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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Post-Super Tuesday Coverage; Interview with Newark Mayor Cory Booker; Mitt Romney Wins Ohio GOP Primary by Small Margin; All Four GOP Presidential Candidates Vow to Stay in Race; Apple to Unveil New iPad; Military Women Allege Rape in Lawsuit

Aired March 7, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST: The race moves forward. There's really no coalescing, I guess. Mitt Romney walking and talking like the nominee, sort of. He couldn't put away Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich either on Super Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When it comes to this economy, my highest priority will be worrying about your job, not worrying about saving my party. I stand ready to lead our party and I stand ready to lead our nation to prosperity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Plus, we'll talk this morning about a new film that shows --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the Midwest and the South and we're ready to win across this country.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That's a funny line.

Also this morning going to talk about a new film that shows that in 2008, Sarah Palin on the verge of a complete nervous breakdown. That's a quote. Palin herself says it is a fiction. The director of "Game Change," Jay Roach, is going to join us to respond to that.

And also, Peyton Manning on the verge of becoming the biggest football free agent ever. A news conference is scheduled for noon today. Is he going to get in a divorce with the Colts? We'll see.

Those are our starting points for Wednesday, March 7th, 2012.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Start me up.

Welcome back, everybody. We are back. We're joined --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got the moves like Jagger.

O'BRIEN: That's right. Don't make me show you them.

New York's Mayor Cory Booker joins us this morning. Nice to see you.

CORY BOOKER, MAYOR OF NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: It's great to be here. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Co-anchoring with us this morning.

Brett O'Donnell has been back. He's been a debate coach for many people, giving us a lot of inside scoop.

Ron Brownstein is back with us from the "National Journal". Nice to you have you.

Let's get right to our STARTING POINT this morning.

It was pretty much a split decision, especially if you look at the state of Ohio. Mitt Romney won eventually Ohio. He also won Idaho, Virginia, Vermont, Alaska and Massachusetts. Rick Santorum took North Dakota, he took Oklahoma, he took Tennessee. And Newt Gingrich held his home state of Georgia.

All of that is a very long way to 1,144. That, of course, is the magic number needed to clinch the nomination. The overall delegate tally stands right now with Romney at 404, Santorum at 165., Gingrich at 106, and Ron Paul at 66.

The candidates though sound like they all have victory on their minds. Here's how they sound.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I'm not going to let you down. I'm going to get this nomination.

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

GINGRICH: We are going on to Alabama. We're going on to Mississippi. We're going on to Kansas. And that's just this week.

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We always win, right? The cause of liberty is on a roll, let me tell you that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Kevin DeWine is the chairman of the Ohio Republican Party. He joins our panel this morning.

Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us again.

Let's begin with the results in your state, the state of Ohio, last night. Analyze them for me.

KEVIN DEWINE, OHIO REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIRMAN: Look, obviously a very close race. I've been talking since the campaign left Michigan a week ago that Ohio was going to be a dead heat. We saw it coming. And it proved to be the case until early this morning when that race was ultimately able to be called.

I think for your viewers, the one thing you want to look at when you look at the Ohio map and the counties that were won by Romney and the counties that were won by Santorum, for your viewers, there's a highway that runs -- state -- Interstate 71, I'll get it out.

O'BRIEN: It's been a long night. We're totally are --

(CROSSTALK)

DEWINE: It's been a long night. It's been a long night.

I-71 that runs from Cincinnati to Cleveland, basically that's the predictor that we talked about all day yesterday. That would be where Romney would be able to win this race. We fully expected Santorum to do very well in kind of the southeast and northwest. More of the Appalachian area, and more of the social conservative area.

So it kind of played out what we thought, both in terms of where the votes came from and the closeness of the race.

O'BRIEN: So the coalescing that people were predicting. Everyone -- I bet if you went back and counted the word coalesce over the last two days, we bet a lot of numbers on that. Didn't happen it doesn't sound like.

DEWINE: No, it didn't happen, but I didn't expect it to happen. What we saw over the course of the last week was both of these campaigns in here competing for votes in every corner of the state. They were -- obviously they were running their air cover in terms of TV and robocalls and radio ads.

But these candidates, they were crisscrossing the state. They were doing rallies. They were doing Lincoln Day dinners.

They were -- for about two weeks, the Ohio voters had an opportunity to see these candidates up close and personal and we're used to that. Remember, we're talking about the Buckeye State, which is used to seeing presidential candidates and making them test their mettle. That's what happened yesterday with both -- with Santorum and Romney.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Mr. DeWine, let me get your opinion on something Brett and I were discussing during the break. If you look at that map in Ohio, that county map, Rick Santorum won counties that Republicans tend to win in November. Mitt Romney won counties that Democrats tend to win in November.

