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Fallout from Akin Rape Comments; Insurgents Fire Rockets at Afghan NATO Base; Obama to Syria: Don't Cross "Red Line"; Virginia Voter I.D. Law Okayed; Handcuffed Man's Death a Suicide; Curiosity Gets Ready to Roll; Sweet Tax; Women to Join Augusta National; Apple is Most Valuable Company Ever; Will Rep. Akin Drop Out of Race?

Aired August 21, 2012 - 06:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN AMCHOR (voice-over): All right. It's his move now. The congressman who talked about what he called legitimate rape, he has until this evening to drop out of the Senate race. There is a deadline. The Republican Party has pulled its support. What will he do?

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Ready to strike. President Obama warning Syria's Bashar al-Assad the U.S. will act if chemical or biological weapons become a threat.

BERMAN: All right. Get this, having a sweet tooth may cost you. One town considering a tax on candy and soft drinks.

SAMBOLIN: I'd be in trouble on the candy part.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): All right. Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'M Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN (on-camera): And I'm John Berman. It is 6:00 a.m. in the east. We begin with politics and what everyone is talking about, the all out effort by Republican leaders to drive Todd Akin out of the Missouri Senate race. The party faithful turning their backs on Akin after his explosive remarks about what he called legitimate rape and abortion. They've been counting on him to defeat Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

So far Akin has been defiant in the face of tremendous pressure for him to get out. He has until 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time today to decide if he wants to remove his name from the ballot.

That's one deadline. The Akin uproar has given Mitt Romney and President Obama something to agree on.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The views expressed were offensive. Rape is rape.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: His comments about rape were deeply offensive. And I can't defend what he said, I can't defend him.


BERMAN: A rare moment of comedy between those two men. So will Akin stay or will he go? CNN political editor, Paul Steinhauser is live in our Washington Bureau. Paul, what are the tea leaves saying anything this morning -- are they saying anything this morning, I should say?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: They are saying things, the pressure will only increase. You just heard the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party saying with very strong language he did not agree with those comments.

You want more language. Take a listen to this, John. Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee talking to our Erin Burnett last night on CNN.


REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: If it was me and I wouldn't say anything that dumb as he has. But if it was me, and I had an opportunity to let someone else run to actually give ourselves a better chance of winning, I would step aside.


STEINHAUSER: Priebus also said he didn't think Akin should come to Tampa. He may not even get that far in the convention next week. As for the congressman, he is not dropping out as of now. In two radio interviews yesterday, he was very firm that he was sticking in saying he wasn't a quitter. Take a listen to this apology from him.


REPRESENTATIVE TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: I care deeply, you know for the victims of people who have been raped and they are equally vulnerable and a rape is equally tragic. I made that statement in error.

Let me be clear, rape is never legitimate. It's an evil act committed by violent predators. I used the wrong words in a wrong way. What I said was ill conceived and it was wrong and for that I apologize.


STEINHAUSER: John, Republican Senate sources tell me, yes, that pressure will only increase today for Akin to get out. Why, as you mentioned, this is a critical race, Republicans say they need to win back Missouri.

It's held by Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat. They say they need this seat back if they can regain control of the Senate in November. BERMAN: Paul, let's talk pure politics here. There are a limited number of days until the presidential election and this story hit like a tidal wave, you know, completely swallowing one full campaign day yesterday and likely do it again today. How does this play out on the national stage?

STEINHAUSER: This is exactly what the Romney campaign did not want to talk about yesterday, John. They had a big rollout yesterday. It was going to be Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in New Hampshire, rally together the first time in a week.

Also they had a new ad on welfare attacking the president. You know what? None of us were talking about that yesterday because of this story. We're now just six days away from the start of the Republican convention where the spotlight will be on them.

Guess what? The platform committee is hammering out their platform today. And according to our Peter Hamby, he got an exclusive look at the draft, which includes language about abortion that explicitly does not have an exemption for rape.

We've seen this in past platforms, but the timing here is not terrific at all for the Republicans on this. Why? Take a look at these numbers from Gallup. This is from last year on whether abortion should be legal in cases of rape or insist.

You can see the majority of Americans, 75 percent say yes. Also, John, take a look at this other poll number. This is the gender gap. We've been talking about this for quite some time.

