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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

GOP Primary; U.S. Automakers; Bailout Game; Texas Tornadoes

Aired April 3, 2012 - 19:00   ET

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


ERIN BURNETT, HOST: Breaking news, new exit polls coming in. We are going to tell you what they mean for the GOP nominee and a big day for the auto industry. What it could mean for President Obama and the Republican nominee. And new developments tonight in the Trayvon Martin case. There has been a shakeup in George Zimmerman's defense team. We're going to tell you about the new addition. Let's go OUTFRONT.

OUTFRONT tonight breaking news. We have brand new exit poling from today's primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia. As you can see, polls are closing in less than an hour's time. We are counting down and we have our first insight into who voted today, why they voted, what they cared about, as Mitt Romney is looking to lock up the Republican nomination once and for all. There have been a lot of nights where we have said that however and it has not yet occurred. Tom Foreman joins me now. You have been looking at all the exit poling data and what do you see?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know what I see? We not only have our first indication tonight. We have one of the first and best mysteries of this election and it is right up here in Wisconsin. Look at this. Largely a rural place, (INAUDIBLE) agriculture that going on here. Biggest prize up here is there here in Milwaukee. About 18 percent of the population, but let's look at the exit polls and I'll tell you about the mystery we're talking about here.

Look at how this primary worked out here. It is an open primary, so anybody can take part. Fifty-eight percent of the people say they're Republican. Thirty percent say they are independent in our exit polls and 12 percent say they were Democrats. I am just going to show you part of this because this is fascinating. Twelve percent are Democrat and out of that 32 percent say they're for Rick Santorum.

Twenty-two percent for Mitt Romney among the Democrats. You are saying to yourself how is it that the Democrats are lining up behind Rick Santorum? We have heard for months and months this idea that Democrats might step into a race and try to spoil it in an open primary by keeping the Republicans going at each other. The question is, is that who is voting for him or are these Reagan Republicans. The last time that Wisconsin went for a Republican president was Ronald Reagan 1984.

So the question is if these people are over 46 years old they were old enough to vote then, old enough to vote now. Maybe that's Reagan Republicans. Is it? We don't know. We won't know until later tonight. But there is something else that might give us a little clue here. Look at this. Vote by ideology today. In our exit polls 31 percent of the people who voted said they very conservative. Thirty- one percent they're somewhat conservative and 38 percent say they're moderate or liberal.

Again, I'll just show you a partial here. When I bring out this number, the moderate or liberal vote here, look at this, 34 percent for Romney, 30 percent for Santorum, 30 percent of moderates and liberals saying they are voting for the candidate who says he is proudly, proudly, proudly conservative, conservative, conservative. That would suggest that maybe what we are seeing in that first number is some Democrat spoilers. We really won't know before the night is over. Right now as I said, it is a big mystery that all the camps have to be hanging on and we will be too all evening long -- Erin.

BURNETT: I cannot wait to hear whether it is spoilers or people doing what Americans always do, something we don't expect. So we're going to be getting to the bottom of that. Again, we have less than an hour until the polls close. But as the votes come in we have to say today was a big day for America voting aside. Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, even though while frankly it's Italian these days, reported car sales and all in this is going to shock those of you who think that we are mired in a terrible recession.

Because yes, the economy is not in a great place yet, but it is the best month for auto sales. The Corps of American Manufacturing since the summer of 2007, those were the halcyon days when the world was a rosy lovely place and Americans were buying 17 million vehicles a year, OK we are not there yet. We're not even close to there yet, but we are getting there. And today was evidence America is coming back.

Now there is a darker side to this, but you know I want to revel in the glass half full part of the story, so let's wait for that and bring in the OUTFRONT "Strike Team". Jim Bianco of Bianco Research comes OUTFRONT. Jim good to see you as always. It just appeared to me you know, sir, some of these companies came in a little short of expectations but it was a good month and some U.S. companies well topping some of those perennial favorites from Japan.

JIM BIANCO, BIANCO RESEARCH: Yes, it was -- it was -- overall it was a good month. You know seasonally adjusted, it was one of the best March's that we have seen in quite a while. And the numbers seem to be on an upward track and they seem to be moving forward. And it shows that despite $4 gas or maybe more than $4 gas people are in the mood to buy cars right now.

BURNETT: It is pretty amazing with gas prices I guess up 20 percent for the year. Let me ask you something though that starts to touch on the politics, Jim, and that is the Volt from GM. And obviously there have been some public fire issues with the Volt. The CEO of General Motors saying recently though that the attacks on his vehicle were outrageous and unfair and political in nature because people try to say oh the government tried to tell them to go build this battery operated car. They made -- we're going to have to put in on hiatus this summer and they came out for the Volt with the best month so far. It was pretty incredible. Is this vindication for the Volt?

