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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

French Police Corner "Al Qaeda Suspect"; Romney Rocks Illinois; Romney Wins Key Demographics; Cops Crack Down On "Occupy" Protesters; New iPad Too Hot To Handle?; Trayvon Martin Witnesses Speak Out; Romney Routs Santorum in Illinois; New Clue In Amelia Earhart Mystery

Aired March 21, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. It is just about 6:00. It's EARLY START and it is 6:00. Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We are bringing you the news from A to Z. Let's get started here for you.

BANFIELD: Breaking news in France, police have a home surrounded that they say inside is the gunman, a gunman who claims to have links to al Qaeda and is wanted for committing that Jewish school shooting.

He's inside now. They think they're going to get him out though. Officials say two officers were wounded in a shoot-out there during that overnight raid.

Mitt Romney is close to securing half the delegates he needs to clinch the nomination. After an impressive double-digit win in Illinois overnight in the primary there, that victory made it possible for him, conservatives and the Tea Partiers backing him pretty strongly.

Also new witnesses speaking out on the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The Florida teenager's family say new revelations prove Martin was, in fact, murdered and they will not sleep until his killer is arrested.

Office buildings hundreds of miles away feeling the power of a 7.4 magnitude earthquake in Southern Mexico. Hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed. At least 11 people injured in this, but luckily so far no reports of any deaths.

Water rising and raging in Texas. Fire department forced to pull a woman from her car that was carried downstream after she ignored one of those very important warnings, and drove around a barrier.

There's the result right there. Warning to you at home, read the warnings, follow them. Severe storms expected to unleash more flooding across the south and the plains today.

SAMBOLIN: Breaking news in France right now, police said to have the man wanted for that Jewish school shooting. They're surrounding his home right now. We're now confirming his name is Mohammed Mehra and he claims to be a member of al Qaeda and says he will surrender in an hour from now.

Three hundred officers are involved there and two of them wounded in a shoot-out. He is accused of murdering a rabbi, his two young sons and a young girl. The man has also said he wanted revenge for the killing of Palestinian children, this is according to Reuters.

The raid happening in the southern city of Toulouse, that is less than two miles from the site of the shooting. Diana Magnay with the latest from Toulouse.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This raid that been going on for six hours now does appear as though there might be end in sight. The suspect has apparently told police that he is prepared to hand himself over in the early hours of the afternoon.

He threw a gun out of the window, but the police believe that he is heavily armed, and so they want to take it slowly really to make sure that they bring him out alive. There was a heavy exchange of gunfire in the hours before dawn, this raid starting around 3:00 a.m. local time.

Two police officers injured in that attack and we have been able to ascertain quite a few details about this man and how police found him. He's 24 years old, a French national of Algerian origin, apparently spent considerable time in Pakistan and Afghanistan and has links to al Qaeda.

He said that he carried out the attack on the Jewish school to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and we're also hearing that, from media reports that he used his cell phone around the Jewish school, which drew the attention of investigators to him.

But that he was also linked to the killings of those three soldiers and that he'd been under investigation at that time because of an e-mail that he had sent to the first soldier killed who was trying to sell his motorbike. They set up a rendezvous and at that rendezvous the soldier was killed.

That is where the investigation stands at the moment of this operation and that is how investigators were able to come to this house in this residential neighborhood of Toulouse, three kilometers up from the Jewish school. Diana Magnay, CNN, Toulouse.

BANFIELD: It's 4 minutes now past 6:00 and Mitt Romney taking a giant leap towards clinching the Republican nomination with a decisive win in the Illinois primary last night. We were all up watching it, right?

SAMBOLIN: Yes. I was watching the e-mails and tweets come in.

BANFIELD: We always liked it on TiVo in the morning. But the governor has nearly half of delegates that he needs to get that magic number 1,144. So let's see. See the big checkmark, that's because he got 47 percent of the vote, folks, next to Rick Santorum's 35, 12 points behind. Maybe the big story there though look way down, way, way down, Newt Gingrich at the very bottom of the heap, dead last. Normally he's only second last. So what does that mean for him? What does it mean for the top guy, the middle guy, what does it mean for all of these guys?

With the delegate estimate as it stands, Mitt Romney is at 562 delegates, Rick Santorum a long way back with 249 and there's Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul obviously rounding four.

Romney is sensing this maybe could be his campaign's defining moment. At least that's what he's telling folks and his urging the party to rally behind him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Each day we move closer, not just to victory, but to a better America. Join us. Join us. Together we're going to ensure that America's greatest days are still ahead. Thanks, you guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: You're welcome. As you can probably hear them say. Next stop Louisiana's primary gets under way with 46 delegates at stake. And then after that, we got a big long list, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Wisconsin, those primaries all following up on April 3rd.

