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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Obama Versus Romney: Round Two; Perks And Pratfalls Of Town Hall Debate; Clinton: "I Take Responsibility"; What Went Wrong In Benghazi?; Stirring Up The Pot; Arrests Over Malala; Meningitis Outbreak Grows Worse

Aired October 16, 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): We start your morning out with a laugh. The rematch, President Obama and Mitt Romney just hours away from debate number two. That is tonight in New York.

HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I take responsibility. I'm in charge of the State Department, 60,000 plus people all over the world.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Falling on her sword, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton taking the blame for the death of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya.

SAMBOLIN: Marijuana on the docket. A court case today could be a small first step towards some day legalizing pot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): On that note, I'm going to say good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN (on-camera): And I'm John Berman. It is 6:00 a.m. in the East.

Rematch. Fifteen hours and counting until President Obama and Mitt Romney go at it again. The second presidential debate at Hofstra University on Long Island will be a town hall style affair. The Obama campaign expects the president to show some fight this time around but going on the attack could be a little risky. The candidates will be surrounded by real human beings, real voters asking direct questions.

SAMBOLIN: So, with the election three weeks away from today, there is plenty at stake tonight for both Obama and Romney. The latest CNN poll of polls shows Romney with the slimmest of leads 48 to 47 percent.

Our poll guy is in the house, Paul Steinhauser. He will be at the debate tonight. Share with us your expectations for this evening, and the poll of polls, because this is big news.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: It's very tight, but I've got some breaking news right now. Mitt Romney won the coin toss. That's new. So he gets the first question tonight. There you go. We just reported that.

BERMAN: This just in.

STEINHAUSER: Exactly. That poll you guys just showed. We've also seen extremely tight polls in the states as well. That's why so much is at stake tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: One thing I know for sure, Mitt's prepared. Mitt's confident. Mitt's got a good presence about him.

STEINHAUSER (voice-over): Ann Romney says her husband's ready for a rematch with President Obama. The Republican nominee spent the past two days back home in Massachusetts, behind closed doors, preparing for tonight's second presidential debate.

President Obama's been hunkered down in Williamsburg, Virginia. Not campaigning in the crucial battleground state, but instead doing his debate prep homework.

A senior adviser says the president knows he needs to step it up after the Denver debate two weeks ago.

ROBERT GIBBS, SENIOR OBAMA CAMPAIGN ADVISER: He knew when he walked off that stage and he also knew as he's watched the tape of that debate that he's got to be more energetic.

STEINHAUSER: Most Americans think Romney got the better of Obama at the first face-off.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE: My plan is not to put in place any tax cut that will add to the deficit. That's point one. So you may keep referring to it as $5 trillion tax cut, but that's not my plan.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to provide tax breaks for companies that are investing here in the United States. On energy, Governor Romney and I, we both agree that we've got to boost American energy production.

STEINHAUSER: Polls conducted following the Denver showdown, both nationally and in key battleground states, have tightened up. This time around the candidates will field questions directly from undecided voters in a town hall format moderated by CNN's own Candy Crowley.

FRANK J. FAHRENKOPF JR., CO-CHAIRMAN, COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES: We're standing right where Candy Crowley is going to be. She will be at this table right behind us and you'll see beyond her there's two stools, high stools. That's where the two candidates will be.

And then around them, sort of the semicircle, there will be about 80 people who have been chosen from the area around Hofstra here on Long Island. They're the ones who will ask the questions of the candidates.

STEINHAUSER: And connecting with the town hall audience is crucial.

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, CNN'S "STATE OF THE UNION": The challenge is that they've got to connect not just with the people that are looking into the television, and watching them, but to the people that are on the stage with them. They have to keep those folks in mind. It's a much more intimate, and up-close adventure with voters.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEINHAUSER: So which candidate do Americans think will win the debate tonight? Who will do better? Check this out from the Pew Research Center. Look, Americans are kind of divided it seems on between the president and Mitt Romney.

That was not the case. Take a look at the right column. That was not the case in the first debate. Listen, we've seen past presidents have rough first debates. Ronald Reagan in '84, George W. Bush back eight years ago, but they came back with strong second debates. That's the big question for tonight. Will President Obama come back with a strong second debate?

BERMAN: Over the last 24 hours, it seems like there's been a lot of controversy, made-up controversy over the role of the moderator in this debate. You have some new information there.

STEINHAUSER: Yes. And maybe that was some pre-debate spin from the both the Romney and Obama campaigns, questioning whether Candy Crowley should stick to the rules.

