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Taste of Winter; Romney on Attack in New Speech; Poll: Race Now A Dead Heat

Aired October 8, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: A taste of winter in October. Temperatures dip below freezing, shattering records. This is across the country.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Campaign reset. Has Mitt Romney upended this race? What we're learning from a key swing state this morning.

SAMBOLIN: And a wedding to remember for all the wrong reasons. A wild brawl breaks out in front of the bride. It is all caught on camera.

What a terrible way to begin a marriage.

All right. Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. We're happy you're with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And we begin with props. Why? We're talking about the weather. It is freaking cold out here.

Let me show you this. This calendar says October 12th. But forget this. It's freezing in a huge chunk of the country.

SAMBOLIN: It is cold out there. The cold snap is gripping two-thirds of the country. Dozens of cities saw record lows, including Sioux City, Iowa, bottoming out, listen to this, at 15 degrees. Scottsbluff, Nebraska, 21 degrees. Grand Junction, Colorado, a new low of 30. And Tulsa, Oklahoma, scraping the freezing mark at 32 degrees.

BERMAN: All this despite the fact that that calendar I held up says October. It is awful. But there's warmth or light at the end of the tunnel.

We're going to bring in Alexandra Steele from the extreme weather center.

When is this warmth coming?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIS: Yes, I promise you. It's coming. You still use those calendars? You're so old fashioned.

SAMBOLIN: That belongs to John Berman. (LAUGHTER)

STEELE: Yes, right.

All right. Good morning, everyone. Yes, you know, a lot of you, we're talking millions of you, seeing the cold this weekend, thus far of the season. A lot of you having your first snow, as well. You know, they just gave me some numbers. But how about 10 in Nebraska, in Champion?

These were low temperatures yesterday morning. And also about 270 -- 270 states and cities had yesterday, their record low warm temperatures. And then, on Saturday, they had 250 record low high temperatures, as well. So, across the board, incredibly chilly.

Again, record low temperatures in Springfield, Missouri, 47. Your high temperature should be 68 degrees.

So, on the average, running about 20 degrees below average yesterday. St. Louis, 68, should be your high temperature, only in the 50s. So, we're going to see a roller coaster the next few days. Freeze threat.

Here's where we're going to see it. Northern Plains, Northeast, all the way down into Texas.

Now, on the whole, we're running about a week and a half to two weeks, for places like Ohio, to see the first freeze warnings. So, temperatures, certainly well coming in colder. Well below earlier than they should be.

Temperatures today, only this morning starting in the 30s and 40s, guys. And will be rising for the balance of the country, into the 50s and 60s.

But we promise you, we'll see a warm-up. And we'll see you where, coming up.

BERMAN: All right. Well, we better see that. I'm going to hold you to that. Thank you, Alexandra Steele.


BERMAN: This is no way to celebrate Columbus Day.

But there is no Columbus Day off for the political candidates, which is 29 days to go until Election Day.

President Obama campaigns today in California. He'll attend a series of fund-raisers. Last night, he was a guest of honor at a concert in Los Angeles featuring performances by Jennifer Hudson, Stevie Wonder, Katy Perry, Jon Bon Jovi, and Earth, Wind and Fire. Today, Mitt Romney delivers what his campaign is calling a major foreign policy speech in Virginia. Yesterday, he was in Florida, of course, a key swing state.

Now, later this week, the running mates duke it out in their debate. Joe Biden and Paul Ryan face off in the only vice presidential debate. That is Thursday in Kentucky.

And a new poll by the University of Denver, where last week's presidential debate was held, gives President Obama a slight edge over Mitt Romney in Colorado, also key swing state, 47 percent to 43 percent.

Paul Steinhauser, our CNN political editor, joins us live now from Washington. Paul, what do you make of all this?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Yes, those new poll numbers. Everybody is asking, when are we going to see more poll numbers? Those are pretty much in line, John, with what we saw prior to the debate.

Other polls conducted in Colorado, as you mentioned, a key battleground state, where the president had a slight edge, but within the sampling error. Same story in this new University of Denver poll. Among independents, the president has a double-digit lead, which I find a little fascinating.

The big question is when are we going to see more polls? Well, I can guarantee, you're going to see a bunch over the next 48 hours, the next couple of days leading up to the vice presidential debate. A bunch of major organizations, including CNN, are in the field right now, in key battleground states and with national surveys, John.

