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Interview with Congressman Randy Forbes; Police Overhaul In New Orleans; Expert Discusses Presidential Politics; Get Your Political "Fix"; ICarly Star Takes on New Role

Aired July 25, 2012 - 08:00   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. Welcome, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning is hurting themselves. New polls show that ugly campaign ads are turning off voters. So how will this new one bashes Mitt Romney's time heading up the Olympics go over? We'll take a look.

And time to heal for families who are trying to honor the lost in Aurora, Colorado, as the "Dark Knight" himself makes a surprise visit to the hospital.

And reversing a history of corruption. The feds laying out major reforms for the New Orleans police department. Will they work?

We've got a packed show ahead. Congressman Randy Forbes of Virginia is our guest, coming up next.

Also, New Orleans police superintendent Ronal Serpas is going to join us.

Chris Cillizza, he's the author of "The Fix," a leading political blog in "The Washington Post", will be our guest.

And Jennette McCurdy, "iCarly's" best friend on the hit Nickelodeon series. We'll talk about healthy eating with us.

It's Wednesday, July 25th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: That's Beyonce. What song is that?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Love something like that.

O'BRIEN: "Love on Top." I'll just read it off the screen. That print is too small for my eyes.

MARTIN: I just know it's Beyonce.

O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody.

Our team this morning: Roland Martin is the host of "Washington Watch with Roland Martin".

Nice to have you back.

MARTIN: What up!

O'BRIEN: Will you stop doing that? Come on, man.

MARTIN: OK. Hello.

O'BRIEN: OK. Thank you.

MARTIN: What up? Hello.

O'BRIEN: Margaret Hoover.


MARGARET HOOVER, CNN CONRIBUTOR: It doesn't look as good if I do it.

MARTIN: You've got to hit it.

HOOVER: I did.

O'BRIEN: She did it. Former White House appointee of the Bush administration.

Will Cain is a columnist for

MARTIN: We know he can't do it.

O'BRIEN: He is just shaking his head.

Our STARTING POINT this morning: a new high is kind of a new low for both President Obama and Mitt Romney. I called them President Obamney earlier today. Oops.

There's a new poll of polls out of CNN which shows President Obama with a lead over Mitt Romney. Voters prefer the president, 47 percent, to Mitt Romney's 43 percent.

But the negative tone of the presidential campaign is taking a toll on both candidates. A new poll from NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" shows that 43 percent of voters polled now have an unfavorable view of the president. That's up from 38 percent back in June, 40 percent say they have a negative view of Mitt Romney, that's up a point.

And when they're asked which candidate is conducting a more negative campaign, 22 percent say it's the president, 12 percent say it's Mitt Romney, 34 percent, though, the bigger number, say both sides are equally running negative campaigns.

That brings us to Congressman Randy Forbes this morning. He's a Republican from Virginia. He's a Romney campaign surrogate.

It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us. Appreciate it.

REP. RANDY FORBES (R), VIRGINIA: Always great to be with you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. I appreciate that. The polls are a bummer.

I mean, I just gave you a little insight into some of the polls, not all of it. The negative campaigning, negative ads, the campaigns and the campaigners reaping negative benefits, and it's only July. That to me bodes a bigger problem as we head into the actual election. I think one pollster said this is the kind of stuff you usually see in October.

Are you concerned about that?

FORBES: Well, I think everybody's concerned about that. You know, one of the things that we know, the president spent about $10 million attacking Governor Romney, and so far most of that boomerangs back against the people that are running these negative ads, regardless of which party you're in.

I think by the time we get to November, though, Soledad, most people are going to be focusing on one thing, and that's the economy and which of the two presidential candidates they think can do a better job to get the economy back on track and creating the jobs we need for the country.

O'BRIEN: If you look at the polls, Mitt Romney wins in that category. When asked in the NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, better ideas -- who's got the better ideas to improve the economy, it's Mitt Romney who leads at 43 percent to President Obama's 36 percent. When asked who is going to be better at dealing with the economy, kind of similar numbers there. Mitt Romney again leading at 43 percent, the president at 37 percent.

So we know people vote the economy. And yet when you look at the poll of polls, and this is a CNN poll, the president is leading, and continues to lead. This is held pretty steady, 47 percent for the president and Mitt Romney at 43 percent. And it seems contradictory to the first round of polls I read you. Jobs, jobs, jobs and the economy, and then the poll of polls shows actually he's still behind.

FORBES: Well, Soledad, as you know, there's a host of polls out there. We had some last week that showed actually that Governor Romney was ahead in one point. And, of course, in Virginia, Romney has closed an eight-point gap and is now running dead even with the president.

