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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Debate Round One; CNN Poll: Romney By a Landslide; Fact Checking the Debate; Tensions Rising Between Turkey and Syria; New Cases of Meningitis

Aired October 4, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Round one between one between President Obama --

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governor Romney's proposal that he's been promoting for 18 months calls for a $5 trillion tax cut.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): And the man who's after his job.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I'm not looking for a $5 trillion tax cut. What I've said is I won't put in place a tax cut that adds to the deficit.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Their first debate, contentious.

OBAMA: For 18 months, he's been running on this tax plan. And, now, five weeks before the election, he's saying that his big, bold idea is "never mind".

ROMNEY: Virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate. Look, I've got five boys. I'm used to people saying something that's not always true, but just keep on repeating it and hoping ultimately I'll believe it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: The question this morning, did either candidate do enough to make believers out of America's undecided voters?

Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. It is 6:00 a.m. in the East.

And of course, our big story: face-to-face, toe-to-toe, nose-to-nose, President Obama and Mitt Romney squaring off last night in their first to have three presidential debates. This morning, Mitt Romney really has to feel pretty good about his performance.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, according to a CNN/ORC poll, 67 percent of debate watchers believe Romney won that debate. Just 25 percent say the president was the winner.

CNN's Dana Bash here to break it all down for us so much to talk about.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So much to talk about, but it all comes down to a rusty President Obama and a very well-rehearsed Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Right out of the gate, it was clear. Mitt Romney came to play.

ROMNEY: The president has a view very similar to the view he had when he ran four years ago. That a bigger government, spending more, taxing more, regulating more, if you will, trickle-down government, would work.

BASH: President Obama sounded a familiar alarm, warning of Romney's "been there, done that" economics.

OBAMA: The approach that Governor Romney is talking about is the same sales pitch that was made in 2001 and 2003. And we ended up with the slowest job growth in 50 years.

BASH: But whether it was health care, jobs, or Medicare, it was Romney who stood out for his aggressive style.

ROMNEY: I just don't know how the president could have come into office, facing 23 million people out of work, rising unemployment, an economic crisis at the kitchen table, and spend his energy and passion for two years civil righting for Obamacare.

BASH: The president made his points in a slower. More laid back manner, often looking down, sometimes appearing disengaged. It's not that he didn't try to rip apart Romney's economic plan.

OBAMA: That kind of top-down economics, where folks at the top are doing well, so the average person making 3 million bucks is getting a $250,000 tax break, while middle class families are burdened further.

BASH: Romney was determined to go toe to toe.

ROMNEY: Well, but -- but virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate. So if the tax plan he described were a tax plan I was asked to support, I'd say, absolutely not.

BASH: The president did get digs in.

OBAMA: For 18 months he's been running on this tax plan. And now five weeks before the election, he's saying that his big, bold idea is never mind.

BASH: But he also showed is flashes of the kind of testiness sources in both camps feared from their candidates, except Obama's was directed at the moderator, not Romney. PRESIDENT OBAMA: The last point I'd make, before --

JIM LEHRER, MODERATOR: Two minutes is up, sir.

OBAMA: I think I had five seconds, before you interrupted me --

BASH: Romney did have his own awkward moderator moment.

ROMNEY: I'm sorry, Jim, I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I like PBS, I love Big Bird, I actually like you too.

BASH: One of the most surprising parts of the president's performance was what he did not say. No mention of Romney's infamous 47 percent remark, no talk of Bain Capital, nothing about Romney's own taxes. He did play the Romney is a hypocrite card when it comes to health care.

OBAMA: The irony is that we've seen this model work really well, in Massachusetts. Because Governor Romney did a good thing, working with Democrats in the state to set up what is essentially the identical model and as a consequence, people are covered there. It hasn't destroyed jobs.

BASH: Romney, who ran from his Massachusetts health care plan during the GOP primaries, now used it to tack to the middle for the general election.

ROMNEY: I like the way we did it in Massachusetts. I like the fact that in my state, we had Republicans and Democrats come together and work together. What you did, instead, was to push through a plan without a single Republican vote.

BASH: And Romney's countless hours of rehearsals clearly produced lines like this.

ROMNEY: Mr. President, you're entitled as a president to your own airplane and your own house, but not to your own facts.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN: I was just asking, was that the only line last night that everyone's replaying over and over again?

BASH: It's about the only one.