BERMAN: All right. Of course, the president coming off of the heels of what many are considering a lackluster debate performance. Even he was poking fun at it over the weekend at his Hollywood fund-raiser.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These guys -- and everybody here, incredible professionals. They're such great friends. They just performed flawlessly, night after night. I can't always say the same.


BERMAN: A little joke right there. How is the president turning things around, though, Paul?

STEINHAUSER: Well, the campaign is saying that he's preparing for a different kind of debate. And they say they were a little taken aback. The president was taken aback, with what Mitt Romney kind of walking away from his previous positions in that first debate in Denver.

Here's David Axelrod, a senior adviser for the president on the Sunday talk shows.


DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISOR: I think he was taken aback at the brazenness with which Governor Romney walked away from so many of the positions on which he's run, walked away from his record. And, you know, that's something we're going to have to make an adjustment for in these subsequent debates.


STEINHAUSER: Now, John, the next debate, among the presidential candidates is very different. It's a town hall format. And it's going to be moderated by our own CNN's Candy Crowley, our chief political correspondent and the host of "STATE OF THE UNION". It should be a different, I think very different format than what we saw in Denver. And I think you're going to see a more aggressive President Obama, of course, in this next --

BERMAN: I think there's no question about that.

Meanwhile, there is news on tap for today. Mitt Romney giving what his campaign is calling a big foreign policy speech. Yet another one. We get a preview of it overnight, they sent there's excerpts.

Let me read you one. He said, "I believe that America does not lead -- if America does not lead, others will -- others who do not share our interests and our values. And the world will grow darker for our friends and for us. America's security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years."

Paul, like I said, the Romney campaign is billing this as a major foreign policy address. But that does sound somewhat similar to what we've been hearing on the trail.

STEINHAUSER: Yes, it is similar. You know, you've seen Mitt Romney criticizing the president for not being muscular enough when it comes to U.S. foreign policy.

Remember, Mitt Romney gave a big foreign policy speech. His last one was on September 11th. At that time, he didn't attack the president because it was the 11th anniversary of these horrible attacks on the United States. But that night, with the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Libya and Egypt, Mitt Romney went on the attack against the president and that kind of backfired to a degree, a lot of analysts say. That's why you're going to see a more aggressive Mitt Romney today.

He gave a little taste of it, a little preview on the campaign trail yesterday in Florida.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We face a time when there's tumult in the Middle East and other parts of the world. And people are asking, where's America? Where's American leadership?

This is a critical time. If we were to re-elect President Obama, I don't think we'd measure up to the test of time.


STEINHAUSER: My apologies. That was from the campaign trail in Virginia on Friday. But, John, remember, the last presidential debate is on foreign policy. Where does this stay right now in the eyes of Americans? Take a look at this, our most recent CNN/ORC national poll on foreign policy. The president has a seven-point advantage. We'll see.

BERMAN: Before we get to that foreign policy debate, we have the vice presidential debate coming up Thursday night. What are the expectations there?

STEINHAUSER: I think a lot more is on the line now, John. I think we all agree on that. That a lot more is on the line in this vice presidential debate because of the president's lackluster performance in the first presidential debate. Both candidates, Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan, talking about the big showdown in Kentucky.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking forward to it. I really am. The thing about Congressman Ryan is he's been straightforward up until now about everything he is -- all the significant changes he wants to make. We have a fundamentally different view on a whole range of issues.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI) VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We think he's probably going to come at me like a cannonball. More pressure because Mitt Romney put such a great performance that the bar is pretty high. And there's also pressure because Joe Biden has been doing this for 40 years. I mean, the man ran for president twice. He's the sitting vice president. This is my first time on this kind of a stage.


STEINHAUSER: What do you think, John? Will Vice President Joe Biden bring up the 47 percent? Will he bring up Bain Capital? Where are Mitt Romney's tax returns? What do you think?

BERMAN: I think it's a good, safe bet.

All right. Paul Steinhauser, joining us live from Washington this morning.

Of course, the only vice presidential debate of the 2012 campaign takes place Thursday night. You can watch it live on CNN and at Join us.

SAMBOLIN: And this just in to CNN. Gas prices right now, AAA says the national price for a gallon of regular unleaded is $3.82. California has the highest gas prices in the land, averaging $4.67 a gallon. California's governor, Jerry Brown, is taking emergency measures to ease is price at the pump. Prices have spiked because of refinery outages and supply problems. He's calling for an increase in supply and an early switch to the winter fuel blend.