And one of the things we know is any time you've got a sitting president who's below 50 percent, we know that those undecideds break very heavily for the challenger most of the time come November.

So, we feel pretty good about where the polls are now. But you can't base this on where the polls are. It's still summer. This is going to change a lot as we go into November.

But I still believe that as we head closer to the election, Americans are focused on one thing, and that is the economy, getting it turned around, and getting the jobs they feel they need. I think that's what's going to push Governor Romney over the top.

O'BRIEN: When you look into I guess heading into the conventions and asked about who has a favorable view of the candidates and who has an unfavorable view, Mitt Romney, the former governor, with a 40 percent unfavorable view, 35 percent say that it's favorable. When you look in the past, compare that to John McCain back in 2008. His favorable was higher.

Let's throw the numbers up on the screen if we can. His favorable was higher by 12 points. Bush in 2000, his favorable was higher by 20 points. Bob Dole in '96, his favorable was higher by three points. I think people would assess that, just as you talked about a president whose numbers are below 50 percent, I think people would say a candidate whose unfavorable outweighs the favorable is a big problem, isn't it?

FORBES: Soledad, there are two statistics you didn't look at. One is that the guiding statistic on these elections is still right direction/wrong direction for the country. And overwhelmingly, over 60 percent of the people in this country feel the country is headed in the wrong direction. That's not going to play very good for the president.

The second thing is back when you look at Senator McCain's candidate, they didn't have nearly this amount of negative campaign money spent on him early in the cycle like it's been spent at this particular point in time. I think once you se the conventions going on, and Governor Romney has been hoarding a lot of his money, I think you'll see that coming towards the end. I think once the American people get to see more of who Governor Romney is, that favorability is going to increase.

And again, once they walk into that polling booth in November, I think it's going to be all about the economy and jobs. I think that's what's going to win this for Governor Romney.

O'BRIEN: The GOP has been attacking President Obama's comments from the other day, and Will Cain and I have been arguing about this a little bit ourselves. This is what the president said 12 days ago, talking about business. And who's responsible for a business's success.

Let's play that.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you are successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, that -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.


O'BRIEN: Well, that was 12 days ago. The Romney campaign then ran an ad that basically said, you know, why are you demonizing us for being successful? And then the president now says that Mitt Romney has taken him out of control. He says this: "What I said was we need to stand behind them as America always had by investing in education, training, roads, bridges and technology." That's part of a new Obama campaign ad.

Do you really think and do believe that the president in fact was demonizing business owners?

FORBES: Soledad, I don't put much in what people's words are as much as I do their actions. And I think what small business people are looking at across the country is they have had 41 straight months of unemployment above 8 percent. They had net job losses of 473,000.

They know that these tax rates go up, it's going to cost us 700,000 jobs. The president's health care bill according to the Congressional Budget Office, 800,000 jobs. If the defense cuts come through, that's going to be 1.5 million job losses.

That's what's really impacting them far more than any of the words that the president might say.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hi, Congressman. This is Will Cain.

I think, before we let you go, I wanted to reserve the final 10 minutes of our satellite time with you to get you on the record on the breaking news in the last hour that you employ the second best looking person in Washington, D.C., according to "The Hill".

O'BRIEN: Yes, it's Carolyn Amirpashaie.

FORBES: Will, I have to take exception with that. I think she's the number one most beautiful person in Congress. But she's also one of the most competent people in Congress.

CAIN: Bravo.

FORBES: And we're very proud to have her in our office.

CAIN: Bravo.

O'BRIEN: I love the way he said that.

HOOVER: I'm sure she is talented and competent staff.

O'BRIEN: And intelligent as well.

Before I let you go, I want to play for a new ad, the super PAC that backs the president. I think it's -- we had this conversation last week talking about efforts to take what is Mitt Romney's perceived strength in the economy and business and flip it to try to make it a weakness.

Let me play a little bit of this ad about Mitt Romney's time helping with the U.S. Olympics.


ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Olympics. There's Mitt Romney, who ran the Salt Lake City Games, waving to China -- home to a billion people. Thousands owe their jobs to Mitt Romney's companies.

India, which also gained jobs thanks to Romney, an outsourcing pioneer.


O'BRIEN: What do you think of that ad? Will Cain is sitting here shaking his head. What do you think of that ad?

FORBES: Soledad, I haven't seen the ad. But, you know, I think we're going to continue to see a lot of these negative ads on both sides. I just don't think they are going to work that much. I think by the time we get to November, people are going to look on the records. They're going to make decisions based on the policies that both candidates have, and they are going to be basing their votes on their pocketbook. Who they think will turn this economy around and get them jobs.

And, again, I think Governor Romney will win that debate and I think he's going to be the next president of the United States.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Randy Forbes joining us this morning. Nice to see you, sir. Appreciate it.

