CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Third Presidential Debate is Assessed; Presidential Candidates Comments on Foreign Policy Examined; Interview with Rob Portman; Candidates Clash In Final Debate; CNN Poll: Romney Can Handle Job; No Jail Time For FAMU Hazing Death; Nurse Describes Douglas Kennedy Scuffle; Cameras Catch Brazen Smash And Grab; Battle In Boca

Aired October 23, 2012 - 07:30   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning, it was the final face-off. President Obama, Mitt Romney tackling foreign policy in their final debate, getting in their parting shots, as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the 1980s are now cowing to ask for their foreign policy back.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I'm not going to wear rose- colored glasses when it comes to Russia or Mr. Putin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: With exactly two weeks till Election Day, who has the edge now? We're holding the candidates to their statements and checking the facts, as well.

And taking a look at the most talked about moments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed.

ROMNEY: I'm a son of Detroit. I was born in Detroit. My dad was head of a car company. I like American cars.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Complete analysis this morning with Ohio Senator Rob Portman, Ambassador Nicholas Burns, and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.

It's Tuesday, October 23rd, and STARTING POINT begins right now. We're coming to you live from Boca Raton in Florida.

Good morning. Welcome, everybody. We're coming to you from Boca Raton in Florida. Our STARTING POINT this morning, a more forceful President Obama, a more measured Mitt Romney. Last night's foreign policy debate here in Florida, right here, in fact, is in the books now. And when it was over, a CNN/ORC poll of debate watchers favored the president over Mr. Romney, 48 percent to 40 percent. Let's get right to senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash, who was watching that debate. Good morning.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Look, we know this entire election year debates have really mattered. But this one was a little bit tricky because it's about foreign policy. That's not high on the priority list for voters. So each candidate really tried to make it a test of leadership, especially the President.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Mitt Romney came wanting voters to see him as commander in chief. The commander in chief came determined to make sure that didn't happen.

OBAMA: I know you haven't been in a position to actually execute foreign policy. But, every time you've offered an opinion, you've been wrong.

BASH: Time and time again the President's harsh criticism dripped with sarcasm.

OBAMA: A few months ago when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia. Not Al Qaeda, you said Russia. The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because, you know, the cold war's been over for 20 years.

ROMNEY: Our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. They said they needed 313 ships to carry out the mission. We're now at 285.

OBAMA: I think Governor Romney hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example, that we have fewer ships than in 1916. We also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.

BASH: Before the debate, Romney advisers told CNN he would not be the scrappy candidate we saw in the last one, instead stay solid and steady. Not take the President's bait.

ROMNEY: And attacking me is not an agenda.

BASH: Romney repeatedly blamed the President for failing to lead on global hot spots.

ROMNEY: You look at the record of the last four years and say is Iran closer to a bomb? Yes. Is the Middle East in tumult? Yes. Is Al Qaeda on the run, on its heels? No. Are Israel and the Palestinians closer to reaching a peace agreement? No.

OBAMA: But for the most part, Romney was calm in demeanor and remarkably agreeable on policy, from Syria to Egypt to Afghanistan.

ROMNEY: Well, we're going to be finished by 2014. And when I'm president, we'll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014.

OBAMA: In fact, the Republican who Democrats try to paint as a war monger used the opening minutes to position himself as a peacemaker.

ROMNEY: I congratulate him on taking out Osama bin Laden and going after leadership in Al Qaeda. But we can't kill our way out of this mess.

BASH: Romney successfully got under the President's skin by repeating this allegation.

ROMNEY: And then the President began what I've called an apology tour by going to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America. I think they look at that and saw weakness.

OBAMA: Nothing Governor Romney just said is true, starting with this notion of me apologizing. This has been probably the biggest whopper that's been told during the course of this campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: All you had to do was watch the candidates time and time again try to pull the issues back home to the economy, whether it was about the auto bailout or education, teachers. It was very clear, Soledad, that this is a foreign policy debate, but they know what's on the minds of voters.

O'BRIEN: I think it's so interesting, really, in the days after the debate, right, when you see how the numbers move or don't move depending on how the debate went. I think that will be interesting to see as well. Dana, thanks a lot.

We bring in Ohio Republican senator Rob Portman. You were obviously playing President Obama in the mock debates. So when you see the candidate who you've been prepping all along in his performance on foreign policy, what did you think?