BERMAN: A man dies of a heart attack right after this all-out brawl between two wedding parties. Holy cow! Police say a fight was already brewing between guests in one party, but there was tension with members of another party. They said the brawl broke out at a bar. Two men were cited for disorderly contact. A third man, the one police hit with a baton in this YouTube video, reportedly still in jail. The 57-year-old man, reported to be the uncle of the bride, died of a heart attack just after this fight.

SAMBOLIN: Terrible.

All right. The outbreak is growing. The number of fungal meningitis cases jumps to at least 91. And health officials say the outbreak is far from over. Seven people have now died. Investigators are in Massachusetts, trying to figure out the precise source of the outbreak of the facility where potentially tainted steroid injections were made.

BERMAN: Right now, the first commercial cargo flight to the International Space Station is on its way.


ANNOUNCER: Three, two, one --


SAMBOLIN: Blast off.


ANNOUNCER: And liftoff --


SAMBOLIN: Liftoff.

BERMAN: Yes, ladies and gentlemen. We have liftoff. The SpaceX rocket blasted off last night from Cape Canaveral, Florida, hoisting the Dragon capsule into space. The capsule is carrying supplies for the space station. This is the first of a dozen commercial flights under contract to NASA.

SAMBOLIN: Saints quarterback Drew Brees making history last night while leading his team to its first win of the season, 31-24, over the San Diego Chargers. Brees broke Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas' 52-year- old record by throwing a touchdown pass in his 48th-straight game.


DREW BREES, SAINTS QUARTERBACK: I think the amazing thing about a record like this is it spans over the course of really four seasons. And hopefully we can keep it going for a while.


SAMBOLIN: So, listen to this. Brees was able to share the moment with suspended coaches Sean Payton and Joe Vitt, along with suspended Saints general manager, Mickey Loomis, who were allowed to attend that game.

And this programming note, Drew Brees will be a guest Wednesday morning on "STARTING POINT."

BERMAN: That's exciting. Those coaches were suspended for the bounty scandal of the Saints, but they were allowed to the stadium to watch this record being broken.


BERMAN: But I guess was nice for them.

SAMBOLIN: Special permission.

BERMAN: Yes, I think it's special dispensation.

All right. Eleven minutes past the hour. And today, the voters have spoken. It was a huge test of political power in Venezuela, and Hugo Chavez. We're going live to Caracas, coming up.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. Fourteen minutes after the hour right now. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Glad you're with us this morning.

BERMAN: We have some big news overseas. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, he's not going anywhere. He endured the stiffest challenge yet, but he won his third term overnight. Analysts say the results are telling, though, that Chavez is weaker politically in Venezuela. And there are persistent, unanswered questions about his health. Whether Chavez is healthy enough to complete another six years in office.

Supporters are marking the victory with fireworks and a celebration outside of the balcony of the presidential palace.

Senior international correspondent Paula Newton has been following the vote. She joins us live from Caracas. And, Paula, set the scene. This must have been a chaotic night overnight.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Unbelievable. It was like Hugo Chavez's Evita moment. There he was on the balcony, was waving the Venezuelan flag. And, you know, really, what he seemed to be saying was this was vindication for almost 14 years of rule. I want you to listen now as he relishes his victory.


HUGO CHAVEZ, PRESIDENT OF THE VENEZUELA (via translator): More than 8 million compatriots voted for the revolution. They voted for socialism. They voted for independence. They voted for the greatness of Venezuela.


NEWTON: You know, underscoring what Hugo Chavez was saying, though, was quite a respectable showing from the opposition. This is the closest Hugo Chavez came to really being challenged. And, you know, when I say, John, that he threw everything, including the kitchen sink at this campaign, I mean it -- using public funds, petrol dollars to basically give away everything from free homes to refrigerators. And for the public here, it seemed to be enough -- John.

BERMAN: So, what everyone in the U.S. wants to know, is what about us? Because Chavez has been a thorn in our side for foreign policy for well over 10 years. So, what does this election, albeit by a closer margin, mean for the U.S., do you think?

NEWTON: Well, two things. I went to a press conference with Hugo Chavez. He seems to be moderating his tone, saying he would vote for Barack Obama if he was in the United States. But he called Barack Obama rational. Perhaps he will stop using the United States as a villain in all this and just continue and was trying to really keep his country on sound financial footing.

