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Swing State Blitz; Interview with Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal; Interview with David Von Drehle; On the Campaign Trail; Renovated Statue of Liberty Reopened to Public; Jon Hunstman, Sr. to Help Cancer Research; Interview with James Van Der Beek

Aired October 25, 2012 - 08:00   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning: swing state whirlwind. President Obama and Mitt Romney on a campaign blitz. They're trying to win those undecided voters, as a key swing state changes its color, the President picks up a big endorsement. That happened just moments ago.

And bracing for Sandy. The hurricane makes landfall in Cuba and Jamaica. Is the Eastern U.S. next?

Plus, Dawson Leery in the flesh. He's now the star of the hit, "Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23." But, of course, we all know him from "Dawson's Creek". James Van Der Beek is going to join us live.

It's Thursday, October 25th. And STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: We should keep that as our theme song. I kind of love it. We love him. I'm so excited to see him. And he's cute. He is.

He's a handsome man. And he's very funny. We're going to talk a little about his new show.

Our team this morning: also cute, Ryan Lizza, joining us as well, Washington correspondent from "The New Yorker".

Also cute, Suzy Welch, she's written a best-selling book, and columnist. It's so great to have you with us.

Richard Socarides is a writer for

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: He has a great sense of humor.

O'BRIEN: Senior adviser for President Clinton -- relax while I get to it. And he's cute.

Pipe down, everybody.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, NEWYORKER.COM: Thank you. O'BRIEN: It's going to be that kind of a day.

John Berman, very cute.

BERMAN: Don't even want to go there.

You all are working my last nerve.

All right. Our STARTING POINT this morning: presidential candidates, no surprise. They're on the road battling, just 12 days left in the 2012 campaign. Just moments ago, President Obama picked up a new endorsement that came from Colin Powell.

Here's what he said on CBS News this morning.


COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: You know, I voted for him in 2008. I plan to stick with him in 2012 and I'll be voting for he and for Vice President Joe Biden next month.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's an endorsement of President Obama for re- election?



O'BRIEN: He's sort of like, yes, did you just hear what I said? Yes.

Here's the updated CNN electoral math. Our predictions for how each state will go in the election.

Yesterday, North Carolina was changed from toss-up to lean Romney, which we signify in pink. And that means just eight battleground states in which both candidates have a chance of getting a lead and the presidency with that lead.

Today, they're not wasting a minute, of course. President Obama in the middle of a whirlwind 48-hour tour, when he's calling his all- nighter, which is really two all-nighters. He's going to be hitting Florida, and Virginia and Ohio.

Governor Romney will spend his entire day in Ohio, where the latest CNN poll of polls shows him behind only by three points.

Richard Blumenthal is a Democratic senator from Connecticut. He's also the former Connecticut attorney general.

It's nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us this morning. Appreciate it.


O'BRIEN: You know, we were listening to President Obama talking about how tight the race was. He was on "Rock Center" last night, and he said, actually, a year ago, everybody was counting him out as well. I want to play a little bit of that first.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You guys have some short memories. Folks in your business were writing me off a year ago, saying there's no way I would win. So, you know, these things go in ebbs and flows. And, you know, the one thing I've tried to always be is just steady in terms of what I believe in, who I'm fighting for.

And, you know, I think that one of the qualities I bring to bear in this campaign is people see what did I say I was going to do in 2008 and what have I delivered? And they can have some confidence that the things I say, I mean.


O'BRIEN: So he says it's tight, but he has been consistent. Is that going to be enough to really win over some of those swing states that we know are critical to whoever is going to try to win the presidency?

BLUMENTHAL: I think the plan that he set forward to grow manufacturing, to grow middle class economic security, to bring back jobs from overseas, to train people for the jobs that exist right now and the future through our community colleges, focusing on strengthening the middle class will, in fact, resound in those swing states. And he has said from the very beginning that this race would be tight. But he has been steady.

And I think at the end of the day, a lot of voters will be decided on the basis of trust and accountability. And the trust in him, I think, is very strong.

O'BRIEN: That brings us to an interesting point. There was this video that's been released by Project Veritas, which is a conservative group by the guy named James O'Keefe. We showed a clip of it a little bit earlier.

