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GOP Presidential Candidates Prepare for Big Night of Primaries; U.S. Soldier Goes on Killing Spree in Afghanistan; Syrian Rebels Plead For Help; Closing Arguments In Rutgers Case; Limbaugh Advertisers Flee In Droves; Yahoo Files Suit Against Facebook; Taylor Swift, Tops Billboard's Chart Of Money Makers With $35M; Today's Nailbiter Primaries; Iranian Version of "Jersey Shore" Comes to Screen; New Poll Numbers Not Good for Obama

Aired March 13, 2012 - 06:59   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST: And good morning, everybody. A Southern showdown to tell you about today. It is primary day in the Deep South as Alabama and Mississippi go to the polls. Mitt Romney hoping to seal the deal. How many times have I said that on television? Hoping to seal the deal. Newt Gingrich hopes to survive. How many times have I said that?

Hundreds of people are protesting in Afghanistan after the slaughter of civilians by a U.S. soldier. New violence is now erupting in that same area. The Taliban is saying they're going to avenge those deaths by beheading Americans. This comes as we learned some new details about that soldier who went on the rampage. More on that this morning.

And back away from that burger, Will Cain. A scary study about red meat blames it for one in ten early deaths. We'll tell you what you need to know.

It's Tuesday, March 13th. And STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: I like the music this morning. This is all of Will Cain's play list, "Shipping off to Boston." Welcome, everybody.

Will Cain is back, back, finally back. He's a contributor, of course, also a writer, a conservative one, at

Also Dorian Warren, political science professor at Columbia University.

And Anthony Jenks joins us this morning. He's called one of the young up-and-coming filmmakers in this country. He's a correspondent for MTV's "Power of 12" which is focusing on the election. Nice to have you.

Let's get right to it, because we're talking politics this morning. Polls in Alabama and Mississippi are open in less than an hour as all eyes are on the south today. The candidates who are running for the GOP nomination are then battling over the significance of the results. Now, Newt Gingrich has put his entire strategy on the line, the southern strategy. Rick Santorum's camp says they're tamping down his chances, and Mitt Romney says it's going to be doom if the fight north nomination goes to the convention.

In Alabama most recent polling shows Newt Gingrich is leading with new poll 34 percent and Mitt Romney is in second place with 31 percent. And because that's within the margin of error they're basically tied. Rick Santorum is trailing at 24 percent.

Joining our panel this morning is Bill Armistead. He is the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. Nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us. As I mentioned, everybody sort of says everything is on the line. Start by characterizing your electorate for me. What are voters in your state looking for, sir?

BILL ARMISTEAD, CHAIRMAN, ALABAMA REPUBLICAN PARTY: Well, thank you very much for having me. Of course, in Alabama as well as throughout the United States people are concerned about the economy and the jobs. We have no doubt that we can make an improvement over what we have now. So as the candidates have crisscrossed our state in the last two or three days I think one of them will have taken some momentum.

We've had all three of the top candidates in Alabama and they're all speaking about jobs and the economy, and, of course, the fuel prices is another thing that we want to talk about simply because we're seeing a rapid increase in the fuel prices today, although, you know, when it gets to November, no one knows what's going to be going on at that time. But I think today Alabama is going to make a strong statement as to who we think will be the favored candidate to receive the Republican nomination.

O'BRIEN: So you say one of them is going to have the momentum. Which one, do you think? At moments it's unclear to me at least. Who do you think has the momentum at this stage?

ARMISTEAD: I think over the last two or three days all the candidates have been crisscrossing Alabama. I think the one that has done more come paining than any others, Speaker Gingrich has been all over the state for one week now. He came in last Tuesday and has been campaigning almost nonstop since then. I think he's made good impressions by coming in and do that. Alabama like to feel like they're wanted and want to ask for their vote.

Of course, Senator Santorum has been in several days. Was here last night, of course, our presidential forum as well as speaker Gingrich. Governor Romney has been in some but not quite as much. I think the more attention Alabama has paid the more likely you're to get more votes. Speaker Gingrich is probably in the lead right now. Just from that alone. Your poll indicates that to be true also.

DORIAN WARREN, POLITICAL SCIENCE ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Some people think that by Newt Gingrich staying in the race it benefits Mitt Romney because he does haven't to go head to head with Rick Santorum. What's your take on that? ARMISTEAD: Absolutely. I think any time you're splitting a vote as some folks say is being split between Senator Santorum and Speaker Gingrich that that gives Romney the mobility to continue to track and receive delegates, because when it's all said and done, before the day is over, I think that all three of those will share a nice portion of our delegates. But the perceived winner is going to be the one who gets the top vote, and that's going to give them the momentum. So I would say the three of them are not going to be two far apart on the number of delegates they receive, but, again, perception is everything. Whoever comes out on top is going to be the one to get it.