The other thing, though, 9 percent of gas in the United States comes from Venezuela. Right, their production here is not in good shape. Production in terms of how many barrels they pump out every day going lower and lower for the last ten years. We cannot afford any shocks to the oil pipeline here in Venezuela, or we will see even higher prices at the pump. And yes, John, that includes California.

So, hopefully, they're able to get their act together in terms of their oil industry.

BERMAN: All right. Paula Newton, live in Caracas, where it was quite a night. Thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: It is 17 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up-to-date.

Christine Romans with this morning's top stories.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And good Monday morning to both of you.

A Columbus Day chill, everyone. Millions of people waking up this morning to very low temperatures, hovering around the freezing mark. Check out this herd of elk enjoying the first snow of the season near Denver over the weekend. Eighty-eight cities saw record low temperatures. Today, frost and freeze advisories extend from Texas, all the way to Upstate New York.

Mitt Romney gives what's billed as a major speech on foreign policy today, as we count down to Election Day. He'll deliver his remarks at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia.

President Obama, meanwhile, is on a campaign and fund-raising swing in California today.

Major drug busts for two coast guard cutters off of the coast of Florida. In two separate incidents, officers seized an estimated $38 million worth of cocaine and marijuana from suspected smugglers. In one case, smugglers dumped 55 bails of marijuana overboard. But officers fished it all out of the water.

New York Yankees beating their division Baltimore Orioles to take a 1- 0 lead in the division series. The bombers' bats, waking up in the ninth inning for the 7-2 victory. And Yankees' ace, C.C. Sabathia threw a gem. Coming up one out short of a complete game.

In the National League, the Cincinnati Reds are one win away from playing for a pennant. They crushed the Giants 9-0 behind pitcher Bronson Arroyo, who gave up a single hit in seven innings.

BERMAN: America loves Bronson Arroyo as a member of the 2004 Red Sox World Series championship team. FYI.

ROMANS: If you're keeping score, Berman is a Red Sox fan.

SAMBOLIN: Only opportunity he gets to say that.

Nineteen minutes past the hour. It's time for your early reads to your local news making headlines.

First, from Reports of shocking security lapses at -- this is at Newark International Airport. According to an internal Transportation Security Administration document, Newark security screeners did standard pat-downs of passengers properly just 16 percent of the time.

And in no cases, zero percent, did they properly inform passengers of their right to opt out of a full-body scan in favor of a pat-down. The screener evaluations were done by out of town TSA employees, nicknamed secret shoppers, by those being scrutinized.

BERMAN: It doesn't get much lower than zero percent, by the way. Zero percent is fairly low.

Now, this, from "The Daily Item" in Lynn, Massachusetts. A Boston are woman is $114,000 richer after a junk dealer found a stack of old savings bonds when he was cleaning out her late mother's home. Wow.

Here's the moment she got the good news.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the envelope, there was $22,250 in savings bonds. OK? At today's value, with interest, $113,954.


BERMAN: That's a bonus, $114,000 with the Boston accent there. That was thrown in for free. We love that. Look how excited she is. That is such great news. One family member called this a gift from heaven.

SAMBOLIN: Aw. I wonder if she is wondering, is it true? Is it true?

BERMAN: You know, you have to save your boxes. Who knows what's in the attic.

SAMBOLIN: You never know.

So, for an expanded look at all our top stories, head to our blog,

BERMAN: And I hope you enjoyed it while it lasted because experts say this year's stock market surge is over.

SAMBOLIN: Say it ain't so.

BERMAN: We'll tell you why it is so, coming up.


BERMAN: We're minding your business this morning.

And U.S. stock futures are down, signaling a lower opening for stocks today.

SAMBOLIN: Third-quarter earnings season kicks off this week. But people are talking about the jobs report.

ROMANS: I know.

SAMBOLIN: It was so confusing.

ROMANS: Seven-point-eight percent is the unemployment rate. But only 114,000 jobs created.

It's two separate surveys that the government takes. And a lot of social media speculation about how those two numbers could be so different. But all of the economists we talked to, all the economists we talked to at the BLS, anyone who is trusted in the field of economics, says it's a statistical anomaly, not some kind of funny business. But 7.8 percent is the number for the unemployment rate.

I want to talk about stocks, because there's a survey, an exclusive survey of economists for CNN Money that says the stock market rally may be over. And here's why. You had a really great year. And these economists, investment strategists, I should say, and money managers, 37 of them, say after a healthy year, they expect stocks are going to close, the S&P 500, right now, basically where it is, at 1,440.

