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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Obama Versus Romney II; Presidential Debate Gets Testy; Interview with Marsha Blackburn

Aired October 17, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: EARLY START continues right now. In the octagon --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governor Romney says he's got a five-point plan. Governor Romney doesn't have a five-point plan he has a one-point plan.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Why am I lowering taxes on the middle class because under the last four years they've been buried?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: President Obama and Governor Romney rumbled in the town hall. This time each candidate gave as good as they got.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Is that what you're saying?

OBAMA: Please proceed, Governor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: And it got ugly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Have you looked at your pension, Mr. President? Have you looked at your pension?

OBAMA: You know, I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: This morning we go to the score cards. Hear from the voters, and keep the candidates honest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: That wasn't a question.

OBAMA: OK.

ROMNEY: That was a statement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: On a special edition of EARLY START.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to EARLY START everyone. Debate aftermath. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Thanks for being with us. It's 6:00 a.m. in the east and we begin with the Obama/Romney rematch. A fiery showdown that turned out to be a lot more combative than their first debate.

With a more energized and feisty Barack Obama who took the stage at Hofstra University last night, but Mitt Romney stood his ground, aggressively attacking the president on the economy and foreign policy.

BERMAN: Here's how America scored it. A CNN/ORC poll of registered voters who watched the debate giving the nod to the president, 46 pecent to 39 percent. Now compare that to the first presidential debate that put Romney over Obama with a whopping 67 percent to 25 percent.

We're joined this morning by CNN's senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash who watched it all unfold live. Dana, the voters seem to tell us this time that President Obama exceeded their expectations.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly. Because the expectations were not that high after two weeks ago debate, but he came to play, Mitt Romney came to play and that's what made the evening so crackling with energy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): You may think that debate in front of undeclared, persuadable voters would produce polite performances.

ROMNEY: Production is down --

BASH: Think again. At times, this town hall looked like a schoolyard brawl.

OBAMA: Not true, Governor Romney.

ROMNEY: So how much did you cut?

OBAMA: Not true.

ROMNEY: I had a question and the question was how much did you cut them by?

OBAMA: You want me to answer a question. I'm happy to answer the question. BASH: If memorable debates are about moments one here was on Libya.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who was it that denied enhanced security, and why?

BASH: It was the question conservatives were waiting for, a chance to slam the president for lax security and changing stories on what prompted last month's deadly Benghazi attack.

ROMNEY: There was no demonstration involved. It was a terrorist attack. But I think you have to ask yourself, why didn't we know five days later when the ambassador to the United Nations went on TV to say this was a demonstration. How could we have not known?

BASH: The president threw down the commander in chief card.

OBAMA: The suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the Secretary of State, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team, would play politics or mislead when we've lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That's not what we do. That's not what I do as president. That's not what I do as commander in chief.

BASH: Romney's offensive on national security did not go as planned.

OBAMA: The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror.

ROMNEY: The president just said something which is that on the day after the attack, he went in the Rose Garden, and said that this was an act of terror. You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror?

OBAMA: Get the transcript.

CANDY CROWLEY, MODERATOR: He did, in fact, sir. So let me call it an act of terror.

OBAMA: Could you say that a little louder, Candy?

BASH: Throughout this debate the president tried to make up for the first one. This time he used that 47 percent attack line.

OBAMA: When he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considers themselves victims, who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about.

BASH: And Romney, who dominated the stage in the first debate, was going for a repeat performance.

ROMNEY: You'll get your chance in a moment. I'm still speaking. And the answer is I don't believe people think that's the case because I'm -- that wasn't a question. That was a statement.

BASH: But an attempt to reach the critical female vote may have fallen flat. He answered a question about equal pay with a story about searching for women in his Massachusetts cabinet. ROMNEY: I went to a number of women's groups and said can you help us find folks? And they brought us whole binders full of women.

BASH: Within moments Romney's binders had its own Twitter handle. The president went after Romney as a flip-flopper.

OBAMA: Governor when you were governor of Massachusetts you stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, this plant kills and took great pride in shutting it down. Now suddenly, you're a big champion of coal.

BASH: Romney appeared determined to use his rehearsed lines even when they were off topic. The question was on immigration, but Romney launched into a defense of his offshore investments with a practiced pivot against the president.