WILL CAIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Chairman, Will Cain. Newt Gingrich has been totally missing for a good month. Is this primary crisscrossed around the country from Kansas, Colorado, Nevada, wherever. We barely heard Newt's name but now that Alabama and Mississippi are on the slate, what is it about Newt that you guys find so a participating in Mississippi and Alabama?

ARMISTEAD: Of course, he's our next door neighbor, and we've seen a lot of them over the past. And while he did take a backseat for a while he has stumped extensively here for Alabama. You would think he was run for governor here because of his campaigning, going to restaurants, going to church on Sunday. He is showing up everywhere. He's got to do extremely well in Alabama and Mississippi just to stay in the race.

O'BRIEN: No surprise that Rick Santorum is not a big Newt Gingrich fan. Here's what he had to say about him.


RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Newt will do well done here in South Carolina, Georgia. But he hasn't done well anywhere else. He hasn't finished second place since Oregon. We need somebody to run across this country.


O'BRIEN: It was kind of hard to hear the audio but the bottom line is that, listen, we need someone who can run across the country and Newt Gingrich is not that person. Is everything on the line? Is everything at stake here for Newt Gingrich? He's been talking a lot about the southern strategy. If he only wins one state or if he does not win one state, is it over?

ARMISTEAD: Well, I think he says he's going on to the convention. But, you know, in all reality if he doesn't win Mississippi and Alabama, I think it's a big bump in the road. I don't see how it goes forward. If he loses one he may go a little bit longer. If he loses them both, I believe he's out of the ball game and then it will be a one to one between Santorum and Romney.

Last question?

ANDREW JENKS, CORRESPONDENT, "MTV POWER OF 12": Hi, Mr. Chairman. You know, Newt only got about 43,000 votes on Super Tuesday. There's been less than five percent of young Americans who have voted in this primary season. What would you say to the 45 million young people out there to encourage them to actually get out to the polls and vote, particularly today?

ARMISTEAD: Well, it's all about our future, and the young people have more at risk than anyone else. Our objective overall is to defeat Barack Obama in November because he is a failed presidency. We have to look to see if next generation, what are we going to leave them? Are we going to leave them a better country than we have now or are we going to continue to deteriorate as has happened in the last three years So I think the young people have more at stake than anyone else. I encourage the young people to get out. You're the ones that are going to benefit or be harmed as a result of this election.

O'BRIEN: We'll have more information on that a little bit later this morning. Chairman, I thank you for joining us. Appreciate it. See how it all turns out later tonight.

Coming up at --

ARMISTEAD: Pleasure to be with you.

O'BRIEN: Likewise, thank you. At 7:30 eastern, we're going to talk to Jackie Cushman, Newt Gingrich's daughter. She's going to be talking with us about her dad's chances. That's ahead.

First, though, a look at the headlines. Carlos Diaz has those. Good morning. What is that sigh for?

CARLOS DIAZ, HLN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. It's not good news this morning. It's tough news worldwide. We're seeing the first major protest in response to Sunday's massacre of Afghan civilians by a lone U.S. soldier. Hundreds of college students in Jalalabad demanding an open trial and burning President Obama's image in effigy.

Meantime, a high-level Afghan delegation game under attack from militants while visiting the district where the killings occurred. The Taliban is threatening to behead any Americans in the country as revenge. At stops in Asia and the Middle East, U.N. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says it's a tragic reality.


LENO PANETTA, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: War is hell. These kinds of events and incidents are going to take place. They've taken place in any war. They're terrible events. And this is not the first of those events and it probably won't be the last.


O'BRIEN: Panetta goes on to say the shooting suspect could face the death penalty. Now, just ahead at 7:15 eastern, Soledad talks with former army psychiatrist Dr. Paul Newhouse and why he says PTSD is likely not to blame in this case.

Egypt has brokered a truce between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. It ends four days of deadly violence, the worst outbreak in months. Nearly two dozen people died in Israeli attacks in air strikes in Gaza which is response to a barrage of rocket attacks in southern Israel.

Parts of southern Louisiana hit hard by heavy rains that have now triggered severe floods. And 12 to 18 inches fell across the region in just a matter of hours. At Lafayette Parrish, people were trapped by flood waters and had to be rescued. There's a state of emergency in effect in Lafayette and the St. Landry Parrish.