SEN. ROB PORTMAN, (R) OHIO: Well, you know, I thought it was a good night for Governor Romney because I think he appeared reassuring and thoughtful and knowledgeable. Having played President Obama, I wasn't surprised by a whole lot that he said because it's sort of the same lines.

O'BRIEN: He was aggressive. Did you practice that? I mean --

PORTMAN: I did. You kind of expected it. He feels like he's a little behind right now, I think, so we expect him to come out on the attack, and he did. I thought one of the effective lines from Governor Romney when he said the attack on me is not an agenda. I think that was where the President fell a little short. He didn't offer an agenda or a vision for the future on the international side just as he did not on the domestic side in the first couple debates.

O'BRIEN: Let's throw up poll numbers, CNN/ORC poll among debate watchers. And the question was who won the debate. It was President Obama with 48 percent, and Governor Romney had 40 percent. Then there's another poll about who seemed to be a stronger leader, and the divided it up among men and women, and you can see if you pop it up, women for President Obama, a high number, kind of switched a little bit for Governor Romney. I guess all of that would leave folks to say there's this gender gap. Are you worried about that gender gap?

PORTMAN: Well, the polling that I'm interested in is what do the independent and undecided voters think? And what kind of impression did Governor Romney leave? There's another poll, it was a PPP poll, which is considered to be a more Democrat leaning polling organization, and they said among undecided voters, people felt as though Governor Romney did better. I think that's because, frankly, people are looking at the attack ads, and many Democrats, I think, who are advising President Obama kind of had them believing those attack ads, as well. And that's not the Governor Romney they saw last night. They somebody who was reassuring and is ready to be commander in chief.

O'BRIEN: We could spend a whole day talking about polls, bought I thought this one was interesting, CNN/ORC poll, who did the debate make you more likely to vote for, President Obama 24 percent, Mitt Romney, 25 percent, and neither with a high of 50 percent. More people felt like, eh.

PORTMAN: Well, you know, I think the foreign policy issue, as Dana said, is not the top issue in the country right now. It's jobs and the economy. They did bring it back to that a few times, appropriately, really, because our ability to be strong overseas is dependent on our ability to be stronger at home.

I think on those issues, Governor Romney is doing better because he's talking about a vision. He's talking about a strategy to get us back on track. And even last night when he talked about it, he was able to say, also, on the foreign policy side, it's important for us to have a vision to deal with the underlying causes, for instance, of Islamic extremism. That's why I think it was a good debate for Governor Romney.

BASH: Senator, Soledad was talking about women, about the gender gap. How much of the strategy of really trying to be even-keeled, almost -- sounded like a dove, Governor Romney, like a real peacemaker, not a war monger, how much of that was really, specifically, aimed at the female vote.

PORTMAN: I don't know if it was aimed at the women vote but I think it was effective. Not just for women but for everybody to understand that the war monger image that Democrats would like to have portrayed simply is not true. This is a guy who believes in peace through strength. Yes he believes we should have a strong military, tighten sanctions on Iran. But because the diplomatic solution ought to be the one that is successful, and to maximize that you want to have a strong position. So I thought that was a good debate in many respects for Governor Romney. Probably the best was reassuring, he was thoughtful and knowledgeable and showed he's ready to be commander in chief.

O'BRIEN: I was doing the focus group in Orlando which meant a really long drive late last night after the debate and one of the focus group people, actually a couple of them were saying that they felt, it struck them that Governor Romney agreed with President Obama lot, a number of times during the debate. I want to play a few chunks of that first.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I felt the same as the President did.

I want to underscore that the same point the President made.

The President was right to up the usage of that technology.

OBAMA: There have been times, governor, frankly, during the course of this campaign where it sounded like you thought that you'd do the same things we did, but you'd say them louder.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So is that problematic? When you have both campaigns that have said there are clear differences. This is how you're basically being attacked by a fly here. This is, you know, there are clear differences between the two campaigns. Now you have a chance to make a real, you know, different choice, and, and, a lot of that debate sounded like well, what he said. Yes, you know, I agree with what he said. Is that problematic?

PORTMAN: I thought when Governor Romney did that it was refreshing to a lot of undecided voters who are tired of the attacks back and forth and the politics. And, look, when Governor Romney thought the President was right he said so.

He also made it clear, by the way, that although he supported the drone attacks, he supported going after bin Laden, that that was not sufficient. And that's when he said we cannot kill our way out of these problems. We need to provide a vision and a strategy for the future that deals with the underlying problems here of Islamic extremism, and the spread of it.