ROMNEY: Any investments I've had over the last eight years have been managed by a blind trust and I understand they do include investments outside the United States including in Chinese companies. Mr. President, have you looked at your pension? Have you looked at your pension?

OBAMA: I've got to say --

ROMNEY: Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?

OBAMA: You know, I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours. So it doesn't --

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: There's so much talk about in this kind of format, there needs to be kind of distance, and you know, people don't want to feel uncomfortable seeing one candidate go after physically the other.

But you just saw that Mitt Romney really, really charged the president. And the president a couple of times did the same thing. It was almost like they were two animals marking their turf all night. They were sort of circling each other.

SAMBOLIN: And likability is the key issue here, right. President Obama has pretty much taken that all along, but you've got some new numbers for us.

BASH: That's right. In our CNN poll right after the debate, who was more likable? President Obama 47 percent, Mitt Romney 41 percent.

Now if you look kind of historically at the likability, particularly since the summertime when the president spent lots and lots of money trying to drive Romney's likability numbers down, maybe that's not that much of a surprise.

But in this kind of debate, where they were really going at each other it's interesting to see the way people come away with the feeling about each candidate. BERMAN: We want to bring in Ron Brownstein. He is the senior political analyst, editorial director for the "National Journal." Ron has been with us all week. Ron, you set the bar pretty high for the president. You said he had a lot to do last night to make up for the first debate. Did he do it?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think as much as he could have done in one night. I'm pretty much with the poll. I did not think it was as one-sided as the first debate in Denver was for Governor Romney, but I thought President Obama accomplished more of what he needed to accomplish at the debate last night.

You know, it was really interesting to watch, especially in the first third of the debate. Each of them trying to move the race into the frame they want voters to see it through. You saw Governor Romney really returning almost every question to the same argument, do the past four years, the result of the past four years justify another four years?

And you saw the president from that very first answer where he got in the auto bailout and the Bain Capital experience, the very last answer where he talked about the 47 percent, trying to move the race back into the frame that it was largely in before Denver.

Which is whose side are you on? Who is on your side? And I thought that as the evening went on, that the president, I thought, was clearly the aggressor. And it really helped him, guys, as the subjects moved beyond the economy and the deficit that dominated the first debate.

And new issues came in like immigration, contraception where I think Governor Romney created long-term problems for himself with his answer and other issues of women's health. He was able to get to some of the concerns that activate his coalition, the president.

SAMBOLIN: You were talking about some of those moments last night and the president talking about his accomplishments. Let's listen and let's talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We've gone through a tough four years. There's no doubt about it. But four years ago, I told the American people, and I told you, I would cut taxes for middle-class families. And I did.

I told you I'd cut taxes for small businesses, and I have. I said that I'd end the war in Iraq and I did. So the point is the commitments I've made, I've kept and those that I haven't been able to keep, it's not for lack of trying and we're going to get it done in a second term.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So there are a good number of promises that he has recapped. Yesterday, we talked about how Obama needed to make the case for the next four years. So look at this CNN post-debate poll. It's bad news for President Obama. When asked if the candidates offered a clear plan for solving the country's problems, 61 percent said Obama did not. What does that say?

BROWNSTEIN: I think once again that was the biggest weakness in his performance. He was much stronger than in the first debate in defending his first four years and he was vastly, infinitely stronger in making the case against Governor Romney and his priorities.

But once again the weakest part, the hole in the doughnut, has been all the way through all year I think, what would he do in a second term? There was much less specificity on that front.

But there was much more strength in basically arguing we don't want to go down Governor Romney's path and you in that sense, being some of the key Democratic constituents, with the focus on women, the focus on issues relating to Hispanics, very important for him to activate the cornerstone elements of the modern Democratic coalition.

BERMAN: One of the things that struck me last night, at the first debate, there weren't many moments that you hang around President Obama. Say that was an awful moment. Last night, there were a lot of clips that we've been playing all morning that really stick, in some cases not well, for Mitt Romney.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think the pension. That was a real contest. Again, getting back to that framing that the Obama campaign had put so much time and money into building this is someone who basically enriches the few at the expense of the many.

He's kind of a rich guy who doesn't understand your life. You know, the other issue that I think is going to be interesting because clearly the Obama campaign came in focused on this, the Planned Parenthood, access to contraception.

