Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Deadly, Tornados; EF-4 Tornado Devastates Illinois Town; GOP Hopefuls Face Biggest Battle Yet; Maine's Olympia Snowe Leaving Senate; Not So Super Tuesday For Romney; Davy Jones Dies At 66; Imposing Price Controls On Gasoline?

Aired February 29, 2012 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now, breaking news, an unfolding tornado disaster, a series of killer storms sweeping across the Midwest before dawn, and right now, there's a desperate search for survivors.

Also, the danger isn't over. The storms now threatening the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. And people are being warned to brace for severe and possibly deadly weather.

Plus, politics, the Republican presidential hopefuls are gearing up for their biggest battle yet, Super Tuesday. And the next six days could see the fiercest fight in this rather tumultuous campaign.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following the breaking news this hour, a tornado outbreak that scraped parts of the Midwest this morning, killing at least nine people in Illinois and Missouri and injuring more than 100. Hardest hit, Harrisburg, Illinois, where at least six people died, including two children.

Within the last half-hour, we learned the tornado that ripped through the town was a category EF-4, with winds, get this, up to 170 miles an hour, and as wide as two football fields.

In the last hour, the mayor spoke at a grief-stricken news conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC GREGG, MAYOR OF HARRISBURG, ILLINOIS: We have suffered the loss of lives. We have suffered many injuries, and we have suffered millions of dollars worth of damage.

But, first and foremost, the loss of our lives breaks my heart today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In neighboring Missouri, the governor puts the damage in the tens of millions of dollars. There's also damage in Kansas and in Kentucky, where the National Guard has been called out.

Let's get the very latest right now. Our severe weather expert, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers, is watching what's going on.

And it is heartbreaking to see it. All of a sudden it happens, not a whole lot of warning. What's going on now?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I think the most frightening part is that it happened in the middle of the night. People are sleeping.

Those tornado warning sirens that are outside, they're not made to wake you up. They're made to tell you to go inside. People were already inside. They died in their homes, in their beds because they either didn't hear it, they didn't have a NOAA weather radio. It's the most death-defying thing you can do, especially in the Southeast that happens every spring.

These storms keep going in the nighttime. You talk about Nebraska, Oklahoma, about sunset, the storms die off. In the Southeast, especially right here in Harrisburg, in Illinois, that's kind of the South, I know it's Midwest, but they did not stop. They kept going all night long and even at 5:00 this morning they were still rotating with significant tornadoes on the ground.

Wolf, I just want to give you an idea of this storm. From where the snow is, to the east and to the west, we're talking 1,600 miles. From where the storms now are in Louisiana, all the way back up here to the top of the next watch box, almost up to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that's 900 miles far. So the most significant stuff will still be here, West Virginia, Ohio, back into Western Virginia, and then through Nashville, then down into Mississippi, and Alabama. That's where these watches will go through the nighttime.

And these warnings will continue. You need to have that NOAA weather radio. If you don't buy one, it's the best $20 or $30 you will ever spend. Buy one for somebody else too because it could certainly save a life.

BLITZER: But even if you hear it, Chad, in the middle of nine night and you're sleeping, are you supposed to run to a bathroom, get into the bathtub? What are you supposed to do?

MYERS: Believe it or not, everybody that died here in this storm, they all had warning of at least 10 minutes. These storms were big.

But sometimes you won't get a warning on a very small 80, 90- mile-per-hour storm. They just won't show up on Doppler radar. Maybe they will be too far away. At 5:00 in the morning, there are no spotters out there. But these were big tornadoes. These were 170- mile-per-hour storms.

And so those were on Doppler radar. Weather Service put the warnings out. People didn't get the warnings. they didn't heed it, and sometimes if you're a small building or not a very strong building, 170-mile-per-hour storm isn't even survivable even if you are in the right place. Let's say you are in the bathtub away from all the windows. Sometimes that's a big enough storm that you just can't survive it. You have to be underground, and many of these people did not have basements.

BLITZER: Chad, this is still a developing story. We will get back to you. Stand by.

CNN's Lisa Sylvester is also looking at the devastation these tornadoes left behind.

