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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Three Dead In French School Shooting; Arizona White Out; Oklahoma Tornado; Romney Routs Santorum In Puerto Rico; Winter Storm In Arizona; Shooting Outside French Jewish School; GOP Seizes on High Gas Prices; Romney Routs Santorum in Puerto Rico; Ramsey Book: From Grief To Grace

Aired March 19, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

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

BANFIELD: Got some breaking news for you this morning. Two children are among four people reportedly killed in a shooting outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. The shooter a man on a motor scooter, according to witnesses, took off. This shooting may be linked to other shootings in the area. We'll have a full report.

SAMBOLIN: Fifty four delegates up for grabs tomorrow in the crucial Illinois primary. Mitt Romney coming off a rout of Rick Santorum in Puerto Rico. Santorum is insisting the nomination is his if he pulls off an Illinois upset.

BANFIELD: Spring has merely sprung. So what is this you say? Looks like Christmas in Arizona. More than a foot of snow on the ground in flagstaff, five feet in the Arizona and California mountains. Look at this, snowplows, are you kidding me? A late winter storm shut down Interstate 40 for nearly 200 miles.

SAMBOLIN: Some people tried to escape it and now they can't back home. More severe weather in Oklahoma, where storm chasers captured a tornado on the ground. This is in the town of Willow, Oklahoma. Take a look at that. CNN's Reynolds Wolf is tracking all of the extreme weather.

BANFIELD: How's your bracket doing today? North Carolina State did a little bracket busting Sunday upsetting Georgetown to advance the NCAA tournament sweet 16. A lot of bracket busting going on this weekend, that's why they call this March Madness.

SAMBOLIN: And we have breaking news here, four people reportedly killed in a shooting outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. Three of those killed are children. Witnesses say a man on a scooter opened fire at a child dropoff zone, then took off.

CNN is working to confirm all of these details. Several other people were reportedly injured by that gunman as well. Security has been ordered tightened at Jewish schools throughout France.

The incident occurring just days after three soldiers were shot to death by a man on a scooter in the same part of the country. It's not clear if the shootings might be connected. We'll get an update from CNN's Jim Bitterman in just a few minutes.

BANFIELD: Mitt Romney may have the momentum after routing Rick Santorum in Puerto Rico's primary, but it's Santorum who's sounding like he's closing in on the nomination.

An overwhelming victory yesterday for Mitt Romney in Puerto, he won over 80 percent of the vote and that means he got all the delegates. Rick Santorum?

Yes, he was busted by about seven times the number of votes there as well. Twenty delegates go to Mitt Romney out of the island and he's hoping the victory means Latino votes might be his moving forward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Those people who don't think that Latinos will vote for a republican need to take a look in Puerto Rico, and see there the conservative principles and Latino voters go together.

And that Hispanic voters are going to vote for Republicans if we stand for something, conservative principles that bring growth and good jobs and rising home values. That's why we're going to win. We're going to get Latino voters to help us out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Maybe. Maybe not. Let's look at the delegates scoreboard though, shall we? Mitt Romney sitting pretty with about 518 delegates that's to Rick Santorum's 239, and quite a ways back, Newt Gingrich with 139. Ron Paul sitting way far back at 69.

Fifty four delegates will be at stake tomorrow in Illinois where the polls show Romney with a slight lead, but it is tight in that state as well.

CNN's political editor, Paul Steinhauser is live in Washington. I want to talk about Illinois in a minute, but first I just want to wrap up this whole Puerto Rico thing.

When Mitt Romney says that he's going to get the Latino vote because of Puerto Rico, I'm curious what you think whether that's really a factor or whether the people in Puerto Rico were really ticked off of what Rick Santorum said about having to speak English in order to get statehood. PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Yes, I think that was part of it also. Mitt Romney also had the backing of a popular governor down there and his organization on the island, which definitely help.

Will that translate into Latino-Hispanic votes in the U.S. mainland? Maybe not. But I know this side, Ashleigh, of the acrimony between the two campaigns. Look at this so-called congratulatory statement from the Santorum campaign to the Romney campaign late last night.

Hogan Gidley, the spokesman of the Santorum campaign reads "Rick Santorum has a consistent core and he showed that when he went to Puerto Rico and took an unpopular, but principled stance about English being the official language of America.

Mitt Romney on the other hand switched another one of his positions to gain favor in Puerto Rico, by saying that Puerto Ricans shouldn't have to learn English if they want to become a state.