And then of course a whole heap of them after that, too, big old New York and California still to come as well. CNN's political editor Paul Steinhauser is live in Washington, D.C. for us this morning.

So, quick question and I don't mean to tap you without that giant book that you guys all put together with all the stat facts and data.

Are these ones coming up winner take all or proportional? You know, the only reason I asked that, is this going to end any time soon? It's not like I don't love talking to you every morning. I do.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: I appreciate that. Sorry is the answer because no, most of the remaining states are proportional, they are not winner take all. But Jersey and one or two others that are remaining in the calendar are winning take all.

So Ashleigh, how did Mitt Romney do it last night? He won where he was supposed to win. He won in the heavily populated Chicago suburbs taking more than half the vote in those so-called collar counties and suburban Cook County.

That's where I was yesterday morning at a polling station in suburban Chicago and I asked a lot of people who have voted what was most important to them, they said beating President Obama in November.

Look at the exit polls, they tell the story here. What was the most important candidate quality? The plurality said can defeat President Obama. Of those people, go to the next board, look who won overwhelmingly, almost 3 out of 4 went for Mitt Romney on that.

So it's electability, electability, electability. But wait, let's talk about Rick Santorum because he still did well with his base, which are the people who say they are very conservative. People who say they are strong supporters of the Tea Party Movement and people who describe themselves as Evangelical Christians.

He won mostly in down state areas, the more conservative parts of the state and in his comments last night, he was definitely very critical of Romney and kind of comparing him to Barack Obama over health care. Remember the big anniversary of the Obama health care plan is on Friday -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: I did not remember that so thank you for that. I'm sure that's going to come up at length on Friday and probably before that. So, OK, quick question, Newt Gingrich not good last night, coming in dead last.

So does that mean that he's got to really rethink things? Is he going to keep putting on the brave face? Where is Sheldon Adelson in all of this?

STEINHAUSER: Yes, and that money, right, for the "Super PAC" for Gingrich. Listen, you saw the statement, I did as well from Gingrich last night. It was anything but conciliatory.

He was very critical of Romney. In that statement, he put out after the results came in, in Illinois and talked about once again going all the way to the convention.

He's got another test though, that's Saturday. You mentioned Louisiana, a southern primary, if Gingrich doesn't do well there, will he jump out? Who knows? I don't know. Only Newt Gingrich knows.

BANFIELD: Are we just waiting for the pundits to roll through this today? Look, is it the pundits that create the momentum because clearly a 12-point win last night was a big old deal for Mitt Romney and yet --

STEINHAUSER: A very big deal.

BANFIELD: I'm not so sure that I'm hearing all that momentum translate into -- finally, it's inevitable.

STEINHAUSER: It's getting closer and closer with every win for Mitt Romney. No doubt about that.

BANFIELD: Yes, but that's about it. So it's mini mojo is what you're saying.

STEINHAUSER: OK, I like that.

BANFIELD: All right, Paul, nice to see you. Thanks for getting up early. SAMBOLIN: It is 8 minutes past the hour.

Just hours ago police in New York are clashing once again with "Occupy Wall Street" protesters in Lower Manhattan. Three hundred demonstrators were removed around midnight from Union Square.

Take a look at that, at least one person was reportedly arrested. The city says it can tolerate up to 25 demonstrators at a time, but demonstrators cannot sit or lie down, they say.

BANFIELD: It is 9 minutes now past 6:00 and every morning we like to give you an early start by alerting you to the news that's happening later today.

Gas prices up almost 2 cents that was a big whopper. That happened overnight. President Obama is touting his plan to cut costs. The president embarking on an energy tour traveling four states in two days to talk high gas prices and his new plan for the Keystone pipeline.

SAMBOLIN: Students in Henryville, Indiana, are finally going back to school this morning. Henryville is recovering from the deadly tornadoes that hit that town three weeks ago.

BANFIELD: Mystery in Wisconsin. What is causing that whole lot of shaking going on? There are some booms in the city of Clintonville. Officials have ruled out gas leaks, mining explosions and even military activity.

But it's going boom, boom, underground and seemingly only at night, which is really, really weird. A press conference is set to be held a little later today.

SAMBOLIN: They're trying to get tape recordings so they have it and they can share it. Kind of weird. All right, so the new iPad is hot, hot, hot, hot.

BANFIELD: Literally.

SAMBOLIN: Apple announces its sold 3 million new HD iPads in four days. People started complaining the device heats up way more than the previous version.