Lisa, what are you seeing?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.

Communities in Illinois, Kansas and Missouri were hit particularly hard, at least six people in Harrisburg, Illinois, and three in the state of Missouri were killed, and those numbers may go up as rescue crews dig through the collapsed buildings.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): It was still dark outside when this twister swept near Wichita, Kansas. In the daylight, you could see the path carved out by the storm, pickup trucks crushed, homes arbitrarily leveled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden, the windows went out just like a big shotgun went off. And I told my wife hit the floor, and she goes, I'm down already.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just devastating. I don't know. We pulled up and seen the roof that was off. Pretty much we knew at that point it was a lost cause.

SYLVESTER: In Harrisburg, Illinois, the pictures speak for themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's unbelievable. I can't believe the measure of damage it did to this building. It's like there was just no structure, and it just took it completely out. As you can tell, it's total devastation. I have not ever seen anything like it all the way down through this whole area, and I'm just glad it happened at night, when no one was at work.

BILL SUMMERS, HARRISBURG FIRE CHIEF: We were able to get a lot of people out of the houses. It's just unreal, it's like a war zone.

SYLVESTER: A wall of the local hospital is now gone. Fortunately staff had notice of the storm and moved patients to safety. Nurse Jane Harper took these pictures.

JANE HARPER, TORNADO VICTIM: But I sure heard the explosion when the walls blew out and the windows went and the south door that's an electric door got blown in, and the ceiling tiles started to fall. And the water started to splurge, and the fire alarm came on. And all the power went out.

SYLVESTER: The tornado also sheared homes in Indiana and Missouri. Branson, Missouri's tourist district hit by the storm.

Here's KOCO reporter Wendell Owens.

WENDELL OWENS, REPORTER: Storms did rip through this main part of Branson, Missouri, the entertainment district, the main strip. A lot of theaters were here, a lot of plazas.

SYLVESTER: The storm front moved on, leaving behind devastation and disbelief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To see how it just jumped and went through and took out a little bit of this town and then skipped over and just disappeared, it's just unbelievable.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Very tragic instead.

The Harrisburg police chief announced they are imposing a curfew tonight to try to keep folks there safe, and that will remain in effect until 6:00 a.m. tomorrow -- Wolf. .

BLITZER: Heartbreaking stories and a lot more in Branson, Missouri.

It was devastating there. One musician narrowly escaped. I want to bring this report from our affiliate Dave Davis of KOTV.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVE DAVIS, KOTV REPORTER (through translator): Denny Strickland's (ph) day job is a musical performer, but when he arrived in Branson last night little did he know would he also become a survivor. Denny and his driver were in this tour van when the tornado hit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First I heard the rocks immediately start hitting. And before I knew it, I heard a loud roar, and it was terrible. And before I knew it, I was upside down. My driver, a friend of mine, he was still in the back. So I ended up having to pull him out.

I felt like somebody swooped me up. I immediately fell on my back. I'm pretty sore between my shoulder blades. I cut my wrist. The counter top slid off and got me. And it was just a rush.

DAVIS: Denny found out later that his tour van had been picked up by the tornado and thrown across the road, with he and his driver inside.

He says he was lucky to survive. That's the general feeling around town.

(on camera): Just thankful you're OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, and I think a lot of people are. It's a mess.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm on the second floor, and you could hear building tops just tear open. And it was just like my mom refused to come out of the house and stuff. I'm like, mom, you need to come. Let's go.

DAVIS: Despite gaping holes in buildings and debris everywhere, everyone was a survivor in Branson today. There were no deaths. Now with tourism season around the corner, it's time to start picking up the pieces and rebuild.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The season's going to be hurting for everybody this year, and I don't even know how -- this is devastating for Branson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Dave Davis from our affiliate KOTV reporting.

To find out more about how you can help victims of the tornadoes, go to CNN.com/impact. There you will find details about organizations making a difference and what you can do to help those in need, CNN.com/impact.

We're staying on top of the breaking news. We will have more, including surveying the damage from the air, plus the latest on the search for survivors of these killer storms.