But, listen, both campaigns now saying they'll answer whatever questions come their way. The key here is the questions come from the undecided voters, but Candy Crowley gets to follow-up there and get a debate going between the two candidates.

SAMBOLIN: All right, so let's check in with CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, on what to expect from these two candidates tonight, huge expectations for both of them. So let's start with Romney.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, Romney changed the race in a fundamental way in the first debate. I think you have to go back to the Carter-Reagan debate in '80 and maybe the Nixon- Kennedy debate in 1960 for a single debate that has had a bigger reverberation through the race.

So basically, I think he has to continue doing what he was able to do in the first debate, which was make himself a viable alternative for voters who are somewhat dissatisfied with Obama, but had not previously seen Romney as someone who cared about or understood their lives.

He made enormous progress on that front and above all convincing people that he has a plan to make their lives better.

BERMAN: On the subject of has a plan, you just wrote in the "National Journal" about this. You said, what President Obama needs to do is make the case that he has a plan.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, there are two separate memos that came out yesterday from senior Democratic strategists, Peter Hard on the one hand, Stan Greenberg and Vince Carter on the other. They both faced on focus groups after the first debate and they both said the biggest -- Obama had many problems at that first debate, but the biggest one was he conveyed no passion, energy or mission about having a plan to make people's lives better over the next four years.

What would he deliver in a second term? I think that is job one for him tonight. I think to show that, you know, some of the comments from the focus groups, he seemed defeated. He seemed out of energy. Obviously, wants to make the case against Romney, he wants to be tougher. But above all he needs to make the case for himself and what he would do if voters give him four more years.

SAMBOLIN: And this specific town hall format, who is most likely to be able to connect with the voters? Because, it looks like, you know, a lot of people believe President Obama's got that in the bag, right. He's typically the one that can connect.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, we were talking about the president has two missions, two necessities tonight, one of them is facilitated by the town hall format and one is made tougher. The one made tougher is making the case against the other guy. People talk about it's hard to be negative in this audience when you're with people around you. I think where he may do better, where this will help him, is trying to re-establish a sense that he cares about and connects with average people and Mitt Romney doesn't.

BERMAN: It seems like the big epic question in this campaign right now is, is this as good as it gets for Mitt Romney or is this the tip of the iceberg and we're seeing a trend toward a complete Romney takeover?

BROWNSTEIN: Look, I don't think we're seeing a trend for a complete takeover for either side. What's happened at this first debate is it snapped the race back to the fundamentals.

In some ways the president was levitating above his approval rating in September when he had this lead because it was a thin slice of voters who were dissatisfied with him, but were sticking with him nonetheless because they didn't see Romney as someone who got their lives.

I think Romney has fundamentally and probably irreversibly changed that and we're looking at a structurally close race, driven by a country that's divided almost exactly in half on whether President Obama has performed well enough in the first four years to deserve another four years.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Ron Brownstein, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate your time and your insight. Special coverage of tonight's town hall presidential debate moderated by our own Candy Crowley begins at 7:00 Eastern Time right here on CNN.

BERMAN: And this is making big news, all night, Hillary Clinton insists that the September 11th attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was her responsibility, and no one should be blaming the White House.

In an interview with CNN's Elise Labott, the Secretary of State insists she is in charge of security at U.S. diplomatic outposts, and she says no one should be pointing the finger at the president for the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I take responsibility. I'm in charge of the State Department, 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts. The president and the vice president certainly wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now, Republicans, they're not buying this. GOP Senators John Mccain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte releasing a statement saying if the president was truly not aware of this rising threat level in Benghazi, then we've lost confidence in his national security team. The security of Americans serving our nation everywhere in the world is ultimately the job of the commander in chief, the buck stops there.

Foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott landed the interview with the Secretary of State. She joins us now from Lima, Peru this morning. Elise, some analysts saying this was a political decision on Hillary Clinton's part hoping to deflect blame from the president. It happened hours before their second presidential debate.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, John, that's one way to look at it, certainly and it is taking a little bit of the heat of the White House temporarily I think.

Another thing Secretary Clinton was trying to do, I think, is to refocus people on the idea that four Americans were killed that night, Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. And she wanted to remember that the most important thing was to make sure it didn't happen again. But let's take a listen to what Secretary Clinton said when I asked her about the changing story.