BIANCO: It is a little too early to tell at this point because last year the Volt numbers were not that impressive. They ran well below what they had hoped. They hoped to sell 10,000 Volts. They sold more like around 7,500. They -- as you pointed out, they did say that they were going to put it on hiatus and they're not going to make them this summer so there might have been a rush of interested Volt buyers to get them before they stopped making them at least until the end of this summer. But you know better numbers -- they are good numbers and they'll take good numbers versus poor numbers.

BURNETT: Now Jim this is -- all politics aside, in a moment I'm going to lay out exactly how much money GM still owes taxpayers or how much GM shares need to rise for taxpayers to be in the green, but let me put the question to you this way. Will the General Motors bailout ever be a bailout where taxpayers made money?

BIANCO: Boy, that's a tough one. It's going to -- if it is going to make money it's going to be several years down the road before we'll find out whether or not it is going to make money. It has been a big slog to try and get General Motors back to profitability. One of the big things it's going to help it get to profitability would be if its stock price would start going back up. It's still below the initial public offering price of about 14 months ago, around $32 a share. So we've got a ways to go. It's possible but it's not on the immediate horizon.

BURNETT: All right, Jim Bianco thank you very much. Laying out just the facts of where we are right now. So that leads us though to the shadier side of the story because despite the good numbers today the government and that's taxpayers still own 500 million shares of General Motors post bailout. That is about a third of the company. It's a lot and we are still deeply in the red in our investment.

Now we could make money on it and some people may say it doesn't matter whether we do or don't, but analysts say the stock must trade at about $59 for the government to be made whole. As Jim just pointed out, it is not only trading below its IPO price of 14 months ago, but it closed today at $25.54. Bailout politics are passionate politics and Mitt Romney, as you're probably aware, says he would have done this all differently.

So who is going to win the auto bailout battle this fall? John Avlon is with us. Donna Brazile and Ari Fleischer, all three of you. John, of course, the irony here is that nobody supports actually letting any of these companies liquidate. George W. Bush is the one who initiated the auto bailout. President Obama then finished it. So who is going to politically be able to seize this, this fall?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well part of what that shows you is that when you have the actual responsibility of being president you don't -- you know you don't play to the cheap seats. You don't things let go -- let things go to hell in the name of ideology. Here is what we know. Partisan spin aside, you know Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed in which he said if the bailout goes through you can kiss the automotive industry good-bye. That has not happened, demonstrably true. The auto industry is coming back. Maybe not as fast as some people would like, but it's coming back. That's an American success story. And I do think at the end of the day yes, it is an accomplishment President Obama can point to, but it's a larger win for the American people and that's the right focus --

BURNETT: Now, Ari, of course how does Mitt Romney spend this, this fall?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER BUSH PRESS SECRETARY: Well I'm really mixed on this because there is a fundamental problem here. We still are a nation with trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. So anytime anybody in America suffers whether it's a business or an individual whoever it is, why is the answer that the government needs to bail them out whether it is housing, whether it is autos, whether it is big banks on Wall Street.

This is the problem we've got ourselves into. Erin, you're right. My old boss, George Bush, started it. Barack Obama finished it. But that doesn't make it right. And politicians is an old adage. Don't just stand there. Spend something. That seems to be what we keep doing.

BURNETT: Donna, the president is going to make an argument though that he saved jobs. Now of course the irony is Chapter 11 as someone like Mitt Romney would say would also have protected the company. It's not as if anybody wanted all the jobs to go away. But politically it seems like the president might try to make that argument and be pretty successful doing it.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well first of all, the president will make the case that he helped save over a million jobs.

BURNETT: Right.

BRAZILE: Look at this point over 200,000 jobs have been created because GM is back -- it's back into profitability. It is the highest profits in 100 years. They are not only building more cars. They are building better cars, better fuel efficient cars, cars that will you know get 30 miles to the gallon on the highway. That will save people -- voters money at the pump. So this is a great success story. We should all celebrate it. It is a bipartisan agreement. And now that we have this bipartisan South Korean trade deal our cars will be able you know to be sold in South Korea. That is a win/win for the American people.

FLEISCHER: Well Ford didn't need it and Ford is doing well. And the fundamental issue still remains if the government won't do it, will the private sector still get it done. And that's what would have still happened with GM. It would have been a different type of bankruptcy. It would have more painful, more jobs would have been lost, but as long as Americans buy cars there will be a need for car makers. GM had a different path forward without trillions of dollars of deficits (INAUDIBLE) the country's down current (ph).

BRAZILE: But nobody was putting their money on the table. And when you saw Lehman Brothers collapse and the housing market, the banking industry, this was a time when the government had to step in not only to save American jobs, a very important American sector -- the manufacturing sector but also save communities like --

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: -- George W. Bush did it --

BRAZILE: Absolutely --

FLEISCHER: -- because he said it in the context in which he was operating at the end of 2008, it was because we otherwise would have gone to depression --

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: It's one of the reasons --

BRAZILE: And I supported --

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: How they handled the union contracts --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: -- though ultimately it is how the two parties did it differently.