We all know Mitt Romney will do and say anything to get votes, and this is just another example of that." That's some tough language there. Listen, we know the Santorum campaign tried to paint the Romney campaign as flip floppers as the candidate is a flip flopper.

Let's be honest though, Santorum himself kind of backtracked on his original stance on the language controversy. The Romney campaign I got a response from them a few minutes ago from Andrea Saul, their spokeswoman and here's what it says.

The language Senator Santorum is lashing out at Mitt Romney because voters know we won't get the economy going again by replacing one president with no job creation experience with another with no job creation experience.

Senator Santorum doesn't understand how the economy works and also doesn't understand that English has been an official language of Puerto Rico for over 100 years. Back and forth, a mid set, controversy, I think we can move past though -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: OK, let me ask you about Illinois, 54 delegates, but it's a proportional thing. So you don't get the winner take all wump. I still see that math really tricky for Rick Santorum especially when he says stuff like, "If I win Illinois I'll be the nominee."

STEINHAUSR: Yes, that's not going to happen. Rick Santorum's only math right now is to prevent Romney from winning the 1,144 delegates needed. He wants to take this all the way to the convention where he thinks if goes a couple rounds, he could win the nomination.

But let's say one thing about Illinois. Remember we said Mitt Romney had to win Michigan, he did. He had to win Ohio, he did. And now we're going to say Mitt Romney has to win Illinois especially after Santorum won in Alabama and Mississippi and Romney finished third last week. That's why Illinois is so important tomorrow -- Ashleigh. Do you know why else Illinois is important? STEINHAUSER: Tell me more.

BANFIELD: That's where Zoraida Sambolin is from.

STEINHAUSER: I didn't know that. I learn a new thing every day.

BANFIELD: Just want to remind you. Thank you very much. Good to see you, Paul.

SAMBOLIN: All right, it is 6 minutes past the hour here. Happening right now, a last blast of winter. Parts of Arizona --

BANFIELD: The last.

SAMBOLIN: -- had more than a foot of snow. Kids in flagstaff enjoying a snow day today, not a spring break day. Closure of Interstate 40 for nearly 200 miles in Arizona from Kingman all the way east to Winslow.

Our Reynolds Wolf is watching the winter storm and unusual warm weather across the country as well as severe weather. Lots to talk about.

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, really, full plate today in terms of weather. But I've got to tell you, as tough as it is for travelers to deal in Northern Arizona, there are many people across the Rockies were thrilled to see the snow at all.

It started off as a very slow snow season, but they're finishing up in grand fashion. Some of the other spots that hgot some heavy snow. Take a peak, some of them at the Arizona snowball, 36 inches of snow, big bear added 27, well over a foot in Belmont, Arizona Flagstaff Airport at 19.5.

In Arizona, in Fort Valley had 16.0. on the other 22 inches, flagstaff airport, nearly 20 inches. Twin cities look at the video from yesterday in Minneapolis along the Mississippi River, just a beautiful spring day, families getting out, making the most of the wonderful weather.

Looks like the trend may continue for the rest of the day today. It was not only places like Minneapolis had the great weather with the high of 79 degrees. Look at other temperatures that really had a beautiful time.

Tupelo, Mississippi, 83 degrees. St. Louis, Missouri, 82 degrees, 79 in Minneapolis and Fargo with 78. Now there is a change we might see some strong storms develop across the southern and central plains today. We'll touch upon that during our next weather update. Back to you in New York.

BANFIELD: Minneapolis, 79?

WOLF: It's a beautiful thing.

BANFIELD: Are you sure you weren't fudging those numbers, Reynolds?

WOLF: I promise you, no manipulation whatsoever with the forecast numbers.

BANFIELD: Thank you very much.

SAMBOLIN: It is 8 minutes past the hour here. We have more on that breaking news out of France this morning, a gunman on a scooter reportedly killing four people outside a Jewish school in Toulouse.

Witnesses say three of the dead are children. That incident follows the shooting death of three soldiers in that same part of the country in recent days, also by a gunman on a motor scooter.

Jim Bitterman is on the phone live from Paris this morning. Jim, what can you tell us?

JIM BITTERMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Hi, Zoraida. In fact, police are intensifying their search as you might expect around the Toulouse area this morning because of the most recent shooting.

Apparently, the gunman who is the same gunman, I think they're assuming it's the same gunman in any case because of the caliber of weapon that was used, the same weapon was used in two of the three shootings so far.