SAMBOLIN: All right, so we started here with the CNN/ORC poll that said that 67 percent thought that Romney won the debate, right? So now I want to show a poll on the issues because he took that as well. Deficit, it was Romney by 16 percent. Economy, Romney by 12 percent, taxes -- across the board, it was Romney.

BASH: It's actually pretty stunning particularly when you look at something like the deficit. President Obama has been talking for months, and he tried to do it in this debate about the fact that -- wait a minute. I walked into the Oval Office and the economy was just in a terrible state, particularly the fact that the federal government was in the hole, big-time. And the fact that Mitt Romney can walk away with a plus 16 percent, yes, it was an overnight poll, but it's those initial reactions that matter most and really stick with people. And that, I think, maybe is the most telling into how poorly, even Democrats think that President Obama did.

SAMBOLIN: And what everybody's talking about the morning after, right? That's what we talked about going into the debates. It's that conversation that happens the morning after that really sticks with people.

BASH: Absolutely. There's no question about it. But the Obama campaign is taking heart, because they have two more debates.

BERMAN: One of the things besides the overall feeling we're talking about this morning, we're trying to talk about the facts, because last night, sometimes the facts got lost in the shuffle, with both candidates.

SAMBOLIN: You spent some good time fact checking.

BERMAN: A lot of time. One of the things they talked about is tax cuts. It's dominated the debate and the campaign so far. President Obama went on the attack saying Mitt Romney is pitching a huge tax cut for the rich.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Governor Romney's central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut, on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts. That's another $1 trillion. And $2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn't asked for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So let's look at the facts here. Mitt Romney does propose across the board, 20 percent tax cuts. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center says that under his plan, taxes on the wealthiest Americans would be reduced by $5 trillion.

But Mitt Romney says he would offset these cuts by closing some deductions, closing loopholes. This would reduce the net tax cut for the wealthy.

So our verdict here is if Mitt Romney does reduce some of these loopholes, then President Obama's claim that Romney's giving a $5 trillion tax cut, that would be false. But here's the issue, Mitt Romney was vague. So I want to get to the next subject here, the deficit. Mitt Romney claims even with this tax cut, he will not add to the deficit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: My number one principle is there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit. I won't put in place a tax cut that adds to the deficit. That's part one. So there's no economist can say, Mitt Romney's tax plan adds $5 trillion, if I say I will not add to the deficit with my tax plan. My plan is not to put in place any tax cut that will add to the deficit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: To think all we have though is his word. Mitt Romney has not laid out any specifics for how he would pay for these tax cuts. He would reduce some deductions and close loopholes, but hasn't said which ones or how many.

So the verdict here on Mitt Romney, really is tax plan and debt reduction plan incomplete. There were some other issues there. We want to further break down the issue of health care.

Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, joins us now from Atlanta. Elizabeth, Governor Romney said he didn't raise taxes in Massachusetts to pay for Romney care. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: What were some differences? We didn't raise taxes. You've raised them by $3 trillion under Obamacare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: True?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: All right, well, here's what's really important to know, John, about the health care reform in Massachusetts. It was done with hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money, some of it in a special pot, just to do this kind of health care reform.

So this is according to a "Washington Post" and other fact checkers. They say, look, even if he didn't raise taxes, he had a ton of federal money to help him out, and they also point out that after Romney left office, taxes were raised in Massachusetts, to help with this health care reform.

BERMAN: All right, next up, Mitt Romney says that under Obamacare, some kind of supernatural government board will decide what kind of treatments you ought to have. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: He has as a model for doing that a board of people, at the government, an unelected board, an appointed board, who are going to decide what kind of treatments you ought to have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: And true?

COHEN: All right, John, well, I don't know about supernatural, but it is called the Independent Payment Advisory Board. And what this board does is it makes recommendations for certain changes. For example, it might say, you know what, we think we ought to pay hospitals less to do x, y, z procedures under Medicare. So all of this is about Medicare and it's about recommendations.

This board does not go into Mrs. Smith's hospital room and says, Mrs. Smith, we know you think you need a new hip, but we don't think you need it. That's not what they do. They don't make those patient-by- patient recommendations. The concern, John, is that when this board recommends reducing payments for certain things that hospitals are going to then change their benefits, because they're not making as much money. So that's the concern there.