I want to show that clip. It shows Patrick Moran, who's a son of Virginia Rep Jim Moran, Democrat from Virginia, giving advice to someone who's sort of undercover and obviously rolling on it, how to cast votes for 100 people that he says aren't really going to plan to vote. Patrick was the field director for his father's campaign. He resigned yesterday.

I want to play that clip and we'll talk about it on the other side.


PATRICK MORAN, REP. MORAN'S SON: Now, you're going to have -- you'll have somebody in house, that if they feel what you have is legitimate, they'll argue for you. I imagine --


MORAN: The OFA lawyer or provided by the committees. But it's got to look good. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's got to look good?

MORAN: Yes, think it's going to be a matter of --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need to find a computer guy. That's probably my next step.





O'BRIEN: OK. How damning is that? You heard him say it's got to look good.

BLUMENTHAL: You know, I think at the end of this election, as people really have to make hard choices about their own futures and make the choices in the presidential campaign, what they will look to is what these candidates have said about the economy and jobs. And the President has a plan to grow jobs.

These distractions, the day-to-day clips or whatever, I do not think will be decisive for most voters. If you look at what's happening, for example, in the controversy concerning the Indiana candidates, the quote from the President -- the senatorial candidate that pregnancy resulting from rape is intended by God and the refusal of Romney to disavow completely the ad that's endorsing that candidate, Mr. Mourdock, I think that will be much more important to women, who are making choices and who want a presidential candidate who sides with their right to choose or their right to health care and their right to equal pay for equal work.

I think those kinds of bread and butter, nuts and bolts issues, growing the economy, growing the middle class and ensuring economic security are much more important.

O'BRIEN: I would guess as a Democrat you're surely hoping so, right? I mean, that clip, that is a pretty devastating clip. I was watching Richard Socrates face while he was watching the clip and he was like, this is terrible. One would hope --

SOCARIDES: Terrible great.

O'BRIEN: Terrible great?

SOCARIDES: I mean, you know, great for the Democrat in that race.

O'BRIEN: That's his son.

SOCARIDES: No, no, oh, you're talking -- I'm talking about Mr. Mourdock, yes.

O'BRIEN: You're talking about Mourdock. No, no, I realize that every Democrat wants to talk about Mr. Mourdock.

SOCARIDES: I'm not even thinking of young Mr. Moran. I mean, this -- Mr. Moran was a young staffer. I mean, hi's a congressman's son. But this is like guy having a privately recorded conversation. Mr. Mourdock is making a statement in a debate, in a public forum, he's the candidate for Senate.

BLUMENTHAL: And as well when you talk about, for example, veterans' issues, the President openly, directly in the last dealt with the need to provide more jobs, and counseling, health care as well as training for our veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan -- but all veterans, no matter which war or when. I think that kind of real issue really matters to people in the swing states but also across the country. And I think that the economic issues will be dominant.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask a question of John Berman. He did a funny -- people talk about distractions, which is the thing you don't want to talk about, the looming discussion. Do you think he's correct that this is, John, a distraction, this tape from James O'Keefe, known to do these hit jobs and run around and do that kind of stuff?

BERMAN: I don't think it's a distraction in Virginia, in that congressional race.

O'BRIEN: How about nationally?

BERMAN: Nationally, I don't know how the legs it has. You have Debbie Wasserman Schultz this morning called it indefensible for the Democratic Party.

O'BRIEN: The first word she said.

BERMAN: In addition to distraction, the other word that I used is distanced. And the Democrats have distanced themselves from this as fast as they possible can.

I don't think there's anything more devious than voter fraud, though. And I think any time you see an example, where people are thinking about it or talking about it, it is a striking thing. It does not reflect well at all on either party.

O'BRIEN: Senator Richard Blumenthal is our guest this morning. Nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us. We certainly appreciate it.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You're in Stamford. You got to come in in person next time. We'd love having you join us in person.

BLUMENTHAL: I'd love to be there. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We appreciate that. You bet.

Still ahead, President Obama taking some time to campaign and actually sat down with Jay Leno. I think we got a clip of that. The President was joking that he's just now getting the hang of the debates now that they're over. And he said to Jay a little bit about his contentious relationship with Donald Trump, which is also kind of funny. Listen.


OBAMA: This all dates back to when we were growing up together in Kenya.



LENO: I got to give you that one. I've got to give you that one.

OBAMA: We had constant run-ins on the soccer field.

LENO: Yes.