The president has an advantage among women voters. Mitt Romney has an advantage among male voters. This story not helping the Romney campaign when it comes that that -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Paul Steinhauser live in our Washington Bureau. Thank you very much.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: You know, he mentioned that Republican platform and you know, a copy of the draft that we have and it differs greatly from what Romney and Paul Ryan put out. Why is that? You would think that they would be aligned in a message.

BERMAN: It differs from what the Romney campaign put out. The Romney campaign has made clear that a Romney/Ryan administration would allow for exceptions for rape and insist on the issue of abortion.

The Republican platform, the draft we have seen does not specifically allow for any exceptions. Mitt Romney, his position in abortion has shifted over the years, but he has made clear as of late that he does allow for the exceptions.

Paul Ryan, by the way, his personal history, his personal voting record, he does not believe in exceptions for anything other than the life of the mother.

So this is a complicated issue for this ticket, but once again, Paul Ryan left to sublimate his own personal opinions to the overall ticket.

SAMBOLIN: It's kind of tough if you're a voter and you're trying to make a decision and you're a little confused by, you know, the position of the candidates versus the position of the Republican --

BERMAN: More than anything what the Republicans want you to remember is they want they to be an election about the economy. They don't want this to be about social issues at all. So even talking about this, no matter what side you're on, is not something they want to be doing.

SAMBOLIN: All right, 4 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date on the rest of your top stories developing overnight.

Insurgents fire rockets at the main NATO Air Base in Afghanistan. Shrapnel from the rockets damaging the C-17 used by Joint Chiefs' Chairman Martin Dempsey. He was not on board at that time. He was not harmed.

A NATO chopper was also damaged there. Dempsey left on another aircraft. He was in Afghanistan for talks with NATO and Afghan commanders.

BERMAN: President Obama issues a stern warning to Syria. Don't even consider a chemical or biological attack or you may provoke a military response from the U.S.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my equation.


BERMAN: A military and security studies expert say the Syrian regime probably has the largest and most advanced chemical warfare program in the Arab world.

SAMBOLIN: The Justice Department gives the go ahead on Virginia's Voter I.D. law. It requires voters to present a valid form of identification before casting their ballots.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed it into law in May saying it will make elections more secure. Critics argue it discriminates against minorities who may not have a proper I.D.

BERMAN: An autopsy report shedding light on the mysterious death of 21-year-old Chavis Carter. The Arkansas medical examiner ruled that Carter shot himself in the head while handcuffed in the back of a police car following his arrest last month. The autopsy also showed that Carter had marijuana and meth in his system. Carter's family believes he was shot by the police.

SAMBOLIN: "Curiosity" is getting ready to roll on the red planet. NASA mission members say they will take a test drive on mars today or tomorrow. It hasn't made any tracks yet. The test drive comes on the heels of "Curiosity's" first laser beam test fire on Sunday.

BERMAN: I love it when you say laser beam, kind of cool.

Two cosmonauts have completed the first space-walk of the International Space Station expedition 32 mission. During the nearly six-hour long spacewalk, the pair moved a cargo boom and installed micrometeorite debris shields.

Something we all need, ladies and gentlemen. Another spacewalk is planned for next week. You know, the space station was overshadowed by the Mars "Curiosity" thing.

SAMBOLIN: You're absolutely right. And we were talking earlier, spirit and opportunity, the initial two Mars rovers and will they meet up?

All right, 7 minutes past the hour here. For a check on the weather, let's head over to Rob Marciano. Good morning to you.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Zoraida. We have action in the tropics. It's that time of year where storms line up off the African coast line. We have got one that is pretty strong that probably will develop into a next tropical depression.

In the meantime, the past hour and a half, we've had our tropical depression number nine officially form winds at 35 miles an hour. You see it blown up here on satellite picture moving quickly to the west 20 miles an hour.

So that will put it in the Caribbean here over the next couple of days, there's not a whole lot to stop it as far as strengthening goes until it start to interact with some land and that Puerto Rico, potentially Jamaica, Cuba as we get through days four and five.

Either way, it looks like it is going to develop into a hurricane when it gets in the Caribbean. Watching some showers and storms down through Florida. Florida is going to be the spot where we see heavy rain again today.

But everywhere north to mid-Atlanta looks to be comfortably cool. Temps in the upper 70s and 80s near Chicago, 84 degrees expected in New York City. Back to you.