(CROSSTALK)

AVLON: And that's -- we can have a good debate on that, you know in terms of what the best way to do this is, but here's the bottom line. First of all, yes, you know what, good for Ford for not needing the bailout. I think they deserve real props for that in terms of managing their own books more responsibly. But if you look at just Mitt Romney saying making the prediction if the bailout went through that it would be the end of the American auto industry he was dead wrong on that.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: He was right about Chrysler though. Chrysler got sold for pennies on the dollar to the Italians --

BURNETT: And Chrysler, before we go, $1.3 billion is still the estimate for what taxpayers would have lost on it. Obviously now a majority owned by Fiat from Italy --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

BURNETT: They got a new car coming out tomorrow. It's the Viper. I want to give you all a sneak peek. It's all like shaded and shrouded. That's literally the best I can show you, all right, it leaked out. It is designed though to look like a naked woman. I'm just saying clearly it's an Italian company --

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: All right. That's what I'm saying.

(LAUGHTER)

BURNETT: (INAUDIBLE) Chrysler.

BRAZILE: I would like to have a sneak preview and also the keys if you have downstairs --

BURNETT: It does look like -- it does look like it's a pretty -- it's a pretty neat car. And you'll see that out of Chrysler/Fiat tomorrow. Thanks to all three.

OK up next, we do have some breaking news because those tornadoes have been ripping through Dallas. You probably heard about it, airplanes grounded completely and we have a storm chaser on the scene tonight next and airlines have found a new way to get your money. You thought that it was impossible for them to gouge you and any more offensive a fashion, but they found a number of ways to do so and protesters fire bombing an embassy. We'll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Breaking news tonight. A series of tornadoes have been ripping through the Dallas/ Fort Worth area in Texas. It started this afternoon, continuing now. Tractor-trailers tossed through the air literally like tinker toys, destroying homes, schools, businesses. But this is what is incredible about this, I mean truly a miracle. There are no reported deaths at this moment. Now there are multiple injuries that have been reported.

Search and rescue teams are currently combing through the wreckage. And as you can see it is truly Armageddon like when -- in the places where those twisters plowed through. All flights grounded at Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport as severe hail caused more than 400 cancellations. Passengers and employees were moved to shelters and more than 47,000 people in the Forth Worth area currently don't have power. Ed Lavandera is southeast of Dallas in Lancaster (ph), Texas, where some of the most severe damage has been found. And Ed, I know we have had even trouble getting your shot up and keeping it up, but just tell us what you saw.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well it's been very difficult to manage and navigate our way into these neighborhoods that have been hardest hit by these storms here today, Erin, but this is the area on the edge of the neighborhood that was so hard hit. It was -- found some several dozen homes heavily damaged or destroyed here. In this neighborhood you can see here the way the destruction has happened here. Just blown away, a second ago I came across a ladder in the front yard here that was -- a ladder that someone uses to get into their attic inside their house. It gives you a sense of the force with which this tornado just sucked everything out of these homes and into these neighborhoods. You can see these trees uprooted, fences just completely torn apart and Erin, the images that we saw today of what these storms did to those big trucks, even for people down here in Texas that are used to seeing this kind of severe weather, tornadoes especially this time of year in the spring, what we saw today was just absolutely breathtaking and stunning with the ferociousness and the power of these storms. And as you mentioned, it is amazing that no one was killed. I talked to a woman just a little while ago who had to duck into the corner of her room. She couldn't make it into an interior room fast enough and she described this whole scene here today as the windows and her walls were starting to come apart and explode around her. She said it was like being inside the middle of "The Wizard of Oz" -- Erin.

BURNETT: Wow, Ed Lavandera thank you. Ed will have more of course as the situation develops, but Jason McLaughlin (ph) joins us now. He's a storm chaser in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. After hearing the storm cells were headed his way, he set out with his camera and fought the tornado touching down in a field in Kenningdale (ph), Texas about 14 miles outside of Fort Worth. Here is what he recorded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SOUNDS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Large violent tornado on the ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: So a short time later McLaughlin (ph) came upon another tornado touching down in Southeast Dallas in Forney (ph). Now this time the tornado came dangerously close to an elementary school.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God. This is terrible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: As you can hear Jason reacting there. All the students though are OK at that elementary school tonight. Jim McLaughlin is OUTFRONT with us tonight. And Jim, obviously you do this quite frequently. Tell me how these were different or worse or what compared to what you have seen before.

JASON MCLAUGHLIN, STORM CHASER (via phone): I do chase quite often. This was just one of those days that you know the conditions were kind of conditional for this type of event to really happen. And last night a couple of storms towards our southeast was really a cause of all of this today as it left a little boundary across the metro- plex (ph) and kind of unexpected but yet slightly expected. But just the amount of damage that occurred today is just -- it was just unbelievable and heartbreaking.

