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Fight To The Finish; E-mails Shed Light On Benghazi Attack; Supreme Court Steps In, Stays Execution; Sandusky Moved To Different Prison; Surfer Dies In Shark Attack; Costa Rica Earthquake; Tigers Versus Giants In Fall Classic; Jamaica Braces For Sandy; Bogus Letters Question Florida Voters; Document Dump In Meningitis Outbreak; Fired After Being Robbed; Emails Shed Light on Benghazi Attack; Fight to the Finish; World Series Opening Game Tonight;

Aired October 24, 2012 - 06:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: -- they're hitting the campaign trail really hard, their stops. What do they tell you?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That this is actually a pretty wide map when it comes to the number of states that are truly up for grabs. It's about seven or eight, depending on who you're talking to. And they are hitting -- they're taking nothing for granted.

Let's just first listen to some of the closing arguments from each candidate.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Four more years like the last four years, which continue to have a president playing hide and seek trying to find a plan to get the economy going, to create jobs. This is a president whose approach to creating jobs is another stimulus. How's the first one work out?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: You can choose a foreign policy that's reckless and wrong or you can choose one that is steady and strong. You can choose to turn the clock back 50 years for immigrants and gays or women or in this election you can decide we will remain an inclusive, generous country.


BASH: And when it comes to the map, there is so much concern that they don't really know how things are going to go, that the Romney "Super PAC" is now airing ads in the state of Maine. You think Maine? Wait a minute. I didn't think that was in play at all.

It's not. It is a Democratic state on the presidential level. But the way they apportion their electoral votes they do it by congressional district.

So there is a chance of one congressional district in Maine that is pretty conservative. Republicans say if they can get that one electoral vote that could make a difference if there is, God forbid, a tie.

SAMBOLIN: And everybody's thinking that this is going to go really late and really long. Let's talk about controversial comments in the Republican Party regarding rape and pregnancy. What can you tell us about that?

BASH: This is something that happened last night. It was a debate that was going on inside the Indiana Senate race. And the Republican candidate, Richard Mourdock, made some comments responding to a question about his view on abortion, specifically whether or not it should be allowed in the case of rape. He doesn't believe it should be. Listen to how he explains why.


RICHARD MOURDOCK (R), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: I believe that life begins at conception. The only exception I have for -- to have an abortion is in that case for the life of the mother. I just -- I struggle with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize, life is a gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape. That it is something that God intended to happen.


BASH: God intended to happen. That is something that Democrats jumped on immediately saying, wait a minute, this is absolutely not what women would want from any kind of elected official.

Mourdock understood right away that the way he phrased that was not going to play well at all. He put out a statement. I want to read this to you. He said, God creates life, and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that he does.

Rape is a horrible thing, and for anyone to twist my words otherwise is absurd and sick. But the Romney campaign, they're not taking anything for granted and a spokesman for Romney put out a statement stating point-blank that Governor Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock's comments, they do not reflect his views.

SAMBOLIN: And the reason right away is because of women voters, right, perhaps taking offense to those comments.

BASH: There's no question about it. Remember what happened a couple of months ago when the Republican Senate candidate in Missouri, Todd Akin made comments, more stringent than this, but the Republican Party threw him under the bus.

That is the question at this early hour, I've been speaking to some Republican strategists who are involved in this campaign in Indiana, that's the question is how much are the Republican officials nationally going to going to push back on him.

It's a tough thing for them strategically, because they do want to keep appealing to women, but when it comes to the balance of power in the Senate, Indiana -- this was already a very close race. Surprisingly close race because the Democrat is pretty conservative.

It's a conservative state. And if they lose this Senate seat, this Republican Senate see in Indiana, all bets are off for Republicans taking the Senate.

SAMBOLIN: Everything matters here at the eleventh hour. Dana Bash, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Appreciate it.

Later we will talk to Florida Republican Congressman Mario Diaz- Balart, Mitt Romney's foreign policy adviser.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It is 4 minutes after the hour right now. New developments this morning from the deadly September 11th attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

According to e-mails obtained by CNN, the State Department and the White House were told a militant Islamic group was taking responsibility for the assault two hours after it started.

And U.S. diplomats in Tripoli were telling officials in Washington about the attack as it was unfolding. CNN has the e-mails, and foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott will tell us what they say and discuss the possible fallout when she joins us in the next half hour of EARLY START.