BERMAN: All right, Rob Marciano in Atlanta, thank you very much.

A Colorado town with a not so sweet tooth. The city of Lakewood is set to approve a 3 percent sales tax on candy and softdrinks. The state has been taxing those numbers for the last two years. A public hearing on the proposed sweet tax is scheduled for next week. If approved, it would take effect in October.

SAMBOLIN: Just in time for Halloween.

BERMAN: That's right. Different take on the whole sin tax thing you get for cigarettes and alcohol.

SAMBOLIN: Too bad, I have such a sweet tooth. So that would be a problem.

BERMAN: It's going to cost you.

SAMBOLIN: It would cost me there. It's 9 minutes past the hour. The most expensive American car ever has been sold at auction. How much? The jaw dropping figure coming up next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. It is 12 minutes after the hour. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Happy to have you this morning.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is making history on the golf course. For the first time in its 80-year history, Augusta National Golf Club it allowing women to become members.

Rice and South Carolina business woman Darla Moore have been invited to join club, which is home to the Master's tournament. The move is being cheered by women's rights activists.

President Obama was quoted by White House spokesman, Jay Carney, as saying the decision was quote, "too long in coming and the right thing to do."

CNN's Mark McKay has more from Augusta National. Mark, what's been the reaction of the golf community to this?

MARK MCKAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Overwhelmingly positive, Zoraida, as golfers themselves took to Twitter, took to Facebook, spoke to reporters and basically it was a very positive reaction among the golfing community.

Case in point, Tiger Woods, the four-time Masters champion issued a statement on Monday after the club had announced this historic move saying, quote, "I think the decision by the Augusta National membership is important to golf. The club continues to demonstrate its commitment to impacting the game in positive ways."

Tiger continued by saying, "I would like to congratulate both new members, especially my friend, Condi Rice." Of course, golf fans themselves have also been pretty vocal in this, positively speaking, Zoraida, but also wondering why it took so long for Augusta National to come around.

SAMBOLIN: That's a very good question and I believe that they started admitting blacks in 1990 and there's been a big push for Augusta National Golf Club to admit women as members for years now, especially since Martha Burk led that protest there a decade ago. How has the club reacted to these outside pressures in the past?

MCKAY: Well, they basically ignored it to be honest with you, Zoraida. I mean, you remember those protests. They were vivid outside the gates here on Washington row where we're standing, protests a decade ago. Martha Burk calling for people to boycott sponsors, but Augusta National turns around and they basically go commercial free so sponsors don't get involved in this back in 2003.

While Miss Burk says she's not taking credit for what Augusta National did Monday with this historic move, she did tell CNN it's more about women's equality in general than inclusion or exclusion in this exclusive club.


MARTHA BURK, CHAIR, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF WOMEN'S ORGANIZATIONS: I always said it's not about golf and it's not about playing golf. It is about making deals in corporate America. It is about those halls of power that you're talking about. The more women we have, even if it's a couple to begin with, that cracks open the glass ceiling just a little bit further.


MARK MCKAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are so many things that we don't know and will continue not to know about Augusta National. But we do know this, the club's first two female members will receive their coveted green jackets when the club opens the season this fall.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Congratulations to them.

Mark McKay, live for us, thank you very much.

And at 7:15 Eastern this morning, Soledad O'Brien will talk with former LPGA player Hollis Stacy about the Augusta changes.

It is 15 minutes after the hour right now.

There's a lot of news today. We want to get you up to speed in the top stories. And Christine Romans is here with the headlines.


Still following the story of Congressman Todd Akin. Republican leaders say he must go but he's so far refusing to drop out of the race. Akin ignited a political firestorm with the controversial remarks about rape. He has since apologized but the chairman of the RNC says he doesn't want Akin at the party's national convention next week. He is not welcome.

Higher gas prices and sluggish economy aren't expected to be a drag on Labor Day travel. In fact, AAA says a holiday travel will hit a post recession peak. AAA expects 36 million people to travel six miles from home, 2.9 percent more compared with last year.

