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CNN NEWSROOM

Romney Wins Six States on Super Tuesday; Romney Takes Ohio; Senate Panel Hears Options on Syria; Romney Scratches Out Win; Stocks Coming Off Worst Day of 2012; Kirk Cameron's Gay Controversy; Candidates Fight for Faith-Based Vote; Colts Release Manning; Critics, Comics Bash Rush Limbaugh

Aired March 7, 2012 - 09:00   ET

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


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. Thanks a lot. And good morning to you, everyone. I'm Carol Costello, in for the morning-after Super Tuesday. The votes are in. But the jury is still out.

There's a three-way split among the Republican presidential candidates. Newt Gingrich wins his former home state of Georgia which he said was essential. Mitt Romney captures six states claiming the mathematical victory and Rick Santorum boasts momentum doing surprisingly well, capturing three states and barely losing the bellwether state of Ohio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This was a big night tonight. Lots of states. We're going to win a few. We're going to lose a few, but as it looks right now, we're going to get at least a couple of gold medals and a whole passel full of silver medals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: So this morning Romney cannot claim the crushing victories to win over skeptics, but he is amassing delegates. More than 400 so far. That's way ahead of Santorum, Gingrich and Ron Paul who failed to win a single state last night. But the race still has a long way to go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tonight we're doing some counting. We're counting up the delegates for the convention. It looks good. And we're counting down the days until November and that looks even better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Ohio may not have offered the most delegates last night, but it could be the most telling. And with Romney scoring a razor thin victory, some say it speaks volumes about Santorum as well.

Our political editor Paul Steinhauser is in Columbus, the state capitol.

So, Paul, what should we take away from Ohio?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: I tell you, Carol, it's deja vu all over again. Remember how Romney had a very close call in Michigan, his home state, a week ago? Same thing in Ohio. Look at the vote totals right here. The latest numbers. Mitt Romney won the state by only about 12,000 votes. As you said, razor thin. This was a very tight margin. And

Romney had the same problems according to the exit polls here in Ohio that he had in Michigan especially with those very conservative voters. So yes, no knockout blow for Mitt Romney on Super Tuesday in Ohio or elsewhere. But he did win about half the delegates up for grab. So a pretty good night. Not a great night. A good night for Mitt Romney.

What about Rick Santorum? Take a look at the numbers from Tennessee. Here are the vote totals for him. He had a big win there. Nine points. And that was a lot bigger than the most recent polls indicated. And Santorum also won Oklahoma and a surprise victory in North Dakota.

Listen, Santorum looking OK because where does it go from here? Kansas. That's on Saturday. Then Mississippi and Alabama. Three conservative states. Whoops, let me get that. Little windy here, Carol. A little windy here. So Rick Santorum, OK. I'm still alive.

What about Newt Gingrich?

COSTELLO: Thank goodness.

STEINHAUSER: Look at the vote total from Georgia. Look at the vote totals from Georgia as the lights almost fall down on me. Look at that. Twenty-one-point victory for Gingrich in Georgia. He said I have to win Georgia to keep going. He did. He didn't do so well in the other states. But for Newt Gingrich a win in Georgia was enough.

Take a listen to what his daughter said after his victory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACKIE GINGRICH CUSHMAN, DAUGHTER OF NEWT GINGRICH: Well, the reality is, if Mitt Romney was the candidate that people wanted, he would have had the nomination by now. That's the way it should have worked according to them. That's the way it would have worked. But that's not who the conservatives want.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEINHAUSER: And what about Ron Paul? Let's give him a little time as well. He deserves it. He did not win a state. He thought he was going to win North Dakota. He did not. But he got delegates. And that's what Ron Paul needs to carry on.

So, Carol, I guess you could say everybody came away a winner in some way, shape or form on Super Tuesday, and here's another thing you can bank on. This race is going on at least until late April, maybe a lot longer -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Paul Steinhauser live in Columbus. Run. Run to safety now, Paul.

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: It's big picture time. Political director Mark Preston is here for that.

So Romney wins Ohio by the skin of his teeth and we know Romney spent millions and millions of dollars to win Ohio. Rick Santorum, did he even spend a million dollars?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL EDITOR: He did but he certainly didn't spend nearly as much as Mitt Romney did to pull out a squeaker in Ohio last night -- Carol.

COSTELLO: So what does that mean?