What does that say about which one of them will be more effective in contesting the state against President Obama?

DEWINE: Well, I know this much, that the Republican base is ready to come out and defeat Barack Obama. And so, you know, the voters of Ohio, the voters -- Republican voters across this country will decide who our nominee is. That will play out over obviously the next few months.

But I can tell you this, what we saw yesterday with almost 1.2 million people voting in the Republican primary, I know people like to talk about the fact that there's no enthusiasm. Not the case.

BROWNSTEIN: But the implication --

(CROSSTALK)

DEWINE: Ten percent increase in voter turnout in Ohio and what we see, and what we see is people who are ready, regardless of the nominee, people who are ready to come out and make Barack Obama and Sherrod Brown a one term-president and a one-term senator.

BROWNSTEIN: If the base will turn out for any candidate, is the implication you believe the guy that ran better in the Democratic area, Mitt Romney, is a stronger nominee because the base will come out either way and he has more strength in places where Republicans are not guaranteed a strong showing?

DEWINE: I think you can -- one could conclude that. I -- you know, what we look at is not just what the polls say but -- in terms of the voting results. But we look at things like the anecdotal things of where are the Lincoln Day dinners, party events?

You know, we haven't seen this sort of enthusiasm in Ohio since maybe 2004 on the Republican side. I was talking to one of our county chairs earlier in the week down on the Ohio River. And she said they haven't seen this sort of enthusiasm for inside the party in her county since maybe the 1970s or even 1960s. So, to me there's this bubbling --

O'BRIEN: I'm sorry. Go ahead. I didn't want to cut you off.

I wanted to throw up a poll. This is what you're talking about. Go ahead. Sorry. I keep interrupting you.

DEWINE: No, go ahead. It's your show.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: You would be the first person who's ever said that to me, sir.

BROWNSTEIN: He is a well-mannered guest.

O'BRIEN: You are now number one on my list of guests. You can come back any time you want.

DEWINE: OK, good. OK.

O'BRIEN: There's a poll in your state that says 51 percent of the people say they're satisfied with the choices. But a very large number, 46 percent, say they would like to see somebody else run.

I mean, that's got to be -- so when you talk about enthusiasm -- this is why I jumped in, that seems to undercut your conversation about enthusiasm, right?

DEWINE: No, no, no. There's two things -- there's two things going on here. There's the enthusiasm to go fix the mistake that Ohio made in 2008 when it went for Barack Obama. There is a -- there is a huge level of excitement about fixing that mistake. That's different than saying, would people -- are people satisfied with the candidates in the race.

I don't think there's going to be another person get in this race, and I think the reason that you get a 46 percent of the people are looking for somebody else is, candidly, it's become kind of a nasty kind of a campaign. People talk all day, talking heads on shows like this talk about how nasty the race has become and the divisive nature.

And so, you know, if you're the average Republican voter sitting at home, you probably get sick of it. You get tired of it. You have 47 robocalls hit your phone and you say, geez, I wish there was somebody else.

But the reality is, there isn't going to be anybody else and the number one thing that the Republican Party is going to focus on this fall is taking all of that energy and enthusiasm we saw yesterday and we've seen over the course of the last three or four months, as this primary has heated, we're going to train our sights on making Barack Obama a one-term president.

We're ready to go.

O'BRIEN: Kevin DeWine is joining us. Nice to see you. And as I said, anytime -- for you, any time you want to come back now. We'd love to have you.

DEWINE: I'll see you tomorrow morning.

O'BRIEN: I'll see you tomorrow morning, first thing.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Other headlines making news, Carlos Diaz has those for us.

Good morning, again.

CARLOS DIAZ, HLN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

New this morning: deadly crackdowns in Syria ramping up this morning, with government forces now raiding villages in armored tanks. Heavy shooting breaking out this morning. At least 8,500 people reportedly killed in a year of these crackdowns.

Now, the Syrian military blasted a bridge yesterday that wounded refugees had been using to escape into Lebanon. President Obama is now reportedly working to give direct aid to Syria's opposition.

After 16 years, Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich will not be headed back to Congress. The two-time presidential candidate was defeated in his newly drawn district in Ohio last night. With about 90 percent reporting, Rep. Marcy Kaptur tops Kucinich 60 percent to 36 percent in the ninth congressional district.