BANFIELD: That's nice if it's a cold winter, but it hasn't so we don't need it to heat up and it drains the battery, too, when it gets hot. Why is it getting hot?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's getting hot. I'll tell you what the company says about it in a minute. A lot of reports of the new iPad, this new iPad been out for five days.

They're saying it gets real hot especially when we're playing these high speed intensive games. "Consumer Reports" actually found it got 116 degrees, 116.

You can play a game and fry an egg at the same time. Here are the thermal images from "Consumer Reports." The iPad 2 is on the left. The more yellow and red that you have that is the hotter it is.

So that's the iPad 2 on the left, the new iPad is on the right. The new iPad gets up to 13 degrees hotter than the iPad 2 in playing a game. Here is what "Consumer Reports" did with it. This is the new one. Chandra has it. I don't.

I took a picture of you guys on it. This is Infinity Blade 2 uninterrupted for 45 minutes. Plugged in running for about 45 minutes, the device's 4G connection was not turned on though the Wi-Fi link was and it got up to 116 degrees.

We asked specifically Apple what they're saying about this and they say the new iPad delivers a stunning retina display, support for 4G LTE, 10 hours of battery life, all well operating well within our thermal specifications.

If customers have any concerns, they should contact Apple Care. So if you're calling Apple Care I want to know what they're telling you. You should do it because it's getting warm. But Apple says it meets their requirements, 116 degrees.

BANFIELD: That's really hot because a lot of kids, you know, play with these and maybe they don't have that kind of protection.

ROMANS: And if you're on an airplane, you know, you might be doing it for a long time. There's also a story in "The Journal" today that's pretty interesting too that shows five days of having this iPad, people have run through their data limits.

Because look, this is what they are, they're fast. You can get lots of cool stuff. You can do lots of great video. You can consume all kinds of streaming stuff and it sucks up all your memory. You have to pay more to use more stuff.

BANFIELD: I just took a picture of you.

ROMANS: Chandra is not getting it back. That actually is very scary. I'll tweet a link so you can read the "Consumer Reports" about how hot it is yourself. Tweet us and let us know.

BANFIELD: I took a picture of you and I working a way at it and it's still cool, which tells me that you're just cool.

ROMANS: That was sweet.

BANFIELD: But I think that's weird, if it gets hot I don't like it.

ROMANS: I don't play 45 minutes of video game, real intensive action video games so probably it's not going to happen to me.

SAMBOLIN: I don't get 45 minutes of anything. All right, Christine, thanks.

BANFIELD: It's 13 minutes -- except this show. It's 16 minutes past -- 13 minutes past 6:00 on the east coast. We're digging deeper into the case in Florida that's been getting a lot of talk about Trayvon Martin.

We're looking at the track record of shooter involved and his killing. The local police, also a law that may have allowed this man to shoot Trayvon and still be OK and walk away from any kind of charges.

SAMBOLIN: So first a tornado, now fires. Flames rising from debris threatening homes that were just built in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

BANFIELD: Also do you remember this car, a Datsun? Doesn't look like a Datsun, but you have to be old enough to remember that a Datsun. It's coming back from the scrap heap, folks. Get your fuzzy dice. You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Seventeen minutes past the hour. It's time to check stories making news this morning.

Here again, Christine Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, ladies.

Let's start in France. Breaking news: CNN has learned the suspect in a string of shootings, Mohammed Merah, had a car nearby the apartment. Police now have surrounded that car, contained more weapons. It contained more weapons. The suspect is wanted for committing those deadly shootings in a Jewish school. He is inside that home.

Officials say he claims to be a member of al Qaeda, says he will surrender within the next hour -- clearly a very dangerous situation in Toulouse, France, this hour.

Tea Partiers and conservatives helping Mitt Romney to a 12-point win over Rick Santorum in last night's Illinois primary. Romney getting 47 percent of the vote. He now has an estimated 562 delegates, nearly half the amount needed to secure the GOP nomination.

Firefighters in Alabama are keeping a close eye on a wildfire that jumped a containment line in Tuscaloosa County. Scorched 100 acres of a debris field near homes that were rebuilt after that deadly tornado that killed dozens of people last April. So far, no evacuations so far as the wildfire ranges.

And for those of us old enough to remember such things, the Datsun is making a comeback. Nissan announcing the return of the sporty low-cost brand after a 30-year hiatus. It's going to be introduced in Indonesia, India and Russia in 2014, with plans for expansion after that.

Nissan planning a green line of Datsun cars.

For an expanded look at the top stories, head to our blog, CNN.com/EarlyStart -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: All right. Christine, thanks very much.

A brand new witness is speaking out in the controversial shooting death of a Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin. Martin's girlfriend was on the phone with him, on a cell phone, just minutes before the actually shooting that killed him, that shooting by a neighborhood watch captain named George Zimmerman.