O'BRIEN: Was it contradictory, though? If you look at Afghanistan, I think, as a good example from last night. And I think we have a chunk of that. Let's play a little bit. Here's what Governor Romney said about when he is president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: When I'm president, we'll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014. The commanders and the generals there are on track to do so. We've seen progress over the past several years. The surge has been successful. And the training program is proceeding apace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So, previously, and I think a number of times, he said, you know, a withdrawal date is wrong. Do not name a withdrawal date. Isn't that a contradiction to now say, 2014, end of 2014.

PORTMAN: He's always said that it shouldn't be publicly announced because it helps our enemies.

O'BRIEN: It was just publicly announced.

PORTMAN: No, he thinks we ought to get out by 2014. The question is how you communicate it, and whether you listen to the commanders on the ground about how you get there. He talked about that, as well. Also on Iraq he agreed with the President we should have a status of forces agreement. It's what the President wanted to be able to relieve some troops on the ground. The President is now reversing himself on that apparently and saying I guess he didn't want a status of forces agreement. He tried hard to negotiate one and he failed.

So I think what you saw last night was, you know, frankly, Governor Romney saying, look, all along I believed we ought to get out of Afghanistan. We ought to do it in a way, though, that is consistent with what our commanders on the ground think we ought to go in terms of the timeframe in terms of how we do it. And he wants to get out in 2014. Kind of hard for the President to say there's a distinction there, he does, again, Governor Romney does believe that we ought to be listening to commanders about how we get to 2014. He believes we ought to get out.

O'BRIEN: He had a bit of what I thought was a gaffe on sort of a geography, right, when he said Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea, it's the route for them to arm Hezbollah and Lebanon which threatens, of course, our ally Israel. And I think if you had a map of, of, you'd see that, in fact, there's -- that's not their only route to the see. That, that's --

BASH: And Iran is not Arab.

O'BRIEN: And Iran has 140 miles of, of, what do you call it waterfront basically and Syria has something like 119. Is that an indication of not really understanding the geography of what is a truly critical part of the world, in a truly critical conversation about foreign policy?

PORTMAN: Well, the route to the sea is the route to the Mediterranean Sea. And in terms of the Iranian influence in the region, he's absolutely right that their most important ally, and what's going on in Syria is important to the Syrian people. But it's important for Israel, but it's also important in relation to Iran and their interests in expanding their influence. So I think he, you know, he was correct in talking about the importance of Syria.

O'BRIEN: All right, Senator Portman, nice to have you with us this morning.

PORTMAN: Soledad.

O'BRIEN: The sun is rising behind us, which we're happy to see. Appreciate your time.

PORTMAN: Thanks for having me on.

O'BRIEN: At the bottom of the hour we're going to be talking Democratic reaction with Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. He played Mitt Romney in the President's debate -- working with all the stand-ins this morning.

PORTMAN: I think Kerry and I should go at it.

BASH: That would make good TV.

O'BRIEN: That would be very interesting. If you missed any of last night's debate you can watch it again today, noon eastern on CNN. We're going to be replaying that debate for you.

I want to get back to New York now. John Berman's got a look at some of the other stories making news this morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. The outbreak of fungal meningitis is getting worse. Federal officials now report 23 people have died in 16 states and the total number of cases has gone up to 297. This outbreak has been linked to steroid pain injections made by the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts. Reuters report that health officials inspected the company 10 years ago due to complaints about those injections.

The FDA investigating whether Monster energy drinks may have contributed to the death of five people since 2009. This comes after the company was hit with a lawsuit in connection with a Maryland teenager's death. Monster is selling the top selling energy drink in the U.S. It comes in 24 ounce cans. It contains 240 milligrams of caffeine. That's about seven times the caffeine in a 12-ounce coke.

The estranged wife who was the target of the shooting rampage at that Milwaukee area spa is being called a hero. One of Zena Haughton's clients told the Chicago tribune she approached her husband and tried to shield a receptionist as she attempted to defuse the situation on Sunday. Police say Radcliff Haughton shot seven women, including three of them whom he killed, including Zena. He then shot and killed himself.

We have some liftoff. Just minutes ago a Soyuz rocket launched from Kazakhston sending three new crew members into ash bit. They're en route to the International Space Station at this very moment. It includes two cosmonauts and NASA flight engineer Kevin Ford. They're scheduled to arrive at the space station on Thursday.