They're not saying get out of stocks. They're saying, hey, if you're getting in right now, a great part of the run has already happened. A couple of things you have to worry about. The fiscal cliff, something I talk about all the time, presidential election, European debt crisis, these are things on the horizon.

There are some economists and money managers will tell you they're bullish. And they think the fiscal cliff will get resolved. They think that once you get through the election, you could see stocks move up again, because remember, the Fed is pushing a lot of money into the system, $40 billion a month, I think. That's going into the markets. I want to tell you about an interesting saga of Chinese telecoms. Something we've been following for several years. Some big telecom companies from China, a congressional report, we've seen a draft of a congressional report to be released today, one called Huawei, one called ZTE, a congressional report, we've seen a draft of congressional report to be released today, that will say that these telecom companies should not be allowed to expand in the United States.

And here's why, because of cyber espionage, because of concerns about what these China-tied companies could do to the U.S. economy. China has the means, opportunity and motive to use telecommunications companies for malicious purposes. Congress has really been aware of some of these concerns for a long time.

Chinese companies aren't like American companies or big multinationals that their most important job is to be tied to and promote the best things for China, not necessarily their shareholders.

This is how the company Huawei responds to these allegations or these concerns from a congressional committee. "Huawei is a globally trusted and respected company doing business in almost 150 markets, with over 500 operator customers, including nationwide carriers across every continent, save Antarctica. The security and integrity of our products are world-proven. These are facts, political agendas aside."

So, obviously, they say it's not true. But a House intelligence committee says, we don't think these people should be allowed to expand in the U.S.

BERMAN: A fight worth watching.

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

BERMAN: All right. Christine Romans, thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-eight minutes past the hour.

Gone in six seconds -- coming up, a crash on the last turn of the last lap, takes out almost the entire field at Talladega.



BERMAN: This just in. A brand-new presidential poll. We'll break down the new neck and neck figures for you coming up.

SAMBOLIN: Fake debate, real issues. Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart go where the candidates would never, ever, ever, ever, ever dare go.

BERMAN: And it is an American comeback story. CNN gets up close and personal with the once-endangered crocodiles.

SAMBOLIN: Up close and personal, did you say?

BERMAN: Now, alive and well in Florida.


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

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Thirty-two minutes past the hour. We're very happy you're with us this morning.

So, we have a brand-new snapshot of the presidential race out just minutes ago, and it is really, really good news for Mitt Romney. It looks like he did get a debate bounce. And brand-new Gallup polls show the two candidates in a dead-heat at 47 percent. Romney racing a five-point gap. Paul Steinhauser, CNN political editor, he joins us from Washington. These are brand spanking new. Break them down for us?

STEINHAUSER: Yes. Let's go back to the screen you were just showing. Everybody has been asking, when are we going to see polls? When are we going to see polls? Here we go. From Gallup -- and go back to that same screen you just had up there and you can see what Gallup did. On the left, those are the numbers on the three days polled prior to the presidential debate.

On the right, the numbers on the three days after the debate. This is the first real non-partisan live operator national poll we've seen since the debate on Wednesday in Denver. And, yes, look at that, a five-point advantage for the president before the debate and dead-even after the debate. Add that all again, and here's where you go, you know, because Gallup is a seven-day tracking poll.

Add it all together, all those days together, and you saw the president with a 49 percent to 46 percent advantage. But again, that is within the sampling error. Two other things, this is among registered voters, not of likely voters. Most polling has now moved to the likely voter model, which is a little more narrower.

And go to one more screen. I want to show you the next number as well. Gallup, like a bunch of others like CNN did in our poll debate watchers, we asked who do you think won the debate? Ours was the debate watchers, this is of all Americans, and pretty much a similar story. Republicans overwhelmingly, as you saw right there, thought that Mitt Romney won the debate.

You can see independents by pretty good majority as well thought that Mitt Romney won the debate, even Democrats by a very slight majority -- actually, no, Democrats, I'm sorry. If those numbers were little mixed up, I think I gave them to you wrong there. Look, the story line is the same thing.

That, yes, they thought that Mitt Romney won the debate. Zoraida, one thing I'll say. These are national numbers, the very first. We're going to see a lot more most likely over the next few days from other polling organizations. But also, the state numbers matter, as well. We're going to see a lot of those as well, because this is a battle for states and their electoral votes. You have a poll from Colorado that just came out over the weekend where the debate was held. And that indicated the president still with a very slight advantage, though, within the sampling error.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. And the swing states also that matter so much. I know you've got them all for us. We're going to clean up those numbers and share them with everybody on your next (ph). So, President Obama is coming off the heels of a lackluster debate performance. And he was poking fun of himself in Los Angeles, as well.