Now, the girlfriend told ABC News that Zimmerman was following Martin and she told him over the phone to run.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said he lost the man -- but the man Trayvon said was following him. I asked him to run, and Trayvon said he wasn't going to be running. Trayvon said he ain't going to run like that, he was going to walk fast.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Martin was gunned down just moments later.

Zimmerman has said all along to the police that this was self defense, under the "Stand Your Ground" law. He felt threatened and he stood his ground, and he fired his gun and that young man was killed.

The attorney for the Martin family says the new testimony actually proves murder instead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN CRUMP, MARTIN FAMILY LAWYER: Pursuing Trayvon Martin. And how do we know? Because this young lady connects the dots. She connects the dots. She completely blows Zimmerman's absurd self- defense claim out of the water.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: It does make a fascinating piece of evidence in this case. However, it's not just a local case anymore. No. The FBI and the Justice Department have now suggested they are entering into the fray. They are investigating this as well, probably two-prong at this point, Zoraida.

Not only will they be looking at the local police to see how they handle all of this, but they're also going to be looking into the potential civil rights violations here as well. And not only that, the state attorney in this case says that this thing is going before a grand jury on April 10th. So a lot more people are going to be weighing in on this than just the local police who cleared Zimmerman and said he stood his ground. It's all within the law and we don't have probable cause to arrest him.

SAMBOLIN: Well, how about these eyewitness counts on "Anderson Cooper" last night? How is that way, because I believe that one of the women on there said that the police actually lied, that originally what they said she said was not what she said to them.

BANFIELD: It's a fascinating part of all of this, because they actually say they saw Zimmerman on top of the young man.

SAMBOLIN: Straddling him, right?

BANFIELD: Straddling him. Right.

But here's the problem. They may have come in somewhere in this melee but the most important part of the melee is the beginning of the melee, because the law kicks in when you feel threatened and when your actions started. Did you feel threatened by someone and make your move or did someone else feel threatened by you and make his move? And there's other evidence as well.

SAMBOLIN: Is that a hard one to prove?

BANFIELD: Hugely hard to prove. Also because don't forget, Zimmerman had a bloody nose and blood and grass stains on his back, too.

SAMBOLIN: I know. But then there's that face, right, of that 16-year-old boy.

BANFIELD: That face and that's very powerful emotionally. But you know what? The law is not emotions, it's fact.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much.

So, so ahead on EARLY START: Mitt Romney wins big in Illinois. Is the Republican race nearly over, folks?

And new video from Mexico, and it is rocked by a 7.4 magnitude earthquake. We're going to get more details on that.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: So still ahead, brand new hunt for Amelia Earhart. She disappeared 75 years ago. What a mystery. And now, a photo, a simple photo might be all it takes to find her plane.

SAMBOLIN: And he was on his way to a public safety hearing when he dropped his gun on the floor. So, a state lawmaker has a lot of explaining to do.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

BANFIELD: Nice to have you here with us, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. And it's time to check the top stories making news this morning.

The Illinois primary could turn out to be the defining moment of Mitt Romney's campaign. Former Massachusetts governor registering an impressive 12-pointer over Rick Santorum last night, with strong support coming from, of all people, conservatives and Tea Partiers.

SAMBOLIN: But is it defining?

BANFIELD: Is it defining? That's the question.

Next up, Louisiana could set things straight for him, or not. That happens Saturday, 46 delegates at stake.

SAMBOLIN: And we are following breaking news: police in France say the suspect, Mohammed Merah, has stopped communicating with them now. He is wanted for killing four people in that Jewish school shooting. Officials say he had a car nearby the apartment that he's holed up in right now. It contains more weapons. The suspect also claiming he has ties to al Qaeda.

BANFIELD: A major earthquake in southern Mexico rattles lawmakers in parliament. The 7.4 magnitude quake was centered 200 miles away from the capital city of Mexico. As many as 800 homes damaged or destroyed. Eleven people reported hurt. But here is the good news: so far, no one reported killed.

SAMBOLIN: President Obama among the leaders attending a nuclear summit in South Korea next week. While he's there, he will visit U.S. military troops stationed in the demilitarized zone. It will be his first trip as president to the heavily fortified border.

BANFIELD: And talk about setting off a conniption fit, a Republican member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives is offering up an explanation after dropping his gun on the floor during a committee hearing into public safety, of all things.

State Representative Kyle Tasker says here's the reason: he donated blood yesterday and was feeling a little bit loopy. I kid you not. He was feeling a little loopy.