PRESTON: OK, I'll tell you what. I just got off the phone with a very prominent Republican. I won't say this person's name because they wanted to speak freely. They are very concerned about Mitt Romney just barely pulling it out in Ohio. The fact of the matter is Ohio is an extremely important state in the general election. If Mitt Romney is to be the nominee, if we are to believe that he will amass the delegates needed to get the nomination, then they're really concerned that he could be very damaged going against President Obama.

COSTELLO: Let's talk about voter turnout. I was, like, reviewing numerous papers in Ohio online. Most of them said voter turnout was at best modest. At worst low. So what does that say?

PRESTON: Because this has been a very divisive primary. It hasn't been exciting primary in a sense, it's exciting for us in the news media to follow. It's been so close but if you're a Republican, you're not inspired by the infighting that we're seeing right now between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, between Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. All this infighting is really frustrating the Republican Party.

COSTELLO: Mark Preston, thanks for joining us this morning. I know you had a long night. We appreciate it.

History has shown that there's a lot of truth in the old saying, as Ohio goes so does the nation. So let's break down the actual voting in Ohio.

CNN's Christine Romans joins us with some exit polls.

So, Christine, tell us what Ohio voters were saying as they left the polls.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: They were saying that they wanted a candidate who could beat the president. They wanted a candidate who's electable. They were also telling us that they're concerned about the economy. When you look at the exit polls, you can see here -- what do you see from these faces, Carol? These are where candidates won a category. And Rick Santorum won several of them. But Mitt Romney came out on top.

I want to talk first about the top issue and the top candidate quality for those people who were going to the polls. The top issue, the economy. Forty-one percent of those who said that the economy was their top issue went for Mitt Romney, 33 percent went for Rick Santorum.

Let's talk about who can beat the president. And that, according to folks who said it's the most important quality, 52 percent of those people said Romney was their guy. Rick Santorum coming in at 27 percent.

Ron Paul, he has such a diehard base, doesn't he? But in Ohio at least he was polling in the single digits for many of these.

Carol, it's interesting as well because when you look at income, this is something we've seen kind of again and again. And it kind of plays into I think this idea that Mitt Romney is not like the average Joe, right? When you look at income, Romney does well with people who have more money. $100,000 plus those people went for Mitt Romney to the tune of 46 percent.

But when you go down the income bracket, these are what you call, I guess now they're calling them the Sam's Club Republicans. The $50,000 to $100,000 a year income earners. It's Santorum, it's not Mitt Romney. And you go down the income chain, it is still Santorum above Mitt Romney there. So you see kind of all of these things in the exit polls, Carol, that give you a little slice of what's happening there. But, there you go, he took -- he took it barely, but he took it.

COSTELLO: Yes. The female vote was also interesting because they split. Everybody thought that women would flee from Rick Santorum, but they really didn't.

ROMANS: And it was a week, too, where I feel like Republican women must have been watching so much that was happening in the news and that they were hearing on the radio and Republican women really were -- really dominated the headlines this week, don't you think?

With so many of the different issues, with Rush Limbaugh, the contraception issue, and where they fall, and Rick Santorum and his social issues. So I feel like there's a lot for Republican women to consider heading into the fall as well.

COSTELLO: You're absolutely right about that. Let's talk about another Republican woman, shall we? Sarah Palin. She says if the Republican race leads to an open convention, she'd be open for running for president. Palin spoke to CNN after casting her vote in Alaska's GOP caucuses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: It's the open convention question. If we wind up with an open convention and someone wants to place your name, throw your name into the hat, would you stop them? Would you be open to that?

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: As I say, anything is possible. And I don't -- I don't close any doors that perhaps would be open out there. So, no, I wouldn't close that door. And my plan is to be at that convention.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: So there you have it. So who did Palin vote for? She voted for Newt Gingrich in the Alaska caucuses telling FOX Business Network he best represents the ideas of many Alaskans.

A U.N. official is on the way to Homs, the Syrian city that's been battered for weeks. The goal is to get relief workers into the hardest hit area so they can get supplies in and wounded residents out. Those workers have been blocked from the area again today. Yesterday Syrian forces destroyed a bridge that wounded refugees used to escape into Lebanon. President Obama reportedly is helping Syria's opposition. But he's cautioned against rushing in with force.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And it is my belief that ultimately this dictator will fall as dictators in the past have fallen. But the notion that the way to solve every one of these problems is to deploy our military, you know, that hasn't been true in the past and it won't be true now. We've got to think through what we do through the lens of what's going to be effective but also what's critical for U.S. security interests.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: It is believed at least 8,500 people have been killed in Syria since the government crackdown began.