Also, the super high stakes on Super Tuesday, why the next six days could see the fiercest fighting yet in the Republican race for the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of the Midwest, at least nine people dead, more than 100 injured, horrible tornadoes. The story is still developing, and we will get back and show you what's going on. Stand by for that.

In the meantime, let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Gas prices rose for the 22nd day in a row, inching ever closer now to a national average of $4 a gallon.

AAA says the nationwide average stands at $3.73.

Gas prices are up 14 percent so far this year.

Gasoline is already topping $4 a gallon in several states, California, Alaska and Hawaii and there are reports of $5 gasoline here in the New York are out on Long Island. Some are suggesting before it's over gasoline could top $6.

Gas prices are mainly rising due to soaring oil prices. The market is reflecting fear that tensions with Iran will lead to a war that would disrupt oil supplies.

Signs of an improving economy, growing worldwide demand and speculators have also driven oil prices higher.

We've been here before. Way back in the 1970s, the Nixon and Ford administrations imposed price controls on gasoline. They were reacting to rising gas prices caused when OPEC cut back its production.

But what followed was interminably long lines at gas stations and an artificial shortage of fuel.

Experts say the most likely outcome of price controls is gas rationing, like what we saw almost 40 years ago.

People panicked, wanted to make sure they didn't run out of gas. Gas stations only stayed open a few hours a day to empty what they had on hand.

And since they couldn't raise prices, they would close shop when they sold out.

And those who didn't want to wait in those long gas lines bought gas on the black market at exorbitant prices.

But as gasoline prices continue to climb and consumers feel a more intense pain at the pump, there could be pressure on the government to intervene once again.

Just today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she is skeptical about what she calls the reasons for the increase in gas prices. She says it deserves careful attention from Congress. Good luck with that.

Anyway, here's the question: Should price controls be imposed on gasoline?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thanks very much.

I want to get back to the breaking news out of the Midwest right now.

Joining us on the phone is the sheriff of Saline County, Sheriff Keith Brown. Saline County is home of the devastated city of Harrisburg, Illinois.

Sheriff, my heart goes out to you and all the folks who have been so devastated by these tornadoes.

First of all, is it still the number six confirmed deaths in Harrisburg?

KEITH BROWN, SALINE COUNTY SHERIFF: Yes, sir. As of just a few minutes ago, consulted with the coroner's office, and we have six known to be dead. Four female, and two males have been reported so far today.

BLITZER: Just on a personal note, where were you at the time of these tornadoes? Were you anywhere near these tornadoes in Harrisburg?

BROWN: My residence is approximately half a mile from the path of the tornado, and, you know, of course we had just put out a Nixle alert to the community and the storm sirens had been activated about -- just after 4:30, the National Weather Service identified a storm in our area and identified as a potential for severe weather, too. And I was up at that time and it was -- it turned out to be a long day, and very devastating day to several families here in our community.

BLITZER: I'm sure. The pictures are really awful, the pictures were showing right now.

When you say a Nixle, an alarm went off, a siren went off, in other words, is that audible in the middle of the night, 4:30 in the morning for people in deep sleep? Can they hear that?

BROWN: No, it's actually the outside sirens are basically for outside people or those people that are close enough to hear. Of course we always advocate for folks to have NOAA weather radios. That's your inside the house alarm system to be notified when these things are happening. And there are a lot of folks depend on outside warning devices or they don't have anything.

In our particular county, we use an alarm system called Nixle, it's an alarm or alert system to the community. And that's a telephone, e-mail, text message type of phone alarm that -- it was obviously the tornado struck the southeastern part of town, and destroyed an apartment complex. That's where most of our fatalities were in and around that area.

BLITZER: Have you ever seen anything like this in your community, Sheriff?

BROWN: Not in this community. I was a state police officer for 26 years, so I've been sent to a number of tornadoes, a number of devastating disasters over the years. But this is the first one at home that I've had to deal with.

BLITZER: What does your community need now? Describe what it's going through.

BROWN: Well, we're working through the unified command systems and working through our needs. Amron (ph) has approximately 300 trucks on the way here. Those -- we have a tremendous amount.