OBAMA: These guys -- and everybody here, incredible professionals. They're such great friends. And they just performed flawlessly night after night. I can't always say the same.


SAMBOLIN: So, he's trying to change things around, right?

STEINHAUSER: He is trying to change things around. We're hearing that from his campaign, as well and from the president. And the other theme we're getting from both the president and his campaign is they say that Mitt Romney wasn't very truthful in that first presidential debate.

That he walked away from some of his long-time long standing policies. Here's David Axelrod, his senior adviser to the president. He was on the Sunday talk shows.


AXELROD: I think he was a little taken aback at the brazenness with which Governor Romney walked away from so many of the positions on which he's run, walked away from his record. And you know, that's something we're going to have to make an adjustment for in these subsequent debates.


STEINHAUSER: Yes. Both candidates now getting ready for the second presidential showdown. Not this week, the following week. It's going to be in Hofstra University in Long Island, and guess who's the moderator on that one? Our own Candy Crowley, our chief political correspondent. I think you're going to see a very different Barack Obama, a more aggressive Barack Obama at that next presidential debate.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, I suspect so. That's what everybody is saying. And of course, we have the vice presidential debate that's coming up, as well. We'll talk more about that next time. Thank you so much, Paul. We appreciate it.

BERMAN: All right. Other news, now, today. New clues in the search for a missing girl in Colorado. Police say they found 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway's backpack and water bottle some six miles from her home in Westminster, Colorado.


BERMAN (voice-over): Hundreds of volunteers spent the weekend searching for Jessica. She disappeared Friday morning after leaving home to meet friends three blocks away.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): NASCAR turned into bumper cars. Take a look. On the final lap of Sunday's race at Talladega, a massive wreck involving 25 cars. Veteran drivers say they have never seen anything like this. Tony Stewart is taking the blame for triggering that incredible crash. Everyone, everyone walked away without injury. When the exhaust fumes all cleared, Matt Kenseth won the race.

BERMAN: This is why people watch NASCAR --

SAMBOLIN: Oh, yes.

BERMAN: All right. Thirty-six minutes after the hour. Make that a record 48-straight games with a touchdown pass for Saints quarterback, Drew Brees. He threw four of them last night as the Saints won their first game of the season. Brees broke the record held by hall of famer, Johnny Unitas.


DREW BREES, SAINTS QUARTERBACK: It's record for 52 years. Johnny Unitas, arguably, one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play this game, really revolutionized the position. everything he stood for as a player and just a pioneer of this game.


BERMAN: Coaches Sean Payton and Joe Vitt along with GM, Mickey Loomis, they were allowed to attend the game. They've been suspended for the bounty scandal. In this programming note, Drew Brees will be a guest Wednesday morning on "Starting Point."


BERMAN (on-camera): So, mark that in your calendar. Get ready for that, folks. Thirty-seven minutes after the hour.

The conservative commentator takes on the comedian. Coming up, searching for substance amidst the laughs at the Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart mock debate.


BERMAN: It was being billed as a rumble in a temperature-controlled room with a wrestling belt as a prize. And when conservative commentator, Bill O'Reilly, and comedian, Jon Stewart, met on Saturday, there were plenty of jokes to be had. Take a listen.


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": I've come here tonight to plea to the Mayor of (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Mountain.



STEWART: Talk to your people.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: This man -- this man, over here, has offended every single American. Are you going to stand there -- are you sitting or standing?


O'REILLY: And what would you like for Christmas, little boy?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you could see any American elected president, who would you choose and why?

O'REILLY: I'd say Clint Eastwood would have to be my guy.


STEWART: Well, why don't we ask him?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think is the most fundamental problem with the public political discourse?

O'REILLY: Stewart.



BERMAN: All right. Lots of laughs, obviously, but was there substance? Christopher John Farley is the senior editorial director and digital features editor for "The Wall Street Journal." He spoke to Bill O'Reilly in the leadoff to the debate. How seriously did they take this?