SAMBOLIN: The U.S. Supreme Court upholds a stay of execution for this man, he's a Florida man convicted of killing eight people. John Erol Ferguson was scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection last night. But his lawyers successfully filed a flurry of last-minute appeals, arguing that he is mentally insane. Ferguson has been on death row for 34 years.

Convicted serial pedophile, Jerry Sandusky is spending his first full day in a new Pennsylvania prison. The former Penn State coach was transferred to the state lockup at camp hill yesterday. He'll undergo a physical and mental evaluation before being moved to another state prison to serve out the rest of his 30 to 60-year sentence.

BERMAN: A deadly shark attack of the coast of Santa Barbara in California. Authorities say the victim, 39-year-old Francesco Solario, was riding the waves with friends off SURF BEACH when he was bitten by the shark in the upper torso. His friends tried to rescue him, but they were too late.

SAMBOLIN: A powerful earthquake has struck western Costa Rica. The 6.5 magnitude quake was centered around five miles from the popular tourist destination of Nicoya. The quake could also be felt in the capital city of San Jose, 90 miles away. It was followed by a magnitude 4.5 aftershock. No injuries have been reported.

BERMAN: Look at those pictures. All right, just two teams left standing. And tonight the San Francisco Giants host the Detroit Tigers in game one of the World Series. It is here.

Detroit sends Justin Verlander to the mound, who throws 100 miles per hour. The Tiger's ace has allowed just two runs in three post-season starts this fall.

For the Giants, now 6-0 in the postseason when facing elimination it will be veteran lefty Barry Zito on the hill. One of the best curve balls in the game. Vegas Oddmakers say the Tigers are the favorites here.


BERMAN: First pitch begins at 8:00 tonight.

SAMBOLIN: So it's a scary scaa hurricane on halloween. Coming up the latest on where tropical storm sandy could be headed next.


BERMAN: All right, storm watch here. Tropical Storm Sandy is getting stronger. It is not a hurricane just yet, but is expected to become one as it creeps closer to Jamaica. People there have been warned to get ready.

Meteorologist Rob Marciano is monitoring sandy's every move. He joins us now from Atlanta. Rob, you said this is a very strange storm and we all need to be watching this.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: For one thing, it's happening in late October so really late in the season. But if it's going to happen this time of year, this is the spot where it's going to develop.

A lot of heat content in the water in the Caribbean. Right now it's 100 miles south of Kingston, Jamaica, but heading in that direction at 14 miles an hour, 70-mile-per-hour winds, so almost hurricane.

We expect it to become a hurricane before it makes landfall later on today. So preps are in order, especially across the south coast of Jamaica. We're looking at the brunt of this storm.

Hurricane warnings are up for Jamaica and also Eastern Cuba. Tropical storm watches now have been posted southeast coast of Florida. Meaning, tropical storm conditions are possible in the next 48 hours across Southeast Florida.

Because not so much this will be a direct hit, but the wind field is going to be so big that you'll feel the impact in the form of wind and also some big waves here. Then, we get into some interesting things this time of year.

When it gets further north, it gets into the jet stream, colder air mass, it can get different things happening. And it could impact the entire east coast through the weekend, into next week. Some of our computer models actually bring it back into the northeast as we get closer towards Halloween.

That would be certainly an interesting scenario and one that really we never have seen with the exception of maybe the perfect storm back in 1991 although there's some different characteristics here. Also Tropical Storm Tony, forget about it for the most part. May spin in the Atlantic, but it just goes to show how busy this season has been.

BERMAN: All right, Rob Marciano, thank you for that.

SAMBOLIN: Can you imagine all the people at the airport waiting to hop a plane to Jamaica?

BERMAN: It is a bad day for that.

SAMBOLIN: That's terrible.

All right, 11 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date, 13 days and counting now. The Obama and Romney campaigns are laser focused on the battlegrounds and still undecided voters that could well determine the outcome of the presidential election. The President will hit six swing states over the next 48 hours. Romney campaigns today in two of them, Nevada and Iowa.

BERMAN: Florida investigators are trying to figure out who sent bogus letters to voters questioning their citizenship and registration just two weeks before the presidential election.

Florida secretary of state says people in 23 counties have received the letters, which were written on fake supervisor of elections letter head. They have no return address but they do carry a postmark from Seattle, Washington.

SAMBOLIN: A former CIA officer takes a plea deal admitting to one charge. That he illegally revealed the identity of a covert intelligence officer. Under this agreement he'll serve a 30-month sentence.

He has also admitted that he revealed the name of a different CIA employee to reporters, and that he lied to a review board about a book that he was writing. Sentencing will happen in January.