BERMAN: Interesting. Now, one of the most contentious points last night was this. Mitt Romney said his plan includes some of the more popular parts of Obamacare. Let's listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Number one, pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan. Number two, young people are able to stay on their family plan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So pre-existing conditions. Please explain this for me.

COHEN: Yes, I know it's less than half a sentence when you just aid it, but it's way more complicated. So Obamacare tells insurance companies, you have to insure everybody, even if they have a pre- existing condition.

Romney has said and his spokespeople have said, we want to cover people, we want insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions if -- and this is a huge if -- if they have had continuous care in the past. But they haven't defined what they mean by that. So let's say you get laid off of your job and you don't have insurance for a period of time, because you don't have a job and you can't afford to buy it on your own.

Well, that's a gap. So does that mean that you won't be able to get insurance if you have a pre-existing condition? We don't know. Under Obama care, it's a sure thing. Under Romney, there are some question marks there.

BERMAN: And also crucial, Mitt Romney did not say how he would pay for this pre-existing coverage for people. Some of the specifics he did not lay out last night.

Elizabeth Cohen, thank you much. Some really interesting answers to the questions on health care. Good to see you this morning.

COHEN: Thanks.

SAMBOLIN: And 11 minutes after the hour. In case you missed any of last night's debate, you can see it on core presentation, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time right here on CNN.

BERMAN: There is a really big story going on elsewhere this morning. The Syrian civil war is spilling over the border this morning. Turkey and Syria trading artillery fire, a dangerous situation. We will go live to the region for more on this foreign battle, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: A dangerous situation overseas. Violence escalating this morning between Syria and Turkey. Turkish troops retaliating overnight after five civilians in a Turkish border town were killed yesterday by Syrian artillery fire.

Now Turkey is asking the United Nations to intervene, saying it has no interest in a war with Syria.

CNN's Ivan Watson joins us live now from Istanbul this morning. And, Ivan, what is the latest in this conflict between these two countries?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

Turkey is still reeling from the death of five of its civilians in this Turkish border town of Akcakale. Take a look at one of the highest circulation newspapers showing the immediate aftermath of those Syrian mortar shells that killed a mother, three of her children, and a female neighbor. In that town this morning, there was a funeral and scenes of grief as people carried the civilians' coffins through the streets.

We've talked to some of the residents there, and they tell us they were kept up all night, John, from Turkish artillery firing out from the immediate surroundings across the border into Syria. Turkish government officials telling us that those artillery barrages continued throughout the night and the pre-dawn hours as well.

We haven't seen this kind of shooting across the border in the year and a half-long crisis that's taken place in Syria.

Now, the Turkish parliament is currently in a closed door emergency session. They're basically debating and set to vote on a resolution, set forward by the Turkish prime minister that would authorize the use of force presumably in Syria -- though it is somewhat vaguely worded.

Take a look at translation of one sentence of it. It says, quote, "It is urged that under article 92 of the constitution, for the duration of one year, the administration be given the right to send and task the Turkish armed forces to foreign countries with the administration determining the where, the scope, the numbers, and the time of such deployment."

And given the majority of seats that the ruling party here has in the parliament, it's likely that this will be passed.

And as you can se from the wording there, it would basically authorize the Turkish military to kind of do whatever they want in Syria in the days and weeks ahead -- John.

BERMAN: Ivan, Turkey is a serious strong regional military power. It would seem strategically unwise for any country, least of all Syria, to try to draw them into any kind of conflict, which is why some suggest maybe it was the rebels staging some kind of false attack to get, you know, to pull Turkey in.

But is there any evidence of that?

WATSON: Well, the Turkish government has squarely placed the blame on Syrian government forces. And they have some evidence to back that up, John. Because this border town had been hit by Syrian government artillery, the Turkish government says, last week. They actually filed a formal complaint at the United Nations about that. Even though there were no -- there were no casualties as a result of that incident.

It's also important to note, it's not the first time Syrian forces have fired into Turkey. It happened at another border point, with a police officer from Turkey, hit in a refugee camp by gunfire coming from Syria. If the Turks don't respond, the government is going to look quite weak in the eyes of many Turks, particularly in the border region. Turks who are very worried about their own safety right now after five Turkish citizens were killed -- John.

BERMAN: Intense, volatile, dangerous border. Thank you, Ivan Watson, for monitoring it for us this morning. Thanks, Ivan.