The gun didn't go off. All was good. The conniption fit wasn't necessary. New Hampshire's Tea Party controlled House voted last year that it was OK to bring your guns into the statehouse. So why they had the conniption fit, I don't know.

SAMBOLIN: Those were Facebook photos, by the way, that we were showing.

BANFIELD: You were supposed to mention --

SAMBOLIN: Oh, the conniption fit -- conniption is the word of the day.

BANFIELD: Three times, gentlemen, three times, conniption fits.

SAMBOLIN: I have more conniption fits, because Gingrich was throwing one. So, we'll talk about that next.

BANFIELD: Four hits on the word of the day. Four hits.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It's 31 minutes past the hour.

All right. The magic number to clinch the Republican nomination is 1,144 and Mitt Romney is nearly half way there, after a convincing win over Rick Santorum in last night's Illinois primary. So, Illinois's final totals, Romney, 47 percent; Santorum, 75 percent; Newt Gingrich fading fast, dead last behind Ron Paul.

And here is CNN's delegate estimate: Romney with 562, Santorum at 249.

Santorum putting a positive spin on the disappointing setback.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are 54 delegates at stake. We think we'll win anywhere from 15 to -- 15, 17, maybe if we're lucky 20, which isn't a bad haul in a state that necessarily the most friendly to a conservative in the state of Illinois.

So, we feel good. We thank you very much for coming out. We look forward to coming here in about five weeks after a big win in Pennsylvania.

(CHEERS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: It's a long way to go before the Pennsylvania primary. Next up, Saturday's Louisiana primary, 46 delegates are at stake there. Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Wisconsin primaries, those will follow on April 3rd.

So let's talk to our political panel this morning. Live from Washington, Shira Toeplitz, political reporter for "Roll Call," and Democratic strategist Tim Punke. And here in New York City, Republican strategist Boris Epshteyn.

Thank you for sticking around.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.

SAMBOLIN: You know, we've talked a lot about Mitt Romney. So, I kind of want to hyper-focus on Newt Gingrich. He came in dead last below Ron Paul.

I want you all to weigh in on this. He got 8 percent of the vote. Reports his campaign is in serious debt. This is according to "Reuters". They say he owes a lot of money to a lot of people.

Plus, listen to what he said on FOX News last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Phase one has to be stopping Romney because the fact is if he gets 1,144 votes he's the nominee. Fair and square, it's over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: All right. But looking at the delegates, Gingrich is over 100 delegates behind Santorum. He won zero delegates.

If he dropped out, a recent Gallup poll says votes are almost split even between Romney and Santorum, he couldn't -- or could he drop out, stump for Santorum and achieve his phase one, Shira?

SHIRA TOEPLITZ, ROLL CALL: I think if he drops out, it's actually not going to make as big of a difference as a lot of people think it will. Look, he only got 8 percent last night in the polls. If that 8 percent for some reason and who knows if it would, if all of that 8 percent went to Rick Santorum, he still wouldn't have defeated Mitt Romney last night in the Illinois primary.

So, I think Newt Gingrich dropping out is just so much of a non- factor in this race right now. You mentioned his dead, and I think that's kind of interesting, because I wonder at what point Sheldon Adelson is going to indicate to him that no more, we are cutting off the super PAC. We're done.

And then Newt Gingrich really needs to evaluate his options, whether or not he can go forward. Forget the delegate count, it's all about dollars.

SAMBOLIN: Boris, do you agree or disagree?

BORIS EPHSTEYN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I'm having a conniption fit because I don't understand why Newt Gingrich --

BANFIELD: That's five!

EPHSTEYN: -- is still in this thing. It just makes absolutely no sense. Yes, if he does have a message.

But that message has been completely muddled by his own negativity, talking about overspending and on spending. Talk about Mitt Romney spending 7:1. Why is that a bad thing? Talking about the Yankees spending too much to win the World Series, and you win, and winning is a good thing.

Mitt Romney spending is a good thing because as was said in the last hour, that makes him the strongest candidate to go up in November because he'll have the money to compete against the Obama machine that wants to have a $1 billion against the Republicans.

SAMBOLIN: I think that was Shira's point earlier, which I thought was a really good one.

Tim, I know you're a Democrat but I'm going to let you weigh in on this one.

TIM PUNKE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, look, I think it was interesting to me that Gingrich said the number one priority has to be stopping Romney. If he wants to stop Romney, I think the best thing that he can do for Rick Santorum is drop out of the race.

And I disagree with Shira a little bit here. I've actually seen polling that suggests that Gingrich's supporters would got to Santorum in more than a two to one ratio. And part of it is not just that he doesn't have a lot of voters, but part of it ends up being momentum.