BURNETT: Jim, what makes you want to be a storm chaser? I mean how did you get into this? MCLAUGHLIN: It's mainly just about the drive. I love storms. I love nature. But it is more about being out there and helping people, helping warn people about what is coming and just thankfully so far there hasn't been any major injuries or fatalities that I've heard of yet. I could be wrong on that, but that's the biggest thing is just helping to keep the public aware of what's happening.

BURNETT: Yes and what's the most terrifying thing you saw? We heard a little bit of you reacting there as one of the twisters touched down and as the other came near the Crosby (ph) Elementary School --

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: -- but what was the worst thing that you saw today?

MCLAUGHLIN: The worst thing was just being that close to the one in Forney (ph) and it was a large tornado. It touched down quickly. I had been following that storm for about an hour, but when it started to dissipate just how violent the tornado was, was just -- it was just -- I don't really know the words to describe it. It was so close and I was just seeing the debris of these homes just literally falling on my car and just thinking about the homes and the lives and everything that's been -- that these people built up until this time, it's just destroyed just like that in a matter of a couple of seconds.

BURNETT: All right, well Jason McLaughlin thank you very much. We appreciate it, a storm chaser there who was chasing obviously several of these twisters today in the Dallas area. We have some new developments tonight in the Trayvon Martin case. George Zimmerman has made a change to his defense team. And the airlines have found a new way to increase a fee on you. We're going to tell you exactly what it is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: So fuel surcharges, meals, checked bags. Now we are all used to paying for everything to fly even the stuff that used to be free. But now some airlines are taking it a step further. Allegiant Airlines, a competitor to Spirit, is going to start charging for carry-on luggage tomorrow. Now Spirit was actually the first on this initiating the carry-on bag fee last year. The fee won't affect passengers who have already booked tickets, oh and here is some relief. Allegiant won't charge you for the bags you can store underneath your seat, well there's something.

But the fee is steep (ph). The charges are going to range from 10 to $30 with prices varying depending on the route. The airline says the fee on most routes will be less than $15, but you have to pay in advance because if you wait until you get the airport it is $35, which is more than the checked bag fee on American or Delta. Our number tonight is 2.6 billion. That's how many billions of dollars U.S. airlines made on baggage fees in just the first nine months of last year. All of those fees are adding up to a whole lot of cash for them. New developments in the Trayvon Martin case. George Zimmerman has a new piece of his defense team, we're going to tell you about it. And President Obama has drawn a battle line.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We start the second half of our show with stories we care about, where we focus on our own reporting, do the work and find the "OutFront 5". And first a really good month for American automakers, the best in fact since the summer of 2007. GM reported a 12 percent gain led by the subcompact Sonic, which gets 33 miles a gallon. Chrysler, which is technically Italian now, reported a 34 percent jump in sales thanks in part to the new Fiat 500. One analyst we spoke to said the numbers are really getting us back to peak sales, which were 17 million cars a year in this country (INAUDIBLE).

Number two, a man accused of killing seven people execution style shows no remorse. That's what police in Oakland, California tell us at this moment, authorities say One Goh went to Oikos University looking for a specific administrator. He found out she wasn't there and then we are told the 43-year-old just started shooting. Officials say Goh had been expelled from the religious college and had been planning the attack for weeks.

Number three, demonstrators in Argentina today attacked the British Embassy in Buenos Aries with fire bombs. Riot police clashed with demonstrators throwing rocks, flaming bottles at the Embassy. Arrows with fire attached to them, the video was -- see that -- that is just amazing to watch. The attack coincided with the 30th anniversary of the start of the Falkland's War, the conflict between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands, lasted 74 days and frankly sort of (INAUDIBLE) as you can see.

Number four: a reverse decision a transgendered contestant will be allowed to compete in the Miss Universe candidate pageant. The organization says Jenna Talackova can participate if she meets the legal gender recognition requirements. It's not clear what those are.

Last month, organizers blocked her from the beauty pageant because she wasn't naturally born female. You may have recalled, we first reported on this story early last week. The 23-year-old said she knew at the age of 4, she was a girl. She underwent sexual reassignment surgery at 19.

Well, it has been 243 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back?

Well, according to its latest minutes, what they said at their interest meeting, the Federal Reserve is leaning away from a third round of so-called quantitative easing. You may have heard of it as Q.E.3. If they do it, it could mean that mortgage rates stay lower or longer. If they don't, it could mean interest rates and credit cost rise for all of us, and that sent market lower.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWD: No justice, no peace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Race had nothing to do with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're asking for justice, justice, justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: The shot in the arm today for George Zimmerman's defense is the 28-year-old volunteer neighborhood watchman added a new lawyer to his defense team. Hal Urigh will join defense attorney Craig Sonner in the controversial case. Earlier today, he spoke out on FOX affiliate WOFL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAL URIGH, ATTORNEY FOR GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: If you look at the forces arrayed basically against George, if you look at the media, particularly the national media, you look at the state attorney's office, special prosecutor, FDLA, and the U.S. Justice Department, and Craig has been standing in there tall, trying to stand up for this guy, I think it's time we have just a little more effort put in to putting the truth out and getting George's story out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Well, as the investigation of the shooting death of 17- year-old Trayvon Martin continues, both sides of the case are disputing the evidence. There aren't definitive answers on what we've learned from the 911 calls or surveillance video or even what witnesses actually saw.