The travel Web site Orbitz fined $50,000 by the Transportation Department. Why? For failing to disclose airline fees clearly and prominently on its Web site. Orbitz has since corrected the problem. A spokesman says they are not aware of customer confusion or complaints. A federal judge tossed out champion cyclist Lance Armstrong's lawsuit against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The seven-time Tour de France winner claimed the agency accused him of using performance enhancing drugs did not have jurisdiction in the case.

A 1968 Ford GT-40 race car is the most expensive American auto ever sold at auction. This car for $11 million as part of an auction of the investment quality automobiles in California. This particular GT- 40 was used as a camera car to help film the classic Steve McQueen racing movie, "Le Mans". Wasn't it in 1971? Right?

BERMAN: What does the car do though for $11 million? Take it to space? Does it make coffee?

ROMANS: The thing about a lot of these cars is there weren't very many made. When you look at '59 Corvette or something, they are only a few thousand of those made. Cars like that, only few of them and they have the original engine, the original body.

SAMBOLIN: Eleven million dollars.

ROMANS: I'm a little bit of a car girl and for classic cars of the big muscle car American era, those cars tend to made a lot of money.

BERMAN: Hopefully, it's under your Christmas tree.

SAMBOLIN: I'm shocked that at $11 million ,she's justifying it.

ROMANS: I'm justifying $11 million, I'm not saying you should buy one unless you can afford it, and then enjoy.

BERMAN: All right. Seventeen minutes after the hour right now.

Moving on, airline seats can be cramped for many of us, if you are a larger person they could be downright torture. Some passengers have been buying their own seat belt extenders but that's a no-no apparently.

Christine Romans explains why.

SAMBOLIN: And there's a market.

ROMANS: A really interesting market for seat belt extenders. You can take not off unless you can buckle that seat belt safely. The flight attendants will not allow the plane to take off.

In a recent memo to the airlines, the FAA said personal seat belt extenders like this one are not allowed, even if the extenders are sold as FAA approved or FAA safe. Just because it says that doesn't mean the airline will let you fly it.

To find out, we reached out to the FAA and they told us, "The FAA wants passengers to be as safe as possible. Passengers can only use seat belt extenders that have been provided by an airline so we can ensure they meet the highest safety standards and properly maintained and inspected." Now, airlines are going to have to make sure there are enough extenders to go around literally because more than one third of adults in the U.S. are obese. This is according to the CDC. More and more people are flying and more obese people are flying.

Other issue, large people might be embarrassed to asking for a seat extender. What's the solution here diplomatically for the airlines.

We asked an associate board member of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. It's called NAAFA. This is what she told us, "If the airline industry goes in with the premise of respect, the solutions may be to increase standard seatbelt lengths, increase the amount of seatbelt extenders available or make it easier to attain one.'

So, for example, instead of asking the flight attendant for an extender while you're boarding a plane, maybe a passenger could get one at check-in write away or when you're ordering the ticket even. You could click the box, that you're going to need the seat belt extender.

The bottom line for all travelers, if you can't fasten the seat belt, you can't fly. The plane will take off without you.

BERMAN: Those are some interesting solutions actually.

ROMANS: Yes, it's interesting, but what you need is, you need diplomacy on both ends, right, and not a last minute kind of confrontation.

SAMBOLIN: If you thought it was FAA approved, you would think that would be enough, right?

ROMANS: Yes. I think the bottom line here is that if you are flying and you think you're going to need a seat belt extender, that's the first thing when you check in and you can get that ticket, and get that handled so that you're not causing a problem. You want to be able to fly.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Christine.

Twenty minutes past the hour. Great schools a quick drive to the big city and a low unemployment rate. Does it sound perfect?


SAMBOLIN: What else would you want in a hometown? "Money" mag has picked the top places to live in the United States. We're going to tell you all about them, coming up next.

For an extended look at the top stories, just head to our blog,


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. Minding your business this morning.

Apple is the most valuable company ever in history, like ever. And that's in terms of market capital.

SAMBOLIN: Christine Romans has some details for us. Also on Facebook stock as well.

ROMANS: Yes, yes. So, a couple of big stories talk to you about. Apple market cap making it the most valuable company ever, right, if you're waiting patiently or impatiently for your iPhone, maybe you know why the stock has been up so much.

Take a look at the stock over the past year under the new CEO, Tim Cook, up 86 percent. It had another record high yesterday. It eclipsed a previous record set by Microsoft on December 30th, 1999. What happened after that? I think there was a tech bubble.