FORBES: Thank you.

MARTIN: Negative ads work. At the end of the day, every politician knows negative ads work. That's why they keep running them.

O'BRIEN: They do. Yet at the same time, they also hit you on your favorability and unfavorability numbers. They do.

MARTIN: You can ignore that.

O'BRIEN: Maybe not.

MARTIN: The American public says it all the time. Oh, we don't like negative ads. But they respond to them.

O'BRIEN: That's a different question. I think those are two different things. Whether you respond to a negative ad and whether you start getting annoyed with favorability. If your numbers go really down, who's going to vote for a candidate whose numbers are unfavorable?

You don't like them. You say I have an unfavorable rating. You're not going to run to the polls for them.

MARTIN: They are going to turn out. Somebody is going to win. One of them is going to win. They work.

O'BRIEN: We'll see.

All right. Christine Romans, let's get to the top stories this morning. Good morning.


Several new developments in the Aurora movie theater massacre. Families getting ready to lay their loved ones to rest this hour. This afternoon, a memorial service will take place for 51-year-old Gordon Cowden. He took his two teenagers to see the midnight movie. Both children survived.

Also today, a visitation is scheduled for 23-year-old Micayla Medek. She was working towards her college degree.

The star of "The Dark Knight Rises", Christian Bale, that man himself trying to lift spirits. He paid a visit to Aurora to pay his respects and thank the heroes.

There's some bittersweet news to report from Aurora. A woman named Katie Medley gave birth to a boy as her husband, Caleb, a victim of the Aurora theater shooting, lay in the same hospital with a gunshot wound to the head.

Hugo Jackson Medley was born at 7:11 a.m. yesterday at University of Colorado Hospital, and we wish them well. And we hope that his daddy gets better.

Syrian forces escalating their attacks overnight to regain control of the country's largest city Aleppo. Government helicopters and fighter jets targeting rebel strongholds there. We are getting reports of thousands of fresh government troops being sent in. Violent clashes in Syria claiming at least 133 lives yesterday, 21 of them in Aleppo.

ROMANS: The Senate preparing to vote this afternoon on competing plans to extend the Bush era tax cuts. Democratic plan would extend the cuts for couples making less than $250,000 a year or individuals making less than $200,000. Republicans want to extend the tax cuts for all taxpayers, including the wealthiest Americans. Neither is expected to pass.

And remembering actor Sherman Hemsley. Americans knew him as George Jefferson. He was supposed (INAUDIBLE) before moving on up to TV stardom, first as Archie Bunker's neighbor and nemesis on "All in the Family." Then spinning into "The Jeffersons", which ran for 11 seasons.

Sherman Hemsley died at home in El Paso, Texas.

No word on his cause of death, Soledad. He was 74 years old.

O'BRIEN: Seventy-four is kind of young, isn't it? I remember watching that when I was 9 years old, that was on TV. And I remember they had the first like interracial couple on TV, the Willises. Remember? It was Roxy Roker and -- I forget the name --

MARTIN: I forget the name -- Lenny Kravitz is her son.

O'BRIEN: Right, right. And I remember feelling like, wow, here's a black woman who is married to a white guy, which, of course, was my family makeup too, on TV. This is amazing.

MARTIN: And, of course, for African-Americans, he was an owner. He's an entrepreneur. So also that whole issue as well.

O'BRIEN: He was funny.

MARTIN: And came off from "All in the Family."

O'BRIEN: Right. spinoff successfully. Interesting. Interesting. And then, he went on to do a bunch of --

MARTIN: "Amen." "Amen." Great show there. Good guy.

O'BRIEN: He was. He really was. All right. Thanks, Christine. Appreciate it.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, cleaning up the force. Major reforms now announced in the New Orleans Police Department over history of corruption. Is it going to work this time around? Police department Superintendent Ronal Serpas is going to join us up next.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.



ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: This consent decree will allow us to move forward, and move forward together, and will enable the people of New Orleans to have in the words of Mayor Landrieu, and I quote him, "a world class police department."


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. That was Attorney General Eric Holder announcing an unprecedented agreement designed to clean up the infamously corrupt police department in New Orleans.

Among the more than 100 new requirements, detailed reports each time police forces used, mandatory review of use of force by a public integrity bureau, videotaping interviews with suspects to make sure that no threats of harm are made, and a limit in pay for off-duty security work, which was previously a pretty big source for corruption. Ronal Serpas is the superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department and joins us this morning. Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us. We certainly appreciate that.


O'BRIEN: Thank you. I appreciate that. Some people described this as peeling an onion to the core to try to get at the problems. Are you confident that this time around this is going to work and why?

