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Last 2 major GOP presidential candidates prepare for New Hampshire primary

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

New Hampshire holds its presidential primary tomorrow, with the Republican contest down to two.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis dropped out yesterday and endorsed Donald Trump. The former president has a significant lead over Nikki Haley, his final challenger for the GOP's presidential nomination.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ashley Lopez is in Manchester, N.H. I just checked the temperature here for Manchester, Ashley, and it says 12, 12 degrees. I hope you're inside.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: I am (laughter). Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK (laughter), good, good. I can't wait to hear from the campaign trail later today. But for the moment, you're warm...

LOPEZ: Yeah.

INSKEEP: So how did DeSantis fall apart so completely?

LOPEZ: I mean, well, Ron DeSantis' campaign had trouble from the start, right? I don't know who remembers his campaign's announcement on Twitter live, but it was kind of a disaster. And that really did set the tone for the rest of the campaign. Notably, there was a lot of turnover in his staff, including campaign manager resets, which really did not help. And while DeSantis did poll pretty well before he got in the race, once he actually announced, he really wasn't able to translate that into support for his campaign. So realizing that he probably wouldn't do particularly well in New Hampshire or on the next voting contest in Nevada, he decided to cut his losses and drop out, which I guess isn't too surprising.

INSKEEP: It feels fair to ask if any particular kind of campaign would have worked for DeSantis, given the person he was trying to dethrone, if that's the word.

LOPEZ: Yeah, I mean, that's a good question. I mean, even though this started as, like, a fairly crowded field of candidates for the GOP nomination, I mean, it never really was all that competitive, right? Trump has had an almost immovable lock on the nomination since the very beginning. And DeSantis' campaign is particularly interesting to look at - right? - because he was sort of positioned as this, like, Trump-like character, except that he doesn't have all the legal baggage that Trump is dealing with right now. So if voters cared about those legal issues and Trump's electability in the midst of all that, they would have had more support for DeSantis, but they just didn't. And this race looks pretty much like the way it started.

INSKEEP: Although, we do have one challenger left, Nikki Haley...

LOPEZ: Right.

INSKEEP: ...Who has said again and again and again that things could be different once she is the single challenger...

LOPEZ: Right.

INSKEEP: And now she is.

LOPEZ: Yeah, that's right. And I would say, like, New Hampshire is going to be a good place for her to sort of, like, make that case. In comparison to Iowa, there're likely to be more moderate voters weighing in on this race, that's because New Hampshire allows independent and unaffiliated voters to cast a ballot in a GOP or Democratic primary. I should also note that in New Hampshire, there are more unaffiliated registered voters, and there are actually registered Republicans or Democrats.

So this is a particular help to Haley because she's a favorite among more moderate voters. Close primaries or caucuses tend to be dominated by those base voters who are a little further from the center politically. And Haley also does better among more educated voters, and New Hampshire's population happens to have a higher education attainment compared to some of these other early states in the race.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should define our terms when we say moderate or not.

LOPEZ: Yeah.

INSKEEP: I mean, if you were to ask Haley, she would define herself as conservative. If you went through her policy positions, they are conservative. But really what we're talking about is, are you for Trump or for something else in the Republican Party? And Haley is arguing for something else...

LOPEZ: That's right.

INSKEEP: ...In the Republican Party. Now, what factor will those 12-degree temperatures or whatever you're going to have tomorrow play in the turnout tomorrow?

LOPEZ: We'll see. For now, New Hampshire's Secretary of State David Scanlan is predicting record turnout tomorrow. His office said in a statement late last week that they predict 322,000 votes will be cast in the state's Republican presidential primary on Tuesday, so we'll see (laughter).

INSKEEP: OK, all right. NPR's Ashley Lopez in Manchester, N.H. Stay warm.

LOPEZ: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.