The outpouring from the community at large in southern Illinois, at large, has been very good. At this point, the Red Cross is feeding our emergency workers and those displaced. The Baptist Church here in Harrisburg has put up cots and those who may be displaced will be able to find a place there.

We're working through it as communities do, and we have a plan in place and we're following through on our plan.

BLITZER: Are there still individuals that are missing right now or is everyone been accounted for?

BROWN: The information is we have all accounted for at this time. Of course when you live in a rural farming community, those not inside Harrisburg itself, we're not found anybody or have a report to us f anybody else missing. But when you have a rural community, oftentimes it's a while before you're notified of someone who lives in a remote area and maybe alone or hadn't have a large family that would check on them.

BLITZER: How big of a community is Harrisburg and the surrounding area? How many people live there?

BROWN: We're just under 10,000 for the communities, and just under 30,000 for the county.

BLITZER: Sheriff, good luck to everyone in Saline County, especially in Harrisburg. We appreciate you sharing a few moments with us. We'll check back with you if that's OK.

BROWN: I certainly appreciate your concern and we certainly appreciate the prayers out for those that were lost in this terrible disaster.

BLITZER: Thank you, Sheriff -- Sheriff Keith brown of Saline County, which is the home of Harrisburg, Illinois, in southern Illinois.

The tornado devastation may not be over. The storm is pushing east, and at least six states could still be hit. We're going to tell you where it's headed. Stay with us for that.

Also, to see the scope of the storm's damage, you need an eye in the sky. A police helicopter pilot shows us the powerful images he captured on video.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Republican presidential candidates are gearing up for their biggest battle yet. Super Tuesday, only six days away, when 10 states will hold their primaries and their caucuses, 437 delegates at stake.

Mitt Romney heads into it with a much needed campaign boost, winning two primaries last night. But he faces some serious challenges in some of the next -- some of next week's contest.

Our national political correspondent Jim Acosta is following all of this for us.

What's the very latest?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mitt Romney may have some momentum after those twin victories in Michigan and Arizona. But now, the trick for Romney is to make sure that big mo doesn't turn into another uh-oh.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you like to check the lineup?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, fire it up.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Under the Midwestern microscope, once again, Mitt Romney toured a factory in the critical Super State of Ohio. Where better to get hands on with the equipment?

ROMNEY: I've got to press a button, which will be my heavy lift in terms of manufacturing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There it goes.

ACOSTA: For Romney, the real heavy lift comes in less than a week, when 10 states are up for grabs on Super Tuesday. But polls show the map could get messy with different states favoring different contenders.

Romney's pitch -- listen to the voters who put them over the top in Michigan.

ROMNEY: Interestingly, the people who said the economy and jobs were their number one issue, they voted for me overwhelmingly. And that's one of the reasons I'm running.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're out here today heading to Super Tuesday with some wind at our back and it's going to blow.

ACOSTA: Rick Santorum insists the wind is still at his back. He's claiming when all of the delegates are allocated out of Michigan, he'll come out of that contest with a tie.

SANTORUM: And here's the really important part: delegates -- because that's what this is all about. And we actually won half the congressional districts, so we're going to walk off Michigan with 15 delegates, and he's going to walk out with 15 delegates. We tie.

ACOSTA: But according to CNN's exit polls coming out of Michigan, the former Pennsylvania senator still has challenges. As expected, Romney won among suburban and wealthy voters, but Romney also captured the Catholic vote, a blow to Santorum who shares the same faith.

Santorum's strengths were self identified very conservative voters. But he also won union members, even Democrats -- a reminder of the controversial robocall he ran in Michigan that appealed to non- Republicans to cross over and make mischief.

But it's Newt Gingrich who may have the most on his mind. The former speaker hinted his campaign could be finished if he doesn't win his home state of Georgia on Super Tuesday.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That is the key building block that we have to have to move forward in the presidential campaign. So, Georgia really does matter, and the campaigning we'll be doing for the next few days really does matter.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: As for all of that crossover mischief in Michigan, it turns out there may better more to come, Wolf. Georgia, Ohio and Tennessee all have open primaries. That explains why the Romney campaign staged a conference call today to call on Rick Santorum for no more dirty tricks.

