that something that's missing in this race right now? People are just fatigued by these four.

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think that's exactly right. And I think that that is one of Romney's problems. He not only hasn't been able to seal the deal but even his own supporters aren't passionately looking to him in terms of somebody that really moves the whole Republican coalition that he's going to need not just to really clinch this nomination but as soon as possible, but to go into the general as a strong, competitive candidate.

I completely agree with John, which is that's how his campaign is going to spin last night, which is that he was able to win everywhere. But the fact of the matter is that he was not able to win key Southern states that most Republicans will need to win in the general election, and he's tanking with independents, John Avlon's people, he's tanking with Latinos, he's tanking with women.

And so, while he might have won last night, he still has not come over the finish line to clinch this nomination. And even at the end of the day, you know, most people still think that he will be the nominee.

BANFIELD: You know, there's an old line --

CARDONA: But what kind of nominee is he going to be?

BANFIELD: There's an old line, fake it until you make it. And if you watched him out on the campaign trail last night, with his speeches, wow. Watch this particular sound bite where he sounds every bit of confident.


ROMNEY: Your support really means everything to Ann and me, and I'm not going to let you down. I'm going to get this nomination.


BANFIELD: I'm going to get this nomination. I'm going to get this nomination.

John Avlon, is that arrogating the nomination just a little to soon?

AVLON: Well, that's been a danger he's had all along. But the fact is, look, he is in poll position. He did win six states. Nobody should doubt that. He's got 404 delegates now, but he still needs over 1,000 to clinch this thing. And he can't seal the deal with the activist base that just doesn't seem to trust him.

If Newt Gingrich were to get out, the majority of those votes would go to Rick Santorum. So, there are still a sales job that he needs to make. He's going to have to win some states in the Deep South. He's in a strong position, but he does not have this locked down, not by a long shot.

BANFIELD: Which means that we are going to be hard work for several weeks and months to come.

All right. John Avlon, Maria Cardona, thanks very much , guys. See you in a bit.

SAMBOLIN: It is 12 minutes past the hour.

Ron Paul shut out on Super Tuesday. The Texas congressman hasn't won a single state so far, and he's still trying to convince voters that he is the alternative that they are looking for.


REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You look at the candidates today, there is very little difference except for one. The rest -- the rest of the candidates support the status quo. Foreign policy has never changed. Monetary policy doesn't change. There's no challenge to the Federal Reserve System, and most of all, there's no desire to protect personal liberty, personal privacy.


SAMBOLIN: And Ron Paul admits his chances are slim of winning the GOP nomination, but he's pressing on with events that are scheduled in Kansas on Friday and Missouri on Saturday.

BANFIELD: And, oh, yes, 13 minutes past 5:00.

We did not forget about the other guy that eventually will get into this race, if he's not in it already, President Obama. Some political maneuvering of his own as well. He's off to North Carolina today, key battle ground state. A speech on the economy he's up to.

He tried to steal a little Super Tuesday thunder from the Republicans with this big old speech. His first news conference of the year held at the White House. President blasting GOP candidates for their casual talk about war while on the campaign trail.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is not a game. There's nothing casual about it. And, you know, when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we've been doing over the last three years.


BANFIELD: And it didn't stop there either. The president had a couple of other harsh words too, saying that the candidates' talk on the campaign about starting a war with Iran was, quote, "irresponsible". Adding, hey, you know what, it's different to say it when you're out there than when you're in here and really making those decisions.

So, you've got to keep it on CNN for the best political coverage in television.

At 7:00 Eastern Time, a.m., on "STARTING POINT," Soledad O'Brien will be joined by former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Remember he dropped out of this race sometime back?

And the RNC Chairman Reince Priebus as well will join (INAUDIBLE) some questions on just what this race is all about, all that negative campaigning out there.

SAMBOLIN: And it is 40 minutes past 5:00 here on the East Coast.

Still ahead, Sarah Palin talking to CNN on the Wasilla caucus cam. Who did she vote for in Alaska, and could she still jump into the race?