OBAMA: You know, he wasn't very good and resented it.


O'BRIEN: He had some pretty good joke writers. I thought the jokes that both Romney and Obama had at the Al Smith Dinner were quite good. That was a good joke.

BERMAN: Jay Leno seemed genuinely impressed.

O'BRIEN: I think he literally was like, I'm going to give you that one.

All right. We got some other stories that are making news. What have you got?


Hurricane Sandy is now moving between Cuba and the Bahamas. It hit Cuba as a strong category 2 storm earlier this morning. Two deaths now being reported, one in Jamaica, the other in Haiti.

Meteorologist Rob Marciano is tracking Sandy.

A category 2 storm right now and, Rob, may be headed our way.

ROB MARCIANO AMS METEOROLOGIST: That's true. It's going to get through the Bahamas first. Category 2 with winds of 105 miles an hour. It's now off the coast of Cuba, moving northerly at 18 miles an hour. It will get close enough to Florida such that it will see some rainfall and wind as it does that.

Here's the forecast track from the National Hurricane Center. It will probably lose a little bit of strength over the next two days, getting into slightly cooler water, interacting with the jet stream, which is powerful this time of year. But it may dig deep enough to where it actually pulls what's left of Sandy. It could be very strong, back towards the Northeast -- anywhere from the Delmarva to Newfoundland, Canada, may very well feel a direct impact from this later next week.

It's a complicated situation and it's going to be a big one affecting millions of people. We'll try to keep you posted as we more info.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Rob. I'm watching that very carefully up here.

New developments on the September 11th terror attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in Libya. The 28-year-old suspected of taking part is now in custody in Tunisia. U.S. officials say the FBI will be allowed to question him. The suspect was reportedly posting details to the Benghazi attack on social media Web sites as it was happening.

We also have some new developments in the shooting of anti-Taliban activist Malala Yousufzai. Pakistani police say they have six people in custody, but the man they call the main shooting suspect, 23-year- old Atta Ullah Khan, is still at large.

We expect Malala to be reunited with her father and other family members today at a British hospital. She's making good progress right now we're told.

Giants' third baseman Pablo Sandoval could not have picked a bigger stage to have the game of his life. The "Panda" as he's known hit three home runs, three, leading the San Francisco Giants in 8-3 win over the Detroit Tigers in game one of the World Series.

Sandoval tied a World Series record held by Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols. That's pretty good company. He is the first to do it in his first three bats in a World Series game.

Game two tonight in San Francisco. Justin Verlander was on the mound for the Tigers last night. Maybe the best pitcher in baseball right now, he lost.

O'BRIEN: Yes, that was a kind of a shocker there, wasn't it?

BERMAN: Big, big win for the Giants.

O'BRIEN: He was unstoppable against my --


O'BRIEN: -- no, I meant Verlander, against my Yankees. Turnabout is fair play. Do I sound bitter? A little tiny. This much.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a new Abraham Lincoln movie, cover of "TIME" magazine and a new book because some say the candidates of today could learn a lot from Lincoln. We're going to talk to the "TIME" magazine offer, a new Lincoln biography. That's coming up next.

And who knew that science geeks were little monsters also? Researchers honor Lady Gaga in a way you will not believe. That's straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. At less than two tough weeks to go before Americans will finally decide who's going to be president for the next four years, with President Obama and Governor Romney making their final stops in swing states, there is one person who thinks both of them could look to the past for some good advice -- 150 years into the past, in fact.

David Von Drehle has a new article in "Time" magazine, in which he says, "As Obama and Mitt Romney reach the final hours of their race for the heavy prize of leading a polarized America through its next four years of challenges, they, and we, could learn a lot from the Lincoln of 1862."

The article's on the cover of the upcoming issue of "Time," which looks at why Lincoln is still relevant. And a preview of David's new book is out next week. It's called "Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Years."

It's nice to have you with us this morning.

DAVID VON DREHLE, AUTHOR: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Why 1862? You've said that that is sort of is this one year you would focus on, not just in your book but in the article as well. Why that year?

VON DREHLE: At the beginning of 1862, all the smartest people in the world who were looking dispassionately at crisis in America believed that the South was going to win its independence. The South had control of the most important commodity in the world: cotton. They had military leadership.