Your "A.M. House Call" this morning, all of you meat lovers, beware. A new study out of Harvard says red meat can significantly increase your risk of death. Researchers found that on average a daily serving of processed red meat increased the risk of death by 20 percent. One serving per day of unprocessed red meat still increased risk by 13 percent. The good news is cutting out red meat by half a serving a day can help reverse dangers.

Prime Minister David Cameron is about to get a taste of March Madness. Cameron is in the U.S. for a three-day visit and president Obama is taking him to the NCAA first four tournament gain tonight in Ohio between Mississippi State and Kentucky. The White House will be releasing the president's tournament picks tomorrow morning.

And we have a spoiler alert. "The Bachelor" gave out his final rose and a ring last night in the finale. But who did he pick, Lindsay or Courtney?

O'BRIEN: That's the more challenging one.


DIAZ: No, she's crazy, all right? I'll just tell you right now. Courtney Robinson --

O'BRIEN: Oops, said that out loud.


DIAZ: Go back to the video. Bachelor Ben proposed to her. Are they still together? No, they're not. They broke up. That's what they revealed in the "After the Rose" special. But during "After the Rose" special they got together and ben says he plans to marry Courtney.

O'BRIEN: Can I just say if you're breaking up, getting together, breaking up, getting together on the show before the wedding, it's a bad sign.

DIAZ: It's a bad choice because she's the crazy one.

CAIN: You're going out on a limb there saying that.


O'BRIEN: I've been married a long time. I got a little bit of marital advice for people. Breaking up, getting together, breaking up, getting together on national television, bad sign. Thank you, Carlos.

Still ahead this morning, we're going to talk about the fallout from Rush Limbaugh. The number of advertisers who are leaving his show now over 100. But they're not stopping at Rush -- Rush's show alone. There are other conservative hosts who are also feeling the effects. We'll talk about that.

Plus, our "Get Real" to morning, have a bread slip, pink slip. This is such a sad story. A football team's pre-game meal at Olive Garden turns out to a massive layoff for the entire team.

My playlist is Mary J. Blige, "Real Love." We're back in a moment.



O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. New developments to tell you about in that terrible massacre of Afghans allegedly at the hands of a U.S. soldier. An Afghan delegation house fired upon where the killings occurred, and in eastern Afghanistan hundreds of people protested over those murders. Meantime, reports there morning that investigators are looking the medical history of the U.S. army staff sergeant who is accused of killing 16 people including nine children and three women. CNN has learned that he is a 38-year-old soldier. His name has not been released. Apparently he was hurt in a vehicle rollover, regular car rollover, in 2010. He suffered what doctors call traumatic brain injury. They judged him though healthy enough to start a tour in Afghanistan three months ago. General John Allen told Wolf Blitzer the suspect's medical history is part of the investigation.

CNN is also learn that the suspect's wife and children have been moved to their home off base to Washington's Ft. Lewis for their own protection.

It all brings us this morning to Dr. Paul Newhouse, a professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University. It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us more this morning. I appreciate it.


O'BRIEN: I appreciate it. There have been conversations, as I mentioned, about an injury that this staff sergeant had to his brain, a car accident, apparently the car rolled. What do you think is -- and I get it you haven't examined him, but what is the likelihood that something that was a traumatic brain injury but allowed him to eventually be posted to Afghanistan could be linked to this massacre of 16 civilians? NEWHOUSE: I think it's pretty unlikely, Soledad. I think his injury was probably not very significant, and, thus, he was judged to be fit for duty. So I think we're going to learn over the next few weeks or months that this was probably unrelated to this incident.

O'BRIEN: So then when you start looking into the whys, are you saying there's a likelihood this is a person who is a sociopath? Is this a likelihood of someone who just snapped? What is it?

NEWHOUSE: Well, a sociopath or psychopath is somebody who isn't going to fit into the rules of something like the U.S. military and that kind of person would have been likely drummed out or released from the military many years ago. I understand this individual was -- had been in the army for quite some time. So I think a better likelihood is that this person suffered from some severe illness or mental illness that may have come on more recently and perhaps is linked to this terrible incident.

O'BRIEN: Would that severe illness be some version or some extreme form of PTSD? If you look at the rates correlated to the number of tours that a person has done, they map this out, if you have one deployment, one in ten have some kind of mental illnesses, two deployments, that number drops to one in five, three deployment, that number jumps to one in three. Is that what you would be looking Senate.

NEWHOUSE: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders has a cluster of symptoms, and violence or violence against others is not usually considered part of that diagnosis. So I think it's more likely that we're going to discover that there was some either psychotic illness or delusional condition or some evidence that this person was more seriously deranged or impaired than we would typically see in PTSD.