BANFIELD: And to completely do a right turn, let's talk football. The Colts reportedly set to part ways with Peyton Manning. Yes, Peyton Manning. Could there be two Mannings playing quarterback in New York?

SAMBOLIN: Wouldn't that be something?

BANFIELD: Oh, man, oh, man.

First , though, let's get a quick check of your travel weather forecast.

Rob Marciano busy for us this morning. How does it look out there?


Warming up and windy in many spots, but compared to earlier in the week and last week, atmosphere breathing a little bit of sigh of relief. Temperatures are going to be 10 to 20 degrees above average across the eastern third of the country.

And speaking of wind, boy, Vegas got it and so did So Cal yesterday -- 105 mile an hour wind in Big Bear City. Even in Las Vegas, 63 miles an hour. They have blackouts in some parts of the city. It was definitely blowing pretty good. It's going to blow again across southern California.

But here is your warm temperature. Seven-two in Dallas, 60 in New York City, 63 degrees in Chicago, feeling like spring.

All right, a quick check on weather. EARLY START is coming right back.


SAMBOLIN: Oh, I'm feeling it this morning. That's Lenny Kravitz. It ain't over until it's over, my friend.

Six out of 10 states for Mitt Romney on Super Tuesday. So, is it over? It depends who you ask.

BANFIELD: Yes, you bet. "The Wall Street Journal" has it this way with its editorial. While Romney had a good night and stretched his lead among delegates, Rick Santorum did well enough to more than justify staying in the race. The voters are in charge, and their split decision shows that Republicans still haven't settled on a standard bearer.

SAMBOLIN: And "Washington Post" op-ed sees it differently. Quote, "No one, since the modern system was fully in place in the 1980s, has ever come close to losing after building this kind of lead. There's really not very much suspense here."

BANFIELD: I'm not sure what they mean by this. I've got to be honest.

SAMBOLIN: It's kind of a done deal, huh?

BANFIELD: I need more editorial on that one.

It's 19 minutes past 5:00 in the a.m.

We've got some top stories making news for you this morning.

Mitt Romney capturing six -- count 'em -- six of the 10 states on Super Tuesday, including that white knuckler in Ohio. Rick Santorum, though, promising to stay put, staying in this race after taking three states -- Tennessee, Oklahoma, and North Dakota.

And starting this morning, Newt Gingrich is getting Secret Service protection. But it's not because of his Super Tuesday win in Georgia. His campaign had already submitted the paperwork requesting protection last month. As usual, no comment about it from the Secret Service.

SAMBOLIN: North Korea threatening to turn the capital of South Korea into a sea of flames. State television is showing rarely seen footage of North Korean military drills near the disputed border. The fiery language comes as diplomats hold talks on the U.S. restoring humanitarian aid to the communist nation.

BANFIELD: Did you see those weapons? Goodness.

SAMBOLIN: So, this just in. Gas prices down this morning for the second day in a row. The national average now, $3.76. That's a drop of about three-tenths of a cent.

BANFIELD: So, we have two straight three-tenths of a cent drop in a row.


BANFIELD: You know, that kind of money means nothing to this guy.

SAMBOLIN: Look at this, Peyton Manning about to become the most coveted NFL free agent ever. The Indianapolis Colts will reportedly announce they are releasing Manning. That is at a news conference expected for today.

Manning missed all of last season with a serious neck injury. So he was due a $28 million bonus if the Colts kept him. There's a lot of talk about whether or not he is coming to New York.

BANFIELD: And you know what? His doctor says he is just fine.

SAMBOLIN: That he's in fine shape.


SAMBOLIN: But you just never know, right? It would be nice to have Manning, Manning, though.

BANFIELD: Wouldn't it be?


BANFIELD: I can't imagine the TV -- it would be like Lin's TV ratings. They'd go sky rocketing.

All right. Twenty-one minutes past 5:00 on the East Coast.

The big Super Tuesday prize, Ohio officially belongs to Mitt Romney this morning. Officially, I said, but just barely.

SAMBOLIN: That's right. Here's the final tally in the Buckeye State. Romney pulling out a squeaker, 38 percent, to Santorum's 37 percent.