First the administration said that this was spontaneous protests gone awry, it took a lot of heat for that and then changed their story to more of a pre-planned terrorist attack. Take a listen to Secretary Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Everyone who spoke tried to give the information that they had. As time has gone on, the information has changed, we've gotten more detail, but that's not surprising. That always happens. And what I want to avoid is some kind of political gotcha or blame game going on. (END VIDEO CLIP)

LABOTT: So, John, I went on to ask her a lot of other things. We talked that night about the harrowing details that Secretary Clinton was receiving about the attack and the death of the four Americans, waiting all night to hear if they found Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith -- John.

BERMAN: Elise, did the secretary seem to indicate that she felt that the intelligence was somehow faulty from the very beginning?

LABOTT: Well, I asked her about that, because you know, there's a lot of going back and going forth, and you know, the State Department never said that those protests were going on that night. They said, in fact, all is quiet. And if you heard Vice President Biden the other night, he said also that was the intelligence we had.

Take a listen to the back and forth with Secretary Clinton on the intelligence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Obviously, what happened that night was unprecedented, the waves of armed attackers that went on for hours.

LABOTT: Well, do you think you got wrong intelligence, then?

CLINTON: I'm not going to get into the blame game, either, about what we don't fully yet know from our own investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LABOTT: Now, conveniently, that investigation will probably come out after the election although, it does take some time for these things to shake out.

But for right now, Secretary Clinton wants to make sure in this investigation, yes, John, find out what happens. But mostly find out how the U.S. State Department can protect its diplomats to make sure nothing like this happens again.

And you heard Ambassador Stevens' father over the last week saying his death is being politicized, and everyone wants to make sure that this doesn't happen again to other diplomats. U.S. really has to make sure it's going to be in these conflict areas, they have to have security for that kind of environment -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Elise Labott in Lima, Peru with the Secretary of State in a news-making interview. Thanks so much, Elise.

SAMBOLIN: It's 10 minutes past the hour, dangerous drug or good medicine? Coming up, the court case that could help put pot on the path to legalization.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It's 14 minutes past the hour. For the first time in nearly 20 years, the issue of medical marijuana goes before a federal court. This is happening today.

Right now, federal law lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug, along with the most dangerous drugs, such as heroine and LSD, as having potential for abuse.

Today, medical marijuana advocates will try to change that and reclassify marijuana so it can be used for treating diseases. Similar attempts have failed in the past. But this time, the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access feels that they actually have a shot at this.

Joining me is their executive editor Steph Sherer. Thanks for being with us this morning.

So I want to go over these schedules again, so everybody can understand how exactly this is classified. So it's classified as a schedule I controlled substance. And as I said before, that means it's linked with drugs like heroine and ecstasy. Below that is schedule II which includes drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, OxyContin.

And your lawsuit is looking to reclassify marijuana into schedule III. And that has drugs like Vicodin, anabolic steroids. You have tried twice to get the DEA to reclassify it marijuana. Why do you think this could potentially work now?

STEPH SHERER, AMERICANS FOR SAFE ACCESS: This is the first time our organization has attempted to reschedule marijuana. And we are an organization of medical cannabis patients whose doctors are behind us. That they want the federal government to recognize the experience we're having, which is the fact that marijuana is medicine.

Now some of the other attempts in the past were very focused on abuse potential. And in our petition, we're actually bringing forward several decades worth of research, and the experience of patients and doctors in this country.

SAMBOLIN: So I have here that in 2011, you petitioned the DEA to get marijuana reclassified, and that it was denied. They said in their decision that the Department of Health and Human Services evaluation and the additional data gathered by DEA show that marijuana has a high potential for abuse. Marijuana lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision.

This was the Department of Health and Human Services saying that it has a high potential for abuse. So how do you refute that?

SHERER: I refute that, is that they're actually saying it's being used a lot. Caffeine is being used or you could say it's being abused, depending on what reference that's coming from.

And what we've asked the court to weigh in, is to look, you know, look at this decision, and to find that this decision was actually arbitrary and capricious and that it's not taking into account the experience of a million medical cannabis patients the U.S. and the thousands of doctors that are recommending that they use this product.

So we think that bringing the courts in, we can actually finally have a sane conversation about medical cannabis in this country and bring us up to speed, with honestly the rest of the world. It's actually kind of odd that we're still having this conversation. Does marijuana have medical value? And I think most of your viewers know someone that has used medical cannabis.

SAMBOLIN: Well, we know that in California and other states, it has been approved to treat a range of illnesses. So why do you think the federal government has been so reluctant to reclassify it?