SAMBOLIN: It is 18 minutes past the hour. The meningitis outbreak first reported in Tennessee has now spread to five states. Take a look at the map there. It actually killed four people as well.

Dozens of people now infected with the rare, non-contagious fungal version. All of them had received injections to their spines.

BERMAN: We have some sports news right now.

Baseball has its first Triple Crown winner in 45 years. Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera pulling off the game's rarest feat, a single player leading the league in batting average, home runs and runs bat in.

SAMBOLIN: Doesn't he seem calm about it? I would have been jumping up and down.

BERMAN: He's a pretty chilly guy. And they got to the playoffs. He finished the season batting .330, along with 34 home runs and 139 RBIs.

The last player to win the Triple Crown was --

SAMBOLIN: Tralalala --

BERMAN: Boston's Carl Yastrzemski in 19 --

SAMBOLIN: Any opportunity you get to say Boston.

BERMAN: Boston's Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

SAMBOLIN: '67. BERMAN: One of Zoraida's favorite players.

And in today's "Road Warriors" -- last-minute travel plans seem to be norm, especially for business travel.

SAMBOLIN: And it's not a surprised. There's an app for that. Whether it's a last-minute cancellation or weather delay, many travelers are now looking to book their hotel room just days, maybe even hours in advance. And here are some tips and apps for buying on the fly.

BERMAN: Travel experts are calling this one a game changer. The Hotel Tonight app offers daily deals with discounts of up to 70 percent on luxury hotels worldwide.

SAMBOLIN: That's great.

BERMAN: You can book the hotel and check in just using your smartphone. Deals start at midday and are good for one night only.

And if you're literally looking for the closest pillow, the app, Hotels By Me, urges geo-location to create a list of your nearest options. That would have been helpful for me last night on my way back from Washington.

SAMBOLIN: You slept in the car?

BERMAN: I did.

SAMBOLIN: And if you have a certain hotel in mind, you can always contact them directly and haggle with them. Hotels are often willing to negotiate on rates when they have empty rooms to fill, particularly for the same day.

And if you can wait, you may have more leverage after the regular check-in hours.

BERMAN: And finally, if this all sounds like too much work, turn the tables. The Back Bid app lets hotels to bid on you.

Register your reservation details on the app and sit back while hotels send you deal. I have to tell you, I have like 10 travel apps on my iPhone.

SAMBOLIN: Do you have that one?

BERMAN: Not that one. But I have a lot. They're really useful on the road.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, try that one for me, will you?

BERMAN: I will.

SAMBOLIN: OK. All right. Holiday shopping is just around the corner. Can you believe it? Will it be a good year for sales? And what about seasonal hiring? We're going to break it all down for you, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: We are minding your business this morning.

U.S. stock futures are up, indicating markets will open higher today.

BERMAN: Alison Kosik is in for Christine Romans this morning.

And, Alison, you know the economy was a big part of last night's debate. Where exactly do things stand right now?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Certainly Americans don't need me telling them, but I'm going to tell them anyway.

We certainly don't have to fact check these numbers. Americans can all relate to this -- 12.5 million people are unemployed, 8.1 percent, that's where the unemployment rate is.

And we're going to get another indication of how the jobs picture is doing tomorrow when the big government jobs report comes out. One hundred and ten thousand jobs are expected to have been added to the economy in September.

You know what? That's not great. It shows that the jobs market is just kind of treading water at this point. We're not even adding enough jobs to keep up with population growth at this point. It's bad out there.

SAMBOLIN: So what are some of the key economic indicators that are telling us exactly where the economy is headed?

KOSIK: And that's a good question, because this is certainly not an economy that's operating on all cylinders. You know, you look at the housing market, the consumer confidence, those areas are improving, but then the jobs market once again, it feels like it's really going nowhere.

You know, this morning, we're going to get another indication of what's happening when we get first-time weekly jobless claims numbers. The expectation is we'll see a jump which means layoffs are continuing.

We're also be getting new retail sales forecasts for the holidays, which shows people may not be spending as much this year as they have over the past two years. The National Retail Federation expects retail sales to rise 4.1 percent. Sounds good, but then there's the reality here that that's slower sales growth than we've seen in the past two years.

You know, consumers just aren't so quick to spend, because there's a lot of uncertainty in the economy and Washington, who's going to be in the White House next year? What's going to happen to taxes next year? That's all going to be holding people spending plans back.