Zimmerman says he shot Trayvon Martin in self defense. Martin's family, as you probably are aware, wants him arrested. The FBI, Department of Justice, and the state attorney are actually conducting parallel investigations. But there is no arrest tonight.

David Mattingly is OUTFRONT in Sanford.

Good to talk to you again, David. And what can you tell us about the new lawyer? We saw a brief clip of him there, with George Zimmerman's new attorney.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hal Urigh is a very well-known and long time defense attorney in central Florida. He actually started his career out as a police officer. As an attorney one time, he was general counsel for the Orange County sheriff's office. He worked as an assistant attorney general here in the state of Florida, prosecuting RICO and organized crime cases.

But he is also distinguished as a pioneer in cases involving DNA evidence. It's not known if that type of expertise will need to be brought to bear here. We all know that George Zimmerman, so far, has not been charged and has not been arrested in this case of any wrongdoing.

BURNETT: And so what are you hearing about where George Zimmerman is right now?

MATTINGLY: Well, we don't know where he is. And there's a lot of people that's been looking for him. But back when we were still able to get answers from the Sanford Police Department, they assured us that they knew where he was, they knew how to reach him, and they were in contact with him.

So, his whereabouts are not a mystery apparently to the authorities here, only to the public at large.

BURNETT: So, is there any indication, David, from what you are hearing and various attorneys that there could be an arrest before the grand jury next week? Or is it safe to say that really is not going to happen?

BURNETT: Well, that option is on the table. The special prosecutor here has the option of arresting and charging Zimmerman outright if she determines that there's enough evidence here for probable cause. She also has the option of not charging him with anything after looking at the evidence.

And then there's also the option of calling the grand jury. There was some indication from the office early on that there may not need to be grand jury called in this case.

But I have to tell you, for the last week or so, after there were leaks from the police department and unauthorized information coming out here in Sanford, that there was a real clamp down on the information. So, the special prosecutor not releasing information playing everything very close to the vest or at least as closely to the vest as possible when you are under this kind of intense national scrutiny -- Erin.

BURNETT: David, thank you very much.

And there is also something else to tell you about what happened today. A new task force being formed to reevaluate Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. And the law allows you to use deadly force if you feel you're in danger of imminent death.

Since the law was passed in 2005, justifiable homicides have more than tripled in Florida. The murder rate is down, too. But we should point that murders have declined across the country.

Florida State Senator Chris Smith is the man behind the task force.

And, Senator Smith, thanks for coming OUTFRONT tonight.

Florida Governor Rick Scott had appointed a task force to evaluate the "Stand Your Ground" law a few weeks ago. Obviously, you're not satisfied. How come?

CHRIS SMITH, FLORIDA STATE SENATE: Well, in appointing his task force, what he is trying to do is wait until after the Trayvon Martin is gone through. I think that would take a little long time. "Stand Your Ground" law was misused and misapplied way before Trayvon Martin. And so, it's not only about that case. It's about this controversial law in Florida that's been misused. And we have eight years of evidence on this law. And so, there's no need to wait.

There's a lot of misinformation about this law and waiting only perpetuates that misinformation throughout the nation and throughout Florida.

BURNETT: So let me just ask you a question about this. I know that back in 2005, when this law passed, you were not in favor of it. But you said that there are positives and negatives.

First, could you give us an example of when the "Stand Your Ground" law, specifically in Florida, has gone wrong?

SMITH: Well, when people are the aggressor and they may avail themselves of this law. Remember this law came out of what's known as the Castle Doctrine. Everyone believes in being able to defend your home and your car. What this law did and what the legislature did in 2005 was extend that to any place you are legally allowed to be.

And so, what it did was say you can be out in the street, you can be in the mall, you can be anywhere and stand your ground. The big problem with it is if you initiate contact and you are the aggressor, you shouldn't be able to avail yourself of this. You can still avail yourself of common law self defense and then have to go to court and prove it, but it's being misapplied when people are the aggressor. And criminals are getting off and have been doing it a number of years in Florida.

And I think that's why I have assembled legal minds to actually look at this --

BURNETT: Right.

SMITH: -- and come up with suggestions so that we can set the parameters of a civilized society in Florida.