Governor Romney said I don't want to give employers control over workers' access to contraception. In fact, he did support legislation by Senator Roy Blunt, you know, Dana, you covered.

That would allow any employer, not just religiously based employers, to opt out of the requirement in the new health care law if it violates their moral precepts.

So I want to -- I think we're going to have to hear more today about how he's going to square support of that legislation with his very unequivocal statement at the debate.

BASH: It could very well feed into one of the two arguments that the president made last night. Ironically, they were trying to decide which one to make, flip-flopper or two conservative. He did both last night, but this could potentially leads --

BROWNSTEIN: Your poll numbers, that's the hole in the doughnut. What would he do in a second term to make people's lives better? That is consistently been the weakest part of his presentation. He didn't really fill it in vastly last night again, the president.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Ron Brownstein, thank you very much. Dana Bash, we'll have you back again, as well. Thank you so much.

BERMAN: We want to talk now about that explosive moment that came when they were discussing oil drilling and energy production. It set off really quite an exchange.

We want to shed some light on it right now. Mitt Romney claimed that under President Obama production on government land is down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Production on government land is down.

OBAMA: No, it isn't.

ROMNEY: Production on government land is down 14 percent and production of gas is down 9 percent.

OBAMA: It's just not true.

ROMNEY: It's absolutely true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So what are the facts here? The Department of Energy says production on federal lands dropped from about 2 million barrels per day in 2010 to 1.8 million a day in the last year available.

They attribute that largely to the aftermath of the BP deep water horizon spill in the gulf. Our verdict here on the narrow claim of 14 percent drop in the last available year is true, but it's a little misleading because it doesn't tell the whole story of oil production on federal land.

Listen to this, because of that oil the president made his own claims about production on federal land.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We've opened up public lands. We're actually drilling more on public lands than in the previous administration. And the previous president was an oil man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So even with that one-year drop in production we just told you about on federal land, there has been more drilling per year during this administration than during the term, the last term of George W. Bush.

So our verdict here on what President Obama said is true. But what you really see here, Zoraida, is how they both cherry pick the facts to make them work to their own advantage. SAMBOLIN: Absolutely. We continue to see that. It will be interesting to watch the final debate, right. So one of the most talked about moments of the debate last night, the attack on the U.S. Consulate on Libya and what the administration said about it in the days after. What the candidates said and a CNN fact check coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. And welcome back to EARLY START.

Christine Romans is fact-checking the points made about the economy and also education in the debate last night.

BERMAN: Christine, Romney brought up jobs last night. In talk about the tough job market for college graduates.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And he really blamed the president actually and the environment right now on the president and his policies. It's something we've heard on the stump, it's something we heard last night. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: With half of college kids graduating this year, without a college -- excuse me, without a job, and without a college level job. That's just unacceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: So half of college kids graduating and they don't have a job. Is that true? He's citing a Rutgers University study that, indeed, finds that yes, half of 2012 college graduates did not have a job. This is true. These recent grads are having a really tough time, and in fact these recent grads are having a much tougher time than kids before them, and hopefully we hope after them.

Let me show you a little bit of what this Rutgers University study found. Fifty-one percent are employed full-time, 6 percent of these recent grads are working part-time or looking for full-time work, and 6 percent are working part-time and they're not looking for full-time work.

Some of them are going to go to college. They're going to go to, you know, go on to another degree and some of them simply are, you know, underutilized in the labor market.

How so? Look at this employment and education. He also said that a lot of the kids who are graduating are getting a job. That's not even up to their skills. Right?

Fifty percent of the kids have a job that requires a college education. But 43 percent of kids who are working, the job just doesn't even require a college education.

So they've got all that student debt, a four-year degree, and, and they're not working a job that even requires that degree. So -- BERMAN: All right. Christine Romans, thank you very much for that.

We've all been talking this morning about that Benghazi moment in the debate last night, that really contentious moment between the president and Mitt Romney. The president claimed that the day after the attack on Benghazi, on September 12th, he went to the Rose Garden and called it an act of terror. Mitt Romney said he did not.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror.

ROMNEY: The president just said something which is that on the day after the attack he went in the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror. You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror?

OBAMA: Get the transcript.