And one final note on that delegate math that Rick Santorum was talking about, we should note, our CNN polling unit at this point estimates a 13-13 delegate tie coming off Michigan with still four delegates unallocated. So, those delegates have not been allocated, so we can say it's a 15-15 tie as the senator is saying, Wolf.

BLITZER: Not yet. We'll see what happens. All right. Jim, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Now that the campaign in Michigan is over, shifting to Super Tuesday, what did we learn about the close race in Michigan last night about these two candidates?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, let's follow up a little bit on what Jim Acosta was talking about because what we've learned are things that we've known, which is that these two men, Romney and Santorum, have completely different constituencies.

So, take a look at Romney supporters for example. They tend to be older, Wolf, 50 and older. They also tend to be wealthier -- incomes, $100,000 and above are Romney Republicans.

When you ask them what the key quality is, defeating Barack Obama. So, Romney voters care an awful lot about electability.

But let's look at Santorum voters from our exit polls. You'll see, they identify themselves as very conservative, the most conservative voters in Republican primaries. They are blue collar. Incomes: 100,000 and below.

And when you ask them what is the key quality for a presidential candidate? Instead of saying electability, they care much more about strong moral character.

So what Romney has to do is convince these conservative Republicans, like Santorum, that he's just as conservative. And Santorum has to convince the Romney voters that he has a fiscal policy and that he is not just a cultural conservative, because they don't want that.

BLITZER: So, if you're Romney, and you're looking ahead to next Tuesday, Super Tuesday, what's the big price?

BORGER: Ohio, Ohio, Ohio -- you've heard that. Obviously, Ohio is a blue collar state, big battleground state in the general election, generally regarded as the bellwether. It's kind of Michigan without the family ties for Mitt Romney.

Another thing Mitt Romney has to think about is that he needs to win in the South. Now, he's probably going to win in the state of Virginia because he's on the ballot. Santorum is not, Gingrich is not, Ron Paul is on the ballot. But you have to give Romney Virginia.

But there are lots of Republicans saying, you know what? The Republicans Party is strong in the South. He's got to make a play. If he can't win Georgia because Newt Gingrich may have that, then maybe he ought to go for Tennessee, maybe he ought to go for Oklahoma, but he has to prove that he's a candidate of some depth and breadth, Wolf.

BLITZER: More than 400 delegates at stake, Tuesday.

BORGER: Yes. We'll be back here.

BLITZER: Ten states. We will be for hours and hours. Thanks very much.

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news this hour of the tornado outbreak that's killed at least nine people in Missouri and Illinois, with more deadly weather possible in the coming hours.

A helicopter pilot Bill DeReamer from our affiliate WLKY has been surveying the damage in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, from the air. He's joining us on the phone right now.

Bill, we have powerful images from your helicopter. Walk us there you what you saw.

BILL DEREAMER, WLKY HELICOPTER PILOT (via telephone): Well, Wolf, the video you're looking at right now, this is an area that's about five miles south of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, just on the east side of Interstate 65.

And this is a trucking business you can see here that was totally wiped out by this tornado that came through. It's confirmed an EF-2 right now. You can see the video. I'm looking at it right now on a television. This is very powerful video, a tornado came through and uprooted semitrailers that were in the parking lot. There were tanker trucks that were there.

The tornado was probably I'm guesstimating (sic) maybe 1/16 of a mild in width, but it was about a mile and a half in length. So is just an industrial that you're looking at here.

But it also did take out some residential areas and there were some homes there that were completely levelled. One that really stuck out in my mind was a cinder block home that was completely destroyed, taken all the way down to the ground.

So this tornado that came through this area about 30 miles south of Louisville was very devastating.

BLITZER: What about casualties? Do you know the numbers right now in terms of those I don't know if anyone was killed, but those injured?

DEREAMER: Well, that's the good news, if there is any in a situation like this. There are no recorded injuries that we know of at this time. The video that you've been looking at here is one area just south of Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

We actually went to two other areas, one was another area east of here, Hodgenville, Kentucky, and that tornado hit a more residential area where it was taking out homes perhaps 10 to 12 homes in that area. Luckily no injuries there.