There is more discussion, though, going on this hour about Syria and what the United States should do. Senator John McCain, as you know, has called for airstrikes. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey are talking about options before the Senate Armed Services Committee that's -- Carl Levin, by the way, the committee chairman, he's speaking right now.

Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins us.

So, Barbara, what should we expect to hear from Panetta and Dempsey, let's say?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: This hearing just getting underway, as you say, Carol. Chairman Levin, the senator from Michigan, just opening it up. Look for Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey, the head of the Joint Chiefs, not to step anywhere outside the parameters that President Obama has laid out. They are going to stick to the U.S. policy right now which is no use of military force. That is likely to set off Senator John McCain, the ranking Republican, of course, who has been calling for airstrikes.

McCain is saying the situation in Syria is so dire, the people there suffering so much, so many killed that this is now the only appropriate option and that airstrikes are one of the key ways you're going to convince Bashar al-Assad that he cannot win in this conflict against his own people.

And you know what, you've been hearing the administration say for so long now is that Assad could, could hang on for weeks, months in this assault against Syrian civilians if something isn't done. But you're going to hear Panetta refine that a little bit. You're going to hear Panetta say that the regime will come to an end. It may take a while, but he's going to talk about the fact that it is inevitable, it's just not going to come to an end at the hands of the U.S. military, at least not right now -- Carol.

COSTELLO: And I know you're listening to that hearing. And we'll let you go. Barbara Starr, many thanks to you.

STARR: Sure.

COSTELLO: Newt Gingrich, the Newt Gingrich delegate tally got a huge boost last night after he won the state of Georgia. But he didn't exactly light a fire in other states. So why is he still in the race? We're going to ask one of our fine political analysts that question.

And two Oregon police officers are hailed as heroes for their action at this horrific accident scene. We'll have their story as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Checking stories "Cross Country" now.

Five members of the computer hacking group Anonymous and its offshoots are facing federal charges in New York. They're accused in several high profile cyber attacks against government agencies and large companies. A source says a fellow hacker helped build the Fed's case as part of a plea deal.

The town of Keizer, Oregon, awards two police officers a medal of honor for saving a man from this fiery crash last September. The driver hit a power pole. He was knocked out and trap inside that burning car. Sergeant Andrew Copeland and Officer Rodney Bamford climbed in the car which was on fire and pulled the man to safety.

And nightmare weather conditions in Hawaii. Days of heavy rain trigger floods and landslides, closing several roads and bridges. Some areas have seen more than 17 inches of rain in just 24 hours.

Getting back to our top stories: Super Tuesday.

CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein is with me. I want to ask you, Ron, about Newt Gingrich. So --

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Newt Gingrich.

COSTELLO: Newt Gingrich -- he wins Georgia, but he did lousy in every other state but still he insists he can win. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Remember when it was Tim Pawlenty who was going to crowd me out? And remember then when it was Michele Bachmann? And then it was our good friend, Herman Cain, the first time.

And then for a brief moment it was Donald Trump almost. And then it was our good friend Rick Perry. Then it was Herman Cain the second time. And now it's Santorum.

And you just can't quite get across to them. It's all right. There are lots of bunny rabbits that run through. I am the tortoise. I just take one step at a time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: OK. So we all like the story of the tortoise and the hare. But really?

BROWNSTEIN: Rabbits underfoot. You know, look, there are really two reasons, I think, Newt Gingrich is staying in the race at this point. One is the broad reason.

The forces that used to drive candidates out of campaigns are no longer as powerful as they once were. The things that used to force candidates to stop were they were denied attention and money. Now with cable television, there's infinite attention. With the Internet and super donors, a lot of -- maybe not infinite -- but there's a lot of money.

So structurally races are going on longer. It's no coincidence that we could have a second consecutive race that goes all the way to June after we didn't have one from 1984 to 2008. Something has changed.

More narrowly the other Republicans in the field are thinking if they could stay in this race, fractionate the delegates, prevent Romney from getting to a majority on the first ballot, they'll have leverage at the convention. If everybody stays in, maybe they can't overcome him, but they can keep him from getting a first ballot victory, and then who knows what happens?

Sarah Palin says she's available.