And I think if Gingrich drops out, you see some states become a lot more competitive -- Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New York become a lot easier for Rick Santorum to win. He's going to win Louisiana anyway. But if he comes away with some of the states in April as a result of Gingrich dropping out of the race, it's a lot more about momentum at this point than anything else.

EPHSTEYN: But Santorum is almost as much of a long shot as Newt Gingrich is. A lot of those Gingrich supporters are old Republican Party stalwarts. So, they are not going to Santorum because they know he cannot beat Obama. He'll be a loser in November, not just presidential but Senate, House and local tickets. It's about Newt Gingrich supporters will not go overwhelmingly to Santorum.

SAMBOLIN: Well, that kind of the polls say, right, but sometimes, the polls aren't on track, right, Shira?

TOEPLITZ: Yes, I know. Sometimes the polls are a little off. I think we saw some variation even in Illinois last night. We saw Mitt Romney -- we all knew Mitt Romney was going to win this thing but we saw anything from I think in the last week 10 points, to maybe even 20 points. The polls can be a little off.

But I think newt Gingrich -- because a lot of these Southern primaries have already passed in the calendar, I don't know how much more of an impact he would have in the primary calendar going forward. Would he pick up much support in Pennsylvania with Rick Santorum there or in Wisconsin? I don't think so.

I think because a lot of the southern primaries are behind us, he's pretty much a non-factor in this race.

EPHSTEYN: Santorum could easily lose Pennsylvania because he got crushed the last time he ran for statewide office in 2006. This is Mitt Romney's race to win. He stays on course, he's going to be the nominee and he's the strongest one to oppose Obama in November. No question about it.

SAMBOLIN: Well, we'll certainly see, won't we? Thank you so much for joining us this morning, Shira, Boris, and Tim. We'll see you next time.

PUNKE: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Special points to Boris for the word of the day, he made it five.

SAMBOLIN: Nicely done.

BANFIELD: Boris gets a free ride back, and maybe a car service home

SAMBOLIN: (INAUDIBLE) by the way.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: It's 6:37 on the East Coast.

You got to watch a video right now. Put down your toothbrush or your egg flipper and watch your monitor right now, honestly.

Still to come: a reason why you should not be rude, don't be pushy --

SAMBOLIN: Crazy.

BANFIELD: -- don't skip in line because that's what's going to happen to you if one guy's incident is any example. This is just all over a fight to be first in line at a gas station.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my goodness, look at that video.

BANFIELD: Unbelievable stuff.

SAMBOLIN: It's a miracle people didn't die there.

BANFIELD: We'll show you the moment when he slammed into it and the fire erupted.

Also, one of the greatest mysteries on earth, or at least of the 20th century anyway. Amelia Earhart -- might we be able to solve this one at last and find her plane? You're going to hear one guy who says there's a photograph leading us real, real close.

First, though, let's get you up on your travel forecast. Rob Marciano doing the job for us.

Hello, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning again, guys.

Looking at thunderstorms with the potential of tornado across Louisiana and they're slow movers. So, not only are we looking at winds and the potential for tornado touching down but flooding rains within this, as they progress slowly off to the east. Tornado watch for eastern Louisiana now, right on until noontime as this thing makes its way against the east.

Up to six inches of rainfall potentially. We've got flash flood warnings out for not only Louisiana, but parts of Arkansas and the heat continues across parts of the eastern third of the country. Check out some of these high temperatures yesterday, Chicago blowing records out of water, 85 degrees, 85 in Louisville, 84 degrees in Nashville and we'll see similar numbers today.

You're up to date weather-wise. EARLY START is coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: It is 42 minutes past the hour. Time to check the stories making news this morning.

Here is Christine Romans.

ROMANS: Good morning.

Following breaking news out of France, ladies. Police in France say they have a suspect cornered in his home right now. Police expect him to surrender within minutes, but then they say he suddenly cut off contact, just in the past few minutes. He's wanted for killing four people in that Jewish school shooting. We know he had a car nearby the apartment full of more explosives.

A decisive victory for Mitt Romney in the Illinois primary, defeating Rick Santorum 47 percent to 35 percent last night -- thanks to strong support from conservatives and Tea Partiers. Next up, the Louisiana primary on Saturday, 46 delegates at stake there.

A gas pump explodes after it struck by an out-of-control SUV. Witnesses say a Jeep tried to jump in front of a Hummer, but the driver instead slammed into the gas pump causing this fiery explosion. The driver escaped unharmed and was not charged.

#Happybirthday, Twitter turns 6 years old today. The real time social networking site first launched today in 2006. It quickly became popular. Now, has well over 300 million members.