Another more rural that was called (inaudible) Town that was west of Elizabethtown and that took out about five to six formed structures and homes there.

So there were three isolated areas, luckily there were no confirmed injuries, but very devastating results of this tornado that came through.

BLITZER: I don't know if you have seen tornado destruction like this before, but how is the community dealing with it?

DEREAMER: Well, I think as expected. I mean, there's first shock to set in, but the thing you'll see in these rural areas, which Elizabethtown is not that large of a town, but most of the time you'll see these folks will get out.

Neighbors will be helping neighbors, usually a lot of cars around, people go out and even leave their destruction and go to try to help a neighbor. That's the good thing about what we typically see in Kentucky and the surrounding areas.

Neighbors getting out and helping neighbors, everybody wants to do a helping hand. But I can tell you, there's a lot of destruction and there will be a lot of cleanup in the days to come.

BLITZER: Bill DeReamer is a helicopter pilot with our affiliate WLKY. Good luck to all the folks there. Bill, thanks very much for helping us better appreciate what's going on.

DEREAMER: Great, good talking to you.

BLITZER: We're going to stay on top of the breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We keep getting new information on the search for survivors, the ongoing severe weather threat now facing a very big part of the country.

Plus Super Tuesday, posing a super challenge for Mitt Romney. We're going to talk about that and more in our "Strategy Session." Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: One of the Senate's most moderate members is retiring. We're talking about Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe known for working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. She said she's had enough of the my way or the highway mentality in Washington. That's a quote, her words.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash has covered Senator Snow on Capitol Hill. Dana, her announcement really took a lot of people by surprise. What's been the reaction?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It took them by surprise big time. Republican leaders even those closest to her said that they have no idea she was going to retire at the end of this year.

She had a lot of campaign cash, a good staff in place, it's a pretty clean shot at re-election at the end of this year, but she had some searing words for the polarization here, the reason why she wants to go.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Flashback, September 2009.

SENATOR OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: I want to do my job, and our job is to sit here and do it as long as it takes.

BASH: A frustrated Olympia Snowe out on a limb, working with Democrats on health care reform.

SNOWE: People in this country are rightfully worried to whether or not we can possibly get this right.

BASH: Snowe was the only Republican to vote for the president health care plan on this committee. She ultimately opposed the bill, but was the last Republican trying to work across the aisle on the issue. It makes her surprise retirement announcement so telling.

SNOWE: People are deeply frustrated and angered by the inability of elected officials here in Washington to get together.

BASH: The Maine Republican tells CNN even she can no longer stomach the partisanship.

SNOWE: That failure, I think, has really eroded the public's confidence about the direction of this country.

BASH: Just eight years ago, Snowe was a part of the gang of 14, bipartisan senators trying to unblock traditional nominees. Now centrist like Snowe are already a rare breed, and five other moderate senators are also leaving this year including Joe Lieberman.

SENATOR JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: People are sort of pulled apart by this process and end up in warring camps.

BASH: In recent partisan years, Snowe's attempts to find compromise sometimes angered both parties. In 2007, she challenged the Bush Iraq policy.

SNOWE: The administration has not placed the emphasis on the political resolution that's absolutely essential.

BASH: And during the health care battle when Democratic negotiators tried to woo her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever Senator Snowe wants to do, I'm for her.

BASH: Some liberal Democrats lashed out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the United States of America. This is not the United States of Maine.

BASH: After 33 years in Congress, Snowe knows her departure is a bad omen for the institution she still loves.

SNOWE: Even in the most perilous times facing our country, we couldn't get together.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now Snowe says that she still sees a, quote, "vital need for the political center in this country," but Wolf, she said she just can't see dedicating another term, six more years of her life to politics here because she says it's become the lowest common denominator of politics. Again, very telling that something like Olympia Snowe has simply had it with Congress.

BLITZER: Yes, very telling indeed. It says a lot about what's going on in Washington. I know lot of people will miss her in the United States Senate. Dana, thanks very, very much.

We're going to go back to the breaking news, parts of the Midwest devastated by powerful tornadoes. We're talking to a woman who had the walls of her home completely ripped off.