They had a huge expanse, bigger real estate than all of Europe conquered by Napoleon. And here was this unschooled frontier lawyer, with virtually no military experience, trying to raise an army from 16,000 to half a million in a year to go and somehow force these people back into the Union.

And people said that's impossible.

By the end of the year, Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he had tamed the Congress, he had complete control of his Cabinet. He had discovered Ulysses Grant (inaudible) --


O'BRIEN: What did he do? How did he do it?

VON DREHLE: Incredible patience. He -- incredible moderation. He worked from the center out. The one thing people in the North basically agreed on was that it was important to preserve the Union, partly because of the spirit of this American experiment that they were trying to save, partly for very practical reasons.

There was no good border for dividing the country up. They understood that if the country split one way, North and South, that it would probably split east and west and soon they would be like Europe, one war after another. And he started with Union and built out, built out, built out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible) that Lincoln had enormous freedom that the leaders today don't have. I mean, there was no media. There was no Twitter. I mean, he could lead in a way that leaders today can't. I mean, he -- you said he had patience. What leader can lead with patience today?

VON DREHLE: He had more media than we think he did. Every city in America had not one newspaper, but five, 10, 15 newspapers. And they were as partisan as any blogs or websites today. And they would take his words and twist them. So he had more message discipline -- you want to talk about that -- as a political virtue.

His message discipline was incredible, the time he would spend over every word he was going to say so that what went out from him was exactly what he wanted to say at any given time.

So -- and this was the beginning of the modern age. It's not the end of the past. He had the telegraph. You know, he invented the role of commander in chief. Before that, it was in the Constitution, but nobody knew what that meant, because the general would march out to fight in Mexico. He would soon be out of range of communication.

And whatever the President thought, he was going to -- the general was going to do what he wanted. Lincoln could be in communication every day.

O'BRIEN: What's the advice? I mean, if you could sit down with Governor Romney and President Obama and say, listen, I've just written this giant book on Lincoln; here's what you should take away. What would you tell them? I mean, you know, centrist, today?

VON DREHLE: I think -- look, you can't be more polarized than United States in 1862. They were shooting each other. They were killing each other in huge numbers. The carnage at Shiloh, more people killed in two days than had been killed in all American wars put together up till then.

You can't be more polarized, and yet Lincoln was saying no to his base, you know, the abolitionists, over and over again, all year long. No, it's too soon. We can't do this now. We have to show that we're with the mainstream. And that's how he moved the mainstream, was by being patient.

SOCARIDES: (Inaudible) why isn't he remembered as the sort of shape shifter that he was known for in his time? I remember being in Springfield, Illinois, with Obama, actually, when he was running for the Senate.

And he pointed and he said "That's where Abraham Lincoln crawled out a window because he didn't want to take a tough vote."

And I thought it was interesting that Obama appreciated that. But we don't remember him. We remember him as a politician of conviction, but that's not how he was known in his time.

VON DREHLE: I think it's because he had one conviction, which was he was going to save the United States of America. And anything that got him there, he would try it. He would be willing to talk about it, give it a try.

And so it's the goal. It's the future, is what I would say to either of the candidates, to both of them, that this is an optimistic, future-oriented country. And if you can focus on that, that's where people agree.

O'BRIEN: Pick one message and stick with it and no one will remember that you crawled out a window for a vote. The book is called "Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year." David Von Drehle, nice to have you with us this morning --


VON DREHLE: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: -- we appreciate it. And of course, "Time" magazine as well.

VON DREHLE: Thank you;.

O'BRIEN: We're going to take a break.

Still ahead this morning, the Obama campaign in a two-part strategy to get voters, including what it calls a grand bet. Is it too risky? We're going to talk about Ryan Lizza's new article, which is on that topic.

And also who could forgot him from "Dawson's Creek." Today James van der Beek, selling another hit show and he plays James van der Beek. Hmm. (Inaudible) live with the scoop behind this new show. It's called "Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23." We're back to that, straight ahead.


JAMES VAN DER BEEK: This is bigger than me.



O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. President Obama's campaigning in Florida today while Mitt Romney makes stops in Ohio. And we've just learned that the President will be campaigning next week with former President Clinton. It's all a final push to win the -- to try to win the swing states.

So Ryan has got a new article in "The New Yorker" called "The Final Push". Did you steal that from me just now?

RYAN LIZZA, "THE NEW YORKER" MAGAZINE: You know, we lonely writers don't do the headlines.