CROWLEY: He did, in fact, sir. So let me -- let me call it an act of terror --

OBAMA: Could you say that a little louder, Candy?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: You heard Candy say it there. What are the facts here? Let's listen to what the president said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: No acts of terror will ever shake the result of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.

Today, we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waiver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now, you heard the words there, our verdict here is true, the president used the words act of terror.

Now was he talking about a specific act or as part of a number of acts? Unclear. And the president in the days after did avoid using the word terrorism when asked directly was this an act of terrorism. And it did take several weeks to determine whether this was the film or not the film that caused this uproar.

But, Mitt Romney walked into it there. The president did use the words act of terror the day after the attack in the Rose Garden. SAMBOLIN: Yes, it was the specific words, I guess, when you fact check that it is. I thought at the moment, terrorism, is this semantics right now we're listening to.

BERMAN: The Republicans have attacked President Obama from day one on this saying he should have called it terrorism from the very, very beginning. And he did not say it as strongly as the Republicans would have liked.

SAMBOLIN: All right. 20 minutes past the hour.

Coming up what the candidates told us without saying anything at all. Our expert analyzes the many facial expressions of the debate. And what they could mean.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: So it was a hot night in Long Island for the second presidential debate. And like any heated exchange between president hopefuls there was a much more subtle game being played here -- one where facial expressions and body language can say a lot more than the candidate's words.

Here now to break down some of those interactions is facial coding expert and president of Sensory Logic, Dan Hill. And, Dan, a lot of people are talking about the president last night. They're saying e came with a much more energized performance than he did in the first debate. Is that something you noticed?

DAN HILL, PRESIDENT, SENSORY LOGIC: Absolutely. He came back from being emotionally dead. In the first debate he slept walked. You want to be not just having talking points and being on message. You want to have feeling points and be an emotion to create the right emotion at the right time.

Last time, he showed sadness. What is sadness? That I've given up hope. This time, the only time he showed sadness was when he should show sadness. He was talking about the gun debate and when he talked about people in mass killings, then his eyes went down. Then he kind of gave up for a moment. He showed empathy for the people suffering. That's the one time he showed sadness.

Otherwise, he showed resolve and he showed a lot more determination that he was going to fight for justice. That was the key.

BERMAN: You notice things a lot of people don't notice at all.

HILL: Yes.

BERMAN: When the president was asked about Benghazi, the attacks on the consulate in Benghazi, you saw something very specific.

HILL: It was his high moment and his low moment. When he started to answer, the lips pulled wide. That's a show of fear. Then he gulped and his inner eyebrows lifted. Now, later on, he started standing up saying, "I really care about this. It's reprehensible to imagine I'm not caring about people who died in the embassy." So, he really got angry. He showed the resolve. At the start, he showed fear in the same way that Romney showed fear when the discussion moved to immigration.

BERMAN: You see right there, we're focusing in on the gulp that many people may have missed there. That gulp to you screamed.

HILL: Absolutely. You take that, the inner eyebrows going up and the mouth pulling wide. Boom, boom, boom. Hit, hit, hit. Definitely uneasy about that question.

BERMAN: But pulled it together at the end.

HILL: Yes, yes. And then he was able to really get on message and say, I do care about this issue. If you show emotion that says I care, and that's what he had to do in this debate. He had to show that he was there. He was going to fight for the American people. He was going to fight for the country for that matter.

BERMAN: So there were some space issues.

HILL: Yes, there was.

BERMAN: Both candidates getting into each other's business there. Maybe Mitt Romney a little bit more.

HILL: He was definitely coming in with a strategy he was going to crowd him a little bit. It's kind of like animals circling on their territory. There's a point where he really crowded Obama.

Obama gave him back the glare -- kind of like a cat that arches his back and says, I'm going to fight you, and then he pivoted, the president pivoted and moved to the American public. He had to take the glare out of his eyes, because obviously you don't want to be staring down and intimidating the American voter. But he did want to intimidate Romney.

BERMAN: I don't know if Romney noticed this, but his back was turned to us a lot.

HILL: It was. I don't think he did the camera angles nearly as well as he wanted to. I know from my work looking at people's facial expressions for Fortune 100, that if you show the back of people's faces their emotional engagement view, their caring, empathy drops off dramatically. That was a mistake by Romney.