OK, the Giants win the pennant. The Giants win the pennant. No, it is not 1951. It's 2012. The Giants routed the cardinals 9-0 to win the NLCS in seven games. San Francisco is now 6-0 in games where they face elimination this postseason. The Giants will have home field advantage in the World Series against the Detroit Tigers. Game one is tomorrow night in San Francisco. Are you ready, Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Yes, it's good to see even when you're not necessarily rooting for the team, my Yankees, kind of, whatever. But it's always fun to watch when they're celebrating. All right, John, thank you. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, during the debate did Mitt Romney miss a chance to question the President about the attack in Benghazi and that time line? We're going to talk this morning with ambassador Nicolas Burns coming up next.

And Apple lovers get ready, the company is announcing a smaller version of what of their most popular items today. We'll share that with you straight ahead. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans Minding your Business this morning. Is the iPad about to go mini? Apple making a product announcement today and rumors in the tech world, hint the iPad screen could shrink from 10 inches to 7.8 inches on its new model. Expected cost is somewhere between about $250 to $350. We're going to find out for sure in a few hours.

U.S. stock futures are down sharply after markets closed flat yesterday. Dow futures right now down more than 100 points, a lot of worries about the earnings season. Facebook earnings come out after the closing bell. Shares have been cut in half since the company went public in May. Facebook's been having trouble communicating its plans for mobile advertising and how to generate revenue that way. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: All right, Christine, thank you very much.

The election now exactly two weeks away. During the third and final debate last night, the gloves were kind of off. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The challenge we have, I know you haven't been in a position to actually execute foreign policy, but every time you've offered an opinion, you've been wrong.

ROMNEY: America must be strong. America must lead, and for that to happen we have to strengthen our economy here at home. You can't have 23 million people struggling to get a job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Joining us this morning from Cambridge, Massachusetts, is former U.S. ambassador to NATO and former undersecretary of state for political affairs Nicolas Burns. It's nice to see you, sir. Thank you very much for talking with us. Who do you think in your opinion was stronger in this debate?

NICOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Oh, I think, Soledad, by any objective measure I think President Obama was the more knowledgeable and more self-assured on foreign policy. He has a very good grasp of these issues. Obviously he's been president for three- and-a-half years. I did think, Soledad, that Governor Romney was strong when he linked our national security to our economic security, making the point that obviously we can't be strong unless our economy is strong. But on the main, Governor Romney seemed on the defensive. He didn't seem as self-assured or as confident in what he was saying. I thought it was a quite striking contrast.

O'BRIEN: There seem to be, in my opinion, an effort by the Governor to move away from some of his previously held positions. Did you see that? And if so, specifically, where?

BURNS: I did. I thought it was interesting, he had Governor Romney had been on the offensive over the last year, criticizing President Obama on Russia. Governor Romney said Russia was our number one geopolitical foe. Last night he backed off that statement. He'd been very critical about how President Obama ended the Iraq war and critical of the President's plans to bring the troops out on a specific time line, 2014. And you saw none of that last night. In fact, Governor Romney appeared to leave a lot of his positions behind.

And it does leave you with the question on what is his world view? What does he really believe? What would he do on these big national security issues such as the war in Afghanistan or even Iran, where previously he had been very critical last night, last night largely agreeing with the President. So I think he's leaving the impression that he's not quite sure what he'd do or that he's not being as specific as he might be.

O'BRIEN: I was sort of surprised, and Dana tell me if you agree, that when Bob Schieffer, who I thought did a great job last night moderating, set up the question about Benghazi, was very specific and very detailed, and a series of questions, Governor Romney didn't take that opportunity to kind of go for the jugular. I thought that would be a moment where he might.

BASH: I think the diplomatic term on that was a punt, very much so. It was interesting because talking to Governor Romney's aides beforehand, it seemed as though he wanted to kind of fix what he messed up the last time in challenging the President on kind of a side show. But I'd love to hear what the ambassador thinks about that. Obviously there has been no issue that has been more in the forefront of foreign policy and even in politics now, than Libya.

BURNS: Well, you know, I think that was Bob Schieffer's very first question. It was an opening for Governor Romney to resume the criticism from the second debate on Benghazi. And you know, it may be that it wasn't working for them, because from the beginning Governor Romney's statements on the very day of the attacks was seen to be overly partisan. It -- I think that they probably decided to back off because you really don't want to take a national security crisis, especially one so disastrous for the United States with four deaths, and make it partisan. So that's why I assume he decided to punt on that question last night.