SERPAS: I have no doubt it's going to work this time. Mayor Landrieu and I came together two years ago and worked very closely with Attorney General Holder and his team. In this last two years, we've already begun to implement many of the pieces of the pie that have to be put into place. For example, we've done about 40 percent of what needs to be done to begin to meet the demands of a monitor to ensure that we follow this consent decree.

New Orleans is a city on the rebound. Our real estate values are up. The charter school system is doing well. We're in the middle of an unprecedented 15-month run of major sporting events, culminating with the Super Bowl in just a few months.

We are a city rebuilding with new numbers of tourism and people coming to New Orleans and say, I want to build a business in New Orleans. I want to move to New Orleans.

O'BRIEN: Which is why some of the information about corruption and some about crime are a real challenge, because that's a great story that you're spinning right there with an asterisk of an except the crime problem. How are you going to tackle that?

SERPAS: We have two things going on at the same time, Soledad. We have a 30-year history of a city that experiences seven to 10 times the national homicide rate. Thirty years, we've had far too many murders. But for 30 years, New Orleans has been an incredibly safe city. In fact, when you look at murder, we have a challenge that is unheralded in the history of American cities.

And we thank the Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder for the safe cities, too. But listen to this very carefully. When you look at New Orleans without the murder event, which is people who know one another (ph), unfortunately, we're about the 79th safest city in America of cities over 100,000.

So, it's a competing story. We are not giving any ground on the fact that we're going to reduce murder in the city, but we also have a very safe city beyond that particular question.

HOOVER: Ronal, a question for you. It seems to me that there wouldn't have been -- I'm a glass half full kind of person. Do you think there would have been the political will to have such extraordinary reforms with the justice department, with Eric Holder, the attorney general, had Katrina not happened? SERPAS: I think it's pretty clear that if you look at the history and the investigation from about 2005 to 2010, the New Orleans Police Department absolutely unequivocally lost its way. It stopped training. It stopped disciplining. It stopped thinking forwardly. It stopped putting policies in place. It looked inward and not outward.

So, what we've had to do is recognize that a great city that wants its police department to be successful needed us to make changes in our behavior, and that's what we're going to do. And I have absolute confidence we're going to win this battle. I have absolute confidence we're going to continue to reduce crime and reduce murder. No question about it.

MARTIN: Chief, how do you change a mindset, though? Because the reality is you were having to deal with officers who historically have said, we don't make enough money. And so, therefore, we will cut corners. So, you have to change a mindset of the very people who are on your force.

SERPAS: That's an excellent question. Yesterday, the first thing I said at the press conference was, I am proud to be a New Orleans police officer. Being a police officer is the most noble profession on this planet as far as I can tell. And we have to reenergize the men and women of the department to recognize that's what you serve for.

We can fix the paid detail thing. We can fix the off-duty employment. We can work on better salary and benefits, but it all starts when police officers get hired with higher standards which we did a year ago, and they get promoted and train with higher standards which we're in the process of now.

I've seen this change before. I've been a change agent four times in three different departments. It takes time. Your point is well-made, but it can be done.

O'BRIEN: Superintendent Ronal Serpas, nice to see you, sir. Thanks for your time this morning. Appreciate it.

SERPAS: Thank you. Come on down and get a beignet.

O'BRIEN: You know, they're all (ph) the time.

MARTIN: All the time.


O'BRIEN: I kind of, sort of, kind of live there almost.


MARTIN: It goes that charging your rent.

O'BRIEN: I know. I really should get a place. That would actually save me a lot of money. Thank you, sir. Appreciate it. (LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're getting a first look at some dramatic videotape showing a killer whale biting a trainer and then dragging that trainer underwater during a show at sea world. It happened in San Diego. We got details on that straight ahead. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: And welcome back to STARTING POINT. So, you may not know that I'm a big supporter of the U.S. deaf women's soccer team.

MARTIN: Didn't know.

O'BRIEN: My son, who's seven, has significant hearing loss, and so, he's always sort of trying to see what other people do, what are the things, and who are hearing impaired. And so, we started supporting the U.S. deaf soccer team. Men's team, women's team. And right now, they're playing their championships in Turkey.

And so, there's a young woman that we met who's a midfielder. Her name is Alison Galub (ph), and she started filing reports for us on their path to what's hopefully a championship win. And here is her report.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) women's national deaf soccer team. We just played against Germany. The final score was 8-0. Shutout. I have Nito (ph) here with me. Nito, what did you think of the game today?

We played very, very wonderfully. It was beautiful. We really played as one. It was a beautiful thing to see.

So watch our next game against Poland.

We will continue to strive for our passion. We will all (INAUDIBLE) to rise to the top and win the World Cup. Thank you very much. See you later.

