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Presidential Candidates Prepare for Upcoming Debate; Arnold Schwarzenegger Publishes Memoir; Teacher Cuts Child's Hair without Parent's Knowledge; "Mayors Against Illegal Guns"; Aurora Shooting Survivor Demands Plan; Siblings Missing In Tennessee; Malvo Shows Remorse 10 Years Later; Ryan Dodges Tax Plan Questions; Los Angeles Survives "Carmageddon II"; Americans Blow Lead At Ryder Cup; Voter Fraud Reported In Florida

Aired October 1, 2012 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: It's Monday, October 1st, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Good morning, welcome everybody. Our starting point this morning, crunch time in the race for the White House. Just two days remain before President Obama and Mitt Romney square off in Denver for the first of three critical debates. The president's being prepped in Nevada today. Mitt Romney is already in Denver. And the GOP challenger has some ground to make up because a brand-new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll this morning has the president leading by two percentage points among likely voters.

It's not unusual for candidates to try to lower expectations in the days leading up to debate. Republicans have been playing up the president's eloquence ever since last week. But it seems somebody forgot to tell New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, because he was setting the bar high for Mr. Romney. Listen.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: He's going to come in Wednesday night, lay out his vision for America, he's going to contrast what his view is with what the president's record is, the president's view for the future. And this whole race is going to be turned upside down come Thursday morning.


O'BRIEN: Upside down is what he said. In just a few minutes we're going to be talking about Wednesday night's debate and the president's preparations with Brad Woodhouse, communications director for the Democratic National Committee. First some of the other stories making news in D.C. Getting ready for Wednesday's debate coverage is John Berman. Hey, John, good morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're doing debate prep just like the candidates here in Washington. Start overseas, Soledad. The Taliban taking responsibility for an attack in eastern Afghanistan that killed at least 14 people, civilians, police, and three NATO soldiers. Officials say the suicide bomber targeted a joint patrol using a motorcycle packed with explosives. This attack comes a day after a firefight left two Americans dead, including the 2,000th U.S. military member to be killed in Afghanistan.

Syria's foreign minister takes center stage on the final day of the U.N. General Assembly session. He will address the delegates latest this morning and defend the Assad regime's handling of the 18-month crisis that has spiraled into a civil war. Syria has been a prime focus for world leaders at the United Nations over the past week.

We are expecting an announcement today in that mystery surrounding the location of Jimmy Hoffa's remains. Investigators are waiting for tests on mud and clay samples from a home in suburban Detroit. They searched under a shed there on Friday. A tipster, you will remember, claimed he saw what appeared to be a body being buried at the site the day after the former teamster's chief disappeared back in 1975.

Sports, Sunday night football the super bowl champion New York Giants falling to the Philadelphia Eagles 19-17 in a clash of NFC east powers. A 54-yard field goal attempt in the closing seconds by New York's Lawrence Tynes falling a yard short. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons still perfect at 4-0. Matt Bryant's 40-yard field goal with five seconds left giving Atlanta a dramatic 30-28 comeback win over Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.

And, oh, my goodness, after Green Bay had taken a 28-27 fourth quarter lead against New Orleans, a blown call by the real refs! It almost cost Green Bay the game. They missed that fumble on the kickoff right there. Green Bay had no challenges so they couldn't have it reviewed. The Saints took it while they went on to try a potential game-winning field goal, but they missed. So thankfully the Packers survived. They were not robbed of another loss there.

But the biggest, saddest, worst sports news, the collapse for the ages by the U.S. team at the 39th Ryder cup. This was awful. The Europeans roaring bang from a 10-4 deficit late Saturday to take a tuning 14.5 to 13.5 point win. Germany's Martin Kaymer sank a putt on the final hole to seal the victory. Honestly it was all lost well before that. Europe has won the seven out of the last nine Ryder cups. And Soledad I don't know if you had a chance to watch this debacle, a debacle, embarrassing.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it was killing my poor husband. All right, John, thank you.

Back to our top story this morning. Two days until the first presidential debate. Both candidates are getting last-minute preparations. "The New York Times" reporting that Mitt Romney is coming armed on Wednesday night, writing this, Mr. Romney's team has concluded the debates are about creating moments and has equipped him with a series of zingers that he's memorized and has been practicing on aides since August. President Obama responded to that report last night with this.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know folks in the media are speculating already on who's going to have the best zingers. I don't know about that, who's going to put the most points on the board. Governor Romney, he's a good debater. I'm just OK. But, what I'm most concerned about is having a serious discussion.


O'BRIEN: Let's get to Brad Woodhouse, the communications director of the Democratic National Committee. It's nice to see you again. Thank you for talking with us.