Christine Romans is breaking down the exit polling for us.

And, Christine, the next key battle ground is the South.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It sure is. So, let's move south from Ohio and talk about what's happening in the South. Georgia, of course, went to Newt Gingrich, his home state. I mean, those poll data, I mean, really showed that was a Gingrich victory, no doubt in Georgia.

But in Tennessee, you get a snapshot, quite frankly, of this race between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney.

I want to look at this very quickly. In Tennessee, if you considered yourself very conservative, it was Santorum. If you considered yourself somewhat conservative or moderate or a liberal Republican, you went for Mitt Romney.

What about your opinion of the Tea Party? According to exit polling, if you supported the Tea Party or were neutral on it, you went for Rick Santorum. However, if you opposed the Tea Party, you went for Mitt Romney. Interesting, because whenever there was moderate, whenever there's anything that was moderate, it was definitely something that went for Mitt Romney.

Also, let's talk about the top candidate quality. You can see here the faces on each of these points.

Let's break it out in the bigger pie charts and show you how that fared. For the people who said the top candidate quality, ladies, was beating Obama, this was a Romney-Gingrich story in Tennessee. Interesting, right? It was Romney. We've seen that over and over again -- electability really important to Republicans.

For those who say the top quality is being a true conservative, it was Santorum, 53 percent there. Again, that is the storyline we've seen playing out across the country, but especially in the South.

What about character? If the top quality for you is character, this was a Santorum, 65 percent. Look at Gingrich coming up there in Tennessee at only 5 percent.

If you think that experience is the most important thing, it was Romney and Gingrich.

So, I'm telling you that Tennessee is kind of a snapshot of what could happen across the South, except for Georgia where, of course, Gingrich, it's his home state. But really interesting is each of this state is a little bit different, guys.

BANFIELD: All right. Christine, thanks very much.

If the Republican race is not resolved by the time the GOP convention rolls around in August, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin says she's not ruling out the possible run for the White House that she was rumored to be considering months ago.

CNN spoke with Sarah Palin in Wasilla last night after she voted in Alaska's caucuses. And here's what she said when she was asked pointedly about the possibility of stepping into the race at an open convention this year.


REPORTER: It's the open convention question. If we wind up with an open convention and someone wants to place your name, throw your name into the hat, would you stop them? Would you be open to that?

PALIN: As I say, anything is possible. And I don't -- I don't close any doors that perhaps would be open out there. So, no, I wouldn't close that door. And my plan is to be at that convention.

I would seriously consider whatever I could do to help our country, to put things back on the right track, our economy, our foreign policy proposals that we have to see put forward in order to secure our homeland. And the Americans, especially our brave fighting men and women who are overseas right now in places that perhaps we shouldn't be right now. Anything that I can do to help, I will be willing to help.


BANFIELD: And after resisting in our interview when we asked her who she voted for in that Wasilla polling station, she finally admitted that she voted for Newt Gingrich.

SAMBOLIN: Her husband had revealed that early on, you know?

BANFIELD: He busted her?

SAMBOLIN: No. He revealed that's who he was supporting.

BANFIELD: Different, though.


BANFIELD: I know lots of couples, just look at James Carville and Mary Matalin -- do you think they vote the same when they go into a voting booth? I think not.

SAMBOLIN: I think they're of the same mind.

BANFIELD: Todd and Sarah?


BANFIELD: I'm not sure. I would say sometimes I wonder.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Twenty-five minutes past the hour.

BANFIELD: I watched the reality show. Call me crazy.

SAMBOLIN: And still to come, after a 14-year marriage, Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts are reportedly splitting up. We've got the scoop on this. CNN sports guy Carlos Diaz weighs in.

You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Rick Santorum lives to fight another day, riding a conservative wave to three wins on Super Tuesday. Listen.


SANTORUM: We have won in the West, the Midwest, and the South. And we're ready to win across this country.


BANFIELD: Well, maybe, but the exit polls show that his views on women's issues may have actually cost him the biggest prize of the night and maybe cost him some bragging rights too. We'll fill you in because you're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Oh, well, that was a quick hello. How are you? It's 29 minutes past 5:00. Because we're used to using a little music to get us to ease into our morning with you. But welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

Time to check the stories that are making news this morning.