I'm not drawing -- I'm not saying there's a bubble. I'm just saying that was the last time we saw something like this, although adjusted for inflation, Microsoft is still the most valuable company. But take a look at the market cap of this company, $623 billion, that's a lot of dough. I could name a whole bunch of countries -- countries GDP that aren't as valuable as Apple.

Let's also look at Facebook -- you might recall I'm going to toot my own horn here. Individual investors should not fall into the mania over IPOs and that is why. That is what happened since the initial public offering. When a company goes public, that's the beginning of the story when you learn what it can do and how it's going to earn money, how it's going to return value for shareholders and assess if you would like to own it.

Now, there are individual investors saying maybe at $19 a share, I'm more interested in owning it than it $38 a share.

Also, the big insiders have legally start to sell millions of shares and many of them have. So that's my little warning sign again about Facebook. And I think we'll see people talking about whether Facebook is a buy here as opposed to $38.

And finally, a place -- maybe you should move to one of the best places to live on the list. Carmel, Indiana, tops that list. Pretty interesting, right? There's a town in Texas, McKinney, Texas, and Eden Prairie, Minnesota, is the third.

It's cold there, but the economy is hot. Families love Eden Prairie, Minnesota. I'll tweet a list -- a link to the list and you can see why all of those towns are the best places to live in America.

BERMAN: And pack your bags and send to Minnesota.

All right. Christine Romans, thanks very much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: Twenty-six minutes after the hour, who's collecting for the keg? We'll tell you the university with the proud or notorious title of biggest party school.

SAMBOLIN: Parents pay attention.

BERMAN: If you're leaving the house right now, you can watch us anytime in your desktop or mobile. Just go to


BERMAN: Republican leadership deserting the man who used the words legitimate rape. Congressman Todd Akin facing a deadline to drop out of the Senate race today.

SAMBOLIN: Less gives more. The middle class outpacing the wealthy when it comes charity.

BERMAN: First in beer. The university voted the number one party school in the country with the top beer guzzling body. They must be proud.

SAMBOLIN: Are you speculating which school it is?

BERMAN: I don't know.

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

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is 31 minutes after the hour right now.

And, of course, we are talking about the politics right now, the politics of abortion. Missouri Congressman Todd Akin is at the center of a waiting game this morning with top Republican leaders strongly suggesting that he drop his bid for the Senate. Akin of course under fire for comments he made about women's abortion rights in the instance of rape.

Take a listen one more time.


REP. TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.


BERMAN: Now, akin has said he misspoke. So far, the head of the RNC and Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee is withdrawing $5 million in advertising that was planned in Missouri.

And here's what Mitt Romney said.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: His comments about rape were deeply offensive. And I can't defend what he said. I can't defend him.


BERMAN: A lot is at stake here. Congressman Akin running against Senator Claire McCaskill, in one of the most closely watched races this November. It was a target for Republicans, now a race they're afraid that they might lose.

Joining us right now is a Republican, Margaret Hoover, CNN contributor and former White House appointee with the Bush administration.

Margaret, how are you?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good morning. How are you, guys?

BERMAN: We've been talking about -- it's important for the Senate race there, obviously, but this has some national political implication as evidenced by the fact that the RNC running as fast as they can from Akin. Romney, Ryan, running as fast as they can from Ryan.

What are the national implications here?

HOOVER: Well, the national implication is -- first of all, as long as we're talking about women and the fact that President Obama is leading Mitt Romney by 15 percentage points when it comes to women and if that margin also continues to grow, they are not talking about jobs, they are not talking about the economy, they are not talking about the impending debt crisis, they are not talking about the things that all voters are saying are number one on their mind.

So, it behooves the NRCC and John Cornyn who is desperately trying to get the Senate back. By the way, Missouri hangs in the balance, really, all of their combinations, if they want to win the Senate back, need Claire McCaskill to lose. We're talking about women's issues and not the economy which all voters say is the most important thing to them in November.

But if the gap continues to widen with women, President Obama stands a chance of being re-elected.

BERMAN: This is all happening as Republicans are in Tampa discussing the party platform today.

HOOVER: Today.

BERMAN: CNN has obtained a draft of their platform on the issue of abortion and human life amendment. Let me read you a quote from that right now. It says, "We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation and make clear that the 14th Amendment Protections apply to unborn children.