Back to you, Soledad.


O'BRIEN: Thank you, Alison, for that report. You know, when they play, they cannot have their hearing aids, and you cannot have anything that sort of helps your hearing. So, they have to do a lot of just signaling.

MARTIN: Hand signals and so like that (ph)?

O'BRIEN: Yes. It's a pretty amazing thing. Their next game is tomorrow morning eastern time, so, 2:30 in the morning against Poland, and they're hoping to win the big championship. MARTIN: Is your son going to get up early to watch it?

O'BRIEN: No, he won't --


O'BRIEN: -- because that would mean me getting up early. But we will TiVo it so I can share it with him the results.


O'BRIEN: The women and the men's team, and they're over there playing.


O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, new polls show that voters have a negative opinion of both President Obama and Mitt Romney. What does that mean for November? Chris Cillizza writes the popular "The Fix" for "The Washington Post." He's everything you need to know about politics, and that's straight ahead.

Plus, dramatic new video of this killer whale dragging a trainer underwater. It happened at a show at sea world. We'll update you what happened there. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: And welcome back to STARTING POINT. Let's get right to Christine Romans for a look at the day's top stories. Good morning.

ROMANS: Good morning, thank you, Soledad. One lifetime in prison not enough for William Balfour. Jennifer Hudson's former brother-in-law was sentenced yesterday for murdering the singer's mother, brother, and her seven-year-old nephew in 2008. A Chicago judge gave him three life sentences plus 120 years. In delivering the sentence, the judge could barely contain his anger, telling Balfour, "Your soul is as barren as dark space."

Perego is recalling more than 220,000 strollers due to the risk of strangulation. The recall involves two models made between 2004 and 2011. The company says infants can become trapped between the seat and the tray and strangled. One death has been reported. Newer models don't pose the same risk.

Take the clothes, leave the baby. Surveillance video from a Wal- Mart parking lot in Ocala, Florida, showing a 19-year-old woman on the run after she was allegedly caught shoplifting. Police say she ditched her baby in a shopping cart before she took off. They found the woman and her sister partying in a nightclub the next night. The baby was taken by authorities, and police say the woman then denied he was even her son.

Chilling video of a killer whale attacking its trainer at SeaWorld has been released to the public for the first time six years after it took place. This video was first shown at an OSHA court hearing last fall. The whale is seen dragging the trainer underwater. The trainer was ok. Two years ago, Orlando SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau died after being pulled underwater by a killer whale.

O'BRIEN: That's just horrible to watch. Christine, thank you.

We've been telling you about the polls out this morning showing that voters have a negative opinion of President Obama and Mitt Romney in the negative ads that are getting the voters down, but it's only July. So does that mean we're all doomed come Election Day? Nope. A new book called "The Gospel According to the Fix" lays it all out for us. It's written by Chris Cillizza. He writes the column "The Fix" for "The Washington Post." nice to have you.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, AUTHOR, "THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE FIX": Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure.

O'BRIEN: This book is great. If you ever wanted to figure out what's happening in an election year, you just read "the gospel according to the fix" and you'll know everything. And it's hilarious too.

CILLIZZA: I figured I'd go with like a non -- don't overpromise in the title, kind of go low key in the title. You know, the gospel according to John, Mark, Luke, the fix.


CILLIZZA: You know, right. Look, the one thing I would say about the book, Soledad, is I hope the first line in the book is politics takes itself too seriously. It shouldn't. You know, I think we have to remind ourselves that the sublime and the ridiculous go together in politics. And acknowledging that it can be ridiculous does not mean that it also can't be sublime. It is a hugely high stakes affair. Something we all spend most of our lives talking about, thinking about, writing about. But at the same time, there are elements to it that are also just kind of fun.

O'BRIEN: Let's start with the sublime then. Voters are disenchanted, unhappy. We see that in the polling. At the same time, Roland was saying a moment ago that negative ads are very successful and that's why they keep running.

CILLIZZA: I was in the green room and shaking my head in agreement because there's a piece in there about the top 10 negative ads of all time in the book. And some the intro, I say ask 100 people on the street. If we asked them, what do you think of negative ads? And 99 of them would say, oh, they're terrible. They don't influence me at all.

But I always say campaigns aren't in the business of wasting money. So you don't spend $20 million on negative ads if you have focus groups and polling that shows it doesn't work. It does work. We know that. Unfortunately, "work" as it is defined here, you show the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll earlier, that's how work defined. Both candidates negative ads are going up, and we have 100-plus days until the election. And it's not going to get more positive from here on out.

MARTIN: That's right.

CILLIZZA: That's the one thing I can be certain of.