Mitt Romney patting his lead, winning Ohio and five other states on Super Tuesday, but he couldn't land that knockout blow that everybody was talking about on Rick Santorum who won three states. For Newt Gingrich who took his home state of Georgia.

One other nonpresidential Super Tuesday result, Ohio congressman, Dennis Kucinich, lost his bid for reelection in the states and the credit (ph) primary. The winner was fellow long-time House Democrat, Marcy Kaptur. The veteran lawmakers were forced to face off after a redistricting battle that started when Ohio lost two Congressional seats.

President Obama announcing his plan to lower mortgages. The president said yesterday he is planning to lower refinancing fees for millions of FHA home loans. His administration predicts that could lower the average mortgage payment by about $1,000 a year, folks.

BANFIELD (voice-over): Two police officers in Oregon are earning medals of valor for a rescue that was right out of the movies. Here's their dash cam video. Take a close look last September. It shows these heroes risking -- look at this, risking their own lives, heading into the inferno to pull an unconscious man out of an overturned car. The car is just to the left -- look at that -- just to the left of the fire.

One of the officers said the heat was so intense he thought his uniform was going to catch fire just from being close to it.


BANFIELD: That's why we call them our bravest. That's why you win a medal, folks. And that's why you thank your next police officer even if he's going to give you a ticket.

All right. The NFL's New Orleans Saints admitting to a bounty system that paid bonuses for vicious hits on opposing players. In a joint statement, Coach Sean Payton and GM, Mickey Loomis, took, quote, "full responsibility" for the practice, and then, they promised that it would not be repeated. SAMBOLIN: Right. Back to politics. Thirty-one minutes past the hour here. Even though he won six out of 10 states last night, Mitt Romney failed to deliver that knockout blow that he was hoping for, a lot of people actually, probably, hoping for, except his rival, Rick Santorum. He won three states. Newt Gingrich captured Georgia. Both candidates doing more than enough to extend this race.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We survived the national elite's effort to kill us in the summer because of you, because of people who said we are not going to allow the elite to decide who we are allowed to nominate.

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This was a big night tonight, lots of states. We're going to win a few. We're going to lose a few. But as it looks right now, we're going to get at least a couple of gold medals and a whole pass full of silver medals.



SAMBOLIN: Yes. But the GOP was probably hoping for a presumptive nominee here. So, let's talk about this. John Avlon, senior political columnist for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast." And from Atlanta, we have Democratic strategist, Maria Cardona.

John, I'm going to start with you. You were tweeting that it is absurd Romney is actually struggling against Santorum. He did win Ohio, but you know, kind of squeaked by there. And a lot of people are saying that even though Santorum lost, that it was impressive. Would you agree?

JOHN AVLON, SR. POLITICAL COLUMNSIST, NEWSWEEK AND THE DAILY BEAST: Yes. I mean, you know, Mitt Romney outspent Rick Santorum four-to-one. And even then, I mean, Ohio was a squeaker with, you know, Romney ultimately pulling it out, but most of the night, Rick Santorum was ahead. Convincing win for Santorum in Tennessee. So, this race is going to keep going.

And it's going to keep going not just because of momentum, but because of math. Mitt Romney simply doesn't have the delegates he needs to lock this up, and he clearly hasn't sealed the deal with the conservative base. So, there's a lot of reasons for this to move forward and some tough states for Mitt Romney ahead, so keep an eye on this fight. It is still unfolding.

SAMBOLIN: I was reading online now. Well, actually, Mitt Romney's camp had said a win is a win is a win, right? But online, somebody was saying that only applies when it's sport, that this could actually hurt him, right?

AVLON: Well, you know, Richard Nixon once said that, you know, a silver medal in the Olympics is still something to brag about, but a silver medal in politics gets you oblivion. SAMBOLIN: All right. Maria, first, you know, I want to give you props, because you were on CNN Espanol and now you're with us. So, congratulations, girl. Can you think in English for a minute here?