COSTELLO: Yes, we just heard here. We heard her a couple of minutes ago saying just that.

So, Mitt Romney is probably desperate for Newt Gingrich to get out of the race. I heard what you said, but is there any way that Mitt Romney could convince Mr. Gingrich to step aside?

BROWNSTEIN: Not sure I agree, Carol, because Romney is benefitting from Gingrich dividing conservative voters, especially in the South. You know, this race, like 2008 on the Democratic side, really has some deeply cut groves at this point.

Mitt Romney is consistently running well among what I call the managerial wing of the party -- voters who are more after fluent, better educated, more moderate. Mitt Romney and rick Santorum are running best under the populist wing of the party -- evangelical Christian, very conservative and blue collar side. To the extent they stay in, it helps Romney in a divide-and-conquer kind of strategy, especially as we go to states like Mississippi, Alabama, Texas where Romney is likely to have a tough time, he'd rather see that vote divided and concentrated if he has one of those two alternatives.

COSTELLO: So that means Rick Santorum would like Newt Gingrich to drop out.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, he would.

COSTELLO: If Rick Santorum is doing well.

What can Rick Santorum say to Newt Gingrich or will he say anything?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, each of them at various points have said this to the other. Gingrich made the argument to Santorum after South Carolina, you should drop out. They both want to argue that the conservative movement of the party needs an opportunity to coalesce behind one candidate to stop Romney and that that should be me.

The problem is, is that there's really no leverage to kind of put behind that charge when you have the ability of a candidate to stay in the race with the funding from a single person effectively, in the case of Newt Gingrich.

COSTELLO: Ron Brownstein, thanks for stopping by. We appreciate it.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

COSTELLO: The markets take their biggest hit of the year, but a bounce back may be coming this hour. Really? We'll head to the stock exchange after a break.

Plus, a royal workout for Britain's Prince Harry. His fast- paced Caribbean tour, -- oh, that's a setup, man.

We'll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Racing an Olympian, training with the military, tearing up the dance floor. Britain's Prince Harry is doing it all as he tours the Caribbean in honor of the queen's 60 years on the throne.

CNN's Max Foster reports from Kingston, Jamaica.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: It really has been quite a 24 hours for Prince Harry. After meeting, Usain Bolt, racing him and winning him yesterday. He went on to meet the prime minister and they got a huge hug. And remember, this is the prime minister who's vowed to break Jamaican ties with the British royalty. Prince Harry really is charming everyone he meets.

He also went into children's hospital and headed into a deprived part of Kingston to meet the young children in a school there. But he put his dancing shoes back on. Prince Harry likes to dance.

We've learned that on this tour. He threw himself into the local music here as well in Kingston.

He also had a chance to meet Bob Marley's widow, Rita, who gave him a scarf that Bob used to wear in the later years of his life. And later on, Prince Harry actually played tribute to Bob Marley in his usual humorous way, during a state dinner.

PRINCE HARRY, PRINCE OF THE UNITED KINGDOM: Her majesty has asked me to extend her great good wishes to you all and is sorry that she can't be here, so you're stuck with me. But don't worry, because every little thing is going to be all right.

FOSTER: Prince Harry's now wrapping up his diamond jubilee tour representing his grandmother here in the Caribbean.

One last, a big exercise though, a military exercise. He's going to join with the Jamaican defense force with some sailing. He's going to do some live firing on a shooting range and also we're told some hand-to-hand combat. We'll find out more about that a bit later on.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Oh, I'm sure you noticed stocks took their biggest tumble of the year yesterday. The Dow fell more than 200 points.

Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange.

So, what happened? And can we expect better things today?

KOSIK: OK. What happened? Let me take that question first, Carol.

What happened yesterday was it was a culmination of worries about how the global economy is slowing. What you saw happen yesterday was the bears are really taking hold and just not letting go of that session. This is after the past couple days we've heard that China's growth is slowing. Europe's economy is contracting.

And then, today, we learned that Australia's growth is slowing, too. What you have here is the entire global economy really taking a hit. Now, today, we are expecting to se stocks rebound. Not a huge surprise there after seeing such a big drop yesterday.

You know, the market's kind of like this rubber band. You stretch it. Eventually it will snap back. The snap back is not going to be huge. Dow futures are up only about 50 points.

The bulls are getting some help from an upbeat report on the jobs market. Payroll processor ADP said the private sector added 216,000 jobs in February. That's an improvement from January's 173,000 private sector jobs.