O'BRIEN: Good morning to you. Let's talk about strategy. If, in fact, that is correct, and that governor Romney is going to, and has been practicing zingers to sort of throw in to the debate in order to have moments, which, you know, I think that that is what the media grabs onto. A moment in the presidential debate, what is the strategy for the Dems if that's the case?

WOODHOUSE: Well, look, I think for the president it's to ignore those. I mean, you know, the president doesn't think the debate should be about zingers or trying to put points on the board, as he said. It's about having a discussion with the American people. So you know, I think Mitt Romney will be disappointed if he thinks he's going to debate the president into some contest who has the hottest rhetoric or the zing percent. I mean the president's going to talk with the American people.

Unfortunately, you know, this is not a sound bite president. So it's kind of a challenge for him to do this in a minute or 90 second responses. But, you know, that's what he's going to do. He's going to talk the American people in their couches and their living rooms. And you know, Governor Romney will be there, but that's not going to be the president's primary concern.

O'BRIEN: But as you know, some interesting moments, and things people talk about, literally, decades later, after debates, is you know, maybe they're not necessarily zingers, but they're moments. I'm going to play a couple for you --


O'BRIEN: -- from past debates. Listen.


RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: There you go again. I want you to know that also, I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.


O'BRIEN: In both of those instances, the blow was fatal. And maybe it didn't show up in the polling right away, but people had this sense that what had happened in that moment was a metaphor for who was the better fighter in the debate. And that could be problematic, couldn't it?

WOODHOUSE: Well, it absolutely could be. I mean there are other moments in debates, too. I'm sure you remember from the primary Mitt Romney's famous $10,000 bet.

O'BRIEN: Right.

WOODHOUSE: So there are many opportunities for practiced, you know, zingers, and one-liners, as there are opportunities, you know, to make mistakes. I think the best thing a candidate can do, and I haven't been to a debate president so I'm not advising him but the best thing a candidate can do is go in and try to tell a story, a narrative about what they want to do.

It's hard to tell a narrative in one-second sound bites but you really want to talk with the American people so they string all of these one minute, and 90 second responses together into what you want to do for the country, where you want to take it. There are moments that are famous for, you know, for zingers like that. I mean, I do remember Lloyd Bentsen didn't get elected vice president, know, though it was a famous one-liner.

O'BRIEN: That's, that's very true. And that's going to bring me to my next question which is out of this op-ed by E.J. Dionne, and he writes one of the short comings of the contemporary media environment is while debates are supposed to be occasions where candidates thrash out matters of consequence thoughtfully and in detail the outcomes are often judged by snippets that are more about personal character than issues or problems. And I'm curious to know is it just that we talk about the moments, write about the moments, rerun the moments, but that people 40 are actually watching the debate trying to figure out who to vote for the moments don't resonate with them?

WOODHOUSE: I actually don't agree with that. I do think there are -- look, there are times where we genuflect over something that happens in a debate or on the campaign trail that might not matter a lot. But look, like for example in the primary you won't be surprised to hear me say this, I thought the $10,000 bet moment spoke to who Mitt Romney is. It spoke to what his, you know, what his life is like. It spoke to, you know, a lot of things about Mitt Romney, how out of touch he is. So I think -- and people really focused on that for a week after that debate. So I think there are moments like that that the media will focus on that are really important as to the character of a, you know, of a candidate.

But more broadly speaking, I think in this debate, we have two -- we now have two parties as opposed to the Republican primary, the candidates of which need to talk about the specific plans they have for the country. Mitt Romney is yet to be specific about his plans, his tax plans, his plans for entitlements. And so this is an opportunity for him to be specific.

O'BRIEN: I was sort of surprised that governor, New Jersey governor Chris Christie apparently didn't get the memo about downplaying expectations. I know the Democrats are doing it furiously, the president himself doing it furiously.


O'BRIEN: The Republicans have been doing it furiously. Here's what Chris Christie said over the weekend.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, ( R ) GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: Well, listen, he's had a tough couple of weeks. Let's be honest. I mean I'm not going to sit here and come on this morning and sugarcoat the last couple of weeks. They've been tough. But here's the great news for Republicans. We have a candidate who is going to do extraordinarily well on Wednesday night. He's going to contrast what his view is with what the president's record is, the president's view for the future. And this whole race is going to be turned upside down come Thursday morning.

Wednesday night's the restart of this campaign, and I think you're going to see those numbers start to move right back in the other direction.

So I have absolute confidence that when we get to Thursday morning, George, you're all going to be shaking your heads saying it's a brand- new race.