BERMAN: A huge document dump reveals the state of Massachusetts knew reports that compounding pharmacy NECC was breaking prescription laws for the past decade.

The documents show complaints from doctors and even complaints from officials in Iowa, Wisconsin and Texas, but Massachusetts failed to take tough action. NECC is behind a nationwide outbreak, now up to 304 meningitis cases and four other infections, including 23 deaths in 17 states.

SAMBOLIN: And hall of fame catcher, Carlton Fisk, charged with DUI in Illinois. Police say Fudge, as he's called, was found unconscious behind the wheel of his vehicle, which was found in the middle of a corn field. He was issued a citation, posted bond and he was released. Fisk has a date in court next month.

BERMAN: An Ohio fast food worker has been fired from her job after being robbed at knifepoint. Listen to this. Mary Archer worked at Arby's for 23 years. Last Thursday night at closing time, her co- worker left, and Archer was turning out the lights when a man with a knife cornered her in the office.

SAMBOLIN: Can you imagine?

BERMAN: She jumped out the drive-thru window to escape. Now when Mary returned to work on Friday, she was greeted with a pink slip.



MARY ARCHER, FORMER ARBY'S ASSISTANT MANAGER: I just never thought that that this would happen to me especially since my life was at stake. I don't want my job back. I just want to know -- I want everybody to know what a kind of a company that this is.


BERMAN: Now an Arby's representative says Mary Archer was fired because she violated company policy. She wasn't supposed to be alone in the store at closing time. Apparently she'd been warned about after-hours behavior before, but still, that's awfully rough after you get robbed at knifepoint.

SAMBOLIN: Absolutely.

Fourteen minutes past the hour here. There's one more reason to say thank you to grandma. A new study suggests the rise of grandmothering is responsible for a longer life spans compared to other primates.

Here's how the theory goes, folks. Because grandmothers long ago took on the duty of raising and caring for their grandchildren, their own children were able to have more offspring. And researchers say those families had a genetic advantage that allowed longevity to spread, through the natural selection process.

How about just grandma rocks?

BERMAN: More proof that grandma rules. Scientists with conclusive proof that grandma rules.

Fifteen minutes past the hour right now.

A robot with common sense? It sounds too good to be true, right?

SAMBOLIN: But, a Boston company is using artificial intelligence to change how robots are used in factories.

CNN's Joe Carter has this morning's "Technovation".


JOE CARTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Manufacturing has come a long way since the classic candy factory scene in "I Love Lucy."

And it's about to change even more. Meet Baxter, a new kind of factory robot.

MICHAEL MCGEE, NYPRO TECHNOLOGY DIRECTOR: Baxter is a super, easy to use robot that can do all sorts of different tasks in a manufacturing environment, loading things into machines, packing things into boxes.

CARTER: Some industrial robots can pose safety hazards. But the company that makes Baxter says it uses common sense.

(on camera): How safely?

MCGEE: I inadvertently get in the robot's way. See what happens? He just stops.

CARTER: A typical robot would have just kept on going.

MCGEE: Keep on going.

CARTER (voice-over): It stands about six feet tall, has two flexible arms with grippers, and a face that shows emotion.

MCGEE: It makes it easy for people, from a distance, to see is Baxter working, confused, does Baxter need help?

CARTER: Baxter can be programmed by just about anyone.

(on camera): I told him to pick up here, move the product over here and one minute.

MCGEE: Congratulations. Very good. You trained your first robot.

CARTER (voice-over): Rethink Robotics has been designing the robot for four years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here the guys are working on the robot control system.

CARTER: And companies like Nypro have been testing it in their factories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We work real hard to ensure that he's safe, that he's easily trainable, and that the people who are going to work with him are going to want to work with him.

CARTER: Baxter is selling for about $22,000 and is about to arrive in U.S. factories. The question is, will it take people's jobs? Rethink Robotics says no.

MCGEE: If you take Baxter, who's roughly $4 an hour. Baxter does a simple task and the person that was doing that can now do a more highly skilled and highly value-added task.

CARTER: Joe Carter, CNN, Boston.


BERMAN: Also, Baxter is a hoot at the company parties. SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BERMAN: If you're traveling for Thanksgiving, coming up, what you can expect for the price of airfare when you book, and how you might be able to do just a little bit better.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Twenty-one minutes past the hour. We're minding your business this morning.

U.S. stock futures are up slightly. A lot of uncertainty in the markets right now. The Dow dropped about 240 points yesterday after several big companies lowered their earnings forecast.