The most important day in the super close Republican campaign is only a few days away. Who is leading in these key states? That and more coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get back to the race for the White House in our "Strategy Session" right now. Joining us our CNN contributor, the Democratic strategist, James Carville and the Republican strategist, Terry Holt.

Santorum may have lost, didn't get enough votes in Arizona and Michigan last night to carry the popular vote in both states, but he's looking relatively good coming up for Tuesday, guys.

Look at this, some recent polls in Ohio, for example, a Quinnipiac University poll, Santorum 36, Romney 29, Gingrich 17 and Paul 11. In Tennessee also next Tuesday, this is a week ago Santorum 38, Romney 20, Paul 15, Gingrich 13.

In Oklahoma, this is a couple weeks ago, Santorum 38, Romney 20, Paul 15, Gingrich 13. This is by no means over. We could be going on and on. Terry, you're a Republican. Is that your assessment?

TERRY HOLT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, take all that polling and throw it away because after last night, I think that we're going to see a lot of change in all these states. I still look for it to be a rather mixed outcome next Tuesday.

Santorum has some opportunities in states that are more affordable like Oklahoma where the social conservatives are strong. If he had real dough, he could go after Ohio. But my guess is that that this will be a mix event.

There's been only one constant in this race throughout. It's been the volatility of polling numbers. I think that we'll see all of these polls change over the next several days.

BLITZER: There will be several more polls coming out in the next few days. James, you've been convinced that it's Romney's to lose for a long time. Do you still believe that?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely. I rarely say this, but I literally agree with every word that Terry said. I've ruined your reputation, Terry, I apologize.

Yes, I mean, we know who's going to win. We're just not exactly sure how he's going to get there and when does somebody decide this game it over. I completely agree with the statement that old polling numbers are for the most part meaningless.

That will change and it will go on for a little while longer and there's not much that can be done to stop this. The only thing I would say the two most attractive nominations, Wolf, you remember in '76 between President Ford and Governor Reagan.

And then of course in the famous 2008 Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, Ford came with -- went in re-election and Obama won by (inaudible). It seems to me that Romney's troubles are getting pretty deep here.

BLITZER: If Newt Gingrich were to lose in Georgia next Tuesday, Terry, I assume he would drop out of the race. Where would those pro- Newt Gingrich supporters go? Would they go to Santorum? Would they go to Ron Paul? Would they go to Mitt Romney?

HOLT: Yes, I don't make that assumption because I don't know what gets him out of the race. He has not any money for quite a long time and it's been a while since he's had a victory. You know, there are lots of attractive qualities of being a national candidate so we'll see, but ultimately I think that those voters will go to the alternate to Romney candidate that is most strongest and best positioned to take those votes.

I guess at the end of the day that I agree with James, though, the road gets very steep, very narrow and very expensive if you're going to take out Mitt Romney at this point.

BLITZER: Is it at all conceivable in your mind, James, that Newt Gingrich could lose his home state of Georgia next Tuesday?

CARVILLE: Yes, I mean, I've been seeing those polls numbers where he's there and the Republican electorate in Georgia is awfully conservative, but sure, look, one thing about this process so far in this Republican side is that which you think is unconceivable becomes conceivable.

The only thing that to me that is unconceivable that anybody in this field but Romney would be the nominee, but besides predicting that, I'm going to back off here and see, because, you know, a lot of people there's a lot of church people there.

If they're thinking Santorum has a chance and Gingrich doesn't, there could be some strategic voting, that's imminently possible. I don't think that Romney carries Georgia. If he does, this thing will end faster than I thought it would.

BLITZER: If it goes on and on and on. Listen to Reince Priebus, the Republican Party chairman. Terry, he told Soledad O'Brien this earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I feel good about this and I know that people argue over whether, you know, having tough primaries is a good thing or a bad thing. I just happen to believe that it's good for our party as you and I have talked about many times.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is that spin or is that real?

HOLT: It's real. James just said it. You know, if a long protracted fight would disqualify a party from winning the presidency then Barack Obama wouldn't be in the White House today.

The fact of the matter is this election has consequences, there's a lot of at stake, and Republicans have taken this process very seriously.