O'BRIEN: But you're talking about what you -- what could be a very risky strategy for the Obama team. What's that strategy that's so risky?

LIZZA: Well, Jim Acino (ph), he described the original strategy, the sort of nuke Romney strategy, you know, you got to spend over the spring and summer, what some $100 million just to define Romney when he was coming out of a tough primary, before he could define himself.

Look, this isn't brain -- this isn't rocket science, right? Every incumbent who is in a little bit of trouble tries to do this with their challenger. And I think -- this was important enough to -- that the decision to spend as much as they spent early on, on Romney, was important enough that very few decisions in the campaign actually went to President Obama.

And they actually had to take this to Obama, show him the budget and say, we're going to spend this much money and we might not have enough for the end game, but we think it's important enough to just assault him early on. And Obama himself had to sign off on that strategy.

Now, in the end they made up for it in the fundraising. And so that was the -- that was the bet part of it, that we're going to spend a huge chunk of our campaign treasury early on and we don't know if we're going to have the money at the end to complete the task.


O'BRIEN: (Inaudible) the money. How would you judge the strategy?

LIZZA: Well, I think if you look at what happened after that first debate, where Mitt Romney comes into that debate as the first candidate in seven elections, Democrat or Republican, to have his approval numbers upside down, that is, his disapproval in September was higher than his approval. It was the first time in the last seven elections that has happened to either candidate.

What happens in the debate? A week later all the polls show it reversed and he erases an entire year's worth of negative advertising. And that dynamic, the fact that he was able to do that, I think, is -- tells you that advertising these days just does not have the same impact it once did.

BERMAN: So, your piece, Ryan, goes into the vaunted ground game of the Obama team. And I've covered elections for a long time.

It used to be in the old days when a campaign talked about its ground game, I'm like, oh, man, they're in big trouble. But then it changed. In 2004 we saw the Bush team in Ohio do something remarkable and then we saw it again four years ago with the Obama team turning out votes. Is the ground game now an important part, and a crucial part, decisive part?

LIZZA: Yes, I mean ,the history is, you know, in '96, the union spent only money on -- all their money on ads. 2000, they spent it all on the ground game, disproportionately. Karl Rove, going into the 2000 election, he thought Bush was going to win and win significantly.

We all know what happened. He won only because the Supreme Court ended the recount in Florida. And he lost the national vote.

So the Republican Party got religion on the ground game. In 2004, as you point out, they invested a massive amount in it. In 2008, the Democrats did the same thing and the Obama campaign did something very unusual. They went out and tried to find new voters, young voters, African-Americans, Latinos. And they expanded the electorate, right? If they had relied on the 2004 electorate in 2008, they would have won probably about by a point. Instead he won by six points. And that's what they're trying to do again this time.

O'BRIEN: Well, you make the argument that the Obama ground game is really in great shape. How is Romney's ground game? I mean, what are they up against?

LIZZA: Well, look, they have over 700 field offices, the Obama folks do, in these swing states. And I don't know the exact number for Romney, but it's much, much, much lower. So these guys -- their belief in the ground game is all about people. They're all about recruiting people. It's like Amway. They tell their volunteers to go out and find new people. They're much more focused on that in the first year.


O'BRIEN: Thank you, Ryan.

LIZZA: Thank you, guys.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, hurricane Sandy is causing serious damage in Cuba and in Jamaica. We'll take a look at whether the eastern U.S. is up next.

A then Zoraida will give us an exclusive look inside look of the Statute of Liberty before it reopens to the public this end.


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN: This is my first trip to Lady Liberty. And my favorite part was making that climb with two disabled veterans, and this, sticking me head out of the crown to an amazing view.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Let's start with John Berman with a look at the day's top stories.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad.

Hurricane Sandy moving through Cuba and the Bahamas. It hit Cuba as a strong category 2 storm. Two deaths being blamed on Sandy, one in Haiti, one in Jamaica. Meteorologist Rob Marciano is tracking Sandy. Rob, this may be headed our way. MARCIANO: It will run at least parallel the U.S. coastline. It has to get through the Bahamas. It has 105-mile-an-hour winds, category 2 storm. It's lot a little bit of its intensity as it is going through could you see, but probably will get stronger as it moves over warm waters, close enough to Florida where you'll see tropical storm force winds beginning later on this afternoon and then lasting right through tomorrow morning.