O'BRIEN: Don't you think with both candidates' negatives going up, winning in the bad way, at some point, that infusion of money and negative ad is working but it's sort of sinking everybody down. Is that a problem?

CILLIZZA: Yes. And the politics --

O'BRIEN: And less people are turning out?

CILLIZZA: That's a possibility. I would say, and I heard roland make this point earlier and I nodded in agreement again, that yes, the negative ads --

MARTIN: It's killing Will Cain right now.

CAIN: Back down a little bit. We still have a long time to go.


CILLIZZA: Yes, negative ads do tend to depress turnout. That said, in a presidential election where you have the Republican base, incredibly energized to vote against Barack Obama. You have the Democratic base slightly less energized but still very energized to vote for Barack Obama. I just don't see people not turning out. Could it turn off the 52 people who live in Ohio who are still undecided about this election inexplicably? Sure, it could. But I think the campaigns are willing to take that risk. I think we are looking at an '04 electorate, extremely close. Not in '08.

CAIN: I think you're right in turnout, Chris. But that means in the end that voters will pick between two candidates they are both holding their nose for. It's not '08. It's not about hope, change, and inspiration.

CILLIZZA: Right. This is not Barack Obama '08. This is -- I hate to say it, because it's the lowest common denominator politics and I don't think this gets people excited to be involved in politics, and I spend every day of my life doing it -- this is devil you know versus devil you don't know.

CAIN: I think that's fair.

CILLIZZA: That's where we are headed. The path to Barack Obama's victory in this election is disqualify Mitt Romney, because Barack Obama's positive message only can go so far because we know from the polling we've seen out there says a majority of people don't approve of how Barack Obama is handling the economy. And so if we're talking about the economy every day, it does not take a political genius to realize he probably comes up short.

O'BRIEN: It's sort of what you take what is perceived to be a positive or strength for Mitt Romney and try to twist that.

HOOVER: Devil you know versus the devil you don't know. The new polls that show Mitt Romney with a low are favorability rate, do you think that's still because he is the devil that people don't know yet?

CILLIZZA: Yes. I think what's hard, Margaret, is the consensus when you're in like my shoes, you think everybody knows about Mitt Romney. We have been following his presidential campaign. There is no chance that most people know about him. But I would guess that most people know that he was a businessman, and maybe the Olympics, and maybe he was the governor of a state, maybe. So while his name might be out there, if you ask do you know who Mitt Romney is, I'm sure 90 percent of the people say yes. But anything beneath that is a total --


CILLIZZA: That's why you see Barack Obama spending $107 million on ads trying to say, look, this is who Mitt Romney is. And, oh, by the way, that is not the story Mitt Romney wants to tell about who Mitt Romney is.

MARTIN: These polls are snapshots.


MARTIN: Last week, two weeks ago, we spent so much time, poll, poll, poll. But when you talk about the critical votes --

O'BRIEN: That's the centerpiece of my show today. So what were you going to say?


MARTIN: But my point is the voters who are sitting there haven't made their mind up are sitting here at Disneyworld saying I'm on vacation, they are going to make up their minds come October.

CILLIZZA: And the thing that is amazing is we've had all these things happen over the last six months or a year where we -- I won't lump you all in, but I spent time analyzing this could be important, this is a mountain, not a mole hill.

MARTIN: Game changer.

CILLIZZA: Right. And what do we see? About 45 percent to 47 percent of the American public is voting for Mitt Romney, and 45 percent to 47 percent are voting for Barack Obama, and there are five to eight percent are people who are undecided. It is like '04 in that regard. It's so polarized. There is no piece of information you could tell them about Mitt Romney that would get them vote for Barack Obama or vice versa.

O'BRIEN: Or maybe there's an October surprise. I also want to talk about that in our next block.

CILLIZZA: Nice tease.


O'BRIEN: Thank you very much. And I also want to you about how to survive a sex scandal. That's also a chapter in this book.

CAIN: There's a script for that?

CILLIZZA: It's purely analysis.

O'BRIEN: Also, we'll talk to Jennette McCurdy who plays Sam on "iCarlie." You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Is this your play list?


O'BRIEN: Van Morrison. Margaret's play list. Am I "Brown Eyed Girl"?

HOOVER: You're the brown-eyed girl.

O'BRIEN: You are welcome on this panel anytime you want, Margaret.

CILLIZZA: I liked my song way better.

MARTIN: Pink Cadillac.

HOOVER: There's a song called "Soledad."

CILLIZZA: If I had known I would have spent more time with it.

O'BRIEN: All right, I want to talk to you -- a couple of chapters I want to discuss. One, the "Art of an October Surprise". How likely do you think that is this time around?