BURNETT: And let me just make sure, though, to be clear. You know, I talked to George Zimmerman's lawyer, and he said he doesn't plan to use the "Stand Your Ground" law in this case. He plans to use pure and simple self defense. I would imagine that doesn't change your point of view though on the "Stand Your Ground" law. It's separate from this case, right?

SMITH: Well, you see in this case and that's why I say the governor is wrong in saying he has to wait until the end of this case. I mean, this line has been used and I'm glad that this case is actually shining a light on it. Two weeks ago, this case -- this law was used in Miami, Florida, when a gentleman chased a thief a block down the street and stabbed him to death. And the judge had to let him go under "Your Stand Ground" law.

It happened in 2008 here in Tallahassee, Florida, where you had gangs shooting each other in the street. And the state attorney had to dismiss the case under "Stand Your Ground" law. So, no, it doesn't change.

That's why I have assembled legal minds to actually review this law, to review what's going on over the last eight years and come up with some suggestions so the governor and legislature can act and set the perimeters of what we should live by in Florida.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Senator Smith, thank you very much. Appreciate your taking the time. This is an interesting point for all those of you watching. At least 21 states in this country have some form of a "Stand Your Ground" law.

Well, OUTFRONT next: new exit polls are coming in. We told you the first fascinating part of it which is Democrats are voting in Wisconsin tonight and they have been voting for Rick Santorum. Spoilers or something else? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We are just a few moments away from the polls closing in Maryland and Washington, D.C., as you can see in countdown mode, and, of course, Wisconsin after that.

Our panel joins me now. CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, Donna Brazile here in New York.

And I don't know what's wrong with him, the spoiler David Frum is from Washington. He's got this new book coming out, a new novel. Maybe he'd come up here, I don't know. By the way, this book looks really cool. It's called "Patriots." Check it out.

It appears, David Frum, to be about the country's first black president not getting reelected. You said fiction, right?

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: All right. Let's start, though, with Wisconsin. I know that's traditionally been, David, where everything gets sewn up. Obviously, it was for John McCain. Will it finally be for Mitt Romney?

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It looks that way. The party -- that you are hearing all these signals from important people in the party, that after Wisconsin, it's really time to put it away. Paul Ryan who speaks for the right wing of the party the way probably nobody more authoritatively does, has endorsed Mitt Romney. So has Marco Rubio.

It looks like there's not a path for anyone else after today.

BURNETT: Ari, flip side -- Rick Santorum. How well does he need to do tonight? Obviously, I was thinking about Tom Foreman when he the exit poll data where you had Democrats voting and the Democrats that did voted for Rick Santorum.

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the same thing happened in Michigan, if you remember.

BURNETT: Right.

FLEISCHER: I think Rick Santorum is going to have to gauge what happens tonight especially if he loses all three. And then he's got to roll the dice and say, do I stay in and possibly lose my home state, and walk away on a very down, soured not, stay and win Pennsylvania and then really have no way forward.

It's just a question of him deciding when it's right for him to quit.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think he is going to stay in to Pennsylvania, because it's sort of like a victory he has to have, I think, symbolically in his home state. Now, what could happen in Pennsylvania, though, and I think it's likely is that Santorum can win the popular vote but lose the delegates and then it's a real victory for him.

But I think the --

FLEISCHER: But if the polls show him losing Pennsylvania a few days or week, 10 days before Pennsylvania, he's going to have to really assess.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He lost a Senate race by 17 points. So, I agree with Ari. If it appears that he will lose, Rick Santorum will likely step aside. But if he wins, I'm sure he is going all the way to Texas and try to compete for that big huge pocket of delegates sometimes at the end of May.

BURNETT: There's 155 delegates --

BORGER: Yes, you know, their big thing now is they say, OK, we have to get through April and we'll do well on the 24th but May looks really good for Rick Santorum because you have, well, because you've got Texas. You've got Kentucky, Arkansas, North Carolina.

FLEISCHER: But the other April 24 states are very bad for Rick Santorum. But you still have to go through April to get to May. I don't think he's going to last on May. There's nothing that says he's going to do well on those states.

I mean, he had his chance and he wasn't able to capitalize on it. He had a shining moment where he could have punctured Mitt Romney and he actually went backwards because of some of the more controversial things he said.

BURNETT: An amazing race to a never ending race.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: When he's being outspent 10-1, how do you survive a contest when you're being outspent? I live in D.C., so we get the media from Maryland. I mean, every five seconds, Restore Our Future, a negative ad against Rick Santorum. BORGER: So, the next time voters say they don't pay attention to negative ads --

BRAZILE: Call me.

BORGER: Yes, exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

BURNETT: All right. President Obama today launched a major assault, interesting by the way on every key primary day. He's been either hotdogs with David Cameron -- he's been to somewhere of doing something getting press. Obviously, smart politically.

But he's been casting himself as the champion of the middle class, Donna. Here's what he said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In this country, broad base prosperity has never trickled down from the success of a wealthy few. It has always come from the success of a strong and growing middle class.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Is this devolving into class warfare?