Kaptur has been a frequent close ally of Kucinich during their time in Congress. She's the longest serving woman in Congress.

Newt Gingrich's entourage is a little bit larger this morning. Starting today, the former speaker of the House becomes the third GOP candidate to receive Secret Service protection. It's not because he won Georgia on Super Tuesday. His campaign submitted paperwork requesting protection late last month.

And parting is such sweet sorrow, especially if you're a hardcore Colts fan today. The Indianapolis Colts have scheduled a news conference for noon Eastern Time reportedly to announce releasing star quarterback Peyton manning. Manning has played his entire 14 year career in Indy, winning a Super Bowl and four league MVP awards.

Manning sat out last season with a neck injury that went down to his arm as well. He's about to become the most coveted NFL free agent ever.

And, Soledad, this is by far the biggest sports story of the year. It transcends sports because Peyton Manning has given so much to Indianapolis. Basically if he wasn't there, the Colts might be in Los Angeles right now.

O'BRIEN: There's an emotional connection. I think it has a certain -- I know you feel like, hey, got to move on.

DIAZ: I have an emotional connection as well.

O'BRIEN: No, you don't.

DIAZ: I do. I grew up with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.

What I'm saying is he's being pushed out by the next Peyton Manning and that's Andrew Locke. You got to move on. You cannot hold onto the past. You've got to move on in the future.

ROMANS: Who's going to hum "Glory Days" for Peyton? Come on.

DIAZ: Fine.

ROMANS: We're going to agree to disagree on that.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT: a film about the rise and then alleged breakdown of Sarah Palin. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JULIANNE MOORE, (as Sarah Palin): You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.

WOODY HARRELSON (acting): Oh, my God. What have we done?

MOORE: It wasn't my fault. I wasn't properly prepped.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Director Jay Roach is going to join us to defend his new movie on HBO. It's called "Game Change."

Plus, the critics say it keeps bad teachers in front of the students. One state is thinking about changing the way teachers earn tenure. Mayor Booker is right in the middle of that debate. I'm going to chat with him about that, straight ahead.

Brett O'Donnell leaves us with his playlist, Nelly, "Just a Dream." You're watching STARTING POINT. Back in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: --everybody's playlist.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Bruce Springsteen, but everybody's like that's my playlist.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Jay Roach is joining our panel. This weekend, HBO is going to premiere his movie. It's called "Game Change." We've been talking a lot about it all week. It's based on the book that has the same name. It gave a behind the scenes look at the 2008 presidential election and the relationship between John McCain and Sarah Palin. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JULIANNE MOORE, ACTRESS: This was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MOORE: But, iN towns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and you can shatter that glass once and for all.

(END VIDEO CLIP) O'BRIEN: That's Julianne Moore who's portraying Sarah Palin in the movie. Jay Roach is the director of film. He joins us now. It's nice to have you.

JAY ROACH, DIRECTOR, "GAME CHANGE": Great to be here.

O'BRIEN: You've been getting tons of push back, as you well know.

ROACH: Yes.

O'BRIEN: I think Sarah Palin calls it fact change. Let me respond (ph) -- I mean, it's not a surprise that people don't like their portrayal in a movie often.

ROACH: Sure. We knew we would be under a lot of scrutiny, and we just tried to make sure we got it right. We based it on a great book, the book "Game Change" by Halperin and Heilemann. And, we went back and double- and triple-checked with all those senior campaign people that we could get access to, which was most everybody in the film.

And we just knew we'd have to say, yes, we talked to the people who were actually there, who actually made the decisions about what went on, how she got -- in terms of how she got onto the ticket and how it was handled once it went well and then once it wasn't going so well.

O'BRIEN: It's a very narrow focus of time --

ROACH: Yes. That's right.

O'BRIEN: Because the actual book covers a lot of time, and you picked a very narrow focus.

ROACH: Yes, that's right. We had a two-hour movie to make, and we couldn't do, you know, sort of Ken Burns mini series, which I think that book has so much scope covering all of the candidates throughout the entire primary season and the final general election.

So, I felt that story with those characters all kind of locked into this last sprint to the finish line was the most compelling. And so, that was the only reason that we selected that one section.

O'BRIEN: Let me play a little bit of what John McCain told me what he thought about the movie, which he has not seen and has absolutely no intention of seeing at all. Here's what he said.

ROACH: I understand.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: Of course not. It's based on a book that was innuendo, unsubstantiated remarks, quotes that were unattributable. It was a great piece for the re-election of President Obama by authors who were obviously committed to it. Of course, I wouldn't watch such a thing. I have better use of my time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: He says he has better use of his time because, basically, that's a political piece.