BERMAN: What did you notice in Mitt Romney when President Obama was speaking?

HILL: That he -- this time, Obama got under Romney's skin. This time, particularly on taxes and the notion that you are part of the 1 percent, boom, boom, boom, lots of times in a row where the lips tightened, the eyebrows came down, you got the glare in the eye. And it wasn't just for Romney. The way I really knew that Romney probably didn't win this debate was immediately afterwards. Ann Romney's face as soon as the debate was over, showed embitterment.

And that is a nice contrast, because at the last debate just before it started, Michelle Obama showed that she was like spooked. She didn't want to be there. The president didn't want to be there. It almost was a harbinger of the fact that Obama's going to lose the debate. This time, I think Ann Romney in an unscripted moment right after the debate gave away the fact that this was not Romney's best debate.

BERMAN: I wish we could see that. What we did see was Mitt Romney standing behind President Obama with that look that you were saying wasn't quite as comfortable as the first debate.

HILL: Not quite as comfortable as first debate.

BERMAN: What about the president there?

HILL: The president managed to come back with that electric smile. It's almost like he's a singer with an extra octave. He got back up to the big electric smile where it's not just around the mouth, it's actually around the eyes. The muscle around the eye relaxes. You get the twinkle in the eye. That's Obama's secret card here.

On Romney's defense, I looked at Romney for a long time. I call him the energizer bunny of social smiles. Because a smile should go high and low and be over in like less than four seconds. Often Romney holds a smile endlessly, it's very fake.

Tonight, last night rather, he managed to go up at least a little bit. Not a high octave but a more genuine, more reflective smile, and more disgusts. A lot more variety from him than you typically see. But he does not have that electric smile.

BERMAN: You're going to have me timing my smiles right now.

All right. Dan Hill, facial coding expert, president of Sensory Logic -- that was a lot to digest. Thank you very much.

HILL: Absolutely. Thank you, John.

BERMAN: Zoraida?

SAMBOLIN: The next debate I want to watch with him so he can point all these things out. That was fascinating. Thank you.

So a much different debate this time around, a sharper tone with a lot more tension. So who won? The results of our CNN poll and more highlights as well coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Production on private -- on government lands --

OBAMA: Production is up.

ROMNEY: -- is down.

OBAMA: No, it isn't.

ROMNEY: Production on government land of oil is down 14 percent and gas down 9 percent.

OBAMA: It's just not true.

ROMNEY: It's absolutely true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Debate fireworks all sparked by a question about gas prices. A question neither candidate actually answered. We'll have a reality check coming up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I went to a number of women's groups and said, could you help us find folks? And they brought us whole binders full of women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Binders -- the big buzz word of this debate. We're talking about that with the team this morning.

Welcome back to EARLY START. We're happy you're with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is 32 minutes after the hour right now.

And two presidential debates down, one to go with President Obama turning in a decidedly stronger performance against Mitt Romney during last night's town hall.

The viewers, they seem to agree. CNN's post-debate poll showing the president taking the top spot over Mitt Romney, 46 percent to 39 percent.

Now compare that with the first presidential debate, it's a much different story. That one had Romney on top, a whopping 67 percent, to 25 percent.

SAMBOLIN: And we're going to be bringing you up-to-the-minute analysis all morning long and looking ahead to the third and final debate next week, which will be the candidate's last chance to make their cases to the American electorate.

So, with us now are CNN contributor and Republican strategist Ana Navarro, Richard Socarides, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and writer with the NewYorker.com, senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash, and CNN contributor Roland Martin.

We've got them all.

All right. So let's start with reaction.

Richard, I'm going to start with you. Reaction on President Obama and how he did.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: Well, I thought he had a terrific debate. I mean, I thought the debate overall was probably the most interesting debate I've ever seen in my lifetime. But I think the president made a strong case for why he deserves a second term.

He presented clearly two contrasting visions for the country. I think when you looked at this, you could -- you could -- there was clear to anybody who was undecided going into this, I don't know if there's anybody undecided left, but if you're undecided going into this, I think it was clear who you'd want running the country and who has a better vision going forward.

SAMBOLIN: Ana?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Still undecideds amongst us. I'm convinced the undecideds are going to be undecided until they've got to decide.