O'BRIEN: Final question for you is about China. Here's -- I'm going to play what the President side about China and a little bit of what Mitt Romney said about China and then I'm going to ask you on the other side of that the impact of, of China in this foreign policy debate. Let's start with the President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: China's both an adversary, but also a potential partner in the international community if it's following the rules. So my attitude coming in to office was that we are going to insist that China plays by the same rules as everybody else.

ROMNEY: We can work with them. We can collaborate with them if they're willing to be responsible. Now they look at us and say, is it a good idea to be with America? How strong are we going to be? How strong is our economy?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: The people, ambassador, who were in my focus group, I was in Orlando last night. The minute they heard about China and economy, they were very interested, and really focused. Do you think that the President had more strength on this issue or do you think it was Mitt Romney?

BURNS: You know, it's hard to say, because I think Governor Romney's point is a good one, that China has been a major human rights violator but also violating and stealing our intellectual property from American businesses. We've got to get tough with China. The problem, at least in my view, with Governor Romney's solution, I'm going to name them a currency violator my first day in office is it immediately puts us into an open, big public confrontation with China. When we need China on Iran, on North Korea, on Syria, is that smart? And I think that President Obama's more nuanced view, obviously tempered by his experience in office, is probably the better way for the United States.

O'BRIEN: Ambassador Nick Burns joining us this morning. Thank you, sir. Nice to see you.

BURNS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You bet. During the debate, Mitt Romney claimed that the President went on an international apology tour over U.S. policy. Is that accurate? We've got a fact check coming up on that claim straight ahead.

And crash and grab -- two men caught on camera smashing into a store where they helped themselves to the items, look at that. That's crazy. We'll tell you what happened in that story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. A quick look at your top stories this morning. Parts of the west coast are covered in snow this morning. Winter is still two months away, or so you thought. A snowstorm blew into northern California's sierra mountains making driving plenty treacherous. It was defense ruling Chicago last night. The Bears defeated Detroit lions 13-7 in Monday night football. Chicago improves to 5-1 now on the season. Who knew, they're in first place in the division. The lions back to 2-4. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: John, I know last night you were in charge of doing the fact check. Tell me a little bit about what you were looking into.

BERMAN: Well, Soledad, there were plenty of facts and figures tossed around, including one statement on an issue I know you have dealt with here on STARTING POINT. It had to do with the so-called apology tour that's been a favorite line from Republicans on the campaign trail. Mitt Romney claimed, as he has many times in the past, that President Obama went on a sort of international tour apologizing for U.S. policy when he first took office. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: He said he'd meet with all the world's worst actors in his first year, he'd sit down with Chavez and Kim Jong-il, with Castro, and with President Ahmadinejad of Iran. And I think they looked and thought, well that's an unusual honor to receive from the President of the United States. And then the President began what I've called an apology tour of going to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America. I think they looked at that and saw weakness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, what are the facts here? When he took office, President Obama did travel to several countries talking about American foreign policy. In France, for example, he said America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.

So he also criticized Europe in that same very speech. Now in none of these speeches in Europe, the Middle East, nor here at home, did Obama use the word apology or say he's sorry in any way.

So our verdict here is it's false to call President Obama's speeches an apology tour. Even if he was critical of some past U.S. foreign policy, he never issued any apologies -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: The President said that in the debate last night, very clearly, when he pushed back very hard on the Governor about that. All right, John, thank you.

Still ahead this morning you heard from the senator who prepped Mitt Romney for the debate. Coming up next, the senator who prepped President Obama. We're going to be talking to Democratic Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. He's our guest up next.

And then take a look at this. You've heard of smash and grab. How about crash and grab? A car smashes into a store, but it's no accident. We'll tell you what the police say the suspects took. That's when STARTING POINT returns. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're coming to you live from Boca Raton in Florida. For one last time, President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney battled it out on the debate stage. The topic last night was foreign policy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: You mention the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed.

ROMNEY: Attacking me is not an agenda. Attacking me is not talking about how we're going to deal with the challenges that exist in the Middle East and take advantage of the opportunity there, and stem the tide of this violence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Let's get right to Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. He portrayed Governor Mitt Romney in the mock debates with the President. So when you were watching your candidate, and you, of course, had played the challenger, how do you think he did?

SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, I think every insta-poll in the country says the President won. Some say he won overwhelmingly by 20 points, some by 10 points. But overwhelmingly last night the President of the United States was the commander in chief, and Mitt Romney, I hate to say it, was the campaigner in confusion --

O'BRIEN: You don't hate to say it.

KERRY: I don't, because I, you know, I'd like to be able to say it. But honestly I was stunned by a candidate who came and shifted almost all his positions, and he's hiding his positions. I mean, his real positions have been the ones you've been hearing for months.

Criticizing the President on Iran, last night he agreed with him. Criticizing the President on Syria, well, he had a few nibbles but basically said how complicated it was, he agreed with him.

Libya, wound up agreeing with him. Afghanistan, actually changed his position last night from saying that he didn't think we should set a date and get out, last night he set a firm date.

This is just a man who you can't send messages like that to the world that you really don't have a position.

O'BRIEN: When I spoke to Senator Portman this morning he said, listen, that was -- that's an intelligent thing to do, right. You deal with your --

KERRY: That's etch-a-sketch.

O'BRIEN: I'm dealing with what he said. That was an admission on my show. I remember etch-a-sketch. What he said, he positioned that as a rational thing to do, to sit down with your military advisers and come up with a timetable to leave.

KERRY: Soledad, he's been running for president for seven years. He has either been lying to the base, the Republican base, ought to be outraged today because the man who's been running to win the nomination was taking a whole bunch of different positions.

Now he steps up and says different -- look, this is Mitt Romney and the place people should be most frightened about is on the economy. Because Mitt Romney has signed a pledge to a lobbyist, the same lobbyist who has gridlocked Washington, and you know this --

O'BRIEN: You're talking about Grover Norquist.

KERRY: Grover Norquist. He gridlocked the "Super Committee" because people on the "Super Committee" signed a pledge saying we won't raise revenue. Romney's tripled down on saying no revenue.

So if he were elected he's promising four more years of gridlock in Washington because that's the formula. Either he's not telling the truth to the Republican base, he signed the pledge and it doesn't mean anything.

Or, he is telling the truth and you have gridlock. You can't have it both ways. This is a man who has a one-point plan for America. A tax cut of $5 trillion. You extend the Bush tax cuts by 20 percent --

O'BRIEN: But last night was about foreign policy. And -- let's get back to foreign policy. It is.

KERRY: Soledad, it is foreign policy. Because if you don't have a strong economy, you can't be strong abroad and you can't carry out a foreign policy. Mitt Romney's policy is to go back to the economy that we had before.

BASH: On foreign policy, you are the Senate Foreign Relations chairman. You travel abroad all the time. Does Mitt Romney have a point that the perception of the world, supposed to get so much of the United States was supposed to get so much better after George W. Bush left and Obama took over and that hasn't happened?

KERRY: Yes, it has happened. Are you kidding me it hasn't happened? After Ambassador Stevens was killed, Dana, 30,000 Libyans took their signs, said we love you, Ambassador Stevens. We love you America.

They marched, they marched on the militia headquarters that had done this. They disarmed them themselves. We have changed perceptions throughout that part of the world. Now they're going through a very complicated moment.

I mean, nobody, no Islamists, and not the United States, told a fruit vendor in Tunisia, you got to -- because a police officer slapped you and took away your weighing machine and your ability to sell fruit.

He did that because he was outraged at a government that was oppressing him and that brought all the Tunisians together. Nobody told those people in Tahrir Square, those young people, that wasn't Islamic.

That was young people, a generational revolution saying, we want jobs, we want an opportunity. That's what's happening in the Middle East. We should welcome it, and embrace it, and understand it. President Obama has done that. Mitt Romney's been hiding behind it.

O'BRIEN: Bret Stevens from "The Wall Street Journal" would disagree. He wrote this, there's a case to be made that Mr. Obama has been a disengaged, poll driven, inconsistent, credulous steward of American foreign policy.

Mr. Romney didn't seem interested in making that point I guess and as a matter of politics he didn't need to make it. His most effective turns in the debate came when he brought it all back to the economy.

He seemed reasonable and tempered and pragmatic and unruffled and therefore presidential. Doesn't that explain while President Obama who the pollsters showed people polled indicate overwhelmingly he was more on the attack and Mitt Romney was not that that was part of the strategy to appear presidential?