O'BRIEN: All right, so the details of what we know happened in this attack or this early morning are this. Early morning, walks off the base, goes house to house knocking on doors. Eventually he is able to enter a house, massacres the family moves on to another house. And apparently ended upsetting some of the victims on fire and then goes back to the base and turns himself in. In that sort of nugget of the story, what sticks out to you as a psychiatrist? What do you want to know and what would you start asking about?

NEWHOUSE: Right. So I would start from the position that mass murders of this type often are committed by people who are seriously ill. And this is similar to what we have seen in the United States obviously with number of several mass murders over the last few years. For example, the Virginia Tech incident and if incident that occurred in Arizona with Congressman Giffords. And those individuals turn out to have given off a lot of signals of mental illness or severe illnesses before the incident. And I think that's where I would be starting my investigation or my inquiries to learn what happened.

O'BRIEN: There was a report that this staff agent apparently had a hard time integrating back to his family after his third tour in Iraq, and then able to start his fourth tour in Afghanistan. Is that something you've been looking at? NEWHOUSE: I think we are in a new situation for the U.S. army. Over the last few years because we are now having a professional army with multiple deployments, multiple tours in the combat zones. And this is something that the army has really not had a lot of experience with until the last decade or so. And in previous engagements we were much more focused on single deployments, single periods of times. But this is a new situation. So I think the army is really looking to try to figure out how to provide mental health services to people who really have multiple experiences like this.

Dr. Paul Newhouse is a professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University. It's nice to see you, sir. Thank you or your time.

NEWHOUSE: You're very welcome.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Reza Farahan, remember this name because this man could be destined to be a reality star. He's one of the cast member of this new show called "The Shahs of sunset." Is it going to be fabulous or a complete train wreck? It focuses on the children of Iranian refugees who are living large in Beverly Hills. And it's getting "Jersey Shore" comparisons for good and bad and very, very gad. We'll talk about that.

Also, our "Get Real" this morning, an entire football team is cut at the same time at an Olive Garden and left, just pretty much ditched. We'll tell you what happened to them.

We leave you with Will's play list, Dire Straits, "Money for Nothing."



O'BRIEN: That's "The Show Goes On," off of Dorian's play list. He's good. He's fun. Sharp guy, too.

Let's talk about our "Get Real" today which is kind of sad. Fill up of your bread sticks because you're fired at the end of the dinner. The owner of the Pittsburgh Power decided to cut the entire roster all at the same time during their pre-game meal at an Olive Garden in Orlando, Florida. It was opening day of the season. The players were planning to strike on a Friday so the owner instead fired the first shot. All the owners, I believe, they only make like $400 per game. How much does a National Football League player make per game would you guess on average?

CAIN: Per game, I don't know. What minimum wage in the NFL is a couple hundred thousand dollars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know that on average they're broke after two years. I'm serious.

O'BRIEN: No, that's true. That's a different story though. He gives them the chance to -- they could leave the union and resign with the team. But kind of like, if you're going the strike, you're out. They went ahead, some of the members, decided they would play the game. They played against the Orlando Predators. Those who did not though decide to resign, quit the union and resign were stuck, they were completely ditched by the team. They had to rent a van together and drive back 17 hours in a van. Apparently the strike ended the next day, Saturday.

CAIN: Hard core not even bringing them home.

O'BRIEN: Apparently one of the football players said, the team owner announced this, there are 20 really big angry guys. He took his life into his hands.


O'BRIEN: Yes. That's sad, though.

All right, ahead on "starting point" this morning, he's moved al his chips into the south, so is it do-or-die for Newt Gingrich? We're going to talk to his daughter, Jackie Cushman. We'll talk to her about what her dad's strategy is now.

And, plus, that's not Adele, that's Taylor Swift. I have small children, I know this. Taylor Swift took home a lucrative prize. Not all the Grammys like Adele but all the cash. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: They're all like, nodding their head. I know. I know. Trying to get the club atmosphere going here.

CARLOS DIAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Disco was a movement in the '70s. All right, y'all know this. Came before the '80s when you were born, all right.

O'BRIEN: Lord, Lord, Lord. OK, let's turn and get to headlines. We start with the story out of Syria. Carlos has that for us. Good morning.

DIAZ: Yes, good morning. Rebel groups in Syria are pleading for international help to stop the bloodshed in their country. They're asking for military intervention and a no-fly zone. The U.N. says more than 8,000 people including women and children have been killed since government crack downs started in year ago.

Closing arguments in the Tyler Clementi's case begin today. Clementi's Rutgers roommate 20-year-old Dharun Ravi is accused of using a webcam to spy on Clementi's sexual encounter with another man.