The very first tweet came from co-founder Jack Dorsey. It said, "Just setting up my twitter." He's got one of the best handles on Twitter, @jack.

BANFIELD: He spelled.

ROMANS: @jack.

BANFIELD: "Just setting up my twttr." He spelled it wrong. You think he was in a hurry trying to get this thing rolled out?

SAMBOLIN: I do this all the time.

Thank you, Christine.

Forty-three minutes past the hour.

Soledad O'Brien joins us now with a look at what is ahead on "STARTING POINT."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, ANCHOR, "STARTING POINT": So much ahead, so much ahead. Good morning to you guys.

Coming up this morning on "STARTING POINT," we're going to have an exclusive interview, a 16-year-old American boy -- you might remember the story -- is now free after spending three weeks in jail in Syria. We talked to his family a couple of weeks ago when they were panicked about his whereabouts and what was happening with him.

The young man's name is Hadi. He's been released. We'll talk to family members now about what happened.

Also, you've been talking, of course, about Mitt Romney's big win in the state of Illinois this morning. The Romney campaign is going to join us, talk about what went right. We'll also talk to the Santorum campaign to talk about what went wrong there.

That and much more is coming up on "STARTING POINT." We'll see you right at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: It's 6:47. When you say Amelia Earhart, what do you think?

SAMBOLIN: I think lost.

BANFIELD: You don't think pioneer first?

SAMBOLIN: I think lost.

BANFIELD: You think lost?

SAMBOLIN: I do.

BANFIELD: You know, I think you're probably, you know, among a lot of people the same way. It's such a mystery. It's like the endearing mystery of the 20th century evolve (ph) and talking about. What happened to her? Where is Amelia Earhart and where is her plane? The 75 years ago that she -- and by the way, her navigator, too, because she was with a navigator. They vanished over the Pacific Ocean, trying to circumnavigate the globe.

But now, guess what, there is a new clue, and there are some plans for a high-tech deep sea expedition. It's a quest for answers that even has the backing of the federal government in support, not money, but in real backing support. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is explaining why Earhart resonates for so many of us in America.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: She embodied the spirit of an America coming of age and increasingly confident, ready to lead in a quite uncertain and dangerous world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Hillary Clinton looked awfully pretty. SAMBOLIN: She did. Yes.

BANFIELD: Rich Gillespie, also, a very pretty person, he's the executive director of Tiger, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, spear heading this expedition. Rick, I get to talk to you two times in two days. What a treat. How are you?

RICHARD GILLESPIE, INTERNATIONAL GROUP FOR HISTORIC AIRCRAFT RECOVERY: It's a treat for me, Ashleigh. I'm great, thank you.

BANFIELD: OK.

GILLESPIE: Good morning.

BANFIELD: So, we're going to start from scratch for our audience who hasn't heard a lot about what you're doing. What are you doing?

GILLESPIE: Well, we're doing what we've been doing for the past 24 years, trying to find Amelia. And we like to say investigation is a process, not an event. This has been a long process, but we've got a new clue that really pinpoints where we need to search for that airplane, and that's what we're going to do.

BANFIELD: OK. So, as I get it, this is about a $500,000 bucket of private money, but a lot of backing from the federal government in support and oomph, so to speak, and here's what I don't get. It's a photo from a long time ago that maybe just is shedding new light. Why is that?

GILLESPIE: Well, first of all, let me say that I wish it was only 500,000. It will probably be closer to a couple million, but we're working on that. The photograph is a photograph we've had for a long time, but because I was working with a cropped version of the photograph, we didn't understand what was in it until one of our forensic imaging specialists looked at it just before our 2010 expedition.

And when we saw the full frame of the photograph, we could see something protruding from the water, 1937, three months after her disappearance, something protruding from the water on the reef that shouldn't be there, and it's right in the spot where we had already theorize the plane should have gone over the edge of the reef based on other evidence. So, this is great confirmation.

BANFIELD: OK. So --

GILLESPIE: And what the State Department did for us -- go ahead.

BANFIELD: I was just going to say, we were looking at that picture right at the time that you were saying it, and that little thing that's protruding up from the water right on the reef, do you think that's the landing gear of her Lockheed Electra?

GILLESPIE: What we can say is that forensic imaging specialists, including U.S. government forensic imaging specialists, say that the shapes and sizes, components in that image are consistent with the elements of the landing gear of a Lockheed Electra. That doesn't mean that's what it is, but when you have several experts telling you they see the same thing, it's a pretty good indication that that's probably what it is.

BANFIELD: OK. So, Rick, here is how I get it. It's the island or the atoll, at least, of Nikumaroro. I think it's got a new name or maybe the nation of Kiribati, but I supposed my question is, if it's sticking out of water, other than tides, the level of the ocean doesn't go up and down so much. So, why isn't it we haven't seen this before? Is it just that incredibly remote?