KERRY: Well, if your strategy is to reverse every position you had, two weeks before an election.

well, if your strategy is to reverse every position you had, two weeks before an election.

O'BRIEN: If it makes you reasonable and tempered and pragmatic --

KERRY: So in other words so President Obama has been reasonable --

O'BRIEN: I'm just asking a question, sir. I'm just saying here's what Brett Stevens from "The Wall Street Journal" --

KERRY: But you can't trust a candidate for president of the United States if you don't know what he really believes. Mitt Romney is hiding a bunch of positions. He's advised by the very same people that brought you Iraq and the years of the, of the decline of our economy.

President Obama has been steady and clear, not only, look on the economy, jobs, record low for four years. On -- I mean, on the jobless claims. The job rate is a record low of four years, foreclosures, five-year low. Stock market, almost a record high. 401(k)s, up.

O'BRIEN: Sluggish. Sluggish. Sluggish.

KERRY: Soledad, look at what we had to dig out of. We're at the brink of taking off. Ask anybody in business. People, the confidence of our country is up.

O'BRIEN: But, you --

KERRY: No, no, no. O'BRIEN: I mean, not everybody agrees with that. KERRY: What they say is we're on the brink of taking off. Now the President has a five-point plan. Number one, energy, 600,000 jobs in natural gas. We're going to exploit American energy. We're going to cut our imports in half.

Jobs. A million manufacturing jobs brought back to the United States and we're going to cut -- double our exports. And we're going to increase our jobs in the energy sector. Skills --

O'BRIEN: So --

KERRY: He's going to hire --

O'BRIEN: I'm going to stop you there because the five-point plan we've heard about over the last --

KERRY: Everybody's been complaining he doesn't. This is --

O'BRIEN: My question is this. It's neck and neck, 47 percent to 47 percent if you look at national polling. How worried are you about those numbers?

KERRY: I believe that as a result of last night and the last debate before that, the President has made it clear. He has the agenda for the country. The country's economy is coming back. We're respected in the world. He's ended the war in Iraq.

He is ending the war in Afghanistan. He showed clear leadership in Libya. Last night, after all his complaints, Mitt Romney said the President's done a good job and he's doing the right thing on Iran. Iran will not have a nuclear weapon. We've never been closer in security to Israel, and he's got the iron dome which is --

BASH: Senator, it's -- it's -- we see now why you were the one who was chosen to play Mitt Romney because he bring it back --

O'BRIEN: He can filibuster out there because we're out of time. But we want to thank you for talking with us this morning.

KERRY: I'm delighted to be with you.

BASH: Good audition for secretary of state?

KERRY: This is a great audition to go back to Massachusetts.

O'BRIEN: A dodge on that one, a dodge on the secretary of state question. It's nice to see you, Senator. Thank you for talking with us. We've got to get right back to John Berman. He's got an update for some of the other stories making news today. Hi, John.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad. One of the students involved in the hazing death of a Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion is avoiding jail time altogether.

Brian Jones was sentenced yesterday to two years probation, 200 hours of community service. Jones is the first of a dozen defendants charged in connection with Champion's death last November on a bus ride outside Orlando -- an Orlando hotel after a game.

Tears in court as the harassment and child endangerment trial of Douglas Kennedy begins. A maternity ward nurse broke down yesterday testifying that Kennedy, the son of late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, twisted her arm and kicked another nurse as he tried to take his newborn outside.

The assistant D.A. said the nurses were simply following protocol during the January incident. The defense calls the nurse abrasive and confrontational.

Police say two thieves in Northern Michigan stole a truck to commit this smash, or crash and grab. Surveillance cameras caught them loading up on alcohol and cigarettes.

Police say minutes before this the robbers swiped $100 worth of gas as they backed out they ran over a gas pump and hit a tree during their getaway. One suspect was caught and police say they are confident they will catch the second suspect -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, John, thank you. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, during the debate, President Obama made this claim. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: And as a consequence al Qaeda's core leadership has been decimated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: How true is that? Our very own Elise Labott will take a look at the status of the terror network straight ahead this morning. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Morning, welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're coming to you live this morning from Boca Raton in Florida. It is exactly two weeks until the election.

And this morning, we're fact checking some of the claims that were made in that final presidential debate. Let's get right to CNN foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott. She's in Washington, D.C. this morning.