ROACH: Right. Yes, I don't agree at all. I guess, to some extent, it is certainly a political piece in that it's trying to ask questions about how the political process is working these days. It's gotten so polarized and you can see from the film that these strategists were pushed to such a place of desperation and went for kind of win at all costs decision to vet her so quickly, to rush that vet so much that they were caught surprised by many of the things that started to come out during the campaign.

So, that's all it was about. For me, it was all about just trying to ask questions about is this the way it should work? Is this how we want politics to be driven?

O'BRIEN: Is Brett in the movie? Are you in the movie?

(CROSSTALK)

BRETT O'DONNELL, CHIEF STRATEGIST MICHELE BACHMANN'S PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: I was going to ask is, you know, I was a part of this process. I was a senior staffer on the campaign. No one ever talked to me about what really happened, and I haven't seen the movie so I can't speak to its fact or fiction, but the curious thing to me is why focus on the campaign that lost.

Why not focus on the campaign that won and what happened behind the scenes there and weaknesses, strengths going forward?

ROACH: We actually looked at that section of the book, the Obama and Clinton campaign very carefully, and we even had a script written, but it was a two-year process. It was very episodic through the primaries. And, it, frankly, just didn't feel like as good a story. And HBO had already made a special relationship which dealt with the Clinton-Blair relationship.

There was some Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton moments in it. But the main thing was the Palin-McCain campaign story was phenomenal. And it really was the game changer for me in the entire election.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, the dispute you're in is a dispute that goes back to the book and even before the book to the contemporaneous political reporting during the campaign that had a lot of similar analysis. How did you get to the point in your mind where you basically said the Palin camp, which is denying a lot of these stories and has been all the way through, just isn't telling you the truth?

ROACH: Well, for one thing, the recent criticisms came from people who had not seen the film. So, they started attacking it before they've seen it. And my answer still is, see the film and tell me that it's not a layered, fair portrayal of the campaign because we were committed to -- the more I learned about Governor Palin, I listened to her book as she read it out loud herself, to connecting with her point of view in this story, too.

And if you see the whole film before, you know, you make a judgment, you'll see that it's actually shows everything that they want to get out there. She was very strong, very effective, very charismatic, and very good at connecting with her, you know, constituents, her future voters, if you will, and we show that.

And so -- and we also show with great sympathy what it was like to be attacked the way she was. And so, I feel like if you see the film, you might have a different conclusion. Maybe not for those people.

O'BRIEN: That cues us up nicely because it airs on Saturday. So, I can get right to the -- everyone who wants to see it should watch it on HBO on Saturday. Jay Roach, nice to have you.

ROACH: Oh, thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: We certainly appreciate it. Got to take a short break. That's OK. We can continue through the commercial break.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, a move to change the way that teachers earn their tenure. They have to make the grade, too. The debate is going on in New Jersey. We're going to talk to Mayor Cory Booker about that. We'll leave you with Ron Brownstein's playlist, "Flashback." Jack-of-all-Trades.

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: I was going to say the same thing. Wow. Brett O'Donnell's playlist. He went right for -- Wow! Well, call me surprised.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about teacher tenure. Education, obviously, sometimes a very angry and divisive issue really in any state, but in the state of New Jersey, there's a move, a bill that's being considered that will give tenure to teachers who receive ratings of effective or higher for three years in a row, a teacher who's been rated ineffective or lower for two years in a row would lose tenure.

Critics on all side, supporters as well, Governor Chris Christie has weighed in. He's a supporter of this. You both have testified and Mayor Booker, of course, about this issue. First of all, the problem is clear, which is education needs to be overhauled in some capacity. Why focus on tenure?

BOOKER: Well, tenure is not a cure all and nobody should be talking about as if it is. And we should be careful about how we're talking about teachers. Teachers aren't the problem to education, they are the solution. And we need to find ways to support them, to give them professional development, to create cultures that create a communal atmosphere in schools to succeed.

But the reality is, I can go into any teacher faculty lounge, and there are teachers in buildings that just should not be there. And it takes so many years, so much taxpayer dollars to get kids out. I was talking with my superintendent. She says, this is outrageous that you have, you know, teachers that are in classrooms, everybody knows they're bad.

You can't pull them out because you don't have an evaluation system that's going on. You have to go through all of this painful process that's expensive to get rid of them.