And what it does once it gets past Cape Hatteras, that's up for speculation. What will drive it is some of the cold air driving it now down across the U.S., which may steer things a little bit backwards to where we might get some action across the east coast. More of our computer models today bring it back this we midweek, next week, as opposed to pushing it off to sea. That could have huge impacts. We'll keep you updated on that front.

BERMAN: Thanks, Rob. It has us nervous up here. I'll tell you that.

Now the highest ranking Republican to distance himself from Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, but he says it doesn't have to stay that way. Mourdock is under fire saying pregnancies caused by rape are intended by god. Senator McCain telling CNN's Anderson Cooper there is a way for the embattled Republican to recover from his controversial comment.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I think it depends on what he does. If he apologizes, said he misspoke, and he was wrong and asks the people to forgive him, then obviously I would be the first --


BERMAN: Mitt Romney taped a TV ad endorsing Mourdock. The Republican nominee says he do not agree with Mourdock's comments but so far has not asked for the advertisement to be pulled.

A shark that killed a surfer this week was a great white. Look at this photo. It shows a bite the shark took out of the surfboard. They believe the great white was at least 15 feet long. He was bitten in the upper torso while surfing with friends off the coast of California.

Lady Gaga immortalized by scientists. Botanists at Duke University have announced that they have named a new genus of fern after the pop diva. They said their want to do it because of her fervent defense of equality and individual expression. Plus the fern carrying a DNA sequence that spells Gaga. I've really made it when someone names a fern after me.



O'BRIEN: Let's get to the latest jobless numbers in to CNN. Christine Romans has that for us. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Soledad. We give you these every Thursday, the first time unemployment claims filed in the previous week. This week it's 369,000 jobs down 23,000 from the week before. We like to lock at the trend, Soledad, because these get really complicated, especially when so many people are watching them so close to the election. This chart goes back to 2007. You can so the huge spike, 2008 and 2009. And now we've been bandying between about 350,000 to 400,000 first-time unemployment benefit benefits the past couple of months or so. We'll keep watching that for you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Christine, thank you.

Here is a live picture of the statue of liberty -- there it is. The landmark has a new look after a year-long multi-million makeover. Zoraida had a chance to get an exclusive peek. Good morning.

SAMBOLIN: God morning to you. The statue opens to the public this weekend on its 126th birthday. I got to see what's new inside lady liberty along with some of our wounded warriors.


SAMBOLIN: The statue of liberty's crown and interior have been closed for a year. But for retired Marine Corps Larry Hughes, it seemingly has been longer. That's because the observation level of this iconic symbol of freedom with his not wheelchair accessible until today.


SAMBOLIN: Hughes, a Vietnam vet, is taking the inaugural ride in a newly installed elevator to the statue's observation deck.

HUGHES: Just to be here was something that never really entered into my mind, because I hate to be turned down. I hate to be rejected. So I'm no longer being rejected. I'm being here.

SAMBOLIN: The new elevator is just part of a year-long $30 million renovation that also includes upgrading stairwells and making safety improvements. The end result, a more accessible Lady Liberty that will allow an additional 26,000 visitors each year a chance to enjoy her spectacular views.

KIRK BAUER, VIETNAM VETERAN: When these adaptions are made, it opens up tremendous opportunities for all of us.

SAMBOLIN: I joined Kirk Bauer, who lost his leg in Vietnam, and Jeffrey Acosta, who was suffered injuries to his hip from a roadside bomb in Iraq on the 146 step climb to the top.

So you stuck your head out of?

BAUER: The crown.

SAMBOLIN: Very cool. Is this what you expected?

BAUER: Fantastic. Actually, it's more tight than I thought looking up. But it is just incredible view.

SAMBOLIN: The renovation was full of challenges because of the statue's location and because they had to do it all without drilling into any part of the historic structure.

MICHAEL MILLS, ARCHITECT: It was a challenge, huge challenge, because we had to envision all of this, make this building more safe, more code compliant, more accessible, more welcoming and do it in a way that respected the historic fabric.

JESSE ACOSTA, IRAQ VETERAN: It's very impressive to see what they did, to see the investment in a world heritage site, to allow those with perceived disabilities, those that need access to see some of our historical sites, to be able to touch it, see it that much closer is really wonderful to be here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys been down here?