So a weak jobs market, a high unemployment rate -- expect that to also hurt retail sales. So lots of research firms are sort of downgrading their forecasts as far as holiday shopping sales go.

BERMAN: All right. Alison Kosik, thank you very much. Nice to see you this morning.

KOSIK: Same here.

BERMAN: All right, the reviews are in. After the first presidential debate, everyone is asking, who won?

We have some real-life answers for you. A brand-new CNN poll taken right after it was over. We have that and more highlights and analysis, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: You're entitled as the president to your own airplane and to your own house but not your own facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That might have been one of the rehearsed zingers from Mitt Romney we've been hearing about. Meanwhile, the president fought back with a little bit of sarcasm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: At some point, I think the American people have to ask themselves, is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans to replace secret because they're too good?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: This morning, a brand-new CNN poll tells us who came out on top.

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Thirty minutes past the hour here.

BERMAN: After countless attacks on the trail, President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney finally met face to face. And if you look at CNN's polling, viewers thought the winner was crystal clear.

SAMBOLIN: Sixty-seven percent of debate watchers surveyed thought Romney won, hands down.

So I want to bring in Richard Socarides. He's a Democratic analyst. Our own Dana Bash is here. And Ana Navarro, CNN contributor and Republican strategist, joining us this morning.

Richard, we're going to start with you this morning. So you said on Twitter last night, no offense, whatsoever. And here are the areas the president did not attack on last night. We have them for everybody. No mention of 47 percent. No mention of Bain Capital, did not respond to a claim that he is gutting $716 billion from Medicare, Romney's taxes, Romney's immigration policies.

So take a listen to Romney, repeatedly bringing up $716 billion claim to no pushback.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I can't understand how you can cut Medicare $716 billion.

Second reason, he cuts $716 billion from Medicare to pay for it. If the president were to be re-elected, you're going to see a $716 billion cut to Medicare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Why no pushback?

RICHARD SOCARIDES, DEMOCRATIC ANALYST: Right, that was one of the most astounding things about last night. I mean, we know that those assertions by Governor Romney are not true. We've all talked about it. We've talked about it here many times, and we know those assertions are factually inaccurate.

So why didn't the president go after him? It's hard to know, right? The president looked very tentative and ill-prepared.

But I will tell you what we're going to see starting today. I'm sure that the president's people have already been working on those ads that we're going to start seeing in battleground states, which contrast what Governor Romney said last night, a very different Governor Romney, with what he's been saying on the campaign trail all along.

I mean, I think, a very moderate, almost progressive Mitt Romney showed up last night. I mean, he was for education. He was not going to cut the shared of taxes paid by rich people. I mean, it was a totally different person and I think it threw President Obama off his stride.

But we will not see the same President Obama in the next two debates that we saw last night.

BERMAN: Ana Navarro down in Florida, I want to bring you in, because Mitt Romney seemed to be very much on his game last night. I want to play one sound bite where he really laid out the issues in this economy in a very clear way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I just don't know how the president could have come into office, facing 23 million people out of work, rising unemployment, an economic crisis at the kitchen table, and spend his energy and passion for two years fighting for Obamacare instead of fighting for jobs for the American people. It has killed jobs.

And the best course for health care is to do what we did in my state. Craft a plan at the state level that fits the needs of the state, and then let's focus on getting the costs down for people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Ana, over time, you have been no giant fan of Mitt Romney's campaign style. Yet you seemed to see a different Mitt Romney last night.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, I absolutely do. And I hope this is the Mitt Romney that continues showing up between now and November 6th.

The Mitt Romney that showed up last night, John, was alive and kicking. Whereas, you know, President Obama was Rip Van Winkle. Wake me up when this is over. He just didn't seem happy to be there.

And I think one of the things that also played real well was the expectations game. Even though both campaigns had tried to lower the expectations, the truth is, most American people and most voters watching this were waiting for Obama to slaughter Romney, were waiting for Obama to perform much better than Romney. And thus, it really worked well when it came the other way around.

The silver lining for Democrats is that I think now the expectation games is topsy-turvy. And people are, you know, I think that if President Obama just shows up awake in the next debate, you know, it might be enough for him to do better than this last debate. A little Cuban coffee may do him some good.

BERMAN: I listened to a lot of Democrats overnight and got some messages for this morning. And Democrats do think they have some kind of opening going forward on the issue of specifics.