O'BRIEN: So, responding to that the president said Governor Romney's a good debater. I'm just OK.


O'BRIEN: He was sort of going the other direction. You heard Chris Christie say it's going to go extraordinarily well. It's going to be turned upside down. It's a restart of the campaign. It's a brand-new race. Those are all quotes from that clip there. Is that risky for him to do that?

WOODHOUSE: Look I think he set the bar high for Mitt Romney. And the bar should be high for Mitt Romney. I mean he's gone through this campaign. We're five weeks out, Soledad, and he has not said how he'd pay for his tax plan. We're five weeks out he hasn't said how he'll shore up Medicare or Social Security to protect benefits instead of cutting them. So the bar is really high for him. I think Chris Christie set it even a little higher.

But let's be clear, Mitt Romney is a terrific debater. I mean, he des patched Newt Gingrich from the race in Florida based on really good debate performances there. Did the same -- O'BRIEN: And the president is also a good debater in spite of his pleas that he's just OK. I don't think anybody believes that. Brad Woodhouse.

WOODHOUSE: He's all right.

O'BRIEN: Again, again, the expectations game. It just never ends. It's going to be a long five weeks. Brad woodhouse. Nice to see you.

WOODHOUSE: Nice to see you.

O'BRIEN: You can watch complete coverage of the first presidential debate this Wednesday night. It starts at 7:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN and on

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a stunning interview. Arnold Schwarzenegger talking candidly about his affair with his house keeper and other indiscretions as well. Also, did he even ask his estranged wife Maria Shriver to preview the memoir? We're going to talk to his press secretary, his former press secretary, up next.

And today's get real, tell you why a teacher cut a seven-year-old student's hair four inches, at least, without even bothering to run it by her mom. We're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans minding your business. A big week for your money -- Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke speaks today. The critical September jobs report is Friday. And there's plenty of news in between like auto sales, jobless claims and a presidential debate. U.S. stock futures signal a higher start to a brand-new quarter that begins today.

Individual investors may have missed this strong quarter for stocks. Retail investors have been pulling money out of stocks for months. But stocks have been rising. The Dow, the S&P 500, the NASDAQ, all posted strong gains over the past three months. The NASDAQ is up nearly 18 percent for the year now. More signs of weakness in the global economy.

New data overnight from China show its factory sector slowed last month, and a report from HSBC says new export orders declined last month with the sharpest rate in three-and-a-half years. Soledad, China has fashioned itself into the factory for the world. When China's manufacturing slows, everyone worries.

O'BRIEN: All right, Christine, thank you for the upset.

It's what everybody's talking about this morning, Arnold Schwarzenegger says that his life were a movie, nobody would believe it. From body builder to movie star to governor of California, his new book is called "Total Recall." It's out today and it details his entire life, including the now infamous affair with his house keeper that led to the breakup of his marriage with Maria Shriver. Schwarzenegger talked about that affair in an interview with "60 Minutes."


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, FORMER CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: I think it was the stupidest thing I've done in the whole relationship. It was terrible. I inflicted tremendous pain on Maria and unbelievable pain on the kids.


O'BRIEN: Margita Thompson was a press secretary for Arnold Schwarzenegger during his first term as governor. Nice to see you. Thank you for talking with us. I thought it was -- what did you think of the interview? Let me ask that first.

MARGITA THOMPSON, SCHWARZENEGGER'S FORMER PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think it was an interesting interview. It's definitely going to generate sales for the book. He is a fascinating person. He is someone who has a penchant for having a big personality. And he's also someone that shows that he's human and he's flawed. And so, with that greatness comes a fatal flaw, and it was interesting to watch last night.

O'BRIEN: I thought what was interesting, as well, Margita, was it seemed like he had these two paths. On one hand a guy who said I'm going to be famous and became famous. Who said I'm going to be wealthy, and made himself, you know, become wealthy in his 20s in real estate, surprisingly. On the other hand, a guy who, who hides stuff, big things, and, and, and lies. How do you, and when you worked for him, or did you ever see him sort of those both sides of him?

THOMPSON: Well, you could see how he's a man of contradictions. He is definitely someone that when the people of California elected him, they weren't going to be getting a conventional politician. They were getting someone who was going to be breaking the rules, and that was exciting for people. It meant that by breaking the rules you were going to get other people to behave differently in reaction to that. And so that's some of the groundbreaking things that helped him accomplish an amazing life and helped him really accomplish a lot of good policy as governor of California.