But overall markets are still up for 2012. The S&P 500, the best indicator for the stocks in your 401(k), is up more than 10 percent so far this year.

BERMAN: New data from HSBC overnight shows that China's manufacturing sector hitting a three-month high. The report says demand for Chinese-made goods is at a six-month high also which signals there is some strength in the global economy.

SAMBOLIN: Here's the bad news. Do you feel like college is getting more expensive? You are absolutely right.

The cost for public college hit a new high this year, this is according to the College Board. The average overall cost without financial aid rose 3.8 percent to a new record $22,261. The College Board says the cost of college has been rising faster than inflation in recent years and it's because states have been cutting financial aid, and at the same time more students are enrolling in those public colleges.

BERMAN: And if that's not enough, get ready to pay more for your Thanksgiving flights this year, also. Travelocity says airfare over Thanksgiving is expected to be 9 percent higher than last year. That's according to a report in "USA Today." If you're looking for a flight between November 17th and 27th, you're likely to shell out $386 round trip for a domestic flight.

Experts say you can use mobile apps and social media to find deals on flights. It's always a good idea. And definitely, do not wait until the last minute, else you could end up paying about $200 more for tickets.

SAMBOLIN: So worth it to go see your family.

Twenty-two minutes past the hour.

A Kennedy cousin --

BERMAN: I'll take your word for it.

SAMBOLIN: -- doing time for murder has a chance at freedom today. More on the Michael Skakel case. That is coming up.

And if you are leaving the house right now, you can watch us any time right on your desk top or mobile phone. Just go to


SAMBOLIN: The Libya timeline. Newly obtained e-mails show what the Obama administration was being told about the Benghazi attack and when they were being told.

BERMAN: A swing state sprint in a tight race. President Obama and Mitt Romney crisscrossing the country, trying to sway those few undecided voters.

SAMBOLIN: And fired up for the Fall Classic. Fans in Detroit and San Francisco counting the hours until tonight's game one of the World Series. They are losing their minds.

Welcome back to EARLY START. Happy to have you with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is 26 minutes past the hour.

We have some new developments this morning in the aftermath of the deadly September 11th attack on the consulate in Benghazi.

According to e-mails obtained by CNN, the State Department and the White House were informed about an Islamic militant group that was taking responsibility for the assault just two hours after it began. In one of those e-mails, diplomats told officials in Washington that the group Ansar al-Sharia claimed credit on Facebook and Twitter and was calling for another attack on the U.S. embassy in Tripoli.

Foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott joins us now live from Washington.

And, Elise, walk us through this e-mail chain. What do the messages say? And how much do they really reveal about what intelligence officials in Washington knew that day?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, John, these are the first communications that we've seen that happened in real time, as the consulate in Benghazi was under attack.

Let's take a look at these e-mails. The first one is subject: "U.S. Mission in Benghazi Under Attack". Now, this was sent out we believe by the State Department operations center and it was at 4:05 Eastern Time, which means about 10:00 Tripoli time, when the attack began. It says, "Embassy Tripoli reports approximately 20 armed people fired shots, explosions have been heard as well. Ambassador Stevens, who is currently in Benghazi, and four mission personnel are in the compound safe haven."

Now, about a half hour later, John, they have an update, and this is about a half hour later, "Embassy Tripoli reports the firing at the diplomatic mission has stopped, and the compound has been cleared. A response team has been sent attempting to locate those personnel."

And we see that, in fact, this was not the case, John. By a half hour later, those armed extremists had breached the walls, and had, in fact, set fire to some of these buildings on the compound where Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith were unfortunately killed.

Now, later that night, a third e-mail says that Ansar al-Sharia, this Islamic extremist group with known ties to al Qaeda, actually claimed responsibility for thee attack.

So it shows, John, that even that night, they knew that this was an Islamic extremist group that was claiming responsibility for the attack, and possibly with links to al Qaeda. So it kind of puts into a little bit of consternation this claim by the administration that these were protests that had gone astray, and hijacked, and in fact the administration has now changed that assessment, John.

BERMAN: Well, I guess the question then, Elise, is who saw the e- mails? Which departments did they go to? Is it likely they got in front of the President and vice president?

LABOTT: I don't think so. You know, the Vice President, and president, don't get these little, small communications. But certainly, these e-mails went to senior officials at the White House, at the FBI, at the Pentagon, and State Department. So certainly the White House situation room was made aware of them, and we know that President Obama was briefed that night on the attack.

So certainly they would have told him about this group claiming responsibility. So, it shows that even that night, John, that officials knew that some kind of Islamic extremist groups with ties to al Qaeda were involved.