SHERER: You know, it's a large bureaucracy. We're not sure why. But I do know that the only people who are testifying against medical cannabis are people within law enforcement. You never see doctors or scientists saying, you know, that this shouldn't move forward as a medicine.

SAMBOLIN: And one last quick question for you. If you win, this does not legalize marijuana, right? It just changes the classification.

SHERER: That's correct. There's still a lot of processes that the federal government's going to have to go through. Hopefully and start working with the states to provide this medicine to patients. But the reclassification just means that doctors and patients will be on the same page with the federal government.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, thank you for joining us this morning.

SHERER: Thank you for having me.

SAMBOLIN: So we know that this is going to be a big talker today and we want to hear from you. Comment on Twitter, including our handle @EarlyStartCNN. You can find us on Facebook. And head to our blog CNN.com/EarlyStart to join in on this conversation.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: We have breaking news out of London right now. We're getting new details on Malala Yousufzai. She is the Pakistani girl who was shot for standing up to the Taliban. There's also word of a number of arrests at the hospital overnight. Interesting.

Senior international correspondent Dan Rivers joins us right now to explain. Dan, explain this to us, please.

DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, we've just had a press conference from the medical director here, Dr. David Rosser (ph), who first of all told us a bit about Malala's condition, described as being comfortable. They said they're pleased with her progress so far. There's been an initial assessment from up to or more than six specialists, including neurotherapy, radiology, intensive care, pediatrics and others. But as you mentioned also, he touched on there'd been arrests of a number of people overnight, who were overcurious, in his words, trying to get in to her hospital room, claiming to be members of her family.

Now he wouldn't give much more detail, but basically was sort of saying there were no weapons involved or anything, and he was sort of saying this proves that the security in place was robust, that there was more than one incident, though, of people trying to get in to see her. But perhaps playing down any suggestion of this being sinister, or anyone trying to do her any harm, that people just perhaps getting a little overcurious and wanting to just go in and see her.

So we'll obviously try and find out more about that from the police here. But it underlines just how tight security is around this hospital. They did deploy a lot of extra police officers in front of one of the entrances behind me yesterday to really, I think, as a show of strength more than anything else.

But the Taliban have said that they, you know, have continued to issue death threats against Malala, and of course, you know, she is under risk as long as she's here.

BERMAN: Dan, you told us she is comfortable and they are pleased with her progress so far. But just to be clear, we have so much concern over her safety, they're not saying these arrests apparently were for any kind of threat. These were not people out to get her in any way?

RIVERS: That's the impression he gave us, yes. That this was more people claiming to be her family, and being overeager, over curious was the phrase he used, to go in and see her.

So, they have been arrested. He wouldn't tell us how many have been arrested or what time any of this happened. And he wouldn't go in to any details about how security has changed as a result, whether it's been stepped up. But he was basically saying, this proves that our security is working.

BERMAN: All right. Dan Rivers in London with an update on Malala who is said to be resting comfortably right now and they are pleased with her progress. Thanks very much, Dan.

And if you're looking for work, they are looking for help. Coming up, the big time online retailer that's doing some big time hiring for the holidays.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-five minutes past the hour. We are minding your business this morning. How about some good news?

Amazon announcing overnight that it plans to hire 50,000 temporary workers for the holiday shopping season.

BERMAN: Amazon is just the latest retailer to announce big holiday hiring plans.

Christine's been tracking all the big retailers and their plans -- Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes, this will be 50,000. We've seen a lot of hiring from a lot of others, including, you know, Kohl's and Target. many of the big retailers. I mean, they're already thinking about what they're going to do for the holiday season.

We're seeing in many of these consumer sentiment numbers and consumer spending numbers that you have pent-up demand to buy stuff. Mostly things like restaurant meals and consumer electronics, and quite frankly these retailers want to be ready for the holidays. So it may be October but they're getting ready, no question.

So, that's what we're watching overall in terms of that. Some of these jobs will become permanent jobs. Last year I know nearly 30 percent of the jobs at Target translated into permanent jobs. Nearly 15 percent at Kohl's.

Some of these will become longer-term permanent jobs. But for most people, these are going to be temporary, seasonal type jobs. So they won't be there forever. But certainly there will be something.

Now, let's talk about Facebook -- a really interesting analysis on CNN Money of political records, donations and contribution records showing that the Facebook political action committee, actually giving more money to Republicans than Democrats, $140,000 to Republicans, $127,000 to Democrats.