O'BRIEN: Of course breaking the rules when you're talking about bringing different people to the table because you're a first-term governor is one thing. Breaking the rules when you're talking about your personal life is something else. Let me play a clip from Leslie Stahl's interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger where he literally says that he kind of sprung the idea of even running for governor upon Maria Shriver, that she had no idea. Listen.


LESLIE STAHL, "60 MINUTES": You had no idea that this was something she would not want to get back into?

SCHWARZENEGGER: No. As a matter of fact, I was thinking that she would say, wow. That is amazing. Welcome to the club. You finally convinced to be a public servant, just like my entire family. None of that. All of a sudden it came to a grinding halt, and I had to now deal with the drama.


O'BRIEN: The book details and the interview, too, details a pattern of that, sort of creating this drama and saying now I have to deal with this drama. The drama is because you didn't mention it.

THOMPSON: Well, it's -- he likes creating drama. I think it's one of the things he's trying to do to generate sales for the book. And, it's just -- it's the nature of who he is. He is someone who has a penchant and flair for the big, the dramatic, and sometimes that's good, and sometimes that's less ideal.

O'BRIEN: Leslie Stahl asked about the affair with the housekeeper that went on to bring about the birth of a child. He has a little boy now with this, this housekeeper. And you know, Maria Shriver had defended Arnold Schwarzenegger against allegations of groping. She gave up her career as a journalist. I think a lot of people felt that it was just a betrayal, this affair, on every level to her, when that became public. So I guess I have to ask you about his personal character, because there are many people who just think that, that that's the definition of a horrible human being.

THOMPSON: Well, I think -- he said he was sorry. He knows it's a tragedy. And he has said that it was a big mistake. That's one of the things that sets him apart from I think a traditional elected official is that he's willing to say that he's sorry and that he made a mistake. I think that it's very sad, and it's one of those things that speaks to how connected people feel to both the governor and to Maria is that they feel that emotion, and they feel that sadness with them. And, it's just -- it's really tragic.

O'BRIEN: Let me play a clip that was not in the interview on "60 Minutes" on TV but they have it on the Web site. It's online. He's talking about same-sex marriage, of a marriage that he performed of a former staffer.


STAHL: Did you go to the wedding?

SCHWARZENEGGER: I performed the wedding in the office.

STAHL: You married --

SCHWARZENEGGER: I married her in the office in the governor's office.

STAHL: Then you must be for gay marriage?

SCHWARZENEGGER: I don't have to be for gay marriage. I'm for that she gets the kind of wedding and the kind of ceremony that I had when I got married to Maria. That she happens to love a woman, and I am, as a guy that loves a woman, that is two different things. It doesn't make any difference. She should still have her ceremony. (END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So he performed a gay marriage, in the office of the governor, at a time when he was outwardly maintaining that he's against gay marriage. Isn't that someone who is a hypocrite?

THOMPSON: Well, anyone who thinks that Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't an open-minded person is someone who hasn't been around. People knew who they elected when they elected governor Schwarzenegger. And he wasn't elected on a social agenda. He was elected on a recall election on trying to turn the state's economics around.

O'BRIEN: I realize that.

THOMPSON: That's what he really focused on.

O'BRIEN: Right. But I guess I'm saying that he was saying outwardly that he did not support gay marriage at the exact same time when he was performing a gay wedding in his office.

THOMPSON: Well, I have to admit, I haven't read the book. So that's one of the surprises that there was even for me. I don't know what the timing was of when that ceremony was performed. But again, I just really think that the core of the person is that he's an open-minded person and no one should be surprised by that.

O'BRIEN: Are you going to run out and buy this book or do you feel like you lived enough of it?

THOMPSON: Oh, no, I'm absolutely going to buy it. I think he's had a fascinating life. I think it's unfortunate that in the interview they didn't talk the about the fact that he still is going to have a public life. He just launched the Schwarzenegger Institute at USC. He's been -- he's doing movies and he really is going to have a public life that I think is going to continue to impact us in the years to come.

O'BRIEN: Margita Thompson, it will certainly be interesting to watch. Thank you for being with us this morning.

THOMPSON: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

Coming up, the Baltimore Orioles team plane catches fire goes in for an emergency landing. We're going to tell you what went wrong and our get real this morning an outraged mother claims that a teacher cut the hair off her daughters, at least four inches, without even asking permission. Our STARTING POINT team is heading in to talk about all of that and much more. Richard Socarides is with us, Ron Brownstein and Kellyanne Conway. We're back in just a moment.


BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. A look now at some top stories. A plane taking the Baltimore Orioles to Florida made an emergency landing in Jacksonville because of a smoke condition on the aircraft. The aircraft was inspected and the team resumed their flight. By the way, the Orioles clinched their first playoff berth since 1997.