SAMBOLIN: All right. So, you said that if Romney loses Ohio, it is a bad narrative for his campaign, right?


SAMBOLIN: He won it. He won it.

CARDONA: He did, but to John's point, it really was a squeaker. And, we should not have been on the edge of our seats when you're looking at a state, where again to John's point, Romney outspent Santorum four-to-one. It was very similar to his home state of Michigan, where it was also a squeaker.

And this, I think, really underscores Mitt Romney's challenge in terms of really being able to seal the deal and come out of this as a very strong nominee and being competitive with all of the voters, the coalition of voters that he's going to need in order to be strong in a general election.

SAMBOLIN: Well, I'll tell you where he was strong, right, in Ohio, in particular, he was strong with women, which is where your candidate apparently has his strength. How do you think that's going to play out?

CARDONA: Well, I think that, at the end of the day, President Obama is going to be really speaking to what women are very concerned about, which are the economic issues, what he announced yesterday that you all were just talking about in terms of really helping families who were struggling with their mortgage. Those are the key issues that women really care about.

And I think that what has gone on in the Republican Party, so far, in terms of this intrafighting, especially on women's healthcare issues, has really hurt the whole Republican Party, and Romney in particular, with not just independents, but with independent women who are fleeing the GOP, because they're scared to death that this is a party that wants to take them back to the 19th century.

So, I think President Obama is in a good position with women, and he'll continue to focus on the issues that we care about.

SAMBOLIN: OK. John, I want to stay on these numbers from last night and focus on Virginia, right? Romney got 60 percent of the vote. Ron Paul got 40 percent. Neither Santorum or Gingrich on the ballot there. What does this mean for the electorate, right, in the anti-Romney vote that he -- you know, can you call that a decisive win there? AVLON: No. First of all, very low turnout. It does illustrate the absurdity of our ballot access laws that these folks couldn't get on the ballot. But the fact that, you know, Ron Paul got 4.5 percent in Virginia four years ago. The fact that he gets 40 percent this year is an interesting proxy vote for the anti-Romney forces in the conservative movement still to coalesce behind Ron Paul here.

So, it shows how much more Romney has to do to seal the deal that get this nomination. Make no mistake, he is in poll position. He has the money. He has the organization, but he doesn't yet have the love of the activist base, and that's a real problem when you're trying to seal the nomination, especially with proportional delegations going forward.

SAMBOLIN: All right. John Avlon, Maria Cardona, thank you so much for joining us. We'll talk to you again.

CARDONA: Thanks, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And you can keep it here on CNN for the best political coverage on television. At seven o'clock eastern on "STARTING POINT," Soledad O'Brien will be joined by former Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty, and RNC chairman, Reince Priebus.

BANFIELD: Thirty-seven past five. And coming up, the Indianapolis Colts reportedly saying sayonara to star a four-time MVP quarterback, Mr. Peyton Manning. Free agent. Could make him the most sought after free agent in the whole NFL. We got live report on this and maybe an explanation, too, coming up.

And remember "Joe the Plumber?" He became Joe the Congressional candidate, and now, he is Joe who won the Republican primary in Ohio. We're going to tell you who he's going to face off against, and we'll tell you what his real name is. Here's a hint. It isn't Joe. You're watching EARLY START.

SAMBOLIN: Not the "Joe the Plumber?"

BANFIELD: It isn't.


SAMBOLIN: Half of (ph) the morning to you. Good morning, Indianapolis. It is 52 degrees right now. It's going to be windy later. Something nice and balmy 65 degrees. I got a tweet from Chicago saying, "it's warm and windy here."

BANFIELD: And wouldn't you like to work for Wish-TV? Just to say I work for wish.

SAMBOLIN: I like working for CNN.

BANFIELD: I'm pretty happy, too. It's nice to have your signal, though, wish. Thanks for being with us this morning. And hey, hank you, folks. It's 41 minutes past 5:00 on the east coast. The Indianapolis Colts are reportedly planning to let go of that guy, the star quarterback, Peyton Manning. News conference is scheduled for a little later this morning. Everybody is super, super cagey yesterday saying, na-ah, not going to go there until tomorrow, which is now today. Peyton Manning has won MVP awards four times, and that's more times than any player in NFL history.