CILLIZZA: Yes. Well, if you judge by the last couple of elections, very likely. That is October surprise, something that happens in October or in '08 it was September with kind of the collapse of the world economy. That changes the dynamic.

I would say, though Soledad, if you go back and look at elections prior to '04, '04, 2000, which is when the Bush DUI came out three days or four days before the election, there's not that big a history of it.

And I will say, I talked to lots of people, a lot of political types about, does this really matter?

O'BRIEN: Right.

CILLIZZA: And they said, kind of and kind of not. You know, yes, it can have an effect. But I would say again back to what we were talking about before, when you have an electorate that's this polarized, I don't know that -- I don't know what surprise could be out there. I feel like it's July and we already know so much negative stuff about both these guys. You know, I don't know what it could be.

MARTIN: Well, the economy.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about the sex scandal chapter.



CAIN: All right.

O'BRIEN: Ok so the do's and don'ts of surviving a political sex scandal.


O'BRIEN: Do, admit you did it immediately. Don't do a press conference.

CILLIZZA: Yes. I mean --

O'BRIEN: Do refuse to resign. Don't have your wife with you.

MARTIN: I like that.

CILLIZZA: That was heavily influenced by my wife, I would say. Me and my wife when I was writing this, you know, we watched like Mark Sanford or -- or some of these other folks, and she would say, if you ever did something like that, I will not only not be with you, I will hold a press conference against you.

O'BRIEN: I was saying the same thing to my husband.

CILLIZZA: My wife is tough, man.

O'BRIEN: I said the same thing. I will hold a rival press conference.

CILLIZZA: I mean I do think there is -- unfortunately the way that we conduct politics there is kind of a blueprint now for how you make these things. That they know and it's there you go.

O'BRIEN: And it's in the gospel according to "The Fix".

CILLIZZA: Man, my publisher is smiling ear to ear right now. And thrilled.

O'BRIEN: Chris Cillizza nice to have you with us this morning. I appreciate you hanging out with us.

CILLIZZA: Oh please thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: Thanks great.

All right, coming up next, this young lady is the star of the hit show "ICarly." Jennette McCurdy is going to join us to talk about how you get kids to eat their vegetables. That's straight ahead. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT.

Nickelodeon's award winning comedy "ICarly" is about a teenage girl who hosts her own Web show along with her two best friends. The show has been a hit with young viewers for five seasons in part because of one young lady, Jennette McCurdy. She plays ICarly's wacky best friend Sam. Here is a clip.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: My daughter is a big fan and I am too.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So what are you doing here? Your Excellency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't call her "Your Excellency".

OBAMA: No, no I kind of like it.


O'BRIEN: She's pretty funny. She is pretty good, funny Michelle Obama.

Obviously, Jennette McCurdy with us.


O'BRIEN: Tell me what that was like to -- to do the show with the First Lady?

MCCURDY: It was insane we had like 65 Secret Service on set. They were very strict and like Secret Servicey. And she was just excellent, she was so nice and came on and hugged everybody and made everybody feel right at home. And you know, everybody just had a great time with her.

O'BRIEN: It's all part of her mission. She's really been focused on healthy eating.


O'BRIEN: And you have become the veggie-loving ambassador, I'm told.

MCCURDY: Yes, yes.

O'BRIEN: So tell me a little bit about that, because I have to imagine that like of all the jobs to a young audience.


O'BRIEN: You might have the toughest job.

MCCURDY: Veggies?

O'BRIEN: Yes, I think selling vegetables -- I've got four young kids.

MCCURDY: Well, they are great.

O'BRIEN: Well, I personally I agree. I think to sell them to some young kids sometimes it's going to be hard.

MCCURDY: Sure I'm teaming up with Birds Eye Veggies. And we are inspiring a new generation of veggie lovers. That's kind of our ultimate goal. And I think that the veggies are a great thing. They are fun. And kids can really -- if they think of them in new creative ways, they can really have a lot of -- a lot of fun things with them.

O'BRIEN: Do you cook? Are you a good cook?

MCCURDY: I'm not a great cook, but Birds Eye makes it easy because you literally just put everything in the microwave and it's done in a couple of minutes.

O'BRIEN: Why did you decide that this was an issue because obviously, it's a big issue for Michelle Obama too.


O'BRIEN: I mean, there are terrible numbers about obesity rates, et cetera, et cetera.

MCCURDY: Absolutely. Well, I just think eating healthy makes you feel better. And I think that's the ultimate goal, beyond any sort of weight issues or anything like that. Life is about feeling good and eating healthy helps that.

O'BRIEN: Do you think that the kids who are watching the show -- and I know the show takes on issues. My daughters are obsessed with you and obsessed with the woman who plays Carly.