CHRISTOPHER JOHN FARLEY, SR. EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, DIGITAL FEATURES, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, he said he didn't care who won. That it was a big thing, it was just for charity and nothing else really mattered, but I can tell he wanted to win. He wanted to score some points. He wanted to make a good showing of himself versus Jon Stewart. And I think that, you know, depending on which side you favor, I think those lots to say for either side.

BERMAN: Now, we shared a lot of clips there that had a lot of punch lines, but there was some substance. They did discuss health care. I want to listen to what they talked about there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) O'REILLY: You have the private insurance companies. However, they have mandates. They can't throw you off if you're sick. They have to keep basically --

STEWART: Did you say mandates?

O'REILLY: Yes. Mandates. The government has an oversight capacity.


O'REILLY: Doesn't take it over, because the government is going to screw it up.

STEWART: Here's what I would do with healthcare: I would decouple it from work. I would make sure that employers are not responsible for the health care. What that would do is free people up to have more mobility in terms of changing jobs, in terms of not worrying about illness putting them into bankruptcy and all those types of situations that we're in now.


BERMAN: A strikingly substantive discussion there.

FARLEY: Yes, and the reason is, because the problem with presidential debates is people are running for president. They're not running for anything, so they can say whatever they want to say. They can talk about the issues. They don't have to worry about alienating some voters, alienating some people. They can speak their minds freely and make jokes about it, and that's what made this debate much more entertaining than most the presidential debates you end up watching.

BERMAN: What do you think the whole point was here?

FARLEY: Well, I think the whole point was they wanted to discuss some of these issues. They wanted to raise money for charity. So, that was kind of their agenda. Now, the problem is, even though there were lots of jokes on Saturday night, watching this debate, the biggest joke of all was just trying to watch the debate.

People have major problems trying to log on to see what these guys had to say, and I, myself, had problems logging on. It was available on demand. I could see the entire thing. But, you know, people are planning parties around this. They invited people over. They decided, OK, Saturday night, I'm going to watch O'Reilly and Stewart go at it.

And it's like going to the theater and finding out the doors were locked. So, it was a big problem for a lot of people.

BERMAN: Which has happened to me, by the way. So, who won?

FARLEY: It's hard to say who won. You know, I think that Jon Stewart is one of the funniest comedians out there. So, I think a lot of people will -- he was able, I think, to really score joke after joke in a way that O'Reilly couldn't. But O'Reilly seems a guy who's a straight shooter by people who are conservative. And so, a lot of people thought that he came out on top of this.

BERMAN: And Bill O'Reilly is a lot taller. All right --

FARLEY: He's a lot taller.

BERMAN: Christopher John Farley, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Thanks for watching for us. Senior editorial director of the "Wall Street Journal" and digital editor, thanks very much -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Coming up, to catch a croc. Capturing a rare species in order to save it from extinction.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Alligators may get most of the attention and lots of face time on those TV nature shows. But crocodiles are reptiles, too. And now, the ones imperiled American population is actually making a comeback. CNN's John Zarrella is following this story.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the statewide call center. Ladies here are taking calls from the public about alligators and occasionally a call about a crocodile. Usually, when you think of Florida, you think alligators. But now, its narrow- snouted cousin, the American crocodile is making a comeback.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. You have a crocodile complaint, and what county are you in? You're in Dade County.

LINDSEY HORD, CROCODILE RESPONSE COORDINATOR: The southern tip of Florida is the northern periphery of its range. But it also occurs in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and Northern South America.

ZARRELLA: Once endangered, the crocodile population here has grown from about 200 in the 1970s to around 2,000 today. But with increasing reports of crocodiles roaming in residential areas, some folks are uneasy about their new neighbors.

HORD: Well, people often mistake our crocodiles for the crocodiles they see on, you know, the animal TV shows, particularly the Nile crocodile. We don't have a lot of experience from bites from American crocodiles because one's never bitten anybody in Florida.

ZARRELLA: The American crocodile remains threatened in Florida and endangered in other countries. So, it's illegal to kill them, making educating the public key to their survival.

HORD: We would hope that they would be as understanding and as about trying to co-exist with these native animals.

ZARRELLA: Down in the southern tip of Florida, the canals of Florida power & light's, Turkey Point Power Plant have been a safe haven for crocodiles since 1978, with about 400 living here now. Turkey Point, in addition to refuges in Everglades National Park and Crocodile Lake, has been essential for the creature's recovery. People like Mario Aldacoa (ph) and Bob Burtleson (ph) work to make sure crocodiles are here to stay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is really good example of nesting habitat.