So Elise, last night we actually heard a lot of agreement between the two candidates, but there was a major point of contention, and that major point of contention was about al Qaeda.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's right, Soledad. Well, last night, President Obama said al Qaeda's core leadership has been decimated and Mitt Romney says al Qaeda is actually involved in 10 or 12 countries.

Now there's no disputing that Osama Bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, was killed in that raid in Pakistan. And the Obama administration has also dramatically upped the use of drones in Pakistan, which has killed a lot of key al Qaeda operatives.

That focuses on the so-called al Qaeda core, the original group. What's worrisome is that al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen, North Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East are very active. Particular concern is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, operating in Yemen who hatched that underwear bomber a few years ago.

Then there's Al Shabab, the al Qaeda affiliated extremist group in Somalia considered a big threat. And in Libya, al Qaeda and the Islamic Magrab, AQIM, is operating. And they're believed to have been tied to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.

And now the unrest in Syria has also provided an opportunity for al Qaeda in Iraq in that country. So Soledad both claims are true here.

President Obama's claim that al Qaeda's core leadership has been seriously weakened, yes, but the affiliates remain active and a threat to western interests so a little bit for both men to claim last fight.

O'BRIEN: All right, Elise Labott doing a fact check for us this morning. Thank you, Elise, appreciate it. Got to take a short break and we're back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. It was the final debate and now it is done. The polls show that the President won last night. But did he make up for his first debate, the debate that gave Governor Mitt Romney's campaign new life?

Let's get right to Ron Brownstein. He is a senior political analyst. He is the editorial director of "National Journal." Ron, good morning to you. You have said that all of this is going to hinge, for the President at least, would you know key group of voters. Who are those voters?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he's focused on women voters at the end. If you look at his numbers among white men, they are some of the lowest we've seen on a presidential candidate since Walter Mondale since 1984.

I think what you saw last night is that both sides believe that women voters are more in play. I mean, Mitt Romney's goal right from that very first answer, when he said we can't kill our way out of this problem, was to reassure women voters.

This was a debate, much more for him, about reassurance than contrast. He kind of renounced a lot of positions he took during the primary. The President, clearly, from that second debate on is focused blue collar women in the Midwest, in particular and to a greater extent, white collar, more social, liberal women.

O'BRIEN: So one of the things that Dana and I both saw last night was this constant, at least attempt to shift from foreign policy, which was the topic of the debate, to talk about domestic policy.

BROWNSTEIN: Sure.

O'BRIEN: Obviously, jobs, but trying to move whatever the topic was to sort of more what's happening at home. Let me play a little bit of what Governor Romney said about China and American jobs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I've watched year in and year out, as companies have shut down and people have lost their jobs, because China has not played by the same rules. In part, by holding down artificially the value of their currency, it holds down the prices of their goods. It means our goods aren't as competitive and we lose jobs. That's got to end.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: How will something like that resonate? There was a decent amount of time spent on China. How will that resonate with that key group of voters that both candidates were trying to appeal to last night?

BROWNSTEIN: Right now this election is being decided more in the rust belt than the sunbelt. You know, we started with two bands of swing states. We still have them. We have the sunbelt band, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Colorado.

But these rust belt states of Ohio, Michigan, to a lesser extent, Iowa, and Wisconsin, the critical states that both sides are fighting over. The President's support of the auto bailout and the support he is winning around that issue is absolutely critical.

It's kind of his last line defense right now in this campaign. You saw the promise to be tough on china is one of Romney's best kind of battering rams against that. And you saw the President trying to respond. It's not surprising that the discussion turned toward domestic policy.

Often the problem with the foreign policy debate, politically, at least, it's hard to connect the discreet around the world with the themes at home. Egypt has not been that high on the list with these key voters in the swing states.

O'BRIEN: Focus group last night in Orlando. You could see when they started going there. People started losing a little bit of interest in the conversation. When they started talking about American jobs, the testers went right back up.

Ron Brownstein for us this morning. Thank you, Ron, appreciate it. You bet, coming up this morning, we're going to continue our debate coverage live from the Boca Raton this morning.

To the rose-colored glasses, we'll break down what the candidates said. And what affect it could have with 14 days till voters go to the polls.

We'll have the very first details about the new iPad mini. That's ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Starting point this morning, showdown in Boca. President Obama and Governor Romney challenging each other on foreign policy in their final debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: In the 1980s now calling for their foreign policy back.

ROMNEY: I'm not going to wear rose colored glasses when it comes to Russia or Mr. Putin.