Reports that two loaded guns recently got past airport screeners and onto two flights. In one case a New Orleans vice president for the basketball team look a loaded handgun on board his checked baggage undetected. In the other case a woman brought a firearm onto the plane in her purse.

So finding a gay cure for minors will soon be against the law in California. The state is the first in the nation to ban so-called "gay conversion therapies" targeting children and teenagers. This law takes effect in January.

O'BRIEN: Thank you for the update. Our team, Richard Socarides sitting right next to me so I can stop him when I need to. He's worked with the, he writes for them, former senior adviser to President Clinton. Ron Brownstein is at the other side of the table, editorial director of "National Journal." And Kellyanne Conway is the president of the polling company women trend. Nice to have you with us.

Our "Get Real" this morning. This one is so disturbing to me. Seven- year-old girl gets food stuck in her hair. You have a seven-year-old so you know this age well. The assistant teacher decides to remove the food from her hair. How does she do it? By cutting the girl's hair off. Apparently removed, well the mother believes, the mother's name is Jessica in North Carolina. She says it was seven or eight inches of hair that they cut off this little girl. The teacher sent a note saying she had cut about four inches, which would still be a ton of hair to chop off a little kid. Of course none of it was done by asking permission of the parents.

The mom says her daughter came home, little girl has Down syndrome, the daughter came home and was confused about the haircutting was punishment of some kind. Would not look at herself in the mirror now and some conflicting stories. The teacher first said oh, no I cut off the hair four inches because there was food stuck in it. And then said in a letter that she sent home she actually trimmed it because the little girl wouldn't stop taking her hair down. When I read that I thought that sounds a little vindictive, won't stop playing with her hair. Who cuts even an inch of hair off when there's food in it?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Nobody who wants to be a friend of a seven-year-old actually dares to cut their hair. But this is really outrageous, not just to me as a mother but also just, me as somebody who believes, why in the schools do -- we can't hug them. We can't pray with them. We can't give them aspirin. We can't -- there are so many reasons to call parents and get permission and yet this woman took it upon herself, you can invite the parent and say, do you want to come down and take it out.

O'BRIEN: It's not like a tarantula and an immediate decision needs to be done right away.

CONWAY: And I don't know why they take their outrage out on these precious little children. The other thing is that in this case, with the Down's syndrome child, she's not only going to be confused but maybe traumatized. She thinks that she was punished for eating. So it's very sad. I think people should feel outrage.

O'BRIEN: I feel a lawsuit coming, really? Don't you think?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's kind of an outrageous thing to do.

O'BRIEN: That poor little girl. Anyway, we move on.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, no time to explain Paul Ryan asks for specifics about how Mitt Romney's tax plan would work and his answer had a lot of eyebrows raising this morning. We're going to talk about that.

Also a STARTING POINT exclusive. He was shot in the face during that Aurora movie theater massacre. Now Stephen Barton is fighting back. He is going to join us with his new strategy. That's coming up next. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT exclusive this morning. The group that was started by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, "Mayors Against Illegal Guns," is releasing a new TV ad today.

And they're hoping to make a statement ahead of this week's presidential debate. The debate is in Denver, not far from the Aurora movie theatre. Where 12 people were shot and killed and 58 others injured in July. The ad features a victim of the shooting, Stephen Barton. Here's a little clip of it.


STEPHEN BARTON, AURORA SHOOTING VICTIM: This past summer in a movie theater in Colorado I was shot. Shot in the face and neck, but I was lucky. In the next four years, 4,000 Americans won't be so lucky because they'll be murdered with guns in the next president's term enough to fill over 200 theaters. So when you watch the presidential debates, ask yourself, who has a plan to stop gun violence? Let' demand a plan.


O'BRIEN: Stephen joins us this morning. It's nice to have you with us. Thanks for being here.

BARTON: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: So first let's talk about your recovery. I can see the scars on your neck, which actually look quite good.

BARTON: Yes. I mean, other than some nerve damage everything's going really well. O'BRIEN: Your recovery has been pretty good.


O'BRIEN: Great. Well, what do you remember of that night? I mean, you were -- you were from Connecticut, right? So you just happened to be in Aurora.

BARTON: Yes. My friend and I had been bicycling across country and we were staying the night there, and about 15 minutes into the movie, everything changed, I just remember the flash of the gun. I didn't really even see the shooter and just running for the exit.

O'BRIEN: You were able to get to a hospital, get medical care, and now you put off going on to the Fulbright to do some work and research in Russia. I know you postponed that. So you could focus on this new campaign. What's -- what is the goal behind this campaign?