The first two, the gunman used the same gun in both attacks and this one the same caliber gun was used in the attack at the Jewish school.

Basically the method of operation was similar, a gunman arrived on a motorcycle, in this case this morning walked into the courtyard of the school a couple of meters inside the front gate of the school and then just started shooting randomly at victims.

A number of people were hit and we now are hearing the four people have been confirmed dead in that shooting. The president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, is on his way to Toulouse this morning as is the leading candidates in the presidential election, Francois Aloum, both are heading to Toulouse.

The president is trying to look at what way's he can reinforce the security if this is connected, if the three incidents are in fact connected. It appears there's a serial killer on the loose down there somewhere and they will do what they can to stop the killings.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Jim Bitterman live on the phone from Paris this morning. Thank you very much.

BANFIELD: It is now 10 minutes past 6:00 on the east coast.

Still to come, a St. Patrick's day celebration, ugly in Ontario, Canada. Police say the aftermath looks like a war zone. What on earth triggered this college violence? And it's March madness at the pump, but is there any easy answer to these rising gas prices?

SAMBOLIN: And new momentum for Mitt Romney, ahead of tomorrow's primary. While Rick Santorum makes a bold, really bold prediction about Illinois. We're going to share all of that with you. You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 14 minutes past the hour.

Did you fill up your gas tank this weekend? If you were, you did, you were reminded of rising gas prices. And this morning, Republicans are hoping to cash in politically on that pain of yours.

For the 11th straight day, the price of the pump is up, the national average price for a gallon of regular is now selling at $3.84 a gallon. And the president's approval rating on the economy is taking a hit because of the high gas prices.

According to a "Washington Post"/ABC News poll, 50 percent strongly disapprove of the president's handling on the economy. That is up 9 points from last month. And now, Republicans are trying to turn the high gas prices against the president.

Over the weekend, Mitt Romney was suggesting Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson are to blame for this and he called for the three to be let go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Given the fact he now wants lower gasoline prices, I think it's time for him to fire his gas hike trio. It's time for those three to be let go and to return to policies that get us the energy we need.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Jim Burkhard is the managing director of Global Oil Group. And he is joining us this morning.

Nice to have you with us.

JIM BURKHARD, MANAGING DIRECTOR, GLOBAL OIL GROUP, IHS CERA: Thank you. Good morning.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you.

So how is letting those three people go as Romney suggests going to affect oil prices?

BURKHARD: The price of oil is determined by many factors around the world, Chinese demand, oil production in the Middle East. There are many, many factors. And personnel moves in the U.S. government are not going to raise or lower oil prices.

SAMBOLIN: And President Obama is saying that there are no quick fixes to the rising gas prices. Do you think that's true?

BURKHARD: That is true. There is no quick and easy way to lower gasoline prices, otherwise, it would probably already have been done. So, no, there's no quick and easy solution.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, 54 percent of Americans still believe that the president does indeed have something that he could do in order to lower the gas prices.

And I wanted to bring in also what Newt Gingrich is saying. He's making some big promises about gas prices. He says he'll bring gas prices down to $2.50 a gallon. Let's listen to this and then you tell me why that's not possible or why it is possible.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president's been going around for two weeks, because he began to realize two weeks ago that my campaign for $2.50 a gallon gasoline was catching on. And so, he's made a whole series of speeches now on energy, and he keeps attacking us.

Now, his first attack he said there is no silver bullet, which is baloney. There is a silver bullet. It's called drilling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Is that possible, $2.50 a gallon?

BURKHARD: Well the key reason why oil prices are high today, why they've risen so much over the last couple of months is the Iranian nuclear situation. That needs to be resolved before we see significant downward pressure on oil prices at least as they relate to Iran. So it's a complex issue, more oil production can certainly help, but the core reason why prices had been rising is concern about the situation in Iran.

SAMBOLIN: What about, a lot of people are talking about releasing some strategic petroleum reserves. Is that a possibility in the Obama administration? And would that have a long-term effect on oil prices or gas prices at the pump?

BURKHARD: A release of oil from the strategic petroleum reserve would probably have at best a temporary impact on the price of oil. Of course, the amount of oil that's released would have an impact, but it's difficult to see that having any endearing impact. The impact on price probably just be temporary.

SAMBOLIN: Well, when you looked at what happened with President Obama, he released 60 million barrels of crude last year, the prices dropped but then they quickly rebounded. Why no long-term effect?