I think it was a good night for Mitt Romney. It was a better night for President Obama. And a large part of that was that he was being compared to President Obama from the first debate, and he was incredibly much better, and also that the expectations on him were so very much lower.

So I think those two things benefited him tremendously. I think as we do most mornings post-debate, it's looking better and better for President Obama.

SAMBOLIN: So let's talk about those expectations, because we actually have a poll here. Seventy-three percent said that he did better than expected, 37 percent said the same of Romney. Obama back on top here. Or has he just --

NAVARRO: I hate it when I agree because it makes me feel so objective when I agree about what the poll results are. My partisanship is just, you know --

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Anytime I hear folks talk about low expectations, high expectations, it drives me crazy. Here are two folks running for office of the president. We should have extremely high expectations for both.

SAMBOLIN: Well, this is just a comparison.

MARTIN: I understand. But both sides love playing down, and nobody's going to go, well, I still believe last night was critically important for Mitt Romney. He needs to keep the momentum going, because, again, look at the map. He has to sweep a significant number of battleground states.

The president I think was extremely effective at being able to frankly stop the bleeding. That really started with Vice President Joe Biden.

One of the first things last night was uh-oh looks like the president has the eye of the tiger, because he did not take on going right at Mitt Romney. He didn't ease into it. He didn't dance around. He understood he had to be on the attack early but do it in a respectful way.

BASH: You know, right as it started, the first time Mitt Romney really went after the president physically, in a way that -- I mean especially I was in the room watching it, it made me kind of, you know, recoil a little bit because I wasn't really sure what was going to happen next. I got to -- I got a text from a Republican strategist who is very much a Romney supporter saying, uh-oh it looks like he drank what Joe Biden drank last week, was very nervous about it, because thought maybe he went over the top, turned out the president gave back a lot of that.

But when it comes to the whole question of likability, Mitt Romney had a lot more to lose.

NAVARRO: I think President Obama learned lessons from both his first debate. He was clearly more engaged, clearly more responsive. He brought in his "A" game.

But also I think he learned a lesson from Joe Biden. You didn't see any of the smirking, laughing, inappropriate reactions. He had a practiced look of, I'm listening intently and patiently, and I'm going to give it some serious thought.

BERMAN: We asked people who they found more likable. They told us they found President Obama more likable. I think the margin was 47 percent to 40 percent. Oh, 41 percent. I was so close.

You said something earlier I found really interesting. As the analysis goes on, as we move through the morning and play back the clips and talk more about this, Obama's victory in this debate becomes more clear. Explain that to me. I wonder if you guys agree.

NAVARRO: Well, for example, we've, in the last two hours, seen a lot of the clip of the binder of women. I got to confess to you I must have been bound to the TV because I totally missed that remark.

We're seeing more of, you know, we're seeing the clip of the Benghazi answer, which was one that I think benefited President Obama. We're seeing some of Obama's funny lines.

Obama had his swagger back yesterday. He was funny. He was on his game. And he clearly got under Governor Romney's skin.

And I think the clips that we're seeing over and over again showed that.

MARTIN: One clip that's huge, when Mitt Romney says I'm sorry, you'll get your opportunity. And also that wasn't a question. Even though it is a debate, you're still talking to the president of the United States. I've been looking at some of the other networks, other shows, reading different stories and that also speaks volumes when people say, you might be running for president but you still respect the office of president. And when it's played a lot --

BASH: But the flip side of that is, talking about undecided voters, how few there are. Mitt Romney standing up to the president like that, I mean, what excites the base more than that?

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: This is a base election.

NAVARRO: I don't traditionally agree with Roland and it worries me when I do.

MARTIN: You know you love it.

NAVARRO: I actually thought -- I remember Mitt Romney doing the same thing with Rick Perry during the Republican primary saying, you know, Rick, Rick, it's my turn. It's my turn. And I don't think that played well. I don't think it played well this time.

BERMAN: I think you're going to like this next clip -- Ana talked about it.

It was a clip of the binder moment and women. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I said, well, gosh, can't we -- can't we find some women that are also qualified? And so we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women's groups and said, can you help us find folks? And they brought us binders full of women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Richard? Binders full of women?