Why would Facebook be involved in political action committee, you might ask? Well, there are all these questions about privacy, online retailing, how its business is done. So having a hand in Washington and politics and being close to people running for office and the parties, quite frankly, not that they were surprised about. Tech companies, political donations overall favor Republicans over Democrats.

But when you look specifically at Facebook, the personal donations of the people within Facebook, the personal campaign contributions, actually favor Democrats. And Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, has given money to DNC and also to President Obama, $5,000 to President Obama.

BERMAN: All right. What's the one thing we need to know about our money?

ROMANS: One thing about your money today. Stock futures are higher, ton of earnings and economic reports coming out today. Forty percent of S&P 500 companies are going to report earnings for this week.

So, buckle up and hold on. We're going to get a lot of data that you're going to be able to help decide whether you are better off today than four years ago. With three weeks to go.

SAMBOLIN: To interpret all that data.

BERMAN: And hold on. ROMANS: Buckle up.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-seven minutes past the hour.

President Obama did it and took plenty of heat for it. So will Mitt Romney go on "The View"? The answer is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Obama versus Romney, the sequel. A different format for tonight's debate number two.

SAMBOLIN: And did this cop cross the line? A possible case of police brutality caught on camera right in New York City.

BERMAN: And new concerns over the deadly meningitis outbreak. More medicine now linked to this illness. This story just keeps on going on and getting more and more alarming every day.

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

SAMBOLIN: You know, I want to add that Elizabeth Cohen is going to join us to talk about that in particular. So, stay tuned for that.

I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Thirty-one minutes past the hour.

Mitt Romney and President Obama will go head-to-head for the second time tonight. This time in a town hall-style debate, which will be moderated by CNN's own chief political correspondent Candy Crowley.

BERMAN: And back with us to discuss more of this, this morning, CNN contributor and Republican strategist Ana Navarro and Richard Socarides, former adviser to President Bill Clinton and a writer with the NewYorker.com.

We've been talking about town meetings, which means that the candidates will be sitting in a well, surrounded by real voters who will get to be asked questions moderated, of course, by Candy Crowley.

These town meetings over time have presented some challenges for political candidates in the past, famously with George H.W. Bush in 1992. He was sitting there next to Bill Clinton when he was taking questions, he famously looked at his watch as he was being asked, you see it right there. People thought that meant he really wasn't interested, wasn't into the moment -- which actually, you know, President Obama was criticized for that, too, at the last debate.

There was another famous moment at a town hall debate. This one with Al Gore and George W. Bush. This happened in 2000. Let's look at that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: It's not only what's your philosophy and what's your position on issues, but can you get things done? And I believe I can. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Personal space, right?

BERMAN: Al Gore got up in his business and Bush just --

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: He handled that so beautifully though, George W. Bush. He handled it so beautifully.

ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: What's interesting is Rob Portman, who is the one right now who's doing debate prep with Romney was the one doing debate prep with President Bush back then. And he talked about this moment. He had watched the pre-tapes, he had studied the tapes, and he knew Gore had this tendency to get into your personal space, so they practiced.

And Bush had said I heard Rob Portman say this story, that's not going to happen. He's not going to do that. So when he did it, I think it was something that was incredibly amusing to President Bush.

BERMAN: They're both in that well. Tonight, when they're both in that town hall setting, Ana, who does it favor?

NAVARRO: You know, I think both guys can be on or off. I think it favors the one who comes across as connecting the most with the audience, outside the room, but also inside the room.

And they have to remember, guys, that the camera is on them all the time. I keep wondering how this keeps happening on and on, year after year, debate after debate. I think the split screen was lethal for Obama in the first debate. I think it was a terrible thing for the first President Bush when he got caught looking at the watch.

So, remember, the camera is on you at all times. You've got to look connected. You've got to look sympathetic, at all times. And you know, more than anything, I think the American voter wants to see both of these guys really want this job. That was the biggest problem for President Obama in the first debate.

BERMAN: The town hall. This is a setting that President Obama wants, Richard?

SOCARIDES: Yes. And I think he'll do really well in it. I think the special challenge, I agree with everything Ana said. But I think the special challenge for him tonight is not to overcompensate for last week. I mean, you know, you could see him really -- I mean, I think it was OK with Joe Biden was very aggressive.

But, you know, President Obama has to be himself. President Obama has to, you know, show up, be connected, be empathetic, explain to people why he wants the job, connect with voters like you said. But he can't go overboard. He can't try to overcompensate too much for what was really a weak performance.