President Obama started to make the claims last night that Mitt Romney has no specifics in his plan. Let's listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: He says he's going to close deductions and loopholes for his tax plan. That's how it's going to be paid for, but we don't know the details.

He says that he's going to replace Dodd/Frank, Wall Street reform, but we don't know exactly which ones. He won't tell us.

He now tells us he's going to replace Obamacare and assures all the good things that are in it are going to be in there and you don't have to worry.

And at some point, I think the American people have to ask themselves, is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans to replace secret because they're too good?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now, he probably could have said that more succinctly, but you do get the sense we're going to hear that again in the coming days, Dana.

BASH: You definitely do. But the opening question is, let's take the first part of what he said, talking about the fact that Mitt Romney has not been specific on what kind of tax reform he's going to put into his plan in order to get that deficit down or keep the deficit neutral. Why didn't he do that during the umpteen exchanges that he had on the issue of tax cuts?

You know, I'm sure people like you, Richard, were sitting there saying, come on, come on, come on, get in there.

SOCARIDES: We were.

BASH: Because there were so many obvious openings for him to do that. It didn't take, I think, a skilled debater, like President Obama is, in order to get in on there --

SOCARIDES: I think it's exactly like you said at the top of the hour, I think he was rusty and he was not prepared. But this will not happen again.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So I want to end on a really interesting moment here. Ana, I want you to chime in on this. It was that PBS moment, getting a lot of buzz on Big Bird. Let's listen and then you can all chime in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I will eliminate all programs by this test if they don't pass it. Is the program so critical that it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? If not, I'll get rid of it. Obamacare's on my list. I apologize, Mr. President, I use that term with all respect, by the way.

OBAMA: I like it.

ROMNEY: Good. OK, good. So, I'll get rid of that.

I'm sorry, Jim, I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop all the things -- I like PBS, I love Big Bird. I actually like you too.

But I'm not going to -- I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: The question is, was this a low point for Romney? Listen to this, "The Washington Post" said, it was the closest Romney came from matching his reputation as an unsentimental bottom line-driven executive. What do you think, Ana? NAVARRO: Listen, I think if that was the low point for Romney, we're in pretty good shape. It was, OK, a little awkward. We know he loves grits, loves the height of the trees in Michigan, and he loves Big Bird. OK, I think a lot of Americans do too. I'm OK with that as the low point.

BERMAN: We do have a sound bite from a PBS executive explaining exactly how Big Bird is funded. I hope we can listen to that. Can we?

NAVARRO: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERRIE WESTIN, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT AND CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER OF SESAME WORKSHOP: The Sesame workshop receives very, very little funding from PBS. So we are able to raise our funding through philanthropic, through our licensed product, which goes back into the educational programming, through corporate underwriting and sponsorship. So quite frankly, you know, you can debate whether or not there should be funding of public broadcasting, but when they always tout out Big Bird and say we're going to kill Big Bird, that is misleading, because "Sesame Street" will be here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Big Bird lives no matter what.

WESTIN: Big Bird lives on. Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Can we close by all agreeing that it is a good thing Big Bird will survive.

BASH: My 15-month-old who does not know what Big Bird is yet, will be very happy once he knows.

SAMBOLIN: Absolutely.

All right. There we go. So, now, we agree, right, Ana?

NAVARRO: Absolutely. Save Big Bird campaign is on. It started at EARLY START.

BERMAN: All right. Ana Navarro down in Florida. Richard Socarides and Dana Bash, thank you.

NAVARRO: I'm in Washington, John!

BERMAN: You know, wherever you are, we love having you.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: She's normally down in Florida.

BERMAN: That's the important thing. It's great to see you, no matter where you are. SAMBOLIN: All right. Next up on the October debate schedule: the battle of the number twos. Vice President Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan facing off October 11th in their one and only debate. That is in Danville, Kentucky.

On October 16th, the president and his GOP rival square off for a second time in Hempstead, Long Island.

Their third and final encounter scheduled for October 22nd in Boca Raton, Florida.

BERMAN: We have a serious story going on in the American South right now. A deadly outbreak of meningitis spreading this morning. Five states now reporting cases.

And coming up, what all the infected patients have in common and what doctors are doing about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: The meningitis first found in Tennessee is now in five states, killing four people.