BURKHARD: Well, the releasing 60 million barrels of oil like we did last year, that was the SPR release last year, that is in an oil market that each day globally consumes about 90 million barrels of oil a day. So it's a very large oil market. There are many factors that shape the price of oil, and you would need a massive and sustained release to have any impact and even then it would probably just be temporary.

SAMBOLIN: Jim, you've said the U.S. is the hottest destination for oil investment right now, yet the prices are still going up. Is drilling the answer?

BURKHARD: It's had an impact on U.S. oil production and on reducing U.S. oil imports, reducing U.S. dependency on foreign oil. In fact, over the last three years, we've seen what we call a great revival in U.S. oil production. Since 2008, the U.S. has recorded largest gains in global oil supply growth among any country in the world.

We still need to import a lot of oil, but the amount that we import is lower today. Part of that is due to lower demand, but part of it is also due to higher production in the U.S., as a result of the growth in oil investment.

SAMBOLIN: Jim, I just want to ask you one final question, because we're facing supposedly $5 gas by the time the summer rolls around. Is there any relief for folks who have to pay this? I mean, this is seriously affecting people's budgets.

BURKHARD: It is. There's no doubt that it's a big burden on motorists and there's not a lot of signs of potential relief out there. Again, the key reason why prices are high today, why they've risen over the last couple of months is concern about the Iranian nuclear issue. We have very little spare capacity in the world right now and until that Iranian nuclear issue gets resolved and it's a very difficult one to resolve, there is the potential for high prices.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Jim Burkhard, managing director of Global Oil Group -- thank you for joining us this morning.

BURKHARD: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: Ashleigh, back to you.

BANFIELD: It is now 20 minutes past 6:00. And just ahead on EARLY START -- Apple of your eye? Investors are pretty much holding their breath for a 9:00 news conference. What will that company announce? Does it have anything to do with a dividend?

You're watching EARLY START.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just in love with enamored lift (ph), the design of the human body, its elegance. Nature has often this often very powerful principles if captured in the technology, in a device, can be very, very extraordinary in their capacity to help people move again. So, that's the basis thesis for our work. We steal from the cookie jar of nature. We apply that with those synthetic constructs of (INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-five minutes past the hour.

A lot of buzz this morning over Apple's big announcement, it is expected in a few hours. The company said last night it is going to hold a conference call at 9:00 a.m. Eastern to talk about its huge cash stockpile.

BANFIELD: Oh, I thought of the iPad 4.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Already.

BANFIELD: Let's bring in Christine Romans.

SAMBOLIN: You never know, right? Another big announcement.

BANFIELD: There's something when you say cash stockpile, but when you say how much it is mind-blowing.

ROMANS: I know. It's like enough money to give Greece a bailout, you know? It's $98 billion. It's a ton of money, and just in one quarter, its first fiscal quarter of the year. It was something like $16 billion more dollars going right into the bank.

Look, it designs and invents things in Cupertino, California, that we didn't think that we even needed or wanted, but that changed our lives, and changed business and changed culture and changed music and television and movies. And then it builds them in China, and brings them back all around the country, all over the world, and it makes a ton of money making it.

So, what is Apple going to do with all that money? That's what the big story in business today is what is Apple going to do with its money? It has some options. It can give it to shareholders in a dividend. This is what most analysts expect, that it will give a dividend to shareholders, so a little reward for shareholders who buy the stock.

It can buy back its own stock which also is a reward to shareholders, meaning fewer shares out in the market. It can buy companies. but it's actually already doing that. So, I don't know who it would buy for $98 billion.

It could just leave it in the bank but it's getting no interest on that money in the bank. So it's actually been kind of holding back, I can't believe I'm saying this. Some analysts say it's been holding back the share prices of Apple because it has too much money in the bank --

SAMBOLIN: What?

ROMANS: -- because it could be doing something and making more money with that money. Look, at Apple stock over five years, quickly, if anybody thinks it's been held back by anything, I don't know. It's up 486 percent over the last five years, Apple shares. And --

BANFIELD: That's 2008, still affected by 2008, that little dip.

ROMANS: Yes. Oh, absolutely. Everything was affected by 2008. Everything was.

But, you know, it would -- I'm expecting they're going to say it's going to be a dividend. But who knows, 9:00 we'll know for sure.

BANFIELD: You'll be working hard at about 9:05.

SAMBOLIN: Everybody will be watching. It's trending really high this morning.

ROMANS: I know. Everyone wants to know what Apple is going to do with its money.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Christine.