NAVARRO: And I say no smirking, no laughing, no disdainful looks. SOCARIDES: That's not in his character. I think, look, if the real Barack Obama -- caring, empathetic, visionary, looking for someone who looks forward, if that Barack Obama shows up tonight, the Democrats will do just fine.

NAVARRO: Who was the Barack Obama that showed up the first time?

SOCARIDES: That's a good question. You know, I think it's such an interesting question. I think we do not really know what happened that night. I have a feeling that when the history books are written, there will be something about that night that we will -- that we will learn that we don't know now.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Let's switch gears here and talk about the "USA Today"/Gallup poll. I know you were carrying the newspaper around earlier. It shows the gender gap is closing for Romney among women in the swing states. So, Richard look at those numbers -- Obama, 49 percent, Romney, 48 percent. That's the first time we're seeing this. I mean, women hugely supported Obama at first.

So, are you concerned about this?

SOCARIDES: Well, I mean, I'm concerned that I'm not sure that number -- those numbers among women are accurate. But I think Democrats are usually concerned about the tightening of the race that we see in the swing states and we've seen everywhere.

I mean, I think we expect it. It's tightening somewhat. But maybe not so much, maybe not so quickly. But it's going to be a very close contest.

And I think, you know, nobody really knows what's going to win right now.

SAMBOLIN: And the Obama campaign jumped on it right away and said those numbers are skewed. But, Ana, you're probably --

NAVARRO: It's incredibly amusing. After all the heat the Republicans took for saying the polls were skewed when Romney was behind. So now the polls -- now that it's on the other foot, the polls are all of a sudden skewed according to the Democrats, you know?

SAMBOLIN: But you said earlier that you were surprised.

NAVARRO: I was, Zoraida. Because I, you know, it was a big, big, gender gap in the double digits, 20-plus percent. It looked like an insurmountable obstacle a few weeks ago before the debate. And it has evaporated overnight. That to me is very surprising because it tells me how soft the support for President Obama is this year as opposed to four years ago.

BERMAN: Foreign policy will be a part of tonight's debate, split between domestic and foreign policy and there's no bigger issue in foreign policy right now than the attacks on the embassy in Benghazi.

And last night, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave really a news- making interview to CNN's Elise Labott, where she took responsibility, in a way, for what happened there. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I take responsibility. I'm in charge of the State Department, 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts. The president and the vice president certainly wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals. They're the ones who weigh all of the threats and the risks and the needs, and make a considered decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, Richard, does that take some of the heat off the president tonight?

SOCARIDES: I mean, I don't really think so. And I don't think that's what she was trying to do. I think she was trying to stay that she feels personally responsible, and that they're responsible, State Department is responsible for the day-to-day decision-making on this issue. I think she was maybe trying to explain a little bit that answer that the vice president gave when he said he didn't personally know.

But, clearly, the administration, the president, are responsible for what the State Department does. I think that, you know, she is -- she is really -- she feels very personally about this. I think that's what you saw her describing.

NAVARRO: I think President Obama would be well served to pick a page from secretary Clinton and take some responsibility. The American people like for their president to take responsibility. And it would be a lot more presidential than all of this dodging and weaving that's gone on.

SOCARIDES: Let's be fair, he has not tried -- I mean, he has not tried to say he's not responsible.

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: They said we didn't know anything.

SOCARIDES: But that is very different.

NAVARRO: You have to hear President Obama say, it's my responsibility, the buck stops here like I just heard Hillary Clinton.

SOCARIDES: You'll hear it tonight, you'll hear it tonight.

BERMAN: I hear we agree on one thing --

NAVARRO: Ten thousand bucks.

SOCARIDES: Ten thousand dollars?

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: Monopoly money.

SOCARIDES: Monopoly money, yes!

BERMAN: If we know one thing for sure, it's that it just raised the excitement level of the debate.

SAMBOLIN: Wow.

BERMAN: Ana Navarro, Richard Socarides, thank you so much for joining us this morning and blowing up my earpiece.

SAMBOLIN: They bring it, don't they?

This early in the morning, they bring it. Thank you.

All right. Special coverage of tonight's town hall presidential debate moderated by our own Candy Crowley begins at 7:00 Eastern Time, right here on CNN.

BERMAN: The New York police department's investigations of a possible case of police brutality, that going on right now. The incident was caught on videotape which we are going to play. But I want to warn you this can be tough to watch.