Now, what's not included in this is an exception for rape or incest.

HOOVER: So, this is a fantastic example, what you have highlighted is the fact that there is a special interest in the Republican Party that has absolutely hijacked the platform on this issue. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans according to the Gallup do not support this amendment. They support women being able to choose to have an abortion in the case of rape and incest.

Furthermore, what defies this debate generally, is that there is not a monolithic point of view from women in the Republican Party about abortion. Seventy-eight percent of women want the woman, her doctor, her family and her God to be the deciding factors whether to have an abortion, not the government.

BERMAN: Now, you have said, you know, Republicans -- no one is a single issue voter.

However, is there a point in this abortion discussion where a party's position becomes disqualifying. You are a pro-choice Republican, correct? Is there a point where it becomes disqualified?

HOOVER: If there ends up being so much collateral damage that it shifts the debate so far in one direction that it takes from center stage what the top of the ticket wants to be talking about which is jobs and the economy and debt crisis and how to get the economy back and working.

Look, women will say, Republicans especially like me will say all issues are women's issues, not just the issue of health care issues that have to do with freedom to have an abortion. Women are making kitchen table decisions about their pocketbooks, about their families, about how they are going to spend money in groceries. They're watching prices go up. They're watching gas prices.

All of these issues apply to women as well. So, it's not as though it's the only issue that relates to women. Only way to win women over.

All right. Twelve percent of the electorate, 6 percent on either side of this issue are single issue voters, either for pro-life or pro- choice. Everybody else is in between.

BERMAN: How many days for Todd Akin?

HOOVER: You know what? The convention starts on Sunday, I think it probably goes until tonight when he decides to step out.

SAMBOLIN: Do you think he will step out?

HOOVER: Honestly, I don't see how he can't. He's got John Cornyn, he's got Mitt Romney, he has Reince Priebus -- all top leadership are saying, if you want a career in national politics, you will do the best thing for the party right now.

SAMBOLIN: But if he doesn't step down, do you think we'll continue to have the same dialogue and it will be more weighty.

HOOVER: We will lose Missouri and then it will become a side show.

SAMBOLIN: All right. BERMAN: Margaret Hoover, thanks very much for joining us.

HOOVER: Thanks.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Let's get you up to date on rest of the top stories this morning.

On the campaign trail, President Obama hitting two battle ground states with events in Ohio and Nevada. Vice President Biden campaigns in Minnesota.

Meantime, Mitt Romney spends the day fundraising in Texas. And Paul Ryan will be stumping in Pennsylvania.

BERMAN: Cantaloupes tainted with salmonella are being blamed for two deaths. The cantaloupes in question come with a sticker shown they were grown in Indiana. If you have one, throw it away. Health officials say salmonella bacteria gets on the skin of the melon and can spread on the knife when it's cut.

SAMBOLIN: Very scary.

All right. A voice from the flower power generation of the 1960s has been silenced. Let's stop to listen for a few seconds, to the song, if you're going to San Francisco.


SAMBOLIN: I want to keep listening. The song was Scott McKenzie's biggest hit. Scott McKenzie died Saturday of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disease affecting the nervous system. Just 73 years old.

BERMAN: Great hearing that song.


BERMAN: All right. When it comes to charitable donations, wealthy have nothing on the middle class. A study by the "Chronicle of Philanthropy" says on average, households earning between $50,000 and $75,000 a donated more than 7 percent of discretionary income, people making more than $100,000 a year, donated just over 4 percent. For many who earned $200,000 or more, the giving rate dropped below 3 percent.

SAMBOLIN: Interesting. Love to know what all of that means.

Former Dunkin' Donuts franchise owners are now reportedly suing the company. According to "The New York Post," they say the chain discriminates against minority owners, pushing them to take locations in less desirable locations.

In a complaint filed in New Jersey, the state court, the former owners accuse Dunkin brands of giving white franchises prime locations, leaving minority owners to pick economically disadvantage or marginal areas. The spokesperson for Dunkin declined to comment. BERMAN: All right. We have some breaking news right now on politics, which we've been covering all morning. We've been talking about Todd Akin, the congressman from Missouri who is running for Senate there. We've all been wondering what will he do?