O'BRIEN: But do you think that that's a strategy that will work? My kids by watching the show where you espouse vegetables will make them actually want to make healthy choices versus chicken nuggets?

MCCURDY: I certainly hope so. I think you know when kids watch shows when people sing songs, they want to sing songs. Hopefully if they see other people eat veggies, they'll want to eat veggies. O'BRIEN: There was a study that said 90 percent of the shows or the commercials that air on the show on a Saturday morning.


O'BRIEN: It's when you know kids are watching, 90 percent exceed the dietary guidelines for sugar, fat and salt.

This tremendous of what's being market and that's kind what you're up against, Miss Vegetable Ambassador. I means isn't that like --

MCCURDY: Look out, sugary (inaudible). I'm coming for you. With Bird's Eye, we'll get you.

O'BRIEN: Do you think that's going to be doable? I mean what's the message? What's the sell that's going to make your average 9-year-old girl say, you know what? I actually would like to have some steamed broccoli.

MCCURDY: I think that there are creative ways to treat your vegetables. And Bird's Eye does a lot of great things with the veggies that makes them extra tasty. So you might not think of corn as something you like or broccoli as something you like, but you'll find some sort of Bird's Eye original creation that makes it tasty for you, like broccoli in a cheese sauce or something like that.

O'BRIEN: I do like that.

You have been doing the show now for five years. We were talking about this a minute ago. You were 14 when you started?

MCCURDY: Yes. 14 when I started.

O'BRIEN: Wow. So your whole childhood really has been on that show.

MCCURDY: Yes, it's nuts. We all grew up together really.

O'BRIEN: Well, that's pretty amazing. Have you -- you're working on an album and you've been -- I didn't even realize you were a singer.

MCCURDY: Yes. I signed with Capital Nashville a few years back and I created an album and they released. Now, I recently left that label and I'm looking at other opportunities and seeing if music is something that will fit into my life.

O'BRIEN: Is it music? Acting?

MCCURDY: It's acting.

O'BRIEN: So you're an actor first?

MCCURDY: Yes, for sure.

O'BRIEN: What made you decide to go do an album?

MCCURDY: I always love singing in the shower and I loved writing my own songs. And I posted some songs on YouTube just for my fans to enjoy and see how they responded. They really seemed to like it. And then that's when Capital saw the videos and decided to sign me.

O'BRIEN: That's awesome.


O'BRIEN: What about a pilot? You're doing a new pilot too. What's that show?

MCCURDY: Yes. I'm so excited. I'm doing a pilot in a few weeks with our producer, Dan Snyder, who created "iCarly" and "Drake and Josh" and --

O'BRIEN: Is it a spinoff of "iCarly"?

MCCURDY: It is -- I can't say.


O'BRIEN: Are you finally bringing out your own show?

MCCURDY: I can't say much.

O'BRIEN: Come on. Tell me. There's a team of publicists here. But tell me.

MCCURDY: I can't say anything. It's horrible. I really can say much and don't know much to be honest with you. We're starting in a few weeks and I haven't seen a script yet, nothing. But I know that Dan Snyder is creating it. He has created great things in the past. And there's nobody that I trust more than him. So I'm glad to be under his wings.

O'BRIEN: Excellent. Jennette McCurdy, we look forward to whatever that top secret project is that you will not tell us.

MCCURDY: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: My daughters will be absolutely thrilled because we watch your show all the time.

MCCURDY: Thanks.

O'BRIEN: Nice to have you. Thanks for being with us.

MCCURDY: Thank you.


O'BRIEN: I love my new graphics so much. "End Point" --

HOOVER: And the music.

O'BRIEN: Yes, the music, I like too, yes. Margaret, I'm giving you "End Point" -- 30 seconds.

HOOVER: Thank you. You know why I like those --

O'BRIEN: One good turn deserves another.

HOOVER: Oh, wow. I'm going to pick that music from now own. My "End Point", I'm going to be quick, wrap it up. Chief Serpas I thought was so interesting. I think what's going on in New Orleans post-Katrina, there've been some really extraordinary evolutionary changes that have happened in the education system and now the police force. This is really an extraordinary feat of Mitch Landrieu's. Mayor Landrieu and also the Justice Department.

So I think we have all eyes on New Orleans for this -- I remember being at the White House during Katrina, seeing the police department flee their posts. So this is an extraordinary thing for them to be doing.

O'BRIEN: Everyone will watch to see and make sure it works. It works, that is the key.

All right. Coming up tomorrow on "STARTING POINT", my interview with Team USA's Chris Hall, Carmelo Anthony, and Maya Moore right before they headed off to the Olympics. We sat down to chat.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.

I'll see you tomorrow morning everybody. Hey Carol.