And the jury could get this case as soon as today. If convicted, Ravi could face up to 10 years in prison. He did not testify in the case.

The list of advertisers fleeing from Rush Limbaugh is growing. One hundred forty one companies have now officially bailed on Limbaugh's radio show.

According to progressive political blog, "Think Progress," many of them are also asking to have their ads pulled from other shows hosted by right wing hosts including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage.

Among the latest Limbaugh defectors, Acura, IBM, American Express, McDonald's, and the U.S. Army.

Let's go to Christine Romans right with today's business headlines -- Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carlos. Minding your business, U.S. stock futures suggest a higher open this morning. The Federal Reserve meets today on interest rates. No move on rates is expected, but we're going to be looking for any sign the fed has brightened the outlook on the U.S. economy.

And Yahoo! filing a federal lawsuit against Facebook over patent infringement, for 10 patents actually related to advertising, privacy, customization, messaging, and social networking.

Yahoo! says, they tried to solve this out of court to no avail. Yahoo! wants to be paid for the technology they say Facebook is using. Facebook calls the suit puzzling. Timing is important here, Carlos. Facebook, of course, preparing to go public.

DIAZ: Yes, good point. All right, finally, let's get to a very famous 22-year-old. Taylor Swift is topping the list of Billboard's new list of the 40 biggest money makers in music. The country singer is earning more than $35 million last year alone.

O'BRIEN: I'm responsible for $1.5 million. My kids download Taylor Swift all the time.

DIAZ: It's album sales and concerts. After Swift, the rest of the Billboard top five include U2, Kenny Chesney, Lady Gaga and Lil Wayne.

O'BRIEN: Taylor Swift.

DIAZ: So much in common. I think Taylor Swift has more tattoos than Lil Wayne. She's tall, very tall. She has a very hearty handshake. You go in for the handshake on Taylor Swift, you got to be careful because she's a handshaker.

O'BRIEN: I agree with that, Will Cain.

All right, let's talk about what's happening politically 30 minutes away from the polls opening in two crucial primaries today Mississippi and Alabama.

The latest numbers show pretty tight race between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney according to American Research Group in Alabama, Newt Gingrich is slightly ahead.

It's within the margin of error, of course, which means it's pretty much a tie. In Mississippi, voters are choosing Mitt Romney so far, 34 percent to Gingrich's 32 percent.

And that also is a tie because that's also in the margin of error. Rick Santorum is polling third in each of those polls. Joining our panel is Jackie Cushman, she's daughter of Newt Gingrich.

And Jackie, I got to tell you, on the panel with me this morning is Dorian Warren, also Will Cain joining us and Andrew Jinx. So it's nice to have you and great to see you. It's been a long time since we chatted. Talk to me about tonight. How are you feeling?

JACKIE CUSHMAN, DAUGHTER OF NEWT GINGRICH: Well, very excited about both Alabama and Mississippi. As you all know, we had a great one in South Carolina. We got a great win in Georgia, an incredible win in Georgia actually.

He actually carried 61 percent in his home county. So we're very excited to be here in Alabama, Mississippi, which are right next door. He's been working very hard, as have all of us in the campaign, to get out and make sure that all the voters know who he is and what he stands for.

O'BRIEN: You're absolutely right. A tremendous win in South Carolina, I was there for that. In Georgia, a huge win, but those were a while ago.

It's been quite a while since those victories and only two if you count them up. Does your father have to win tonight to keep the southern strategy that he's talked a lot about going?

CUSHMAN: Well, first of all, the Georgia win was just a week ago. So it wasn't that long ago. Again, we've been campaigning very hard in Alabama and Mississippi. You never want to say anything is a must win.

We feel great momentum here. I was all over lower Alabama yesterday and got a great reception. As you know, it is a very close race in both the states and what in the end really matters is who shows up at the polls. We encourage everyone to go to the polls and obviously vote for Newt Gingrich.

O'BRIEN: Dorian.

DORIAN WARREN, POLITICAL SCIENCE ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Good morning, Ms. Cushman. After today when it comes to tomorrow, what is the strategy for your father's campaign outside of the Deep South? What happens tomorrow?

CUSHMAN: Well, I think a lot of it depends on today, obviously. The next one is Louisiana, which is right next door again. Actually I was born in New Orleans. My dad was at Tulane when I was born so we have a lot of contacts and lot of love for Louisiana.

Then we move over to Texas and California. As you know, we're basically, after today we're still not quite at halftime for the whole race. We need 1,144 or anyone needs 1,144 delegates to secure the nomination.