SAMBOLIN: For the statue's superintendent, David Luchsinger, this moment is among the most memorable.

DAVID LUCHSINGER, SUPERINTENDENT, STATUE OF LIBERTY: To be able to welcome our veterans home and welcome them here and actually get veterans up into the crown and up into the observation deck is just amazing.

SAMBOLIN: Grateful construction workers saluting America's heroes on this historic visit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to give you a token of thanks, first, for coming out and visiting with us, but, most importantly, for the service and dedication you've done for our country.

BAUER: They were thanking us. We should be thanking them. They are the ones that are making it possible. They're the hands that made this monument open to everyone, including those with disabilities.

SAMBOLIN: Restored Lady Liberty truly representing a symbol of freedom for all to enjoy.


O'BRIEN: I love the music at the end. Emotional.

SAMBOLIN: It's very emotional. Work on the monument is expected to be completed early next year. If you are interested in visiting the statue of liberty's crown, it is open on Sunday. Tickets are available. However, this is a huge however, demand is so high the national park service says they've already sold out through the end of the year. I say don't give up. You never know.

What an emotional experience it was for everybody yesterday. I want to mention this. I forgot this this morning. The guys who participated in this, they're part of Disabled Sports USA. And what we didn't talk about here, which is very important to them, they say when you are disabled and severely disabled in the case of these three gentlemen, you've got to get out there right away again. So part of it with his for these two guys to be able to go up those 146 steps. That was a huge accomplishment for them. They were also able to also summit Denali. So they say you have to get out there and be part of society again. It was incredible.

O'BRIEN: Lovely piece.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate it.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, he's the star of "Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23." But you may remember him from this show, yes, "Dawson's Creek." We're going to be talking to James Van Der Beek coming up.


OBRIEN: We know Jon Huntsman jr. From his failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination. But his billionaire father, a four-time cancer survivor, is on his own campaign. Trying to give hundreds of millions of dollars to find cure. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has his story on today's "Human Factor."


JON HUNTSMAN, SR: My name is Jon Huntsman.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If the name sounds familiar it's no coincidence. This is Jon Huntsman Sr. father of former Republican presidential candidate Jon Hunstman, Jr. Hunstman says he was born with nothing and describes his upbringing as tough. 42 years ago, he started a small plastics company in southern California.

HUNSTMAN: In 1973, a small team that worked with me, we invented the Big Mac hamburger container.

GUPTA: Over the years, that little company has grown into the Huntsman Corporation, one of the largest petrochemical plastics and industrial firms in the world. Huntsman describes himself as a deal junkie, who has also developed an addiction for giving. He has donated more than $1.2 billion so far to thousands of charities and individuals in the United States and abroad. His main charitable focus for nearly two decades, building the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

HUNTSMAN: I just wanted to have the best in the world. And I believe that we're -- that's where we are today.

GUPTA: That's because cancer has hit his family hard. His mother died from cancer. As did his father and stepmother. And Huntsman wasn't spared. He has survived prostate cancer, mouth cancer and two types of skin cancer. So he built a state-of-the-art cancer center that uses cutting edge technology to treat patients and has top scientists searching for cures.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE PATIENT: Because everyone is so happy.



GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay gupta, CNN, reporting.


O'BRIEN: Oh, Michelle Williams.

BERMAN: Are they going to play the whole intro?


O'BRIEN: We're waiting for James Van Der Beek to come out.

BERMAN: Maybe we could all talk about what our favorite "Dawson's Creek" episodes were. Really?


O'BRIEN: If you look at that show and why he has done so well in his new show called "The B in Apartment 23," in that new show he makes fun of himself from "Dawson's Creek." He plays himself. When you look at those people who were all elevated to stardom from that show, who did we see there, Michelle Williams, who won a Golden Globe, Katie Holmes, of course. Sometimes she's on the front page for tough things.

BERMAN: She's been in the news.

O'BRIEN: I think his strategy of -- he doesn't really mock himself, but plays himself in a way.

ROMANS: It's a daring thing to play yourself as an aging sort of fading star. That's a great daring thing for him to be doing.

BERMAN: It's a hard part to play. It would be harder to cast someone else in the role of James Van Der Beek in this show.