SOCARIDES: What it demonstrates here and why these debates are important because they're a window into what people are really thinking and how they operate. Here's a situation where, you know, it should have been readily apparent to anyone that there were plenty of qualified women but they had to make this special effort.

You know, here's Governor Romney trying to make the case for himself that he's for hiring women. But in doing so, he demonstrates that he's living in another world. I mean, you know, qualified women should be apparent to everyone and why he has to go out and make this special effort to find women, you know, he's trying to make the case --

SAMBOLIN: That wasn't even the question.

SOCARIDES: It wasn't even the question. The question was about pay, and he didn't even answer that. MARTIN: I think the president was stronger on this segment, but I still think I missed an opportunity. Had he turned to Mitt Romney and said, Mitt, can you answer the question, finally, would you have signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act? It would have put him on the spot because he's frankly danced around it.

And when you're talking about white women, working-class voters, Mitt Romney's been leading with them. The president's been leading with women of higher education. That is a critical issue when you talk about should you get paid the same amount as men?

BASH: I'm going to just add one thing here. You're a Massachusetts boy, you know Massachusetts politics. Especially covering Congress, the one thing I will say is, there are not a lot of traditionally women politicians in the state of Massachusetts.

There have been, you know, lieutenant governor was a woman. I know, (INAUDIBLE), the governor, but by and large, you know --

SAMBOLIN: That's an excellent point, because I thought show me the binder full of women and show me if you paid them the same amount of money if you pay men.

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: I've been in transition, you know, I've been in transition government and it is not an uncommon thing to get binders full of candidates.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: We're talking about binders.

SOCARIDES: That show that say this is a binder full of qualified women.

NAVARRO: Yes, we have a binder full of --

BERMAN: We're now bound by time. That's going to have to be our last word here.

SOCARIDES: Way to go.

BERMAN: Dana Bash, Roland Martin, Ana Navarro, Richard Socarides in the clock that's beating down on us, thank you.

SAMBOLIN: You know what? I must say that very well done because you had very little sleep.

NAVARRO: No, I like him sleepless. Sleepless in New York works for me.

SAMBOLIN: So do I. So do I.

(CROSSTALK) SAMBOLIN: Forty-one minutes past the hour. We hear it all the time. Our next president needs to do something about the high price of gas. But can either one of them really do that? Christine Romans with the reality check, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All the way from the debate site at Long Island, Soledad O'Brien now joins us live.

O'BRIEN: Drove in from the guyland around midnight last night. Lots going on this morning.

The fiery presidential rematch: President Obama, Mitt Romney came out swinging during that debate on Long Island, tackling everything from Libya to taxes to immigration to gun control. We're going to check the facts this morning.

Debate moderator Candy Crowley is going to join us. Senior Romney campaign adviser John Sununu is our guest. Senior Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs will be joining us. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley will sit down with us and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson is going to be talking with us as well. I ran into him last night as we were both being carted around on golf carts trying to get to the location.

Numbers are climbing in the meningitis outbreak as criminal investigators raided the center that's been linked to the spread of the deadly disease. We'll have details about that case straight ahead this morning.

And Ty Pennington, remembering the RNC and the during the DNC, they were building half of a house. They were going to bring the halves together and awarding it to a deserving military family? Well, they have picked the family. We're going to talk to Ty and talk to the family now walking away with a really beautiful house because the halves are now put together.

SAMBOLIN: Bipartisan home, as it were.

O'BRIEN: The bipartisan home. It might be the only thing that is bipartisan today.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Soledad. Forty-six minutes past the hour. Gas prices are high and many voters want to know what President Obama or President Romney, potential president, plan to do about it.

BERMAN; Candy Crowley asked go this repeatedly last night. Right, Christine?

ROMANS: We counted four times where she specifically said about gas prices, gas prices. And the president -- and this is what she got in return.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: In the last four years you cut permits and licenses on federal land and federal waters in half.

OBAMA: Not true, Governor Romney.

ROMNEY: So how much did you cut it?

OBAMA: Not true.

ROMNEY: By how much did you cut it then?

OBAMA: Governor, we have actually produced more oil.

ROMNEY: No, no, how much did you cut licenses and permits on federal land and federal waters?

OBAMA: Governor Romney, here's what we did. There were a whole bunch of oil companies. --

ROMNEY: No, I had a question. And the question was how much did you cut them by?