Now, he did have three neck surgeries in the 2011 season. Doctor says he's in good shape, though, and the Colts finished 2-14 for the season, though. That is tough. Big name teams already reporting to look at him and bring him on like New York, The Jets, Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins, all big names, big teams.

They just don't get bigger than that name, Peyton Manning, though, unless you're Carlos Diaz, which is also a really big name.


BANFIELD: He's joining us now with a look at this. So, you know, the big question, especially for a non-sports person. I don't follow football, but I know that dude probably because of his dancing on "Saturday Night Live."


BANFIELD: But I also know he's a big deal. I know he's a super duper major stats guy. He's like got the winningest of everything. So, why? Why would they let him go?

CARLOS DIAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, no truth to the rumor that he actually injured his neck on "SNL," you know, dancing. But no, you know, they let him go. Peyton Manning is gone because he has to make room for the next Peyton Manning, which is Andrew Luck coming in with the probable number one pick in the draft, which the Colts own. They have the number one pick in the draft.

You're looking at Andrew Luck right there. So, it was basically a series of perfect events, or in Peyton's case, imperfect events, him not playing this season, which allowed the Colts to have the worst record in the NFL and get that number one draft pick. If they did not have the number one draft pick, if they didn't have the opportunity to draft Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning would be staying an Indianapolis Colt. That's the reason he is gone.

BANFIELD: So, it's basically happenstance. The fact that he got injured, the fact that that gave them the crappy statistics, which gave them the awesome first round draft pick, which basically shoves Peyton Manning out, because I was looking and I was thinking, how long has this guy been around?

He must be getting close to 40, but he's only 36, which makes me think teams would want to squeeze every last ounce of awesome out of him.

DIAZ: And he's not even 36. He turns 36 at the end of the month. You know, I'm from Indianapolis, and I can tell you right now, Peyton Manning did more-- and I interned at Wish-TV, by the way.


DIAZ: But I can tell you right now, you know, Indianapolis loves Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning has done more for that city than any sports figure in the history of the city. If it wasn't for Peyton Manning, the Colts may not even be in Indianapolis right now. They may be out in Los Angeles. They don't build that stadium, Lucas Oil Stadium.

They definitely don't get the Super Bowl without Peyton Manning. So, there's going to be a lot of tears today in Indianapolis, because not only is Peyton Manning an amazing football player.


DIAZ: Basically, he could run for mayor and win in a landslide. He has his own children's hospital on the north side of Indianapolis.


DIAZ: The guy is a hero in that city. And now, he'll be, as you hope, a New York Jet. As you hope. As you hope.

BANFIELD: Yes, basically.


BANFIELD: That wouldn't be so bad. He's up for the Jets. He's up for the Seahawks. Dolphins all in the rumor mill. So, when will we find out, though?

DIAZ: As soon as he's released today, teams can start talking to him. He will not interview with teams. Teams will have to come to him.

BANFIELD: Begging.

DIAZ: The number one thing with Peyton Manning, he wants to win a championship. So, it's not about money. It's about winning a championship.

BANFIELD: Well, Carlos Diaz, you've made me a football fan. Congratulations.

DIAZ: You know what, I've done the impossible.


BANFIELD: You got your wish, shall we say.

DIAZ: How is that the topic of conversation?


BANFIELD: Thank you, Carlos. Good to see you. SAMBOLIN: Such a smart guy. Lot of fun to watch.

BANFIELD: I love Carlos Diaz, by the way. I love him.

SAMBOLIN: Forty-five minutes past the hour. Coming up, Super Tuesday results. Something for everyone to talk about, right? Primaries and caucuses adding up to more delegates for all the Republican presidential hopefuls. We'll break down all of the numbers for you. You are watching EARLY START. We'll be right back.


BANFIELD: Welcome back. It is officially 5:48 on the east coast. Time to get your top stories fix for the morning.