Not only delegates, but they have to be bound delegates to make sure you have the nomination. Really the halftime in terms of where the race is, is about Louisiana so we're not quite there yet.

As with all halftime shows, we'll do that, take a breath, see where we are and plan our next two quarters. But as you said, even again last night, he is going all of the way to the convention.

He is, in my mind, and in his mind, the only Republican who can beat President Barack Obama because he's only one that's actually balanced the budget four years in a row and cut spending and cut taxes on a national level. He's done what we need to get done. I know that he can do it again.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Jackie, this is Will Cain. You might be right. Maybe he is the only Republican who can beat Barack Obama. But I'm having trouble understanding how he's the only Republican or a Republican who can beat Mitt Romney.

How can he become the Republican nominee? That's what I'm trying to figure out because I can only imagine a year ago when he set out his campaign strategy.

It wasn't designed to be the southern strategy, which has now evolve into a Deep South strategy after you guys lost in Tennessee. How is that a platform to actually winning the nomination?

So how is his strategy hinging on Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and maybe Louisiana a platform to actually winning the nomination?

O'BRIEN: And Jackie, I'm sorry, before you answer that question. I want to add on to that, does the math really work out, right? Because you only have four more states that are winner take all and even though you might be at halftime in terms of actual numbers, can that math really work?

CUSHMAN: Well, to your point about the math, I'm going to answer both together. A couple of things, because there are many states that are proportional, in the end the question is not just about Newt Gingrich, but who really can amass a mass of delegates before the convention.

As dad has said before, he is planning on going all the way to the convention. It is very important that we choose a Republican nominee, Republican standpoint, that is conservative and that does have a conservative record.

Mitt Romney's team has been talking about for months, inevitability, that didn't happen. Trying the next one, which is he'll end up there any way. But the reality is in the end you have to have 1,144 delegates that are bound before the convention if you want to secure it. And we very well may end up going to a contested convention. We'll wait and see. O'BRIEN: You know, you make a good point I think on the inevitability thing. I should add that to my list of words that I keep repeating, must win, do or die, inevitability will be another one of those words.

Here's a little bit of the back and forth, it's a short list, but I think it's going to list. Here's the back and forth that happened started over the weekend with your dad sort of saying Mitt Romney was weak. Listen.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Romney is probably the weakest Republican frontrunner since Leonard Wood in 1920 and Wood ultimately lost in the tenth ballot.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I'm a weak frontrunner, what does that make Newt Gingrich because I'm well ahead of him?


O'BRIEN: Does he have a point? If he's weak and he's the frontrunner, he still is the frontrunner.

CUSHMAN: Well, let's look at that, Romney operation. They have a much better operation, I'll give them that. This is the second time he's run for president. He's put over $44 million of his own money into the -- look at both races.

He's been around a long time and the reality, is because he's running again and if he was inevitable, he should have locked it up by now. The fact that he has and the fact we still have several people in a real contest, I think proves dad's point.

O'BRIEN: Any final questions, Andrew?

ANDREW JENKS, CORRESPONDENT, "MTV POWER OF 12": Hi, Jackie. This is Andrew Jenks from MTV. You know, your dad had the lowest youth voter turnout amongst all the candidates. How do you think he plans moving forward to speak to young people other than just going to colleges?

CUSHMAN: I think a couple of things. I think he actually had great voter turnout when we look at all voters in South Carolina when he won. He was up in terms of voter turnout. When you look at Florida, the counties that he won, voter turnout was up.

He does excite the electorate in general. I think you've got a great point. I think he really does need to speak to the younger Americans and part of what he is talking about, which is so incredibly important, two things.

One he talks about paying off our national debt within a generation. Right now, you and I both owe $50,000. Everyone does, of national debt. That is a huge rock around our necks. We need to pay that off. He has a plan to do that.

The second thing he does is he has a plan that everybody can have their only personalized Social Security account, which means you will actually have Social Security when you're able to retire and that's very important.

There are a variety of things that really appeal to the younger Americans, but we need to continue to work to get that message out.

O'BRIEN: Jackie Cushman, nice to see you, Jackie. Thanks for being with us. We'll talk to you, I'm sure, on the other to see how it all turns out tonight.

CUSHMAN: Thanks for having me on.

O'BRIEN: You bet. You want to keep on CNN, of course, now through November, yes, just keep your television on now through November for the best political coverage on TV.

Our coverage of the Mississippi and Alabama primaries will begin at 7:00 p.m. Eastern followed by complete live coverage of the results, which will begin at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

We should come up with list of the overused political words. So we got inevitable, do or die. What else? Come on, Will Cain. You're usually good for this.