O'BRIEN: What's the tenure process now? What is the tenure? Is it three years?

BOOKER: Again, it's multiple years, but what makes it more difficult is after they have tenure is that they can keep tenure then. It's very hard to remove them. So, I think there's a lot of focus on this. It's a disproportionate focus. There's other things we should be focused. We got to get a system right. We got to get it fair.

And ultimately, which is going on in new York, New Jersey, and many other states, when systems are shrinking, and you actually have to layoff teachers, one of the most alarming things to me is that you're laying off teachers based on seniority and not on how well they're doing. So, you often see the best teachers go out of schools as opposed to some of the low, low performers.

O'BRIEN: Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Mr. Mayor, another lane in this reform effort in a lot of places is to tie teacher compensation to student performance. What do you think about that approach?

BOOKER: Well, again, I don't like how things are pitched as cure-alls, but I know one thing, if I'm in a building and I'm working myself to the bone, going after school, doing tutoring, doing home visits and getting great performance from my kids, and then, there are other teachers that are not performing that well, being rated significantly lower, as soon as their contractual time is up they're out of the building, to me it seems just unfair that there's not a way to better compensate people.

Now, whether that produces better student performance or not, I think it benefits the profession to know that if you are creating more value in that school, creating more value for our kids and our taxpayer dollars, you should get more. So I'm in favor of that. But I'm very sensitive to anybody who thinks this is an easy problem if we just do this, or people who go out and attack the teaching profession or teachers.

We need to create systems that support more people that draw more people into the profession, because there's a pipeline problem, and when they get there don't just abandon them but support their professional development. And that's why assessments are important, but they must be assessments that are not punitive but that help teachers develop in their profession.

O'BRIEN: It will be interesting to see how this goes. Evaluation system, all those questions are what the teachers are looking at. That's what I think is a model that a lot of other states will look at.

BOOKER: We're hoping to set the model in New Jersey.

O'BRIEN: Ahead on the STARTING POINT, the spin after the win. Everybody claiming victory on Super Tuesday. Mitt Romney does not land a knockout punch. We'll talk about that.

Plus, the new iPad is being announced in a few hours. I just figured out my iPad 2. They've already moved on to iPad 3. We'll bring you live to Apple headquarters. We'll leave you with Carlos Diaz's play list, the Beastie Boys. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: "I'm going to get this nomination," kind of talking like the nominee. All the candidates are vowing to stay in the race this morning. And, as we predicted for you, it all came down to Ohio. Mitt Romney was able to squeeze out a win over Rick Santorum. Rick Santorum took three states, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and North Dakota. Newt Gingrich won Georgia. That was predicted as well. It's been interesting to have these political conversations this morning. I thought Tim Pawlenty was interesting. He said we look at Ohio. It's a positive. Here's what he said this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM PAWLENTY, (R) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I look at Ohio and say, my goodness, what a positive result. He was 14 points down about three weeks ago according to one poll, and to win it last night was remarkable. It's a four-way race. You're not going to be coroneted in a tough fought four-way race. You have to go out and earn every vote. He's doing that. I think you look at those numbers and a reasonable person would conclude he's the best candidate and most likely to be the nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: I think that Santorum -- the Santorum campaign would completely disagree.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think on balance actually Governor Pawlenty is right. Ohio is reflective of the basic dynamic in this race, which is that Rick Santorum has a coalition broad enough to threaten Romney but slightly too narrow to actually beat him. In no state so far has Rick Santorum won more than 31 percent of voters who are not evangelicals. He's too reliant solely on evangelicals. But while Romney has the advantage and Ohio underscored that advantage, he is not coalescing the party. In states that are competitive, he is still struggling among that populist evangelical blue collars wing of the party.

BOOKER: If Romney is a real threat, if Gingrich gets out, Santorum suddenly gets a lot more momentum.

BROWNSTEIN: I think it will help him, but I think he is still facing the reality that he is too dependent on those most socially conservative voters. He did not win Catholics again last night in Ohio.

O'BRIEN: He lost by 13 points. Romney beat Santorum with Catholics.

BROWNSTEIN: His bandwidth is a little too narrow.

O'BRIEN: Does it matter for Mitt Romney that he is not getting the people who qualify themselves as very conservative, the evangelical, because, the theory is, listen, they're going to vote, and they're not going to vote for Obama?

BRETT O'DONNELL, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Eventually they'll vote for him. This is about delegates, too, and Governor Romney is over a third of the way there. He's got a substantial lead on the other two. So it's going to be a long slog. But I do think Ron is right, that eventually Santorum's audience might be too narrow. He will cause the race to keep going, pressure the candidate, but --

BOOKER: For sports people it's going to be March Madness. For people watching it will be the March muddle.