O'BRIEN: And he's joining us this morning, let's bring him in. Come on over, James. We've been showing clips. That's okay. We'll give you a mike.

BERMAN: Quite an entrance.

O'BRIEN: Nice to have you with us. I'm well. We got news you were in our elevator.


O'BRIEN: We were playing an entire episode of" Dawson's Creek."

VAN DER BEEK: I heard this song in the elevator that's been haunting me since I was 20 years old.

O'BRIEN: Have a seat right there, next to John, nice to have you. We were talking about what it's like to play yourself on your new show. Is it fun? Was it weird to get that kind of pitch to do that?

VAN DER BEEK: Yes. Honestly, it's the most liberating, healthiest thing in the world.

O'BRIEN: Why liberating?

VAN DER BEEK: Everyone, especially actors, can afford to take themselves a little less seriously from time to time. And so it's really therapeutic to just kind of destroy the ego a little bit every single day.

O'BRIEN: You had a funeral for your character.

VAN DER BEEK: We did, a Viking funeral. We set a bunch of memorabilia on fire in Central Park, as one does.

O'BRIEN: Was it liberating to see the character go up in smoke?

VAN DER BEEK: You know, it's really -- I've had an interesting relationship with the whole phenomenon. "Dawson's Creek" is something that happened to me when I was 20. I started out doing theater here in New York when I was 16. And a couple years later I got this pilot on this show on a network I never heard of. And then six years later, I had this thing kind of following me. And, you know, now at 35, it's fun to appreciate just the fact that anybody remembers anything that I did ten years ago.

O'BRIEN: Is it true that the shot of you crying, which everybody knows, is the most -- what did you say, downloaded meme?

VAN DER BEEK: Is that true?

O'BRIEN: The research says that, sir.

VAN DER BEEK: It's so funny.


BERMAN: For you personally, it was almost like too much of a good thing, right? Then you had to redefine your brand, right? I read that you did a lot of parts against type in order to get people to think of you differently.

VAN DER BEEK: You know, I've always enjoyed shaking it up. For me, doing the same thing for too long makes me crazy. So, I don't know. I always felt like I had some tricks in my bag. It's been fun at times to -- it's a lot harder to get famous than it is to change an image, I think. When you have something going for you that people are expecting and then you're able to pull something out that they don't, that's fun.

O'BRIEN: Which brings us to our new show. Talk about playing yourself but at the same time, going against -- let's play that.


CARTOON CHARACTER: I love ice cream.

DREAMA WALKER, ACTRESS: This is the invite for your Halloween Party?

KRYSTEN RITTER, ACTRESS: James is terrified of Halloween.

VAN DER BEEK: I hate being scared. Hate it. Hate it worse than I hate applause for other people.

RITTER: Every year James throws a positivity party where we celebrate life and happiness.

VAN DER BOOK: Absolutely no scary costumes, just happy ones. It started when I was a kid when my dad played a VHS tape of Halloween on Christmas, ruined two holidays at once.


O'BRIEN: Tell me a little bit about this new show and the chemistry, because what they've done is kind of make a really edgy show -- it's getting great critical reviews.

VAN DER BEEK: Thank you. yes. It's been -- it's the most fun I've ever had on any job.

O'BRIEN: Every actor says that, it's the most fun, I'm working with the best people.

VAN DER BEEK: If they're on another job, they're lying.


VAN DER BEEK: We work pretty short hours. And the writing is just really consistently funny. It's edgy. It's all of the brain child, of Nahnatchka Khan, who worked on "American Dad." So it's that vein of comedy. It's centered around the two girls, Krysten Ritter and Dreama Walker, and I'm for all intents and purposes I'm the wacky friend who lives down the street.

BERMAN: Some of the jokes are fairly shocking. I watched last season, and my wife and I were like, wow! Is there ever anything that you find too shocking? Is there anything that gets left on the cutting room floor?

VAN DER BEEK: Yes. Every once in a while they tell us we've gone a little to far.

O'BRIEN: This is cable. You can say it now.


O'BRIEN: This is cable. You can say some of those jokes, right?

VAN DER BEEK: Oh, really? Well -- so you know our challenge then becomes when they tell us you can't say that, to come up with something potentially worse that they can't argue with. O'BRIEN: James Van Der Beek, it's so nice to have you with us this morning, thank you for joining us. We have to take a short break. Thanks. We're back in just a moment.