BERMAN: Well, or at least claiming responsibility.

LABOTT: That's right, that's right.

BERMAN: CNN reported back in September that this group Ansar al- Sharia had been linked to the Benghazi attack and senior intelligence officials told us that the group could be one of multiple organizations responsible. Do these e-mails really alter in any way what we already knew?

LABOTT: It doesn't alter what we already knew. But certainly, you've seen this back and forth over the last couple of weeks about what the White House knew versus what it was saying. So I think clearly in the kind of fog of war, as you will, officials have said that there was a lot of confusion coming out. But certainly it does show that at least that night, they knew that groups that were tied to al Qaeda were claiming to be involved.

It doesn't really change the ultimate intelligence assessment that has been now talked about by the intelligence community and administration and it shows that it was kind of what people initially thought was the case, turns out that it does seem to be the case, and members of Ansar al-Sharia have been arrested. One of them is being held in Tunisia, John.

BERMAN: All right. One more piece in the puzzle. Although it is a puzzle that seems to be getting bigger every day. Elise Labott joining us from Washington. Thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-one minutes past the hour.

Storm the battlegrounds. President Obama and Mitt Romney hitting the trail hard, with just 13 days to go until election.

The President campaigning in Florida, again raised doubts about Romney's readiness to be president.


OBAMA: You can choose a foreign policy that's reckless and wrong, or you can choose one that is steady and strong.


SAMBOLIN: Meantime, Mitt Romney stumping in Colorado, sounding a familiar theme that America cannot afford more of the same from the President.


ROMNEY: He's become a president of status quo. And the policies of the President are a continuation of what we've seen over the last four years. He calls his campaign slogan forward. I think forewarned is a better term.


SAMBOLIN: Romney campaigns today in Nevada and Iowa.

Next hour on "STARTING POINT," Soledad talks to Michigan Republican Congressman Mike Rogers and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, national co-chair of the Obama campaign.

BERMAN: Two teenage brothers are now facing first degree murder charges in the death of a 12-year-old New Jersey girl. Prosecutors say the brothers, ages 15 and 17, allegedly lured 12-year-old Autumn Pasquale to their home, possibly because they wanted to steal her BMX bike. Autumn's body was found Monday in a recycling bin. She'd been beaten and strangled.

SAMBOLIN: Convicted killer Michael Skakel will be seeking freedom when he goes before a parole board that's scheduled in Connecticut today. The nephew of Robert and Ethel Kennedy has served 10 years of a 20-year sentence for the 1975 bludgeoning death of his teenage neighbor, Martha Moxley.

BERMAN: Three nurses at a suburban New York maternity word testified Tuesday at the trial of Douglas Kennedy. He is the son of Robert F. Kennedy and accused of kicking a nurse and twisting another's arm when he tried to take his newborn son Beau out for some fresh air last January, without the hospital's permission.

He's facing misdemeanor harassment and child endangerment charges. One nurse says she instinctively reached out to steady the infant's bobbing head when Kennedy kicked her, squarely in the pelvis.

SAMBOLIN: So an apology to President Obama from Mitt Romney's oldest son. At the end of Monday night's debate, Tagg Romney told the President that he was sorry for saying he wanted to take a swing at him during the second presidential debate. Josh Romney says he's been punched by his brother Tagg a few times, and that President Obama really had nothing to worry about.

BERMAN: It's a great line.

SAMBOLIN: I love that.

BERMAN: Thirty-three minutes after the hour.

Sandy is strengthening but the storm is still just shy of hurricane strength. It's expected to become one as it creeps closer to Jamaica. People there have been warned to get ready, and the East Coast could be a target, too.

Meteorologist Rob Marciano is monitoring Sandy's every move. He joins us now live from Atlanta.

Rob, you called this a strange storm. What's the latest?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, strange is certainly late in the season. But what it does after it gets through Jamaica and Cuba, and potential impact to the U.S., that's what makes it certainly interesting for us. There will be some impacts (INAUDIBLE).

Right now, 100 miles south of Kingston, it's going to affect Jamaica later on today likely as a hurricane. Hurricane warnings are up, northerly movement at 14 miles an hour. They already have seen their weather go downhill. Cuba also on hurricane warning. And now, tropical storm watches have been posted for southeast Florida, likely because of waves, and wind. The wind field will be rather large with this. We don't expect a direct hit on south Florida.