Police say officers, one male, one female responded to a dispute at a community center early one morning last week as they attempted to arrest a man an altercation unfolded. The male officer appears to strike the man more than a dozen times.

Now, police released a statement saying the NYPD internal affairs bureau opened investigation of the incident yesterday -- having seen a video of it. The matter was also referred by internal affairs to the civilian complaint review board.

The statement went on to say the male officer has been placed on modified assignment while the incident is investigated.

SAMBOLIN: That is difficult to watch.

And today a three-judge panel with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington is being asked to redefine how the government classifies marijuana. The group Americans for Safe Access is challenging the Drug Enforcement Administration's classification of marijuana as a schedule I drug. Schedule I drugs include heroine and LSD and are considered by the DEA to have a high incident of abuse and no acceptable medical use.

BERMAN: There's a new concern for doctors bracing to contain a deadly meningitis outbreak. They've now learned that more tainted medicines could be involved. Listen to that. We'll have a live report coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Forty-four minutes past the hour.

Soledad O'Brien joins us now with a look at what is ahead on "STARTING POINT."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good morning. Lots ahead this morning.

They're ready to rumble. At least they're ready to debate against, version 2.0. President Obama, Mitt Romney will face off in their Long Island rematch.

A good question, though, is if tonight's town hall-style debate will give an advantage to one of the candidates. We're going to talk this morning with a former debate moderator Carole Simpson. Also, Congressman Steve I will be our guest. Peter King is going to join us as well, the congressman from New York. Jen Psaki from the Obama campaign will be joining us.

Also, she's taking responsibility. We'll tell you what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton now says about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and about the cover-up accusations. We'll have a live report this morning from Peru where Secretary Clinton is traveling.

And Tyra Banks, she wants you to know your flaws are OK. Zoraida and John, your flaws are OK. Tyra has a mission to empower young women. She's been doing that for a long time. She's got a big event coming up. She's going to talk to us about it. She is so impressive in what she does with young women. Yes, I love her.

BERMAN: All I heard was Tyra Banks. I don't know anything else you said.

O'BRIEN: Love, love, love.

BERMAN: Tyra Banks --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Yes. Tyra Banks, she's going to join us this morning.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

BERMAN: Forty-five minutes after the hour right now. Serious story now. More issues have been reported with drugs from a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy linked to a deadly multistate outbreak of fungal meningitis. The Food and Drug Administration now says two other medicines are linked to illnesses.

Senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, joins us now from Atlanta this morning. Elizabeth, tell us about these new illnesses.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, this really came as a surprise yesterday. The FDA put out a press release, and they talked about two drugs, besides the one that we've been talking about all this time, that may be causing problems. So, let's take a look at the drugs and the patients who they might have affected. So, there was one patient who received a different kind of steroid than the one we've been talking about. A different kind of steroid, and now, possibly has meningitis. And then, two other patients who are having heart transplants and received a heart surgery drug and now might have or appear to have fungal infections.

These drugs were all made by the New England Compounding Center. So, the FDA is saying, you know, there's more than just this one drug that we need to be worried about.

BERMAN: So, Elizabeth, I've got to say, you know, I hear two more drugs this morning. Is it possible there are three, there are four, could there be even more?

COHEN: Right, because this company made dozens of drugs. John, on October 4th, the FDA told doctors and hospitals, don't use anything from the northern compounding center, get rid of all of it. So, theoretically, we should all be safe. I mean, you're hoping that hospitals and doctors are listening.

Now, of course, that begs the question, these two new drugs, were they used before or after that announcement was made to stop using these drugs, and we just don't know. We asked the FDA several times, and they said they don't have that information, but we really, you know, in the end, it amounts to trust and doctors and hospitals that when they're told stop using anything by this company, that they stop using anything by this company.

BERMAN: All right. Elizabeth Cohen, still so many questions here. Thank you for the update.

COHEN: Thanks.

SAMBOLIN: It is 47 minutes past the hour. They are the deciders. Hear from voters in the biggest swing county in a state that has a knack for picking presidents. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 50 minutes past the hour. Round two of the Obama-Romney debate is tonight, but when it comes to measuring the pulse of American politics, there's probably no place more reliable than stark county, Ohio. It's one of the most competitive swing counties in a state that reliably picks presidents.

Miguel Marquez is in Hartville, Ohio. That is where he spoke with some very discerning voters. What did you find out for us?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are the very most discerning voters. We came here because, you know, no Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio. This race is certainly tightened up since that first debate. Obama had a seven to ten-point lead before that debate.