BANFIELD: Thanks, Christine.

It's 27 minutes past 6:00 and coming up, JonBenet Ramsey, if you can believe it, the suffering her parents went through after this little girl was killed 15 years ago was preceded by another daughter's death before that -- some things you might not know from the father of JonBenet, John Ramsey, who spoke with me not only about that but also about those child beauty contests.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: It is 30 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BANFIELD: Hi, everybody. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. Nice to have you with us.

It's time to check the top story making news this morning.

SAMBOLIN: Three children are among four people reportedly killed in a shooting outside a Jewish school in France. It happened in the town of Toulouse. That is in southwest France.

Witnesses say a man on a scooter opened fire at a child drop-off zone, then took off. Several other people were reportedly injured by that gunman as well. The incident occurring just days after three soldiers were shot to death by a man on a scooter in the same part of the country.

BANFIELD: The stakes could not be higher for tomorrow's Illinois primary. Mitt Romney coming off a big win in Puerto Rico could take a big step towards clinching the nomination if he's got a strong showing in Illinois, all this as Rick Santorum is predicting that the nomination will be his if he pulls of an upset in Illinois.

SAMBOLIN: And spring break -- forget about spring break. Take a look at this, today is a snow day for students in Flagstaff, Arizona. The city is a sea of white with more than a foot of snow on the ground, late winter storms shut down I-40 for almost 200 miles.

BANFIELD: A town in Ontario, Canada, looking more like a war zone on St. Patrick's Day as about 1,000 rowdy people, many of them students broke out into a riot, setting cars on fire, throwing glass at police officers. Unbelievable.

Several people arrested and one woman was reportedly taken to the hospital with burn injuries.

SAMBOLIN: Insane.

And the sweet 16 is such. North Carolina State sends Georgetown packing. The Wolfpack pulled off a 63-60 upset on Sunday to advance to the NCAA tournament. Sweet 16, look at that.

Next up for N.C. State, the Kansas Jayhawks Friday. That is in St. Louis.

BANFIELD: It's 32 minutes past 6:00 on the East Coast.

And the stakes couldn't be higher for tomorrow's Illinois primary. Mitt Romney routed Rick Santorum in Puerto Rico in the primary there yesterday -- got well over 80 percent of the vote there. That means all of the 20 delegates, all of them he gets them. And he also gets that momentum, that mojo we often talk about.

But Rick Santorum is still sounding pretty confident and hoping for an upset in Illinois.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we're able to come out of Illinois with a huge win or surprise win, I guarantee you, I guarantee you that we will win this nomination.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Guarantee you we'll win this nomination? Holy molly! Rick Santorum still has a pretty long way to go, if you do the delegate count.

Take a peek. It's Mitt Romney who is sitting pretty with the 518 delegates and Santorum is way behind at 239.

So to help us get through this math and this prediction, live from Washington, Joe Williams, White House reporter for "Politico" -- smiling happily.

Here in New York, Democratic strategist John Hlinko.

And conservative commentator Lenny McAllister, live from Chicago.

Lenny, I'm just going to turn you loose on the last statement. What the heck was that about?

LENNY MCALLISTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Well, Broadway Joe, Rick Santorum, I don't know if he's predicting a Super Bowl victory. But it's not as crazy as it sounds.

If can he win Illinois and then you assume that he's going to win Louisiana, he's ahead in Pennsylvania, he wins the majority if not all of the states during the Yankee primary coming up in mid-April and he's probably going to win conservative Texas, now all of a sudden, he has momentum and a whole pocket full of delegates going on his side, going into Maine.

You'd have to imagine if all of those things played out starting with Illinois tomorrow, he is not going to seem that far off. He'll be crazy like a fox if can he pull off Illinois tomorrow. However, right now, he's behind in the polls. He's behind when it comes to structure. And there are a couple of delegates he's not even in play for right now.

So, that's working against him.

BANFIELD: All right. Well, this -- I'm not sure if this works against him or not. Mitt Romney's taken some pot shots at his executive experience and, actually, Candy Crowley had Rick Santorum on her program, "STATE OF THE UNION," this Sunday and asked him about that -- about having very little executive experience, and here was Rick Santorum's response to Candy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: Well, no, I was the number two guy at a small technology company, and did, in fact, helped manage and try to get the company off the ground as a start-up and it was a great experience and one that I learned a lot through that process. So that's not completely accurate. I served on the board of a public company, so, you know, I have -- obviously was a lawyer and practiced law for a while. So, I have a fair amount of experience in the private sector.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: John Hlinko, if Rick Santorum does pull off the upset that he thinks he might pull off and becomes the nominee, as he is suggesting, you can't really talk about executive experience and go head-to-head with Obama and have any kind of argument there, can you?