But what it does, gets through the Bahamas and gets caught up in the weather patterns of the mid-Atlantic -- mid latitudes. That could bring it into the Carolinas, the Northeast, gets towards the weekend and into the beginning of next week in some way, shape or form, a modified strong Nor'easter. Some of our computer models are certainly showing that. But our confidence obviously very, very low in the longer range.

But interesting and certainly you want to keep your eye right here into the sky as we go forward. Meanwhile, feels like summer across D.C. temperatures will be near 80 there. Severe thunderstorms across the northern tier, and winter out West. That's just the way of mid to late October.

Guys, back up to you. BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Rob.

SAMBOLIN: So think about it. Two weeks from today, we'll know who our next president will be. Then again, maybe we won't. The race so close right now, with nine states still thought to be up for grabs. We are live with a key member of the Romney campaign. That's coming up.


SAMBOLIN: It is 38 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date on this morning's top story, shall we?

The U.S. Supreme Court upholds a stay of execution for this man. He is a Florida man convicted of killing eight people. His name: John Errol Ferguson. He was scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection last night but his lawyers successfully filed a flurry of last-minute appeals arguing that he is mentally insane. Ferguson has been on death row for 34 years.

BERMAN: An expert surfer killed in a shark attack of the coast of Santa Barbara in California. The victim was beaten in the upper torso in the waters off surf beach at Vandenberg Air Force Base. It is not clear what type of shark attacked him.

SAMBOLIN: Convicted serial pedophile Jerry Sandusky is spending his first full day in a new Pennsylvania prison. The former Penn State coach was transferred to the state lockup at Camp Hill yesterday. He's going to undergo a physical and mental evaluation before being moved to another state prison to serve out the rest of his 30 to 60- year sentence.

BERMAN: An October snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada Mountains left some drivers stranded for up to nine hours. Oh!

SAMBOLIN: Can you imagine that?

BERMAN: This is what it looked like Tuesday along Interstate 80 near Truckee, California. Drivers had to wait until crews cleared away snow in an area where road construction had narrowed the freeway down to one lane.

SAMBOLIN: What do you do if you have to go to the bathroom?

BERMAN: The woods?

SAMBOLIN: Think, think.

All right. Say good-bye to the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux. The last of half a dozen signs proclaiming home of Fighting Sioux was removed from the campus hockey arena. It is part of a settlement with the NCAA to retire the school's nickname since Native Americans considered that mascot offensive.

The signs are being replaced with one saying home of North Dakota hockey! The school won't have a new nickname until 2015. BERMAN: I'm assured that somewhere in this building, Soledad O'Brien is joining us now with a look at what's ahead on "STARTING POINT."

There you are. Soledad, what's going on?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, lots happening this morning.

Ahead this morning on "STARTING POINT," lots of fallout over rape comments. Republican Senate candidate under fire now for saying that pregnancies caused by rape are something intended by God. We're going to talk about his choice of words with our panel this morning.

And batter up, the World Series starts tonight between the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers who beat my Yankees. Who is most likely to take home the glory? We're going to get some insight this morning from the host of ESPN's "Mike and Mike in the Morning".

And she's one big fish in business. QVC queen and "Shark Tank" star Lori Greiner joins us to talk about new details for a new season. That's straight ahead this morning in just about 19 minutes. See you then.

BERMAN: Very cool. Thanks.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Forty-one minutes past the hour.

Just 13 days to go until the election, and a laser-like focus now on a handful of battleground states. By CNN's count, there are now nine toss-up states where this election will be decided. You see them there in yellow -- Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and New Hampshire.

This morning's CNN reporting that there's a consensus building inside both campaigns that Americans will wake up on Election Day and not know who the next president will be.

Florida Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart advises Mitt Romney on foreign policy, and he joins us now from Miami.

Very nice to see you, sir. Thank you for joining us.

So let's start with the race in your home state of Florida. Our latest poll show the contest is virtually tied there. I'm going to put some numbers here. But the Romney campaign has been pretty confident that it can win. "The New York Times" Nate Silver even questioned whether President Obama should be spending resources in the Sunshine State.

How confident are you that Mitt Romney has it locked up?

REP. MARIO DIAZ-BALART (R), FLORIDA: I don't think anybody has it locked up. But I feel very confident that Mitt Romney will win Florida. I think he'll win with stronger numbers than people may suspect at this time.

SAMBOLIN: So let's look at some constituencies that could alter the situation, particularly in Florida. We're going to start with Latinos here. We've got two recent polls that show a conflicting picture on who Latinos in Florida support for president. A "Miami Herald"/Florida International University poll shows Obama beating Romney by seven points. But a "Tampa Bay Times"/"Miami Herald" poll shows Romney up by two points.