They want the best guy, the one that can take out Obama and I think it's fine for this to go on. You know, we were doing these kinds of interviews in June in 2008. I suspect this goes on for a little bit longer and that's fine. BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very much. Terry, James, hold that thought because we have to move on.

Right now, we're following some breaking news, as both of you know a tornado that devastated the Midwest is moving east right now. We're following the path of the storm. Stand by.

And the unexpected death of a beloved pop star. We're getting new details that's coming up as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Sad news in the world of entertainment. The late singer Davy Jones of the popular 1960s group "The Monkees" has died.

That's a young Davy Jones singing "The Monkees" hit "Daydream Believer." Our entertainment correspondent Kareen Wynter is following this story. Kareen, what do we know? What happened here?

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, sadly CNN can confirm that singer/songwriter and actor Davy Jones has died. He suffered a cardiac arrest this morning near his home in Hollywood, Florida, Wolf. He was rushed to a local hospital, but was unable to be resuscitated.

He was just 66 years old. Jones is best known as the lead singer of the pop group "The Monkees." "The Monkees" formed expressly for the purpose, Wolf, of creating that well-known American television show with the same name.

Their hit songs included "Last Train to Clarksville" and "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and of course, "Daydream Believer," which we just heard a bit of at the top. Now the original "Monkees" disbanded shortly after the show went off the air in 1968 following two seasons.

But Jones, he toured as a solo artist and had various incarnations of "The Monkees" over the years. There was even talk, Wolf, of a reunion tour recently. Jones' manager and brother-in-law released a statement to CNN saying all of his family, friends and fans mourn Davy's loss.

We were fortunate to have such an incredible human being in our lives. Sadly his time on earth was cut far too short and he will be missed tremendously by all who knew him.

Jones is survived by his wife and four daughters, his family and the entertainment industry are just mourning today, Wolf. Singer Ringo Starr, he reacted to the news stating, God bless Davy, peace and love to his family.

Wolf, you know, this was a man who loved entertaining. He started working in the business, get this, at the age of 11. He performed on Broadway in the hit musical "Oliver" as a teenager, but as much as he, you know, really loved performing, his first love was horses.

Jones actually trained to be a jockey at one point. His manager says he was near his horses in Florida when he passed today, Wolf.

BLITZER: In the world of entertainment and beyond, Davy Jones of "The Monkees." Very sad indeed. Thanks for that, Kareen.

Coming up in our next hour, we're following the breaking news, a new look at the damage from those killer tornadoes. We'll also hear from survivors and stay on top of the ongoing threat of yet more storms.

Plus a very rare report from directly inside Iran. CNN's Ivan Watson is there. He has details of an alleged rift at the highest levels of the Iranian government.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Question this hour, should price controls be imposed on gasoline? We're nearing $4 a gallon national average with predictions it could go as high as 6.

Bud writes, "Understandable that placing price controls on products when prices are inflated is popular, but most economists warn against such act. It interrupts the normal flow of market supply and demand. If memory serves me, Jack, we tried this in the '70s and got gas lines that stretched for half a mile."

Fred in Michigan writes, "There should be controls, gasoline is now a necessity, not a luxury. People need it to get to work. Producers need it to move products. It's a key part of the economy, and I'm tired of speculators getting rich off my unavoidable pump pain."

Gary in California, "No, Jack, price controls won't work. We need to kick our oil habit on higher prices. We'll help move procrastinators off the fence. We have plenty of alternatives. All we need is a forcing function like high gas prices to drive the right action."

Dee Dee writes, "Yes and besides that we need to nationalize the oil companies. We're driving less, producing more gasoline than ever before nationalize."

Dwayne in North Dakota writes, "We need to release oil from the strategic petroleum reserve to scare the speculators out of the marketplace." Steve in Illinois writes this, "No, this is a perfect example where the Republicans have it right. It can happen. Let market forces work.

The only way we're ever going to get off oil imports is when it's too expensive. Easy for me to say, I don't have a job right now, so I don't have to drive to work, but the theory is sound."

If you want to read more about this subject, go to my blog cnn.com/caffertyfile, or through or post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.