Well, we have answer, sort of, he's releasing an ad this morning just seconds ago, asking for forgiveness. It was just posted on YouTube. Hopefully we can take a listen right now. Let's listen.


AKIN: I'm Todd Akin and I approve this message.

Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words and the wrong and for that I apologize. As a father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators, have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault. I pray for them.

The fact is rape could lead to pregnancy. The truth is rape has many victims.

The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness.


BERMAN: He hasn't said there whether he's staying or going. But he didn't say he's dropping out. So, I'm going to assume for now, at least he's staying in the race.

Really interesting what he has done since yesterday. Yesterday, he posted a fundraising plea on Twitter and on his Web site, asking for people to give money. Now, he's asking for forgiveness right now.

Obviously, he's checking every avenue he can to make sure he can stay in the race to see if he can still raise enough money to stay in the race, to see with this ad if he can generate enough support in Missouri to stay in the race.

SAMBOLIN: And he's also apologized repeatedly. And I suppose it's up to the voters to decide whether or not it is genuine apology, whether or not he really did misspeak and what he really intended to say.

BERMAN: The question will be is it up to just the voters or is there so much pressure that the Republican leadership that can apply to force him from the race. No one can, I guess, force him completely. If he wants to stay --

SAMBOLIN: He can stay.

BERMAN: He can stay.

SAMBOLIN: But there are repercussions to that, right?

BERMAN: And there will be, no doubt, political in Missouri and around the country. Forty minutes after the hour right now. And next on EARLY START, no ID, no vote. A controversial voter ID law getting the OK in a key battleground state, and this, of course, in the middle of an election year.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Forty-four minutes past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.>

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Very glad you're with us here right now.

We want to get you up-to-date on this morning's top stories.

And, first up, insurgents fire rockets at the main NATO air base in Afghanistan. Shrapnel from the rockets damaging the C-17 used by Joint Chiefs chairman Martin Dempsey. Now, he was not on board and he was not harmed. Dempsey left in another aircraft.

SAMBOLIN: Voters in Virginia heading to the polls for primary and election days will have to show IDs before casting ballots. The Justice Department has approved the state's voter ID law. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed it into law in May, saying it will make elections more secure.

Critics say it discriminates against minorities who may not have proper IDs.

BERMAN (voice-over): Curiosity is getting ready to roll on the Red Planet. NASA mission members say the rover will take a test drive on Mars either today or tomorrow. It hasn't made any tracks just yet. The test drive comes on the heels of Curiosity's first laser beam test fire on Sunday.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): There's been so much news, you would have thought it would have been trekking all over Mars. Hey, what is this year's ultimate party school? Guesses? The Princeton review is out with its list and we have the top five for you.

At five, the University of Georgia. That's Soledad in the background. In fourth, the University of Illinois. In third, Ohio University. The University of Iowa is the runner up there, and the number one party school in America is -- West Virginia University. It also topped the lots of beer list.



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's not shocking there.

BERMAN (on-camera): We should announce a bus tour. We're announcing a bus tour right now for EARLY START. We'll be visiting all five party schools in the next three weeks.

O'BRIEN: No. I think when we do the spa tour --



O'BRIEN: You may go to the party school.


BERMAN: In case you haven't noticed, Soledad is here.


BERMAN: What's on "Starting Point"?

O'BRIEN: Lots going on. Of course, we're going to continue to talk about Congressman Todd Akin. Should he quit? Will he quit the U.S. Senate race in Missouri after making those comments about abortion and rape? We're going to talk about that this morning.

Also, we'll chat with Amy Kremer. She's the chairwoman of the Key Party Express. The former Alabama congressman, Arthur Davis, will be our guest. He's going to speak at the Republican Convention. You know, he left the Democratic Party earlier this year, switched to Republican, is now a Romney supporter.

We're going to talk to Steve Forbes, as well, former Republican candidate for president, the founder of Forbes Media is going to weigh in for us on all of this.

Also, we're going to talk about the Augusta National now admitting two female members. Does that mean more women will follow? The former LPGA star, Hollis Stacy will join us. You know, she was just inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. She'll be our guest.

And a live update from Team Nyad. We've been following her as she tries to push through some more storms as she's dealing with now as she makes her way from Cuba to Florida.