BARTON: Well, basically, you know, we're just disappointed that Governor Romney and President Obama haven't addressed gun violence in a concrete, specific way. And so basically, we're demanding a plan from both of them.

In advance of a presidential election, and presidential debate in Denver, and asking that they put forth something specific, aside from just platitudes and moments of silence, and actually get down to the business of preventing that violence.

O'BRIEN: How likely do you think it is, I mean, Ron has covered more -- more presidential debates than the rest of us.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, this issue I think has been shelved by a myth. And the myth is since Al Gore lost in 2000 that gun control is overwhelmingly been rejected by the country.

In fact the country is very closely divided almost exactly in half. Support has diminished since Bill Clinton was in office and was making the case for it.

You contrast Columbine when there was enormous White House focus and national conversation after those shootings to what happened here where there is the silence. But I think Democrats in particular have been intimidated on this issue by a misconception that there is an overwhelming majority against it.

As I said, the country is closely divided. But the half of the country voting for Democrats, they are still interested in gun control and there could be a different discussion than we're having.

O'BRIEN: So I remember after the shooting many people had this conversation about, it's too early to talk about, you know, gun control, you're politicizing what has been a horrible tragedy.

I'll play -- I think we have, it must have been a radio interview with Colorado governor and he said I think discussions of do we need stricter laws? We should wait until we bury those who we have lost. Do you think that's true? As a victim, I think your voice would be the most powerful in that debate.

BARTON: Right, of course. You know, we -- I really think it's too late to talk about gun control, you know, in the aftermath of a tragedy like this. It means that our policies have failed and so, to say that it's politics. I mean, for me, it's personal.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: Can I ask, so, does -- is there a specific plan that you all are for or what do you think? I mean, if someone asks you, you know, I'm asking you now, what are the top two or three things that we need to do? What do you tell people?

BARTON: The top priority right now is having universal background checks. And 40 percent of gun sales are private, which means under federal law, they're not subject to a background check.

And so, I mean, "Mayors Against Illegal Guns," they have spoken to law enforcement and all sorts of players in the game and they say the easiest way to start decreasing that number, 34 Americans killed every single day by guns, is to require background checks, prior to a gun sale.

SOCARIDES: Do the candidates, do Governor Romney or President Obama support universal background checks?

BARTON: If they do, I haven't heard it.

SOCARIDES: Well, they may not be talking about it.

O'BRIEN: Well, it's interesting -- it's not really front and center in this debate. We talk about foreign policy of late. We've certainly been talking about the economy. So are you saying, do you believe that that's an intentional squelching of it? Obviously, you could --

CONWAY: Yes. Absolutely, the president flew out to Aurora as we expect a president to do, offer his condolences, met with the victims and their families and it's great to meet you and learn about your recovery first had and God bless you.

But he really there, and when Congressman Giffords was shot, gun control. Part of that, Soledad, is not just based on what Ron says, but it's also based on pure politics. The Senate Democrats have to defend important seats like Montana and Manchin in West Virginia, big --

BROWNSTEIN: Politics have always been, this has been a regional issue as well as partisan issue historically. The votes that Democrats lost on gun control in red states like that were offset by Republicans from more blue constituencies who felt the need to vote for gun control.

Now you have a situation in which Republicans uniformly oppose gun control. Democrats split regionally and no president has really been willing to advance the argument. O'BRIEN: It has become the third rail, right? You certainly don't want to bring it up because all it can do it sounds like is, is hurt you if you're a candidate at this point.

I'll give you the final word this morning. Are you expecting that they're going to say something in the debate? What are you, what are you hoping to get out of this, this, you doing the media tour and also sort of the ad that's running?

BARTON: Well, like the name of the campaign suggests, demand a plan. I mean, aside from just having a mention of it in the debates, we hope that it actually becomes a relevant issue in this election.

That despite the fact that they're politics, sensitive politics involved, that both candidates address the issue in a specific way.

O'BRIEN: Stephen Barton, we're out of time, but I thank you for joining us.

BARTON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We're glad to see you're recovering so well. Good luck with your demands for a plan.

BARTON: Right.

O'BRIEN: With five weeks to go until the election, it will be interesting to see how they respond to that.

Let's get right back to John Berman. He's live in Washington, D.C. He's getting ready for Wednesday's debate coverage. He's got a look at our top stories this morning. Good morning, again.

BERMAN: Good morning, Soledad. A mystery unfolding in Unionville, Tennessee, this morning. Police are searching for two missing siblings, a 9-year-old girl and her 7-year-old brother.