It's good news, Carol, to see stronger gains. We need to see more of this, more consistent, stronger gains every single month to bring down the unemployment rate. We are, however, going in the right direction. That's the best news -- Carol.

COSTELLO: That is the best news. Alison Kosik, thank you.

Super Tuesday has left us with so many questions, like why didn't more voters turn out, and why couldn't rick Santorum win over Catholics in Ohio? We're talking to John Avlon about all of that and more. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Let's get a check of our top stories now.

Happening right now on Capitol Hill, the Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on what's happening in Syria. John McCain, a ranking committee member, has already called for airstrikes against Syrian government forces and for arming the rebels. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs chairman, General Martin Dempsey are testifying today and talking about possible options.

Six soldiers from the U.K. are missing and presumed dead after an explosion in southwest Afghanistan. A British official says the soldiers were on patrol in an armored vehicle in the Helmand province when it hit a land mine.

Back here in the U.S., gas prices have dropped for the second straight day. The drop was only three-tenths of 1 percent. But it comes after weeks of rising prices. The national average now stands at $3.76.

Super Tuesday has given way to what does it all mean Wednesday? John Avlon of "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast" is here.

So Mitt Romney wins six states. Rick Santorum wins three. And the bellwether state of Ohio Mitt Romney -- well, it was at best a squeaker.

I wanted to start off by talking about voter turnout in Ohio, though, because, John, it wasn't exactly strong. It was at best modest.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's right. I mean, but had is a story we've been hearing over and over throughout this primary process, Carol. Turnout has been down in the vast majority of states, a couple of notable exceptions, South Carolina. Ohio was flat lined. Some argue it was a slight bump. The point being is there is a persistent enthusiasm gap among this Republican field that we see.

When they've got all the attention on them, there's no competing Democratic primary to draw voters, especially in these open primary states without voter registration, these candidates have failed to inspire. That becomes a real problem not just for the primaries, but looking forward to the general election. It could have real implications.

COSTELLO: The exit polls were really interesting because Romney did better with Ohio Catholics than Santorum did. Santorum did better with women than many pundits believed. Is this a primary election that defies analysis?

AVLON: Well, you know, if you look at these exit polls, a couple of things are clear. The divisions we've seen between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum represent the divisions of really the fault lines underneath the GOP. Tea Partiers go for Rick Santorum, non-Tea Partiers go for Mitt Romney. Evangelicals, who've gone to Rick Santorum, non-evangelicals going for Mitt Romney, also an important class economic divide. Voters making over $100,000, those are Mitt Romney folks. You make under $100,000, they voted for Rick Santorum.

There are some fault lines, clear divisions that play out between the two candidates. What one candidate has to do is show the ability to bridge these divides to unite the party from establishment and Tea Party wing in order to have a credible case to lead the party into the fall where they have to pivot from the far right to the center to make a case for independents.

And the fact that Romney did better than Santorum for women I think is a cautionary tale for people who want to stoke the fires because they can alienate more people than they attract.

COSTELLO: Yes, Mitt Romney got most of the working women, 43 percent if I remember correctly.

You think this will be a protracted race, oh, yay! So how long can we all enjoy the fun?

AVLON: Well, you know, this is an issue of math, not momentum. Narrative momentum seems to be how we follow these races, but the reality of how you clinch a nomination, it's all about delegate math.

Mitt Romney is in the lead now, 404 delegates. He needs 1,144 to secure that and that could take until at least may or further. What's different this year is that the RNC in their infinite wisdom decided to make the vast majority of contests proportional rather than winner take all.

So, the other candidates who can stay in the race almost indefinitely in part because of super PACs can chip away. If they can't win outride, they could deny Mitt Romney the ability to clinch the delegates needed to have the nomination before Tampa.

So, this is all going to still unfold. The next couple of states are socially conservative, not generally Mitt Romney territory. So, this for wild right, still coping.

COSTELLO: Well we're in for a wild ride still coming up.

AVLON: All right. John Avlon, thank you.

CNN's John King will have a special interview with Rick Santorum tonight. Don't miss it. That's tonight at 6:00 Eastern, only on CNN.

There are some new names in the country music hall of fame. You probably recognize one of them. The hall honors more than entertainers. The new inductees coming up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We decided to build a 100 foot long double helix made out of 512 individually computer controlled, full color LEDs and then connected all of that to music source. We have a DJ cam. And the light sequences were pre-program to play, along with the tempo of the music.