JOHN HLINKO, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, it's a very tough argument to make. When someone says I've been president for four years, that's a pretty good indicator that they would be, they could be the president.

BANFIELD: Yes. But Obama can't beat him up about not having executive experience because he came into the presidency without executive experience.

HLINKO: Well, it's a little tough to say I came in without it but I've got it.

BANFIELD: Right.

HLINKO: But the reality is, you know, when you're incumbent president, you have that advantage. And for Rick Santorum to talk about being the number two guy at a small startup, it's not making him look very presidential.

BANFIELD: OK. So, this is my favorite segment of the morning. I'm going to call it what the F. Are you ready? I know you'd laugh, all of you.

This is one is going to be yours, Joe, so you better be listening real close.

JOE WILLIAMS, POLITICO: Oh, great.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: I say what the F because this came out of Effingham, Illinois, and this was Rick Santorum talking about gas prices and how we should be watching numbers roll and particularly focus when they hit zero. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: Instead of paying two-digit dollars, you're now paying three digits. When you see that zero come up with that third thing that when it gets into the $100 range, when you see that zero, think of "O" for Obama, because that's why you're paying that extra amount of money.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: To the tune of lots of applause.

Joe, no matter what the interviews say, no matter what the experts say, Zoraida just had an expert on and they all say, look, the president doesn't have the kind of power to move that dial, it's still the narrative and it still gets hammered home.

WILLIAMS: That's right. Well, considering what the F, I mean, that's probably what the White House is saying when they hear those kind of arguments because it is.

And every expert that you would talk with, including one on your program earlier, has said that the president does not necessarily have enough power to move the needle on gas prices. The big picture, though, is we've been here before. We were here a year ago almost, and we've ridden this cycle time and again.

The White House is quite nervous about this, because even though experts say that's true, it's a lot harder to get an applause line saying experts saying I can't do anything about gas prices than to say, this guy is responsible for it and by the way if you elect me, I can get you down to $2.50.

So the problem that the White House faces here is not one of reality, but one of perception. They're working on that. It's no accident that Obama has been -- that the president has been on a tour recently, last two campaign appearances, so to speak, have been about energy, about a long, sustainable energy outlook for the United States. He's got three more coming up -- I think four more coming up in the next two weeks.

He's going to be talking about this a lot, trying to change the needle on perception if he can't necessarily do it at the pump.

BANFIELD: All right. Joe Williams, nice to hear from you. Thanks for that. Thanks you for keeping it G-rated.

John Hlinko and Lenny McAllister, good to see you as well.

WILLIAMS: Not easy at 6:00 in the morning.

BANFIELD: What the f, I know, right? Thanks, guys.

MCALLISTER: Thanks, Ashleigh. God bless.

BANFIELD: God bless.

SAMBOLIN: It is 38 minutes past the hour.

Still to come on EARLY START: riots break out at a Greek soccer match. Why a referee had to stop the game, clear the players from the field as well. They shut this down completely.

But first, let's get a quick check of your travel forecast with Reynolds Wolf. Good morning to you.

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning.

Looks like some of the worst travel today could take parts in the Central and Southern Plains. The reason is actually quite easy to see. We've got plenty of moisture coming in from the Gulf of Mexico. That's going to contrasts that cooler air coming in from the west and by late afternoon we've got a very good possibility of strong storms across parts of Texas, into Oklahoma and perhaps even Arkansas and Louisiana, before all is said and done.

And that's not just for today but also for tomorrow as that front drifts a bit more to the east, we could see the storms really pile up as we get into Tuesday and perhaps even into Wednesday as well.

That's a quick snapshot of your forecast. We've got more on EARLY START coming up in just a few moments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you, Dallas. It is 70 degrees now. A little bit later, you're going to be experiencing some thunderstorms. But it's going to be 74 degrees.

BANFIELD: I love my old hometown. Oh, hello, Dallas. Blissful.

It's 6:43 now. Time to check top stories making news this morning with Christine Romans, who's doing the job.

ROMANS: Good morning, ladies.