SAMBOLIN: Dozens of people are affected and more cases are expected. All of those infected have received steroid injections to their spines. And it's believed the steroid was contaminated with a fungus.

Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us with the very latest.

This is very scary. We just said it's not contagious. How are people getting this?

COHEN: Right. It's really important to remember that, Zoraida, that it's not contagious. It seems to have happened is that people with back pain went in to get injections of steroids into their spine, which is a very common procedure, and then they came down with meningitis, which is an inflammation of the covering of the brain and the spinal cord. It is very difficult to treat and right now, the New England Compounding Center is recalling three lots of this steroid. And there's an investigation as to how a fungus may have gotten into this drug.

SAMBOLIN: And we understand that these fungal infections are really hard to retreat. They require really strong drugs, the recovery is tough, it is long. What's the prognosis for these people?

COHEN: You know, there's no really good numbers on the mortality rate, but what I do want to say is, just like you said, very hard to treat. This is very rare, and is often seen in Africa and in other countries. It's treated with very toxic drugs, takes a long time, I.V., and drugs that are taken by mouth. This is a very tough disease.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Elizabeth Cohen, live for us in Atlanta. This is very, very scary. Lots of folks worried about it. Thank you so much for those details.

BERMAN: All right. Forty-four minutes after the hour.

Let's talk about something a little more cheery. The Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame has announced their nominees for its class of 2013. As to become eligible, 25 years after their first album or single was released, Rap pioneer's Public Enemy and N.W.A. both received nominations in their first year of eligibility.

SAMBOLIN: So, fans of Canadian rockers, Rush, they're going to be happy. The group has been eligible for the Hall since 1998, but this is the first time that that band known for its virtualism musicianship has actually been nominated.

Disco queen, Donna Summer, is nominated for the fifth time. She passed away earlier this year from lung cancer.

BERMAN: Boston's own. We're all rooting for her.

The list of acts nominated for the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame also includes Deep Purple, one of the first British heavy metal bands, classic rockers, Heart, and the Motown group, the Marvelettes.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: NWA, huh? Never thought we've been having a conversation about it.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: What's our "STARTING POINT?"

O'BRIEN: Seven o'clock this morning. It's just about 15 minutes. We're going to be talking, of course, about what happened last night. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: But that's not what I believe.

ROMNEY: That's just not the facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: It was Republican Mitt Romney who dominated the first presidential debate, puts his campaign back on track, according to many watchers. The question, of course, is the big picture. Did he do enough that would change the trajectory of the race for him? We're going to talk about that this morning. Full debate analysis ahead this morning on "STARTING POINT".

Our guests are Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, Rand Paul from Kentucky. From Team Obama, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley will join us and Obama campaign spokeswoman, Jen Psaki. Also, Austan Goolsbee, he's a former economic adviser to President Obama, he'll be joining us as well to do a little fact checking on the economy. That and much more in just about 14 minutes. See you then.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you.

An incredibly rare feat on the diamond. It's been 45 years in the making. Another slugger captures the Triple Crown. We have a live report, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It was quite a night for major league baseball. The game has its first Triple Crown winner in 45 years. Detroit's Miguel Cabrera finishing up the season number one in the American league, in batting average, homers, and RBIs.

BERMAN: And talking about going down to the wire, the Yankees As clinched their respective divisions on the very last day of the regular season. We have a very special sports segment this morning. We're joined by Roland Martin to break it all down.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hey! All of us are regular sports fans. I'm not a sports guy, but --

SAMBOLIN: But you're a fan.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: The Oakland A's are white hot?

MARTIN: They are white hot. I'm a native of Texas. So, I won't bring in my Astros. But, you know what, though, I don't go for the white hot, because once you get into the playoffs, at the end of the day, you had that one series. You don't have a good two or three games, you're out of the playoffs. You're out of the playoffs. And so, I won't necessarily go with the Oakland A's yet.

SAMBOLIN: So, this is the first year --

MARTIN: I'm looking for --

SAMBOLIN: This is the first year that they've changed the format, adding two more wild card spots.

MARTIN: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: Smart move.

SAMBOLIN: So, they're going to shake things up.

MARTIN: Yes, absolutely. Smart move, because look, I think having more people in, gets more fans involved, you have more energy, you have more excitement. So, I do love that. Baseball has always been stuck in this, you know, these are our tradition, these are our rules. I think this will be helpful for baseball.