BRAZILE: Absolutely not. Look, if there was a class warfare, the Republicans would be fought because it is warfare. This is about protecting, preserving, enhancing and expanding America's middle class.

President Obama has made this a signature issue of his campaign to preserve the middle class and fight for them, to champion their issues. And, you know, what President Obama is offering the country, he is offering policies that will help to strengthen the middle class. I thought his speech was similar to Franklin Roosevelt today.

BURNETT: David, let me just get you in here. The nonpartisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, I'm sorry, said that 62 percent of the cuts in Paul Ryan's budget, the budget to which President Obama was referring to, comes from program that served low income Americans.

So, let me put the question to you. Isn't that class warfare?

FRUM: President Obama's highlighting a vulnerability that Republicans chose to inflict on themselves. The Ryan plan is something the Republicans did to themselves. And a lot of us have been begging the plan saying it wasn't necessary. Yes, you have to have a plan to get the budget balanced, and yes, you have to do it primarily through spending cuts. But you don't have to utterly exempt Medicare and you don't have to utterly rule out revenue increases, and you don't have to have a big tax cut at the same time. That gets lopsided. That's dangerous. Politically, it's not such great policy either. And the president is driving this point home.

So the Republican Party is trapped in a pincer with President Obama on one side and the most activist members of its base on the other and Mitt Romney in the middle being squeezed by both.

BURNETT: Well, Ari, he's not actually in the middle, he's endorsed the Ryan plan.

FLEISCHER: I totally disagree with both analyses you've heard here. And Donna said what the president is doing today had a lot of things in ING. But the one he really did was taunting. This is a president whose own budget has been rejected by Democrats in both the House and the Senate. The Senate hasn't even passed a budget in three years. You finally had somebody come forward with the leadership of the House of Representatives to try to tackle the deficit, to try to tackle long term debt and that was Paul Ryan.

And the fact is, if people in Washington don't start thinking differently we are a nation that's heading towards Greece. We cannot be trapped in the politics of 2004, 2006, 2008. We have got to look forward in this country, the new politics of 2012 to save this country.

BORGER: You know, the most interesting thing to me about this election is that each side thinks it can win by drawing bright lines. I mean, you have President Obama on one side saying this is ridiculous. This is going backwards.

And you have Republicans on the other side making a bet that being more conservative on the deficit, that actually doing something about Medicare can help them win a general election and the Democrats betting on the absolute polar opposite.

BRAZILE: Paul Ryan's -- I mean, Chairman Ryan's budget is a recipe for disaster. It will not balance the budget. It will blow the deficit out of control. It preserves all of the Bush tax cuts and it eliminates even more tax cuts, so it starves the government of revenues at a time of trying to close the fiscal hole.

It also sets up the showdown in October where we will once again have the fight, will the government shut down or will the government not shot down. So, I don't believe Mr. Ron showed great leadership. What he did was he poll tested what he put out last year, and he came back with the same bad recipe.

FLEISCHER: Well, I hope trillion dollar deficits make people refocus on why they went to Washington in the first place, and it does force you to make hard decisions. Just as any family, they have no -- they don't have as much as money as they were counting on. They have to cut back and make hard decisions. It is hard. That's the job of these leaders, Democrat and Republican and the president. And the president has advocated this -- BRAZILE: Well, last September, he gave the Republicans an offer and they said pass and we punted. So, now, we have to make some tough choices and that's why we have an election, because this election is about a choice.

BORGER: Big choices.

BURNETT: David Frum, wouldn't it be a -- final word, though -- couldn't there be something politically smart regardless of what he thinks of Mitt Romney saying I'd be willing to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans?

FRUM: I don't think he has to go that far. He just needs not pile on an additional 20 percent tax cut as he's already committed himself to. I think that's where the Republican Party is here for lower taxes and to say, we'll defend the Bush tax cuts, that makes sense. The additional cut is unnecessary. And so is the refusal to deal with Medicare until after 10 years from now, to say we protect the baby boomers and hold them completely harmless and load all of the burden of fiscal adjustment onto the younger and the poorer.

That's not good policy. It's not good politics. Mitt Romney I heard does not want to be there. He's been pushed there and it's an unfortunate place for him to be.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, all three of you.

Paul Ryan said to me, he said, when he interviewed him on the budget, he said, oh, Erin, it will affect people like you and me, our age. Paul Ryan, you are still a young man, but I'm just a little bit younger than you.

All right. We are just minutes away from the close of the polls. Exit polls are continuing to come in. We're getting more and more information. And Tom Foreman has new headlines from those exit poll data as we are just about nine minutes away from hopefully making our first call of the night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: All right. Welcome back. We're counting down to the polls closing in Washington, D.C. and Maryland getting ready for Wisconsin.

Tom Foreman has been looking at the exit poll data.

And you saw that mystery up in Wisconsin.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The mystery in Wisconsin.