OBAMA: You want me to answer a question, I'm happy to answer the question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: She got a fist fight about drilling and drilling permits, of course, and each candidate there, different numbers about drilling. But the question was should the government be trying to manage gas prices?

Here's the facts. When you look back at what gas prices have done over this presidency, you can see that they were much, much lower when the president took office. Why? Because we were in the middle of a financial crisis. Trucks were off the road. We were using less gasoline because the economy was not growing as strongly. And they've been going up in part because the economy has been recovering.

I will say that both of these candidates made no specific promise on gas prices. And I would say they were wise to do that, because presidents can't really control the price of gas. There are things they can do, like drilling permits and things like that, macro-policy that takes a long time to play out about energy. They can tap the strategic petroleum reserve. But they can't control day-to-day gas prices. Sometimes when their campaign makes these sort of promises, $2.50 gas or something, they were wise to avoid making those kinds of promises, because presidents really can't control what you pay at the gas pump day to day.

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

SAMBOLIN: And our CNN poll says the president topped Mitt Romney in last night's debate. What does the GOP have to say about that? We're talking to Republican Congressman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Fifty-one minutes past the hour. A much more fiery meeting the second time around for President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The two mixed it up several times during last night's debate. And unlike the first time, most people who watch believe the president won. Our CNN snap poll shows President Obama came out on top, 46 percent to 39 percent.

So let's bring in Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. She's a Romney surrogate. Very nice to have you with us this morning and I just mentioned right now that the polls show that President Obama won. What's your reaction to that?

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN, (R) TENNESSE: I think that there are going to be many polls that show that Romney won or President Obama won. The important thing was the American people got to se a good, solid debate. I think Mitt Romney won the debate. And here's how come.

SAMBOLIN: Why?

BLACKBURN: Because he laid out where he would move going forward. He looked at the past for lessons learned, but then he laid out an agenda. President Obama still did not lay out an agenda for the next four years. So, I think that's one of the things that people were looking for, and I was very pleased with what Governor Romney had to offer.

SAMBOLIN: There's something that's getting a lot of traction on the Internet. Romney spoke about finding women for his cabinet in Massachusetts.

BLACKBURN: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: This moment went viral. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: And I said, well, gosh, can't we find some women that are also qualified? And so we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women's groups and said can you help us find folks? And I brought us all binders full of women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Binders full of women. Social media seized on that moment and in not a very flattering way. What do you make of Mitt Romney's choice of words?

BLACKBURN: Well, that my not have been my choice of words or your choice of words. The point is this: he made a concerted effort to find qualified women who wanted to submit, wanted to submit their resumes, and were looking for that opportunity. You know, so many times, women will not be the next in line, but they are the most qualified for the job. And many times, instead of forcing their way into a conversation, a woman is going to wait to be invited to apply for something. And I think that's a very important distinction. He thought to open the door for women and then his cabinet had more women than any other gubernatorial cabinet in the country.

SAMBOLIN: Here's what I find interesting about that. That really wasn't the question that was asked of him. That answer was in response to a question about equal pay for women. It's the Lily Ledbetter Fair Act Pay. He never answered that question. Here's how Obama reacted to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: When Governor Romney's campaign was asked about the Lily Ledbetter bill, whether he's for it, he said I'll get back to you. And that's not the kind of advocacy that women need in any economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So the big question here is, would Mitt Romney sign a bill that guarantees equal pay to women? He never answered that question.

BLACKBURN: Well, and the point is, what you want to do, is have equal opportunity so that women can even earn more. Women are now more than 50 percent of the workforce. Women are many times the breadwinner of their family, and what you want to do is to make certain that when it comes to access to capital, for small business women, when it comes to wage stagnation, that you remove that, and that women can perform on their own and on their strengths and be compensated in an appropriate way. You're not going to address that situation through legislation. What you're going to do is to address that situation through re- education and through opportunity and opening those doors.

SAMBOLIN: I think a lot of people would have really liked to have gotten a very clear answer on that issue last night, but we appreciate you coming in this morning for us. Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, we appreciate it.

BLACKBURN: Absolutely. I'm glad to be here. Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: All right, we're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Whew. That is all for a jam-packed post-debate EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

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