So you're a member of Romney's Hispanic steering committee. What are you seeing on the ground as far as Latino vote goes?

DIAZ-BALART: Look, the Latino community has been hit really, really hard by this recession. If you look at, for example, children in poverty, the largest group of children in poverty are the Hispanic -- Latino children in the United States. Poverty has increased among Latinos. Unemployment, frankly, is excessively high.

There are no jobs. Really in the entire country, and that also stands true for Florida. So, when all the rhetoric is said and done, the question is, are -- do our grandchildren and our children deserve this? Is this the best the United States can be? Or do they deserve, and frankly do we deserve, also, a better future, a better president?

That's why I think you're seeing Governor Romney's numbers go up. The President's numbers continue to slip, because the President, frankly, keeps talking about his policies of four years ago. Governor Romney has real policies about how to get the economy going. That's --

SAMBOLIN: But let's focus, if I can interrupt you here for a moment, if we could focus on economy. Our latest CNN national poll of Latinos actually shows Obama beating Romney on every issue, including the economy.

So how do you reconcile that? This has Obama 68 percent, Romney 28 percent.

DIAZ-BALART: But you're starting to see a shift in the actual numbers of those who are more likely to vote. Because they're starting to realize, everybody's starting to realize. Again, look, it's not --

SAMBOLIN: Where are you seeing that shift? Are you seeing that shift in some polls?

DIAZ-BALART: Well, we're seeing it, you just mentioned the polls among Latinos in Florida and you're seeing that they've gotten a lot closer than they were three weeks ago. Three months ago. And again, I think the issue is voting former --

SAMBOLIN: I meant more focused on the economy right as you were talking about the economy. Our polls don't show that specifically.

But let's talk about women. Let's move on here. Romney is distancing himself from some really controversial comments made by Republican Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock. Let's play that and then talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MOURDOCK: I believe that life begins at conception. The only exception I have for -- to have an abortion is in that case of the life of the mother. I just -- I struggled with it myself for a long time but I came to realize life is a gift from God, and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that god intended to happen.


SAMBOLIN: Now the Romney campaign has released this statement. It says Governor Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock's comments and they do not reflect his views. But Romney just finished shooting a campaign ad for Mourdock, could this link hurt him with women voters?

DIAZ-BALART: No. I mean, look, you know, trying to make links with every statement that's out there, I mean, I guess one could try to do that. But the reality, and voters are smarter than that. The American people are smarter than that. They understand who is on the ballot for president is Mitt Romney. They understand what he stands for. They understand that he's the only one that can fix the economy, those running for president. And that's what this is all about. You can try to link controversial statements to the President, or controversial statements to Mitt Romney. But the American people frankly, they're bigger and they're smarter than I think a lot of times either politicians or members of the press believe that they are.

SAMBOLIN: I know you're really there in Florida. We really appreciate you taking some time out to join us this morning. Florida Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, Romney foreign policy adviser. Thank you. Nice to see you this morning.

BERMAN: All right, one team has been resting for a week. The other is fresh off a grueling seven-game championship series. Who has the upper hand in the world series? More on the Tigers and the Giants and the Fall Classic coming up.


BERMAN: After a blowout game seven victory against the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday night the San Francisco Giants will take on the Detroit Tigers in game one of the World Series. That is tonight. The Giants are kind of the comeback kids of 2012. You can't really put them away. They're six for six in elimination games this season. Do they have a chance at the World Series, though? Back with us is anchor Maggie Gray. When you line up the Giants against the tigers they don't seem to have quite as much talent as Detroit does. How can the Giants beat Detroit?

MAGGIE GRAY, ANCHOR, SPORTSILLUSTRATED.COM: It's going to be about playing small ball. That's National League ball. The Giants lineup doesn't have the heavy hitters that the Tigers have. No prince fielders, no Miguel Cabrera triple crown winner. But it's a packed work sort of lineup that can get guys on base. The fact that Marco Scutaro who was acquired from the Giants in July in a trade, he hit .500 so far through the post-season. The fact that he's been able to bring so many guys in, it's just getting those hits here and there. We saw Hunter Pence have and RBI that the ball actually hit the bat three different times before it broke. They're kind of getting a little bit of luck on their side, but also it's strategic. They're playing smart ball and they're getting runs.

BERMAN: If Marco Scutero is your best hitter, going against Justin Verlander you have some problems.