BURNETT: Democrats are voting.

FOREMAN: Yes, yes, yes, and they are supporting Rick Santorum. So, why is that? We're hoping to find out when the polls start closing. We find more about that.

But I do know this. We know a lot more about who is voting up here. We fly into Wisconsin, which is a big prize tonight.

I want you to look at something here. This is Tea Party support in the state. Darker the color, the heavier that support is.

So, presumably, Rick Santorum needs to do well in these areas. You want to know why? Because look at who showed up today. Opinion of the Tea Party movement -- 57 percent of the people who voted today say they support the Tea Party movement. If they stay behind Rick Santorum as they have another state, that's good news for him there.

If, however, they listen to Paul Ryan and other people there, the Tea Party like who have come out and endorsed Mitt Romney, that could be bad news for him. Look at this other number that came out today of who came out to vote. Very conservative 31, somewhat conservative 31 percent, moderate to liberal, 38 percent.

Let's see how that plays out. One of the other numbers that was interesting was the degree to which people said they are evangelical or born-again Christians. That was a small percentage compared to what Rick Santorum has enjoyed in other states so that kind of takes it out of his wheelhouse.

This is the one that interests me the most. We've seen this in so many places. You ask people what's the most important candidate quality today. Of all the people we talked to, look at this -- right experience, strong moral character, that matters. Too conservative, that matters.

These are the two that Rick Santorum has played with, true conservative, strong moral character. But you're right -- almost as many people just care can and they defeat President Obama in the fall. That's a very telling and very important number.

BURNETT: And that one that has actually increased, which could be good news for like him, don't love him, whatever it might be, but perhaps coalescing behind Mitt Romney.

FOREMAN: Yes, you're spot on because state after state after state, this is what we've seen. A lot of people who say, I'd rather have a more conservative candidate, I'd rather have somebody reserve in character, I'd like to all this, they then in the end say, that's what I want but I don't know if that's what the country wants. I'm going with the one who I think can defeat Obama. So, we'll see how that shakes out when the numbers really come in.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Tom Foreman, thank you.

And he's going to be monitoring this. And, of course, as we start to get the information coming in from Maryland, from Washington, from Wisconsin, a breakdown of exactly people who wanted a candidate who would beat President Barack Obama. Did that mean they voted for Mitt Romney or could it have meant they voted for Rick Santorum?

Wolf Blitzer, obviously, Maryland and Washington prize -- they are about the same size, as Wisconsin, but can, do you think, Mitt Romney lock this up tonight? WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I suspect that Santorum will stay in this contest at least until his home state of Pennsylvania has an opportunity to vote at the end of the month. I don't think he's going to go it, even if he loses in Wisconsin, Maryland and D.C., he's got some more fight left in him.

I would be surprised if he simply walked away as a result of what's going to happen tonight.

BURNETT: And what do you make of what Tom Foreman was talking about, which is that when you see the breakdown of who's voting tonight, you do see lots of independents coming out, but you also saw a lot of Democrats and the Democrats voting for Rick Santorum, which could indicate some spoilers out there. Not enough probably to move things, but --

BLITZER: It depends how many voters actually showed up, Democratic voters, and wanted to spoil things a little bit, move things, continue this process, thinking the longer the Republican primary process continues, the better off President Obama would be. If they want to play that role, it depends on how many actually show up.

I suspect some did but not that many.

BURNETT: I haven't mentioned Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich, obviously telling in and of itself. What about Newt tonight?

BLITZER: Newt Gingrich makes it clear he's going to stay in until Mitt Romney has 1,144 delegates sewn up because he's still hoping against hope that maybe if he doesn't go into the convention with enough delegates to guarantee he's getting the nomination, he'll have a chance to do something on the convention floor, first ballot, second ballot, third ballot.

Ron Paul has his own agenda. He's promoting certain ideas. This gives him a platform to do so. So, he's not going anywhere.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Wolf, I'm going to hand it off to you. Wolf has it here and hopefully, we'll see if we can make a call any time soon. Thanks very much, Wolf. I will now exit my stage.

BLITZER: You're doing a nice job. Thank you very much, Erin.

BURNETT: All right.

BLITZER: Erin, thanks very much.

Breaking news on two fronts. Tonight is a special primary edition night of "A.C. 360." Races going on in Maryland, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. Polls about to close in both Maryland and in Washington, D.C.

Also, other news we're following, we're following developments after a string of tornadoes cut through the Dallas area. Yes, look at this. Those are tractor-trailers being tossed around like little toys. There's extensive damage in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex area tonight. We'll go to Ed Lavandera shortly who's on the ground in one of the hardest-hit locations.

We begin, though, with primary coverage. Just seconds to go until the polls go in both Maryland and Washington, D.C. We're watching closely both of those contests. Wisconsin closing in one hour, but in a few seconds, let's see what we can do. In fact, let's do it right now.