Their grandparents were killed in a house fire last week. And it was initially believed the children died in the fire, as well, but their bodies have not been found.

Almost 10 years to the day since the start of the D.C. sniper killing spree, we're now hearing a sign of remorse from prison. Lee Boyd Malvo is now 27 years old.

He told "The Washington Post" he remembers each of the 13 people he and John Allen Mohammed shot in 2002. Ten of them died. During the interview, Malvo described one searing image that stays with him.


LEE BOYD MALVO, CONVICTED SNIPER (via telephone): It was the worst sort of pain I have ever seen in my life. It's the worst words do not possess the depth in which to fully convey that emotion. And what I felt when I saw it. You feel like the worst piece of scum on the planet. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Mohammed was executed in 2009 for the crimes. Malvo is serving a life sentence without parole.

Now if you're looking for hard numbers and firm details in the Romney/Ryan tax plan, doesn't look like you're going to get them from the vice presidential nominee.

The Republicans claim the plan will lower all individual tax rates by 20 percent, and they're going to pay for them by targeting deductions and loopholes for top earners.

But, listen to what happened when Chris Wallace of Fox News pressed Ryan for hard numbers.


PAUL RYAN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: There's been a traditional Democratic and Republican consensus, lowering tax rates by broadening the tax base works. And you can --

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: But let me just ask you, you haven't given me the math.

RYAN: Well, I don't have the -- it would take me too long to go through all of the math.


BERMAN: All right, the Tax Policies Center in Washington has studied the Romney/Ryan tax plan. They have concluded that a tax cut of that size simply will not work without adding a tax burden on the middle class or increasing the deficit.

It looks like we're going to have a rainy start to the week for much of the nation. We want to get a quick check of the weather now from Rob Marciano in Atlanta. Hi, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, John. Storms across the southeast that's part of the rainstorm, this is where we'll see the severe action Atlanta included, Birmingham to Huntsville, Chattanooga, damaging winds and isolated tornadoes possible today.

We've already had a couple of tornado warnings across Southern Alabama. These storms continue to filter in and file off the Gulf of Mexico across the panhandle. But the rain shield is pressing into the Tennessee Valley, and across the piedmont, and southern Appalachians with this system.

You're dry in the northeast at least for today, but you'll get a little bit of rain tomorrow. Cooler air is coming down from Canada that's going to be the main weather story offer the next several days.

But the south western corner of the U.S. including So Cal will be baking. Temperatures up over 100 in some spots in the inland valleys of So Cal, 98 degrees expected in L.A., 69 degrees in Chicago, 72 in New York, not too bad. October 1st, John. Good to see you wearing your obligatory orange tie.

BERMAN: Yes, we coordinated this morning. Thank you very much. Good to see you, Rob.

Out in California, now the busy 405 Freeway in Los Angeles is open to traffic this morning. The giant weekend repair project nicknamed "Carmageddon 2" wrapped up ahead of schedule opening up the 10-mile stretch that was closed. But, Soledad, people in Los Angeles will still complain about the traffic today.

O'BRIEN: Carmageddon, blah, blah, blah.

BROWNSTEIN: Only in L.A. freeways are a very personal thing for people --

O'BRIEN: Holly Robinson Pete was tweeting, she's like, this is the greatest day to drive on the freeway. There's no one here.

We've got to take a short break. Still ahead this morning, it's being called the "Miracle at Medinah" or maybe the "Chicago Collapse" might be more fitting, the stunning collapse of the Americans at the Ryder Cup coming up next.


O'BRIEN: So it will go down in history as one of the most stunning collapses in all of sports. U.S. Ryder Cup team folding in epic fashion down the stretch at Medinah yesterday after a 10-4 lead they literally had a meltdown.

Shane O'Donoghue is live for us from Medinah with what exactly happened. Walk us through it, Shane.

SHANE O'DONOGHUE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How are you, Soledad? It was a comeback of monumental proportions by the European team. It had never been done before. America were leading 10-6 going into the final day's 12 singles matches.

And it was expected to be a romp to a triumph for Davis Love and his American team. They had dominated over the first two days. But it was Martin Kaymer's putt on the 18th green yesterday against Steve Stricker, which brought the cup back to Europe.

It was a shocking performance on the part of the Americans. Europe went out and won the first five matches yesterday, and that really instilled a belief in the rest of the team. In the end, Europe won 8.5 points out of a possible 12, for an improbable victory.

There was a little bit of drama yesterday, as well, because Rory McIlroy, as you know, is the world number one. But he had mistakenly looked at the time sheet, and saw that it was a tee of time for 12:25 p.m. so in actual fact that was Eastern Time instead of Central Time.