Plus, a director and actor, Curt Cameron, is going to join us as well. He got a movie that celebrates monuments across the United States. We're going to talk about that and the history of (INAUDIBLE) here in this county.

SAMBOLIN: Very cool.

O'BRIEN: All that and much more.

SAMBOLIN: A lot going on. Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Thirteen minutes and counting.


SAMBOLIN: Join Soledad. All right. Forty-seven minutes past the hour. He has been put on notice. President Obama threatens Syria's leader with force if he crosses a red line. We have a live report coming up next.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 50 minutes past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. President Obama delivering a strong message to Syria. There will be repercussions should it even consider a chemical or a biological attack.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change calculus. That would change my equation.


SAMBOLIN: A security expert says he believes a Syrian regime, quote, "probably has the largest and most advanced chemical warfare program in the Arab world." Jim Clancy is following developments from Beirut. So, Jim, does this mean that the Obama administration has an actual plan to possibly put troops on the ground?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It would seem unlikely that it has a plan to put troops on the ground, unless, it was a special operation to, in one way or another, neutralize stocks of chemical weapons or secure them so they couldn't be transferred to terrorist groups. The U.S. is keeping a close eye on this. No doubt about it, using satellite technology to track the whereabouts.

Now, the free Syrian army has accused the government of shifting some of its stocks of chemical weapons saying it has sources within the regime. The U.S., as President Obama underscored, is watching this very carefully. At the same time, Damascus was quick to respond. Now, there's certainly an awareness here that weapons of mass destruction like chemical weapons were used as a cause (ph) in order for the U.S. to enter the war in Iraq.

Syria saying today it's not even confirming that it has chemical weapons and saying in any event it would never use them against its own people, only against a foreign invader. The Russians quickly jumping in as well, saying that they and the Chinese are adamantly opposed to any U.S. unilateral military action to intervene in the conflict in Syria saying that that would violate both U.N. and international law.

So, you see a lot of sides reacting to what the president had to say. Clearly, his sharpest most pointed statement on this subject to date. Back to you.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. No doubt. Sen. John McCain, I know, has been advocating for more presence there and particularly troop presence there. Let's talk about the humanitarian aid. We have been covering the story for a very long time, and there's a lot of talk about humanitarian aid being sent but what actually reaches the people there could be different. Can you tell us about that?

CLANCY: Well, we talk with the free Syrian army's representatives, they would say that very, very little is arriving to assist the people on the ground inside Syria. Yes, camps have been set up in Northern Iraq, in Turkey. Aid is reaching those groups. Many more people, though, have fled to unofficial sites.

They're staying with families. They're in very poor areas of Lebanon, Jordan, and other countries in the region seeking shelter there. They're afraid to give their names to register officially. So, what we have 170,000 officially registered people, we know that there's probably double that number, triple that number outside the country as well as all of those internally displaced in their hundreds of thousands inside Syria and they are unable to get a lot of that aid. So, the situation still very dire, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And was it $82 million that the United States has spent, so far, in Syria on humanitarian aid?

CLANCY: It was. And, you know, President Obama referred to that from the White House only yesterday. Take a listen.


OBAMA: Number one, we want to make sure we're providing humanitarian assistance, and we've done that to the tune of $82 million, I believe, so far. And we'll probably end up doing a little bit more.


CLANCY: Now, the U.S. donation, the money that he's talking about right there is, perhaps, the largest that has been given for humanitarian aid, but the Europeans have joined in as well -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Jim Clancy live from Beirut, thank you very much.

And, we are diving into today's "Best Advice." When we come back, words of wisdom from Olympic gold medalist, David Boudia.


SAMBOLIN: Fifty-eight minutes past the hour.

BERMAN: And as always, we wrap it up with "Best Advice." Here's Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And more Olympic best advice. I love this. Today's advice comes from Olympic gold medal diver, David Boudia.


DAVID BOUDIA, GOLD MEDALIST DIVER: The best advice that was given to me was actually from Olympic diving legend, Greg Louganis (ph). And he said, just stay true to yourself, stay true to your roots, and remember where you came from.


ROMANS: Very cool. Remember where you came from. Stay true to your root. I love the idea of these very high level athletes talking about stuff like this together, you know?


BERMAN: And David Boudia, so cool. We met him here last week.


BERMAN: That's all for EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.