CAIN: Pivot. I am done with pivot.

O'BRIEN: Southern strategy. That might end today. We'll see. We'll see.

All right, ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, you know, we were there and saw a lot of the damage firsthand. Take a look at some of these pictures from Harrisburg, Illinois.

It was leveled by a tornado. Seven people ultimately were killed, but FEMA now is denying that town federal help. We'll tell you why.

Also, a Persian version of the "Jersey Shore." We're going to stalk to one of the stars of "The Shahs Of Sunset." Is it going to be a show that shatters stereotypes or a complete train wreck, or maybe a little bit of both?

We leave you with, my play list. I'm so obvious, aren't I? This is my personal theme song.



O'BRIEN: "Oh, Jenny, Don't be Hasty." That's off of Will's play list. Look at Will making a comeback.

(LAUGHTER) O'BRIEN: Remember the first time we had him do this? It was slow, slow, slow.



O'BRIEN: But you know, it's all about the comeback.


O'BRIEN: It's all about the comeback.

Up next, we're talking about the Persian "Jersey Shore." There's a new reality show turning its lens on what is estimated to be --


O'BRIEN: Reza's like, no, no, no. We'll get to you is in a second.

It's about a million Iranians, maybe more, in the United States. And setting is Los Angeles, which boasts the largest concentration of Persians outside of Iran. Take a look at a little clip of Bravo's "The Shahs of Sunset."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the revolution happened we all had to pick up and flee the old country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We really didn't get to take our wealth with us. We just got out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been a refugee since I was 8. My parents sacrificed everything for me to be free.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we ended up in Beverly Hills.

Growing up in Beverly Hills was fantastic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm American now. I went to Beverly Hills high school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I went to Beverly Hills high.






O'BRIEN: Reza Farahan is one of the stars of the docu-series, is what they're calling it.

Come on. This is a reality TV show.


O'BRIEN: How would you describe it when I said it was like "Jersey Shore" you were --


CAIN: You rolled your eyes.

O'BRIEN: You rolled your eyes, shook your head no.

FARAHAN: Honestly, I would say if you watch the series you wouldn't compare to it "Jersey Shore." I have no problem being compared to "Jersey Shore" because we're nothing like them. But if you watch and still feel that way.


O'BRIEN: Are you ready to be a reality TV store. You have no entourage. Who is your entourage today?

FARAHAN: Bravo sent me.

O'BRIEN: With a guy?


FARAHAN: Yes. I have a handler.

O'BRIEN: It will grow. It will grow.

FARAHAN: I have a handler.


O'BRIEN: Are you really prepared to kind of like have this thing be huge?

FARAHAN: You know, I'm kind of -- I have my feet planted in the ground. My parents raised me right. I have a career. I'm doing this for one reason and one reason only.

O'BRIEN: What's that?

FARAHAN: That's to bring some awareness to something that the president of the country I was born in says doesn't exist.


FARAHAN: He says homosexuals don't exist in Iran. It's super taboo in my culture. If I can force people to have a conversation or I can give one kid who is struggling about coming out to his family a little strength, then it's al worth it. I'll take whatever heat -- (CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Was that your reason to do the show because you can talk about issues and be a --

FARAHAN: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: -- out, gay, person on television.

FARAHAN: Absolutely. And if I'm going to like personify a stereotype, I want to personify one about loving gold, loving marble, and columns as opposed to wanting to blow things up, being a terrorist, or having a camel in my driveway.

O'BRIEN: There are people who make the "Jersey Shore" -- people don't say a camel in your driveway, do they?


O'BRIEN: Really? That's so sad.


There are people who say the show has potential to be like the "Jersey Shore." I think we have a clip of one of the crazier moments. Let's play that.


FARAHAN: We talk (EXPLETIVE DELETED) about each other. We fight with one another.



FARAHAN: But at the end of the day, what really matters is, they have my back -- love you.


FARAHAN: -- and I have theirs.

Hello. We're Persian.


O'BRIEN: Why is it a Persian and not Iranian?

FARAHAN: You're the only person that knows how to pronounce it. Most people say Iranian, eye-ranian. You don't say eye-talian. You say Italian. When Americans start pronouncing it properly, I'll be Iranian. Until then, I'm Persian.

O'BRIEN: Do you worry about --


-- the pronunciation by other people?

FARAHAN: Just like I have a Starbucks name. I don't tell Starbucks my name is Reza. I'm Nick at Starbucks.


O'BRIEN: Well, I'm Susan. Come on.

FARAHAN: There you go.

O'BRIEN: With a name like Soledad, no one ever gets that right.

FARAHAN: See. You know what's up.