And the more people who are talking about baseball and not the NFL is always good news for baseball, because baseball's problem still to me is they are not as dominant for the casual fan as you see with basketball and the football, because frankly, they don't have players who really are strong marketing folks.

BERMAN: And just trying to address that. They have a player right now who has just accomplished something remarkable, the Triple Crown --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: First Triple Crown since 1967.

MARTIN: Yes.

BERMAN: But there is a serious debate within baseball aficionados. Does Miguel Cabrera, even though he won the Triple Crown, deserve to be the most valuable player? Because a lot of the new baseball fans, the stats freaks, and that's when I am one of them think that --

MARTIN: No, I can tell.

BERMAN: -- think that Mike Trout of the California or the Anaheim Angels now, they're called, deserves it more, because Mike Trout, technically, is more valuable to his team. He adds more wins to his team. So, here we go. Who is more valuable, Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout?

MARTIN: I think Cabrera will win it. Here's why, OK? Because baseball -- you look at just the major stats. What do you think is going to happen historically when they say how in the world that the guy who wins a Triple Crown not win the MVP? And so, you're having an inside baseball geekish -- oh, no, but if you look at on-base percentage and fielding -- I'm sorry.

The average fan, if you pass up the guy who wins the Triple Crown, from a marketing standpoint, you're nuts.

BERMAN: You just called me a geek, but that's OK.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: And I do think, by the way, that Ted Williams once won the Triple Crown without winning the MVP but we'll leave that there.

MARTIN: And Red Sox fans, they are still a little bit upset.

BERMAN: I sure am!

MARTIN: Hello.

SAMBOLIN I'm loving the Cabrera story, so I'm all on his side, but I'm going to move on to football, because this is really shocking to me. I'm not normally a football fan, but this was an interesting story --

MARTIN: Excuse me, you're not?

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: No, I'm not. And, it looks like the suspended coach, Sean Payton, will be attending what could be a historic game.

MARTIN: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: But what I was surprised about was the fact that he would not be able to attend a football game even if he paid for a ticket. Is that true?

MARTIN: Bottom line is --

SAMBOLIN: Oh my gosh!

MARTIN: Bottom line is when you get suspended by the commissioner, sorry, you can't do it --

SAMBOLIN: You cannot walk in the building?

MARTIN: Not, baby, you can't do it. You can't -- look, he barely can drive by the practice facility, because Roger Goodell makes it clear, you have no contact. Of course, when they had the hall of fame game, they have to actually make some revisions, because one of his players, Willie Rope, got into the Hall of Fame. So, he got to attend that ceremony. And, that was one of the first time he could talk even to his players.

BERMAN: Reminder, even Sean Payton was suspended for the year because of the bounty --

MARTIN: The bounty.

BERMAN: -- that happened in the New Orleans Saints. He's being allowed to go to this game because Drew Brees is about to break a record held by Johnny United since like the 1400s.

MARTIN: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: You are a geek.

MARTIN: Wait a minute.

SAMBOLIN: You are a geek.

MARTIN: Wait a minute, you see how deep he was with the baseball fans -- football stat, 1400s, whatever, no big deal.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: But you know, the football just one quarterback and we all care about is Tom Brady, and we're going to have to leave it at that.

MARTIN: Oh, no.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: You have lost your mind!

BERMAN: Roland Martin, CNN -- MARTIN: You have lost your mind!

BERMAN: -- thank you for being here and agreeing that Tom Brady is --

MARTIN: Oh, (INAUDIBLE)

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: Next, the "Best Advice" from Representative Terri Sewell.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: It's 58 minutes after the hour. As always, we wrap it up with "Best Advice."

SAMBOLIN: And today's "Best Advice" comes from Congresswoman Terri Sewell. We asked her about the "Best Advice" that she's ever received. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TERRI SEWELL, (D) ALABAMA: I think that my mom gave me the very best advice very early on, and she told me to be myself. That, as long as I'm authentically myself, that that's the best I can do and that's the world can hope from me. And you know, it really has helped me in great instead, not only through college and law school, but now in U.S. Congress as a member of Congress.

It's really important, I think, every day, to continue to work hard on behalf of my constituents. And the best thing I can do is be authentically me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Got to be me.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. And I would say that you are heeding her advice today, because you are being authentically you.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: And no one else would have me. That is all for EARLY START this morning. I'm John Berman.

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