BANFIELD (voice-over): Six out of 10 isn't bad. Not a meatloaf song, but it was the example of last night's final. It wasn't enough for Mitt Romney to close a deal on Super Tuesday, even though he won that nail biter over Rick Santorum in Ohio. Santorum pulled off three states, and Gingrich, of course, took Georgia, no big surprise. Both of Romney's rivals are vowing to stick it out and stay in this race.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Six British soldiers reported missing and presumed dead now in an explosion in Southwestern Afghanistan. No other details have been released about the blast which happened a short time ago in the Helmand Province.

BANFIELD: And also with politics, "Joe the Plumber," remember him? He's now Joe the congressional candidate. Joe's real name is actually Samuel Wurzelbacher, and he won the Republican primary in Ohio last night. So, that means he's going to face-off against Democratic incumbent, Marcy Kuptor, who (INAUDIBLE) Dennis Kucinich (INAUDIBLE).

Wurzelbacher became famous during the 2008 presidential race when he challenged then candidate Barack Obama over his tax plan. And boy, did the media eat that up.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): And for an extended look at all our top stories, head to our blog, You can also like us on Facebook. We would like that. So, that's on or you can follow us on Twitter @EarlyStartCNN.

BANFIELD (on-camera): And still ahead, Super Tuesday became Super Wednesday, and we've got Super Wednesday's numbers for your. We're going to break them all down. What does it mean for those two guys?

SAMBOLIN: They look like --

BANFIELD: Almost, but that couldn't speed (ph) more of the difference between them.

SAMBOLIN: And we're talking more than politics this morning. Apple's big event. Have you heard introducing the iPad 3? Is it being really called that? We're going to try to figure out some more details on this. You are watching EARLY START.

BANFIELD: Did you see that little cutie?


BANFIELD: Fifty-three minutes past 5:00 a.m. Ohio, the big prize on Super Tuesday night, and it goes to Mitt Romney, but, by the (INAUDIBLE).

SAMBOLIN: That's right. A squeaker there. Finally, -- we have a final Ohio tally. Romney wins a real nail biter there. Look at this. Thirty-eight percent to Santorum's 37 percent. Christine Romans is breaking down the exit polling for us this morning, and she's looking at Georgia right now. And Gingrich, he said he was going to take it, and he did.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: this was his strategy. Georgia, his home state, was his strategy. Of course, and a lot of you Gingrich supporters this morning, you've been saying, wait, why aren't you talking about this big win for Gingrich? Here is it, folks. You look at our exit polling up and down the map. All you can see, with few exceptions, is Gingrich, Gingrich, Gingrich.

This was his home state. He did very, very well. I want to look within these numbers, though, and show you some of the places where other stories of the election were starting to play out. Of those who oppose the Tea Party in Georgia, they went for Mitt Romney, 35 percent, 24 percent to Newt Gingrich.

Let's take a look at people who are catholic. Again, Mitt Romney, the Mormon, won the catholic vote. Gingrich, the catholic, came in second at 34 percent. I want to take a look at character. Again and again, we've seen these two, for those who said character was the most important quality for their candidate, Rick Santorum, 53 percent won that vote.

Mitt Romney came at 19 percent, Paul -- Gingrich in his home state came in the bottom of the pack there on character. And, for those who say this is the candidate that can beat Obama, 55 percent of them went for Mitt Romney. We've seen that state after state after state that electability is pretty key overall.

So, look, when I show you all of this exit polling for Georgia, yes, it is a story of Newt Gingrich across the board. When you dig into the numbers a little bit, you could see some of those other themes that translate nationwide as well, guys.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you for that.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BANFIELD: I love seeing that. It's so telling. And you try to extrapolate into all the upcoming states, and you get them wrong.

SAMBOLIN: That character count, though, was super. Did you see it at 53 percent? I don't know. I was a little surprised by that one.

BANFIELD: Five minutes now to the top of the hour, so out of bed. Come on. You're going to be late.

Ahead on EARLY START, a truly Super Tuesday for some, maybe not so much for others, and maybe some thinking it should have been more super. Good night for Romney, but what do the deeper numbers say about his chances moving forward. You're watching EARLY START.