And it was beautiful.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: A well-known Christian actor is in the middle of a discussion about same-sex marriage. Some call Kirk Cameron intolerant. He says he's a victim of speaking his mind.

A.J. Hammer, host of "Showbiz tonight" joins us from New York to weigh in on the issue -- A.J.?

A.J. HAMMER, HOST, 'SHOWBIZ TONIGHT': Well, naturally, Carol, we've been following this very closely all week on "Showbiz Tonight."

Kirk Cameron wound up kicking off this firestorm when he was speaking with our own Piers Morgan.

So, first, let's listen to what he said to Piers last Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: Do you think homosexuality is a sin?

KIRK CAMERON, ACTOR: I think that it's -- it's -- it's -- it's -- it's unnatural. I think it's -- it's detrimental and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAMMER: OK. As you would expect, that hasn't gone well at all among supporters of marriage equality, including many loud voices from within the entertainment world. We have been getting reaction from a huge list of celebrities were condemning Cameron's statement, including his former "Growing Pains" co-stars Alan Thicke and Tracy Gold.

Well, yesterday, Kirk Cameron responded to the controversy. He released a statement defending his right to hold these views, saying he spoke honestly and he added this, "I can assuredly say that it's my life's mission to love all people. I should be able to express moral views on social issues, especially those that have been the underpinning of Western civilization for 2000 years without being slandered, accused of hate speech, or told from those who preach tolerance that I need to either bend my believes to their moral standards or be silent when I'm in the public square."

Now, Cameron says he has gotten support from his gay friends, friends of all types. But the thing is, Carol, the majority of those speaking out don't really seem to be saying he didn't have a right to say what he said. They simply strongly disagree with it and they're using their right to make that known.

COSTELLO: So, what kind of comments like is he getting? Is he getting death threats or just comments criticizing his views? I mean --

HAMMER: Well, the biggest argument that I'm hearing, "Star Trek" star George Takei and I had a very long conversation about this the other night. What Kirk Cameron is largely speaking about are views of his based in religion, which the marriage equality conversation is really a civil conversation. We're talking about civil law.

So there's a little bit of a disconnect there, and that's the point that so many who are behind the marriage equality movement are trying to make.

COSTELLO: OK. Let's talk about something happy. Non- controversial. The Country Music Hall of Fame has inducted some new members and one in particular stands out.

HAMMER: That is true. First of all, Garth Brooks is the performer who stands out this year, Carol. You can say the name Hargus Pig Robbins is the one that stands out in this list of inductees into the country music Hall of Fame. I actually believe this is the first pig to get inducted.

Let me get back to Brooks because Brooks has sod 128 millions puts. He was really the artist crossover into the mainstream.

Historically, speaking you look his album sales, it puts him in the company of The Beatles and Elvis Priestly. Now, the official induction ceremony is going to happen later this year for Brooks. Also, the legendary country music singer Pig Robbins and Connie Stevens getting honored, Carol, for their terrific work throughout country music history.

COSTELLO: A.J. hammer, thanks so much. A.J. will be back with us in the next hour with more showbiz headlines.

Those who thought the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign was something of a soap opera will see it as an HBO movie.

The stars are dead ringers for the real life counterparts.

And after a break, a question undecided Christian conservative voters may be weighing. Who would Jesus vote for?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Checking stories cross-country now.

Blowing sand closed parts of I 10 and several other roads in Palm Springs, California. Winds of 50 miles per hour, combined with the swirling sand reduced visibility.

In Miami a cell phone catches an off duty officer hauling mattresses on top of her cruiser. WPLG says the department fired just days from retirement for the embarrassment she caused. That same officer had been disciplined 19 times.

An 81-year-old woman from Newport, Rhode Island, is the latest power ball winner. The $336 million jackpot is the sixth biggest ever. Louise White took the lump sum payout of 210 million. She bought the ticket as an afterthought while buying her son some rainbow sherbet at a store.

And now back to the presidential race and a critical voting block. The candidates are actively courting Christian conservatives. Many are undecided as they weigh the candidate's positions on several issues, including same-sex marriage, abortion, and the economy.

So, who will win their vote?

Our next guest says clues may be found in another question. Who would Jesus vote for? Larry Taunton is the founder and director of the Christian non-profit Fixed Point Foundation and the author of the CNN.com belief blog, "Who Would Jesus Vote For?"