BROWNSTEIN: Illinois will be a big win.

BOOKER: The biggest threat is very clear what's happening to independents who are watching this. That's where the presidential election is going to be.

O'BRIEN: Rick Santorum won independents in Ohio.

BROWNSTEIN: He's winning independents who are voting in the Republican primary. What the mayor is talking about is that Romney's favorability with independents has been declining through this process. He does have the opportunity if he wins to get a reset. But as we've said before, part of the cost of this is that he has chosen to deal with each challenge that emerges on his right by trying to outflank them on some conservative issue, immigration, Medicare, a 20 percent cut in marginal tax rates with a trillion dollar deficit. He has taken some positions that are going to be harder to defend in November than they are in the spring.

BOOKER: On immigration issues like that, he's alienating Latinos and bases he's going to need for the general election. To watch Obama's numbers to climb within those populations consistently should be a really sign.

O'BRIEN: That's the downside of it going on for a long time is that you end up having more time to make gaffes that are sometimes self- self-inflicted and so also a certain time to go a certain direction if it's being pulled to the right.

O'DONNELL: Ultimately this election will be decided on the economy and whether or not President Obama's performance on the economy meets up to the standard of the voters. And so I do think that governor Romney will get a reset with some of those audiences. Over the long haul as we go into November --

BROWNSTEIN: Let's remember that one positive pattern. He runs well among constituencies where Democrats have been doing well. So he's potentially stronger in swing places.

O'BRIEN: Believe it or now, there's other news other than politics. I know you're shocked. Carlos Diaz has those stories for us. Good morning

CARLOS DIAZ, HLN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

Some scary video out of North Korea this morning. More tough talk from North Korea about its neighbor to the south. New video running on state TV showing military exercises near the disputed border. On the tape a commander threatens to turn the capitol of South Korea into a, quote, "sea of flames." The fiery language comes as diplomats hold talks on the U.S. restoring humanitarian aid to the communist nation. The U.S. stopped sending food in 2009 over a dispute over the North's program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has wrapped up his visit. Seeking support for his stance on Iran's nuclear program, Netanyahu told senators yesterday that he doubts that sanctions against Iran will prevent it from pursuing its nuclear weapons program. Now, Netanyahu also told lawmakers, quote, "We have great friends in Washington." Netanyahu met with President Obama day earlier to discuss the Iran threat and how to solve it.

AshleyMadison.com flirting with Rush Limbaugh? The hookup website for married people says it knows what it's like to be controversial, and it's offering to buy up all the empty ad space on Rush Limbaugh's radio show. More than 20 sponsors have now bailed on Limbaugh after he called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a slut.

And the winner of the $336.4 million power ball jackpot has now stepped forward. And that lucky person is an 81-year-old woman from Rhode Island. She bought the winning ticket on a whim when she went to a Stop and Shop supermarket in Newport to pick up some rainbow sherbet. She's reportedly taking the $210 million lump sum, did I mention that she's 81 years old, which is the largest lump sum ever in that state.

And just a few hours ago -- just a few hours from now -- I need the money -- Apple will unveil the next generation iPad. As usual, Apple isn't talking about it. Here's what we think we know. It's called the iPad HD, not the iPad 3. It's expected to have much sharper resolution, faster processing and Siri voice command.

CNN's Dan Simon is live right now in San Francisco with what we can expect. Dan, my good friend, what do you have?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Carlos. Apple has really made these products now, some of these incremental updates, into an art form. We should point out when the iPad first came out a couple of years ago people didn't think it would be a hit. People thought if you had a cell phone and a laptop you wouldn't need another device. Well, it turns out the iPad is Apple's fastest selling device in the company's 35 year history. That's not only true for Apple but for the entire consumer electronics industry.

What's going to be in the new iPad you ask? We're not quite sure. As you said, a faster, you know, processor, better screen, those kinds of things. The question is Apple -- is Apple holding something back? That's what we really want to know. We'll be in there in a couple of hours. We also think Apple is going to update its Apple TV set top box. That's not to be confused with an actual television which many think Apple will come out with maybe sometime later this year. Carlos?

DIAZ: Dan Simon in San Francisco. What I'm amazed with is how they can keep these secrets. I mean, there are so many people working on the new iPad, and how they can keep these secrets is unbelievable to me. My source at Verizon tells me it might be smaller than the old iPad. Not just thinner, but smaller.