Now, it's about a three-point edge over Romney. So, we came here to lovely Hartville, Ohio, to talk to people to figure out what makes them tick.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: This is stark county, Ohio, a front line in this battleground state. So closely tracked state in national voting patterns, this place puts the bell in bellwether.

(voice-over) Kay Vaughan has farmed in Hartville, Ohio, his whole life. Today, he's planting winter wheat. Like most people here, he takes politics pretty seriously.

May I ask who you're voting for?

KAY VAUGHAN, MAIZE VALLEY FARMS: Yes.

MARQUEZ: Who are you voting for?

VAUGHAN: I won't tell you.

(LAUGHTER)

MARQUEZ: Like many, Vaughn is sick of political gridlock. He says the country's problems, so serious, it makes voting more important and tougher than ever.

VAUGHAN: A lot of people are hurting big. A lot of people need relief. And I'm not too sure the election is going to give it no matter who gets elected. That's the problem.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): Stark County has seen the worst of the recession and the best of the recovery. Unemployment here shot up to more than 13 percent at the height of the great rescission. It's now plummeted to less than seven.

(voice-over): Vaughan, like Stark County and Ohio, has survived by changing. He turned over the business to his kids and his son-in-law, Phil. Back, he made some changes to the old family farm. Boy did he ever. A fourth of the family's yearly income now comes from a few weeks in the fall when the farm, now a market and winery, is transformed into a country fun fair. (INAUDIBLE).

BILL BAKAN, MAIZE VALLEY MARKER AND WINERY: You have to be diversified enough to weather the storm, but you can't dilute yourself so that you're not effective.

MARQUEZ: A delicate balance that makes Ohio Ohio.

BAKAN: Ohio is number one at practically nothing, but exceedingly above average at many, many things.

MARQUEZ: How quickly can one shred a car?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About 30 seconds.

MARQUEZ: Slesnick Steel has been in the recycling business for 100 years. The state-of-the-art scrap yard. The boss here, Ed Slesnick, a lifelong Democrat voted Obama in 2008. He says this year, it's tougher choice.

ED SLESNICK, PRESIDENT, SLESNICK STEEL: This year, I am truly an independent voter and looking at the first debate and very keen on looking at the next two debates.

MARQUEZ: A year ago, his yard could barely keep up with demand. Two months ago, he saw orders plummet.

Is it a matter of hearing what they want to do or how are they going to accomplish it?

SLESNICK: I would say both in that question. But more importantly, how ar they going to accomplish it with a $16 trillion deficit?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ (on-camera): Now, the one thing that we found out about Stark County, Ohio, both Hartville here, the country, and canton, the city, both of them in this same county, a very competitive place. You know, they have already ordered up most of their absentee ballots, about 35,000 total out of this county, 16,000 for democratic voters, 12,000 for Republican, about 10,000 for independents.

This is a place that may come down to those early voters, and at this point, it seems across the state at least the Obama campaign has made a very big push to get those early voters out there and they seem to be out in front, at least, in the number of ballots that have gone out by Democrats -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Miguel. You're having entirely too much fun getting us all this information. We appreciate it.

And the next stop on Miguel's trip, Congressman Paul Ryan's home state of Wisconsin, specifically, Waterford, Wisconsin.

BERMAN: Wonder if they'll let Miguel play with the toys out there like they did in Ohio.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, that was fun.

BERMAN: Fifty-four minutes after the hour. Mitt Romney will not be appearing on "The View" this week. The Republican nominee canceled his Thursday appearance on the ABC talk show. Barbara Walters says the campaign told her there was a scheduling conflict. Romney's wife, Ann, still expected to appear.

SAMBOLIN: So, we have today's "Best Advice" coming up right after this quick break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Fifty-eight minutes past the hour. We wrap it up as always with "Best Advice." Here's Christine.

ROMANS: Today, it comes from Sheila Bair, the former chairperson of the FDIC. The best advice she ever received. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHEILA BAIR, FORMER FDIC CHAIR: I think the best advice I've ever received was from my parents about having a strong work ethic, and doing the job that you were assigned, and given, and making sure you do it well. I think that's really been a secret to --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Interesting, right? I mean, doing the job you have right now and doing it well, and then, the other jobs will come as a result. Sometimes, she says people always have their eye on the next job, and they don't get that next job because they haven't done the one they're in well enough.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Keep your eye on the prize at the moment, right?

ROMANS: Exactly.

BERMAN: We got our hands full.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: That is all for EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

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