GILLESPIE: Oh, the island is very remote. But if this thing was there in October 1937, the spot where it was, very dynamic area in the surf zone there, and many forces acting on that, wouldn't expect wreckage to stay there very long, and it was probably gone within a few years, washed down over the edge of the reef with the rest of the airplane.

So, this was here -- it was there for a moment in time. A photographer happened to catch it without realizing that it was even there.

BANFIELD: It's amazing.

GILLESPIE: And it's taken all this time for us to catch it.

BANFIELD: Just a couple seconds left, but I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about the human remains that was found -- they were found in that area originally thought to be a man, but then, later those bones measured more to be a woman of European descent and some artifacts found in that area that would kind of comport with Amelia Earhart.

Can we do some DNA testing or anything on those remains to finally put this thing to rest and say it's her, we found her, God bless her?

GILLESPIE: If we had the bones, we can do DNA testing, but unfortunately, the bones were misidentified in 1941 and apparently lost.

BANFIELD: Ugh.

GILLESPIE: We've searched the site for more bones so, so far, just tiny fragments of bone that aren't enough to get a DNA sequence. We're still working on that.

BANFIELD: Oh, you know, if anybody can do it you can, and I already said to you yesterday, come back and tell us how this thing goes and be careful with the money, because you want to stretch it out as much as you can, but we'll see you as soon as you have some answers, and hopefully, you'll get the ones you want.

GILLESPIE: I hope so. Thanks, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Rick Gillespie, good to see you. Thanks so much. SAMBOLIN: Great smile he has, too.

BANFIELD: What a nice guy. I want to go on that expedition. I want to put in for some PTO days see if I can go do that.

SAMBOLIN: That would be great. Is the Discovery Channel going on that as well -- was it?

BANFIELD: I'm not sure if the Discovery --

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: I hope I've given the right credit. But, you know what, I'm going to make this my mission right now and see if I take at the live shot.

SAMBOLIN: All right. We're going to take a quick break, and we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Move other Tebow mania. Denver is now Peyton's place. Peyton Manning picking the mile high city to be his new football home. The Broncos introduced him yesterday after agreeing to a five-year deal that could be worth $95 million.

BANFIELD: Wow!

SAMBOLIN: Tim Tebow now reportedly on the trading block, but Manning says no problem if he stays.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PEYTON MANNING, NEW DENVER BRONCOS QB: If Tim Tebow is here next year, I'm going to be the next teammate I can be to him, and he and I are going to help this team win games. If other opportunities present themselves for him, I'm going to wish him the best. He's going to be a great player wherever he is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Great tune. The New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars are among the teams reportedly interested in trading for Tim Tebow.

BANFIELD: Hard to believe that Peyton was crying only, what, a week or two ago. Big smiles now.

Hey, justice is supposed to be blind, right, but apparently, it's really bad at math. Jacob Clark (ph) was called for jury duty in Massachusetts. Big problem, though, this is Jacob Clark (ph). Look at him. He's nine. He still wears his helmet on his bike. It did not stop him, though, from getting the summons. He said he doesn't mind. He'd actually like to do his civic duty, but he had just one question for the judge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED KID: I said what's jury duty?

BANFIELD (voice-over): I said, what's jury duty? What a doll. It seems the mix-up started with the census records. They listed him as being born in 1982. No. He was born in 2003. So, he would be 30 instead of nine years old if that were correct. And by the way, that year, his father was just two years old back then in 1982.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: All right. take a look at this, wheelchair bungee.

BANFIELD (on-camera): Awesome video.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): A group of people literally lifting up a paraplegic woman and tossing her over the railing in her wheelchair.

BANFIELD (voice-over): Oh!

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Seriously, this is whistler, British Columbia, Canada. Oh, my goodness. It was organized by a company that was created to give people with reduced mobility on a little bit of adventure.

BANFIELD: Look at her arms.

SAMBOLIN: I want a close-up, because I want to see her face.

BANFIELD: Look at her arms. Oh, that is awesome.

SAMBOLIN: Oh!

BANFIELD: Oh, my gosh! Oh, my gosh!

SAMBOLIN: OK. So, everything went well there, right?

BANFIELD: Everything went well.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. There were no problems, but oh my gosh, when I heard the story --

BANFIELD: Look at her arms. Look at her arms. Oh, fabulous.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD (on-camera): Congratulations.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): That's it for EARLY START, the news from A to Z.

(LAUGHTER) BANFIELD: I'm Ashleigh Banlfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" is next with Soledad O'Brien.