O'BRIEN: Do you worry about people saying that you're going to be "Jersey Shore"? Fabulously successful but there are a lot of people who live in Jersey that thinks that show is an embarrassment and an ugly depiction of Italian-Americans.

FARAHAN: I don't care what anyone -- I can count the number of people whose opinion matters on two hands.

O'BRIEN: Other Persians, other Iranians who say, well, you're not reflecting the community as well.


CAIN: Reza, that's not true. That's not true. You said you hope this show advances something that you stand for, which is there are homosexuals, Persian homosexuals outside of Iran that your former president of your former country Ahmadinejad doesn't exist. You do care what people say. The question is legit, do you worry that people have a wrong impression from the show?

FARAHAN: No, because I was not elected to the Persian house of representatives.


And although I think I should represent -- I mean, hello.


I think I should represent a lot of Persians, but I don't.



I don't. So when they elect me, I'll represent all of them. I take offense to it kind of.

CAIN: To what?

FARAHAN: Do you think Flavor Flav represents you when he's on TV? No, does President Obama represent Flavor Flav?

O'BRIEN: He's the only black man on the panel. Sorry.



O'BRIEN: Oh, yes.


FARAHAN: But like because there have never been Persians on TV, why do I have to represent all of them? Does every Latino think J. Lo represents them? No.

O'BRIEN: Actually, I personally would like J. Lo to be my representative.


That might be a bad example for you.

We wish you the very best of luck.

FARAHAN: Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: We'll be watching it and following the craziness that looks like we're seeing in some of the early shows.

Thanks for joining us.

FARAHAN: Great. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

FARAHAN: I appreciate it. Thank you guys.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, some troubling news for president Obama. Some new polls showing that he is neck in neck with Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. We'll take a look at those polls up next.

Also, need an excuse to skip work and watch the NCAA tournament? This is no joke. Guess a vasectomy. I'm not kidding. We'll tell you why it's march madness at your urologist.


This is not a joke.

You're watching STARTING POINT. I'm back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Talking to our panel about politics. There's new polls I want to read to you and I want you to discuss them on the other side.

If you were to match up the GOP candidate versus President Obama, how it turns out. Let's look first at Obama versus Romney. 47 percent if the election were held today they say for President Obama. For Governor Romney, that would be 44 percent. You see the president's declining by one point. Mitt Romney rising by two points. If it were held against Senator Santorum, take a look at that. The president at 48 percent, down one point, Senator Santorum up three points. So he's on the rise here.

Will Cane, analyze for me first these polls.

CAIN: Gas prices.

O'BRIEN: I agree.

CAIN: Our view of the future is often discolored by the president. So when this conventional wisdom or narrative comes out that Mitt Romney is --


O'BRIEN: That sounded very aerodyte. But I'm not sure what you mean.


CAIN: When we talk on this show or other shows to make it more --


O'BRIEN: For the common man, please.

CAIN: -- that Mitt Romney is too stiff. That he can't beat president Obama which is the feeling that you've had over the past month, remember what the feeling will be in October. Whether or not that's a plus for President Obama or a negative will be different than today. Things change.

O'BRIEN: Are you saying the polls are relevant?

CAIN: As whimsical as gas prices.

O'BRIEN: That's true.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But if you consider an important voting group of Independents -- there's a new poll out today that shows president Obama up 49 to 41 for Romney, 49 to 39 Santorum and the movement there has been among independent women away from the GOP candidates towards president Obama.

O'BRIEN: All of this, of course, is going to hinge, this election, on the enthusiasm of the electorate. Earlier when you were talking to Jackie Cushman (ph), you said, what's your dad trying to do to energy the youth vote? What will the role be in 2012? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's 45 million potential young voters. I was traveling around the country, I was in Ohio, Iowa, Florida, et cetera, when I talk to young people it feels like there's been a terrible bad breakup of sorts. They just feel disenfranchised, disengaged.

O'BRIEN: With the Obama administration, with politics in general?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the Obama administration more than politics in general. They feel like they can't trust anyone and they feel like they are not a part of the system and, thus, want nothing to do with it. A lot of it comes down to transparency. We feel like we are a generation that believes in transparency. When you see some of the candidates, it's hard to rely on it.

O'BRIEN: Talk more about that this morning.

Also ahead this morning, we're going to focus on primary day. Primary day in the Deep South. We're minutes away from the polls opening in Alabama and Mississippi. Mitt Romney is putting pressure on voters to just end this thing.

Plus, Sandra Fluke says attacking her is not going to silence her. She's going to join us to set the record straight on the birth control controversy.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We've got a short break and we're back on the other side.