So Larry, first of all, welcome.

LARRY TAUNTON, FOUNDER/DIRECTOR, FIXED POINT FOUNDATION: Carol, it's great to be with you.

COSTELLO: It's -- it's great to have you. Why has Jesus been so prominent in this election season?

TAUNTON: Well, I think that there are an awful lot of Evangelicals and others who would certainly say that they ascribe to the teachings of Jesus Christ and quite naturally candidates want to court that particular voting bloc.

COSTELLO: So is this the kind of question, you know, who should Jesus vote for, that Christian conservatives should be asking themselves? TAUNTON: Well, I don't know if they -- they want to ask it quite the way that -- that I did. I was having a little bit of fun with that piece in asking the question. You may recollect the -- the very popular bracelets, "what would Jesus do", and so I was having a little bit of fun with the question, who would he vote for.

But I also wanted to provoke a little bit of thought among Christians to reflect on what Jesus's ultimate agenda was. Was it political transformation of society or was it spiritual transformation?

COSTELLO: So which was it?

TAUNTON: I believe it was spiritual transformation. I -- that isn't to say that Jesus was indifferent to politics. I think that the history shows that that Jesus's ministry, his earthly ministry, took place in a very highly politically-charged atmosphere. He was ultimately executed for a political reason -- sedition.

That said, Jesus didn't see governmental top-down transformation as his ultimate objective but, rather, he was seeking to transform society through -- through bottom up, which was through a relationship with him.

COSTELLO: So you know, I've read your opinion piece and I was really -- I wanted to know who would Jesus vote for. So Jesus was sort of apolitical but not. In your blog post you said that Jesus was more concerned about changing the culture not necessarily voting people in or out of office.

TAUNTON: Well, let me be clear. I'm not trying to be -- to be coy here. I'm simply saying that -- that Jesus ultimately didn't see Pilate or Tiberius who was emperor at the time of his execution as the ultimate source of the problem. Political solutions are short term at best. If you change the hearts of men, you change the laws that they ultimately enact.

And I think that Evangelicals in this country, of which I am a part, I think have lost a little bit of -- of some perspective of what Christianity was ultimately seeking to do.

Being a Republican wasn't what Jesus was ultimately all about but, rather, he was seeking to -- to convict men of their sin and to call them to -- to repentance and to transform society in that way rather than seeking some sort of short-term political solution.

And I think it's fascinating to observe, Carol, how he condemned and accepted people from across the political spectrum.

COSTELLO: It was a great blog post. I enjoyed reading it. And Larry, thank you for joining us this morning. You can check out Larry's blog, "Who Would Jesus Vote For?" on CNN.com/belief.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: We're following a lot of developments in the next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM. Let's check in first with Paul Steinhauser.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Hey Carol, I'm live in Columbus, Ohio. That's Carol Costello because we're going to break down what happened on Super Tuesday here in Ohio and in the other nine states. All of that at the top of the hour.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I'm Christine Romans in New York, where we've got some very important information for veterans who have been foreclosed on since 2006. There's money coming your way. I'll have that at the top of the hour.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I'm Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. For the first time at this hour, we are hearing about U.S. military options for Syria. But will U.S. troops go to war? We'll have all the details in the next hour.

COSTELLO: Thanks to all of you.

And talk of war against Iran is getting louder on the campaign trail. But would it ever happen? We'll take an in-depth look at the possibility of a strike against Iran and its consequences. That's just ahead, too.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Peyton Manning turned Indianapolis into a football town and oh -- Jeff Fischel is here -- it's a sad end for Peyton Manning. What are fans going to do now?

JEFF FISCHEL, ANCHOR, HLN SPORTS: Carol remember the Colts as a franchise were a mess for years, decades before Peyton Manning showed up in Indianapolis. And he is truly that face of the franchise, a legend on and off the field in Indianapolis. There's even a children's hospital named for him in Indianapolis.

Now, after 14 seasons, his days as an Indianapolis Colt are over. We expect an emotional news conference two hours from now. That is when Manning and Colts' owner Jim Irsay will announce they are parting ways.

ESPN was the first to report the story. By releasing Manning now, the team is off the hook for its $28 million bonus. The move also clears the way for Manning's heir apparent. The Colts are expected to take Stanford quarterback, Andrew Luck, with the first pick in the draft. Some have called him the best college prospect since Peyton Manning.