O'BRIEN: So all the accessories you have for your iPad are completely useless and you have to go buy all new stuff.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWNSTEIN: Is there any word on the 81-year-old becoming a super PAC funder? Is she going to change now the elections around the country, one person's voice?

DIAZ: She hasn't called me yet so I don't know.

O'BRIEN: I am so jealous, I have to say. So rarely but I want to win power ball. Yes. Yes. Yes, she did.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk to two women, both former Marine Corps officers. They say they were sexually assaulted in the military. And then they say when they stood up for themselves things got worse. We'll talk about their story straight ahead.

Stay with us. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Eight current and former U.S. service members have filed a lawsuit against the nation's top military officials. The officers accuse the military of tolerating a quote, "Staggering level of sexual assaults within their ranks". You see it right here. They said that there is a "high tolerance for sexual predators in their ranks and a zero tolerance for those who report rape, sexual harassment, and harassment".

Joining me this morning are two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit: former Marine Officers Ariana Klay and Elle Helmer. Nice to have you. Thank you for talking with us. Ariana I'm going to begin with you if I can; tell me a little bit about story what happened to you?

ARIANA KLAY, PLAINTIFF, MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT LAWSUIT: After about a year of really shocking harassment, an officer senior to me and his civilian friend came to my house on a Saturday morning, threatened to kill me and assaulted me. And I reported that and he was court-martialed. The civilian was granted immunity and -- and he was found guilty of only adultery and indecent language.

O'BRIEN: Elle, similar story in some ways to what happened to you. Tell us a little bit about your story.

ELLE HELMER, PLAINTIFF, MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT LAWSUIT: My story is a little bit different. I was the only Second Lieutenant and the only female officer at Marine Barracks Washington for roughly one year. I was ordered to attend a mandatory pub crawl where T-shirts were printed and all the officers went from six to seven different bars throughout the Capitol Hill area and just drank a ton of alcohol an immense amount of liquor consumption. Hazing occurred there as well.

After the event I was walking across the street to return and my company commander followed me, told me he needed to speak with me in his office. When we got to his office he immediately began pressing me against the wall, attacking me and that's -- the rape occurred after I was knocked unconscious after a scuffle and it just began being covered up from there.

O'BRIEN: You both have said that it was really the -- in some ways the aftermath was even worse than the original attack. Did you feel like you got any support from -- from the military?

KLAY: I felt like I got no support whatsoever. The policies and procedures that they had in place seemed legitimate. They have this sexual assault office but they issued the military protective order against me not to speak to any Marine or go aboard the base, not the perpetrators.

So in many ways it was definitely an attack on the victim rather than on the perpetrators, even during the court-martial he was consoled and he was supported. No one spoke to me and so --

O'BRIEN: There was a similar lawsuit that was tossed out of court because about military jurisdiction, right? It was civilian court. So what's different about the case that you're bringing now that makes you feel like this one will go forward?

HELMER: Our case is different because it deals specifically with the Department of the Navy, including the Marine Corps. And not only is it just on the assaults and the rapes but the retaliation. Just overall we want to show that lack of readiness by the largest force in the world, they're not prepared to handle the mountain of sexual assaults that are occurring in the Department of Defense.

O'BRIEN: Leon Panetta has said he estimated it something like 19,000 plus sexual assaults and that roughly 3,000 are reported. Do you think those numbers are off?

HELMER: I think they are. I would have to say they're higher. It's -- I mean, we immediately think, oh, a woman is the one who would come forward, but we're -- we're learning more and more that that men are actually victims of assault and rape as well.

So the numbers have to be higher, especially with -- with just very egregious evidence that it's so hard to come forward and if you do, it's going to end your career in a lot of ways. It's not -- there's not a remedy. It doesn't become easier once you've come forward. You're ostracized and -- and really just abandoned. I mean, once you're -- once you've come forward for help, you're out.

O'BRIEN: Ariana Klay and Elle Helmer, we're going to watch this -- this case as it moves to the courts. Thank you for talking with us this morning. We appreciate it.

HELMER: Thank you.

KLAY: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Carol Costello is coming up at the top of the hour. She's got a preview of what she's talking about. Hey good morning.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": Good morning, Soledad.

Just ahead, looking beyond the numbers of Super Tuesday, Mitt Romney wins on paper but two challengers claim their own victory. Can the Republicans unify behind one man?

And Barack Obama issues a challenge to the men who want to succeed him. He says Republicans pushing for war against Iran need to explain exactly what that means to the American people? So what would some type of military action mean to America? We'll have answers for you.