So he was due at the course way before 11:25, but he didn't arrive until seven minutes before his tee time eventually getting here courtesy of hitching a ride with a state trooper.

But he managed to make it to the key, casually walked out onto the course and brought home a valuable point to the European team. But had he not made it here on time, this would have been a totally different story.

However there was a nice moment when the captain, Jose Maria Olazabal, made a little presentation to him as they were celebrating a great win.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rory, before we do anything, I want to present you with this wonderful clock. You make sure you get on time for the team next time, OK? So you can see the time, OK?


O'DONOGHUE: It was an incredible moment. It was an incredible day for Europe, but very disappointing for a United States team. They lost on home soil.

O'BRIEN: Yes, disappointing in a word. Shane O'Donoghue for us from Medinah this morning. Thanks, Shane. Appreciate the update.

Still ahead this morning, suspicious voter registration forms found in nearly a dozen Florida counties. Just how serious is this? We're going to break that down coming up next.


O'BRIEN: It's 36 days until the election. Could it be ACORN all over again? A voter registration controversy in Florida where it appears a firm working for the Republican Party turned in falsified and illegible registration forms.

Suspicious registrations are being reported now in nearly a dozen counties. Republican Party last week fired the contractor, Strategic Allied Consulting, which is blaming rogue employees for the problem.

Lawrence Norden is the deputy director of the democracy program at NYU's Brennan Center for Justice. He's an expert in voter registration laws. It's nice to have you with us.


O'BRIEN: Give me the scope of how serious these allegations are. This is a big deal or a little deal?

NORDEN: Well, first of all, I just want to give a brief explanation of what we're talking about here. We're not talking about people voting illegally. It shouldn't have any impact on the election.

When you register, you fill out a form. You provide a lot of information including some personal information that only you should have like your Social Security number, your driver's license number, and your birth date.

So this is bad. It's illegal. It should be prosecuted and there are a lot of reasons that it's problematic, but we have a system in place.

There was a law that was passed in 2002 that's meant to catch these kinds of things when people provide information like their Social Security number. There's a data base when we process the forms that we check it against.

BROWNSTEIN: If someone can register illegally, explain why they then wouldn't be able to vote illegally.

NORDEN: We always hear stories about Mary Poppins or Mickey Mouse registering to vote.

O'BRIEN: I think that Mickey Mouse was one of the people --

NORDEN: Mickey Mouse can't vote. He lives in Florida, but he doesn't have a Social Security number. Even in Orlando, he doesn't actually have an address. So it's bad.

It's bad because it undermines confidence in the elections. It's bad because right now election officials have a lot of work to do. This is the biggest election in American history.

They have to process registration forms. They should be getting out ballots to military and overseas voters and they have to set up their polling places.

O'BRIEN: Some people would compare this to ACORN. Is it anywhere near the big scandal that was ACORN?

NORDEN: Well, it's a similar thing that we're looking at in terms of what happened. At this point, I don't know to what extent this has gone on throughout the state. You said there were now a dozen counties that are looking at this.

So we'll see where it plays out. But the good news that I want to emphasize here is we have a system in place to catch these things and it was caught. It's working.

CONWAY: The A.C.O.R.N. was federally funded, too. That funding got cut off. There's a lack of analogy. The irony here, Soledad, the Republican-led legislature in Florida passed an anti-fraud, voter fraud bill in 2011 that makes it easier to track firms like this. I think that actually helped to ferret out this particular fraud.

NORDEN: I do -- the ironic thing about that law is that it didn't do -- it actually didn't really address what happened here. This was still able to happen. What it did do, unfortunately, it shut down legitimate registration groups.

BROWNSTEIN: What was the provision that made it tougher to register?

NORDEN: There were a couple of things. One, it required registration forms had to get into the election office within two days, which is -- if it didn't get in within two days groups like The League were heavily fined.

The League said, this is impossible for us to do this, could actually shut us down and they stopped -- they stopped registering voters for many months.

The Brennan Center in full disclosure represented The League in that lawsuit and won. So they're now registering voters again. But in the meantime, again, this is a legitimate group doing legitimate registration, tens of thousands of people weren't registered that might have been.

O'BRIEN: We'll see where this takes us. Right now, they're saying it looks like it was a rogue employee and people just writing things in. I guess, they get paid for the number of people they can register.

Although it seems like it would be bigger than one because obviously it's now across a dozen counties. So there's somewhere in between one rogue employee and maybe out and out -- we'll have to see where that goes.

Thank you for talking with us, Lawrence. We appreciate your time. Got to take a short break. STARTING POINT is back right after this.