Let's start in France, where we're following a developing story there. Three children among four people reportedly killed outside a Jewish school in Toulouse. Witnesses say a gunman on a motor scooter opened fire on a drop-off zone at the school and then took off. Security has been ordered tightened at Jewish schools across France. Three soldiers have been shot and killed in recent days in the same part of the country.

Soccer fans set the Olympic stadium in Athens on fire when a riot broke out at a game. Fifty people arrested, 20 police officers were hurt and the game was canceled early.

Fifty-four key delegates up for grabs in tomorrow's Illinois primary. Mitt Romney coming off a big win in Puerto Rico yesterday, nearly half way to the 1,144 delegates he needs. But Rick Santorum insists he'll be the party's nominee if he pulls off the upset tomorrow.

President Obama's campaign coffers are flush with cash. The president's reelection team just released the latest fund-raising numbers. They raised $45 million in February, up from just over $29 million the month before. They say 348,000 people donated to the campaign.

And Batman to the rescue in Brazil. Police in a neighborhood of Sao Paolo -- yes, Batman, they've hired a Batman impersonator to patrol its most violent streets. Police hope he'll be an approachable presence in crime-ridden neighborhood.

BANFIELD: That's awesome. That's my favorite story of the year.

ROMANS: I know, I mean -- there you go.

SAMBOLIN: It's relatable. The kids love him.

ROMANS: When police don't work, send in the superheroes.

BANFIELD: And Spider-Man could be next. That's awesome.

Christine, I don't know where you find that stuff.

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: -- the uniforms, little like getups.

All right. Forty-four minutes pas the hour her.

Soledad O'Brien, she's going to join us now with a look at what is ahead on STARTING POINT.

BANFIELD: Hey, Bat Girl.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST, "STARTING POINT": Hey. Good morning, ladies. Mitt Romney scores that big landslide victory in Puerto Rico, and he's looking to widen his delegate lead when it comes to Illinois. We're going to talk about that. Rick Santorum, though, is guaranteeing he'll take the nomination if he can win the state of Illinois.

This morning, we chat with Alice Stewart. She's the national press secretary for the Santorum campaign.

And those chilling 911 tapes have been released over the weekend in the case of Trayvon Martin. That's Florida teenager who was shot dead by a man who's on that neighborhood watch patrol. Those calls include one by the man who pulled the trigger, George Zimmerman, who claimed he shot Trayvon in self-defense.

We'll analyze where that case could stand all ahead this morning on "Starting Point." We'll see you right at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: It was 16 years ago that this image of a young six- year-old beauty queen splashed across just about every supermarket tabloid that you would find. Her murder, a mystery that still to this day no one seems to be able to solve. JonBenet's Ramsey's parents would be under an umbrella of suspicion for a decade and a half. And it's hard to believe that that little girl would be 21 years old today.

Her family has been clearly of any suspicion, 100 percent, and the killer may still be out there. With all of that in mind, I sat down with JonBenet's father, John Ramsey, and talked about his new book called, "The Other Side of Suffering." We talked about his remarkable journey back from the brink and his new outlook on life.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN RAMSEY, JONBENET RAMSEY'S FATHER: I've learned a lot about suffering, about recovery. I've learned about how your faith is challenged when you suffer tragedy, and my eyes have also been opened to the fact that everybody carries a burden. And so, I wanted to share that.

BANFIELD: When I met you, I didn't expect to meet a happy person, but I really kind of feel like I've met a happy person. Is that true? RAMSEY: Yes. I can say that I have joy in my life, which I think is a deeper appreciation of what life's all about, what your purpose is, where you're going to life, what the future holds. There was a period of time when I was so angry that if I'd knew who he was, we wouldn't need a trial, and I would have no remorse.

But that anger has passed to a point now where I want to know why? Why did this happen to my child?

RAMSEY: Yes. I can say that I have joy in my life, which I think is a deeper appreciation of what life's all about, what your purpose is, where you're going to life, what the future holds. There was a period of time when I was so angry that if I'd knew who he was, we wouldn't need a trial, and I would have no remorse. But that anger has passed to a point now where I want to know why? Why did this happen to my child?

BANFIELD: How did you get there?

RAMSEY: Well, it took a long time, and I spent a lot of time thinking about and reading about the whole topic of forgiveness. But then, I realize that forgiveness, really, is a gift that I give myself. It's a letting go. It's moving on. It has nothing to do with, of course, you're forgiving -- maybe not want to be forgiven, not even know you forgiven, but it's a release.

BANFIELD: What would you want people to know about JonBenet?