GRAY: You may have some problems. And I think we're going to know very quickly whether the layoff is going to hurt the Tigers and how much it will. Justin Verlander, he's obviously their best ace and weapon. He's going to be the litmus test. We're going to know really, really early. Also it's a tough park in San Francisco. Not a home run hitters park out there, very big, cavernous. If the weather is bad, balls tend to stay in the park. So that could also play a role, as well.

SAMBOLIN: So you just kind of mentioned the fact that Detroit has been on vacation basically for awhile and they're going against these other folks who've been playing really hard, the Giants. So what do you see there happening?

GRAY: You know, it's hard to tell. In different years past we've seen both things happen. We saw the Tigers back in 2006, they had a week off, they end up losing 4-1 to the Cardinals. That week off really hurt them and they're trying to do everything they can to not replicate what happened back then. Then you saw the Philadelphia Phillies 2008. They had a week off, they were just absolutely dominant. So I think it goes to how many veterans on the team and I think starting pitching, and they say in baseball your momentum is only as good as your next day's starting pitcher. Even all the great mojo that the giants had built up could be dashed in an instant if Verlander really has his stuff tonight.

BERMAN: All is not good for Detroit. They have some serious bull pen issues going into the World Series.

GRAY: Yeah, they go. Jose Valverde has blown so many saves in this post-season that he had to be benched. That is not a confidence booster heading into the World Series. So we'll se how much Jim Leland, one of the great tacticians of the sport, so you have to put your trust in the Tigers' manager, it's his third World Series of his managing career. What is he going to do with that bull pen? I think he's hoping Verlander, Fister, Baxter (ph) these guys will actually take us through enough innings that he doesn't have to call on so many of his bull pen guys.

SAMBOLIN: I'm going for the underdogs on this one. I want to talk about the Yankees before you go. Because we had a really great conversation off camera about A-Rod and what's going to happen with him.

GRAY: Good question. The Yankees still owe him a lot of money on his contract.

SAMBOLIN: How much? GRAY: $114 million over the next five years. He's 37 years old. He's getting towards the end of his career. Clearly he's past his peak. This was one of the all-time bad post-season performances from Alex Rodriguez. 12 strikeouts, no RBIs. Been benched twice. Pinch- hit for -- not a great way to end the season despite the fact he actually had a pretty good season for the Yankees despite being injured. They're going to need to have quit a suitor on their hands if they're going to negotiate a way to get A-Rod out of town. Quite frankly I don't see it happening.

BERMAN: They have to pay a lot of money for him to go play somewhere else.

GRAY: It already happened once in A-Rod's career. We saw Yankees take a lot of money off the Texas rangers to get him out of town. So it's not impossible but they have to eat about $90 million just to send him elsewhere.

BERMAN: And we miss him on the back pages here.

GRAY: They feel a little empty.

BERMAN: Maggie Gray, great to have you here. anchor. Always a good discussion.

SAMBOLIN: All right, 54 minutes past the hour. Today's best advice still coming up.


BERMAN: Just a few minutes left to go as always. We wrap it up with best advice.

SAMBOLIN: Today we hear from actress host of "Prank My Mom" on lifetime Vivica Fox.


VIVICA A. FOX, ACTRESS: The best advice that I've ever got is to get out of my own way. And when I say that, it's that I had to learn to accept who I am, be comfortable in my own skin and love me some me.


BERMAN: Love me some me.

SAMBOLIN: I love that. I had an opportunity to sit down with her and do an interview her on that "Prank My Mom" so I just wanted to give her mother a heads up. I said would you ever prank your mom? The whole premise is these kids just pull these amazing stunts on their mom and it's horrific. She said absolutely and I'm going to do it in church. So mom, look out. Because she's headed to get her.

BERMAN: She has a ton of energy. That is all for EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

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

O'BRIEN: Good morning, welcome everybody, our STARTING POINT this morning, race to the finish line. 13 days until election day. President Obama and Governor Romney make their case to voters in the swing states.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can choose a foreign policy that's reckless and wrong or you can choose one that's steady and strong.

MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He calls his campaign slogan forward. I think forewarned is a better term.


O'BRIEN: What did the White House know and when? We're learning more this morning about e-mail alerts sent to the Obama administration in the hours after that deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

And outrage over some rape comments. A Republican Senate candidate at the center of the controversy says pregnancy is caused by rape are intended by God. It's Wednesday, October 24th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

STARTING POINT this morning. See, President Obama and Governor Romney run with just literally 13 days left. They're zeroed in on a handful of states that could make all the difference.