ZARRELLA: Each year, the Turkey Point croc team goes out to find nests then tags the newborns with microchips.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Successful nest with egg shells.

ZARRELLA: This gives each new crocodile an I.D. and helps them keep track of how the population is progressing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here in the cooling (ph) canals, the crocodiles are kind of like an umbrella species. If we protect the crocs, then, in turn, we're protecting a whole number of species, some of them which are threatened.

ZARRELLA: Then, the hard work begins as the sunsets. They're going to see up close how the crocodiles are doing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see him. Let's do it.

So, now, we have to get it tired.


ZARRELLA: They carefully get the crocodile on to their boat. And check its vital signs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's good. This is almost a two-point meter croc. It's a female.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 12.0 kilograms. Sweet. This is really, really pristine animal. This is a female that's a breeder. Breedible size at this point.

ZARRELLA: As Florida continues its efforts to save this species, this crocodile is a sign of hope that she and other crocodiles will be able to call this state home for a long time to come.


ZARRELLA: John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.


BERMAN: I feel much better knowing the crocodiles are coming back in Florida. (LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: All of a sudden, you know, it's a happier morning.

SAMBOLIN: Did you see one right in front of a garage. Can you imagine? Oh, boy! BERMAN: All right. Fifty-two minutes after the hour. We have a packed show ahead on EARLY START, including setting the stage for Thursday showdown. Vice presidential nominee is getting ready to go head-to-head in round two of the presidential campaign debates. The stakes might be a lot higher after what unfolded during round one.

We're joined by Tennessee Republican congresswoman, Diane Black, a Romney supporter who works with Paul Ryan in both the House Budget Committee and the Ways and Means Committee.

SAMBOLIN: Also, the man behind the Kony 2012 video speaking to Oprah now, finally talking about his naked meltdown on the street and the pressures of viral fame.

BERMAN: If there's anything worse than a meltdown, it's a naked meltdown, by the way.

Plus, the country's obesity problem now a matter of national security? We will speak to the army recruit who shed 160 pounds to get into the army.

SAMBOLIN: But first, towers of strength. Amazing pictures of people banding together to build human castles.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 57 minutes past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin along with John Berman taking a look at what is trending on the web this morning.

BERMAN: Trying to, at least. Incredible images out of Spain. A sea of people and human towers rising from it. Thousands of spectators packed into an old bull ring in Spain to watch as teams of hundreds of people built incredible human towers. They climb over and over and on top of each other.


BERMAN: Something as high as 50 feet. Why? Because it's a tradition dating back to the 18th century. This is the 24th annual competition in modern times. With ingenuity like this, they will definitely be able to get out of their debt crisis. That's all I can say.

SAMBOLIN: Here's another big why, right? Going for shock value, stuntman David Blaine, that is, is at it again. This time, he is spending three days -- look at that -- standing in the middle of a million volts of electricity on a New York City pier wearing a 27- pound chain mail suit. Seven Tesla coils are literally shooting bolts of lightning right through him. many experts are shooting down the something -- all that voltage is just simply going through his suit, not his body, and that this right here, ladies and gentlemen, is completely safe.


BERMAN: This looks like an awesome idea. SAMBOLIN: Oh, yes. Why don't you put -- and try it?

BERMAN: You'd like to see that, don't you?

SAMBOLIN: Yes, I would.

BERMAN: All right. Fifty-eight minutes after the hour. The last word on President Obama's barely-there debate performance coming from "Saturday Night Live."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you have to hand it to Mitt Romney, because President Obama sure did.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many political experts were surprised that during Wednesday's debate, President Obama failed to mention Mitt Romney's infamous 47 percent comment. Obama likely to take the high road, forgetting that that road, leads to building houses with Jimmy Carter.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: According to Nielsen numbers, more than 70 million people watch Wednesday's debate either on TV, online, or from one of the podiums.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fox News. When that thing ended, you guys must have looked at each other and said, I think we can report this one exactly as it happened.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I turned over your post debate coverage, I expected to see Sean Hannity getting a Gatorade shower.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Loser, Michelle Obama. It must be hard to watch your husband take a beating like that on your anniversary. You went in there thinking you 're with Blane (ph), but you went home with ducky.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The biggest winner, America, is there anything more exciting than Joe Biden thinking it's up to him to get the lead back?




BERMAN: And you can watch that Thursday night right here on CNN.

SAMBOLIN: No need to TiVo.

EARLY START continues right now.