RAMSEY: She was so much more than a beauty queen that she's been tagged, and it really hurts when she's tagged that way because that was just a small element of her life. She was energetic. She was incredibly smart. Just an amazing, young child.

BANFIELD: You used to call her Johnny B.

RAMSEY: Yes, Johnny B. She just lit the room up and got everybody -- I remember one day, I came home from work, and I kind of was crying about something. She said, dad, I don't like that face. So, I put on a smile. She said, that's better. That is just who she was.

BANFIELD: Attitude adjustment.

RAMSEY: Yes, total.

BANFIELD: Speaking of those, you see these programs on cable, "Toddlers & Tiaras."

RAMSEY: Yes. It called a little bit of that.

BANFIELD: When you see those programs, what do you think?

RAMSEY: I don't care for them at all. And that was certainly not the world in a JonBenet and Patsy participated in back then. That was 15 years ago. When Patsy and JonBenet did it, there was always a talent component to the program. And the only people there were grandparents and moms and dads.

BANFIELD: Not coaches.

RAMSEY: No coaches.

BANFIELD: Costume designers.

RAMSEY: No. No. And, but now that they put it -- made a television show out of it, it's pretty questionable. That's a good idea? I don't think it is.

BANFIELD: Do you regret that JonBenet was even in a small part of that world?

RAMSEY: Well, in a sense. You know, we questioned it for a while. Was that the reason we were targeted? Was there someone in that audience that looked at her in a different way than they should have?

BANFIELD: Do you think that's --

RAMSEY: I don't think so. No, I don't. But we certainly wondered that. But I think the point is that you need to protect your children to not put them on public display like that. It would be my choice if I had to do over again.

BANFIELD: You carry a medal in your wallet?

RAMSEY: Yes.

BANFIELD: To this day?

RAMSEY: Yes.

BANFIELD: What's it for?

RAMSEY: Well, it was a medal that JonBenet won five days before she was killed for a talent contest. I always to tell her when she'd do these little pageants that, you know, just focus on your talent the best you can. They didn't matter. The rest didn't really matter. So, it was kind of a thing between us.

I went to the events. I was late, and she already had the contest. She won this all talent award. She came running up to me and said, daddy, daddy, I won this for you and put it around my neck. It was just a little silver dollar medal. And after she died, in my mind, I want that medal, because we never went back in the house.

BANFIELD: Never?

RAMSEY: Never. But I wanted to get that medal at some time. And I just had that thought in my mind and tell me -- my sister, Pam, went back to the house to get some clothes for us and came back after a few hours and came up to me where we were staying and said, John, I just felt this overwhelming need to bring this to you. And it was the medal. And to me, there's a touch of heaven. It was reassurance, to me, that JonBenet was OK. She knew her father needed some help. I cried, but I cried with tears of joy when I got this.

BANFIELD: You should be a much more bitter person.

RAMSEY: Well, I heard a sermon once that said you can be, after tragedy, bitter, broken, barren or better. And, the opportunity is to be better.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: It's just, you know, remarkable to hear him with that kind of optimism. And I think a lot of people don't know this that John Ramsey lost another daughter four years before JonBenet. He lost his 22-year-old daughter in a car accident.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my.

BANFIELD: So, the grief has just piled on, and then, Patsy died in 2006. He's lost pretty much everyone around him key to his life. So, it's remarkable that he can be as kind spirited that he is.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, absolutely. I was saying I'm surprised given his disposition and the way that he talked to you that he was ever a suspect.

BANFIELD: For 16 years. Another thing people might not know, all of JonBenet's things were packed up. That whole house was packed up. They never went back into the home, and all of those things, all of her boxes are in her grandfather's basement to this day.

They've never been touched since, and John thinks, at some point, he might get around to maybe donating them to charity or do something about, it but it's sort of eerie to think about that.

SAMBOLIN: hard. Hard to cope, right?

BANFIELD: And the killer may still be out there.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Fifty-four minutes past the hour here.

Coming up, severe weather in the heartland. Have you seen this? Tornadoes caught on tape in Oklahoma and Nebraska. We have the latest on injuries and all of the damage. That is ahead on "Starting Point."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: That is EARLY START, the news from A to Z, but there is someone with far more (INAUDIBLE).

SAMBOLIN: Oh, that is the word of the day. This is Ms. Ashleigh Banlfield. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.

O'BRIEN: And yes -- yes, I'll try my hardest over the next two hours.