And railing against intolerance, Kirk Cameron, one-time TV star, full-time Christian said he was the victim after speaking out against same-sex marriage. His side of the story coming up and Soledad he says his many gay friends are on his side.

O'BRIEN: We'll see about that, won't we? All right. Carol Costello, I thank you.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, Tom Foreman will talk about the virtual convention floor. Christine Romans is going to join us and we've got Brett O'Donnell's play list. Little Billy Joel, "We Didn't Start the Fire"; you've redeemed yourself, Brett.

O'DONNELL: Yes, yes. Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: The most important deciding factor in the Republican race is not how many states a candidate wins but how many delegates. And as Tom Foreman explains, it is still literally anybody's game.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As we have been processing all these latest results from caucuses and primaries all over the country, the simple truth is, it's coming down to the delegates. The delegates will decide who gets the nomination.

So for the latest, let's take our camera up high for a better look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN (voice-over): Remember, the delegate count is all that really matters. And our best calculation from the Super Tuesday voting is that Newt Gingrich on the left here picks up a sizeable number of delegates from his home state of Georgia. Ron Paul over on the right grabs a little bit more.

But the big fight was between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney in the middle, Santorum in purple hit hard. He wins in Tennessee, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and very strong showing in Ohio. So he got a good, hefty sum of delegates. But look at Mitt Romney by comparison. He had the most delegates on the floor when the night began and at the end of all the voting he picked up Massachusetts, Idaho, Vermont, Virginia, and then that big win in Ohio. And look at all the delegates he's added to his team.

But it is important to consider what's ahead. Some very big prizes still looming. The California primary, for instance, with the largest number of delegates up for grabs. Texas is also huge. More than 300 delegates will be divided up from those two states alone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: "End Point" with our panel is up next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: This is on Cory Booker's play list and everybody else in America and the world. Unoriginal but I do love that song.

MAYOR CORY BOOKER, NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: But given I have two tough relationships this song is --

O'BRIEN: Yes, yes, yes. That's true.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's get to our "End Point." Mayor Booker, you're going to start for us.

BOOKER: Yes, we've been talking about politics all morning. I'm the mayor of Newark, New Jersey and the nation -- the globe really lost a great leader. Congressman Donald Payne passed away yesterday. He was a hero and an advocate for the dignity of people whether they are on Bergen Street in Newark or in East Africa, a true champion of service.

At the end of the day we're focused on a few individuals -- five people right now running for president. America was built on a tradition of humble heroes going out there and serving every single day. And he was the change you wanted to see in the world, an inspiration to Newarkers and I hope an inspiration to the world.

O'BRIEN: Condolences to his family today. That's a sad story.

Mr. Brett, your "End Point"?

O'DONNELL: My "End Point" you would think would be about politics. But I'm not going to talk about politics.

O'BRIEN: Back Street Boys.

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL: I'm not going to talk about the Back Street Boys. "End Point" is to pay tribute today to a great quarterback, Peyton Manning, who is reaching his end it appears with the Indianapolis Colts.

O'BRIEN: Press conference at noon.

O'DONNELL: You know, the Colts have had a long history of having these icons, and Johnny Unitas, obviously was the first, one of the first great icons with the Colts when they were in Baltimore. They moved to Indianapolis. I stuck with them. I was raised a Colts fan. And so, you know, we hope and wish --

O'BRIEN: It's a sad day for Brett today and many, many others.

O'DONNELL: It is a sad day for me.

O'BRIEN: Ron Brownstein, 30 seconds for you.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all --

O'BRIEN: Uh-oh, Lord -- "First of all" --

BROWNSTEIN: I would say that we have to reconvene this panel Friday night at the Apollo Theater for Bruce Springsteen.

O'BRIEN: Deal. Deal. Deal.

BROWNSTEIN: I would say re-confirming last week, Rick Santorum's coalition is broad enough to threaten Mitt Romney but not broad enough to beat him. He's going to have to reach beyond what he's getting now in order to really make this into a race.

O'BRIEN: All right. A big thank you to our panelists.

A reminder: on Friday we're going to be live at South by Southwest. You can come and join us there. We'll be panelling obviously music, film, and interactive festival. I'm going to be on the panel as well.

And if you want to check out what we were talking about during the commercial breaks, stuff we haven't edited out, you can go online. Check out our blog which is CNN.com/startingpoint. You can read my blog as well.

Let's get right over to "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello. Good morning, Carol.