Manning has been working out since suffering a neck injury that sidelined him this last season. He still wants to play. This will no doubt lead to the biggest free agent sweepstakes in NFL history. 14- year career.

COSTELLO: Where do you think he's going to go?

FISCHEL: Oh that's -- long list of teams that would sign up for a healthy Peyton Manning. COSTELLO: I know.

FISCHEL: But again, that is the question. How healthy is he? He seems to be coming back. Last week we saw the video of him working out. We weren't supposed to see. So yes, I'm guessing at least a half dozen teams try their best to get Peyton in town. We will see.

Now more NFL news. The New Orleans Saints have admitted to having a bounty program. Saints head coach, Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis say they take full responsibility for it and that it will never happened again.

A former Saints assistant Gregg Williams was in charge of the bounties. The NFL reported Friday that the Saints paid defensive players for injuring opponents during the 2009 through 2011 seasons. The league could hand out fines or suspensions or take away draft picks as punishment.

College hoops, feeling the madness, it's conference championship week. South Dakota State Jackrabbits against Western Illinois Leather Necks; fantastic team names. Opening tip of overtime. That's Tommy Tyler on the dunk, but the Jackrabbits jump back, gripping Callahan, he ends up draining the three and the Jackrabbits win, South Dakota State taking the summit league title.

Check how the fans storm the court. It's the first-ever tournament bid for the school.

Other teams punched the ticket last night including, Harvard going back to the dance for the first time since 1946. I think it was the jitterbug back then.

Western Kentucky, with the Sunbelt. Detroit goes in as the Horizon League champs.

COSTELLO: That is awesome. I do like that nickname, the Jackrabbits. Thanks Jeff.

Selection Sunday is just four days away. We want you to join our bracket challenge. Go to cnn.com/brackets and see if you can pick the NCAA winners better than most of us..

FISCHEL: Including her.

COSTELLO: Including me, yes.

A second radio station drops Rush Limbaugh from its line up. More advertisers pull their ads from his talk radio show and Limbaugh's critics are not pulling any punches. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Remember the days when the S word was a comedy punch line?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jane, you ignorant slut.

MOOS: The way Rush Limbaugh used it has made him a punch line.

JON STEWART, TALK SHOW HOST: Human cold shower Rush Limbaugh.

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: Poster boy for contraception.

BILL MAHER: Rush Limbaugh, four wives, he's had no children. Dude, you are birth control.

MOOS: Cartoonists put him in a Viagra bottle, represented him as the pig, and did the limbo -- the rush limbo. How low can you go.

At the "Detroit Free Press", cartoonist, Mike Thompson is running a cartoon caption contest. Entries so far include "open mouth, insert career." "who says I'm an inflexible bigot?" And "my foot is such a slut." Geez I feel uncomfortable even calling a foot that word.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN HOST: I was called a slut because I was doing coverage in the Middle East. What year is this, Limbaugh? Shut your cake hole, please.

MOOS: At least she said please.

DON IMUS, FBN HOST: He's a fat, gutless loser.

COLBERT: And remember he only apologized to keep his advertisers, proving rush will do anything with his mouth for cash.

MOOS: Some conservatives say the left is out to hush Rush, to silence him.

CHELSEA LATELY, TALK SHOW HOST: Tell me what political party is Rush Limbaugh a part of?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a whore.

MOOS: Yikes. All this name-calling. As for the name of the law student insulted by Rush, Sandra Fluke, Rush calls her --

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Susan Fluke -- Susan Flake. Susan fluke, Sandra Fluke, whatever her name is.

MOOS: Coincidentally a bronze bust of Rush is scheduled to be enshrined soon in the Hall of Famous Missourians at state Capitol alongside governors, and Mark Twain and Walter Cronkite. Can you imagine Walter reporting on this?

LIMBAUGH: It makes her a slut right.

IMUS: He's a punk.

DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MAGNATE: He's actually a very good person. I'm sure he will be just fine. MOOS: And while rush is facing the music, someone was actually listening to the music playing ever so low during Rush's rant.

LIMBAUGH: What does it say about a college co-ed Susan Fluke --

MOOS: That's Peter Gabrielle's song "Sledgehammer". he doesn't want rush using it anymore, even if the music video does feature a sperm.

Jeanne moos, CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jane, you ignorant, right?

MOOS: New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)