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Polls Open For South Carolina Democrats


A presidential race that has been full of surprises provided another one yesterday as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who dropped out of the race just over two weeks ago, said he was supporting Donald Trump.


CHRIS CHRISTIE: America must have a strong leader again that can restore American jobs, that can restore American confidence, and Donald Trump is just the man to do it.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: The news comes as candidates on both sides are preparing to face off in about a dozen states on Tuesday. Democrats in South Carolina are casting ballots today, making their choice between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. For more on all of this, we're joined here in the studio by NPR's national political correspondent, Don Gonyea. Hi, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Was it fair to say that this was a shocker yesterday when Christie endorsed Trump?

GONYEA: Trump, in a tweet yesterday, said, I'm having a news conference, there may be some real news. But we didn't know it would be this. Here's why it's such a shocker. Chris Christie is from a big state, he's an important governor, he is part of the establishment. The establishment recoils at the thought of Donald Trump getting the nomination or winning the White House. So that's unexpected. But here's the interesting thing. For Christie, it was really an option of Trump or nobody. He has clashed with Marco Rubio over the course of the campaign, really criticizing and treating him like he's not ready at all. Same with Ted Cruz, he doesn't like Ted Cruz. It was either Trump or stay out of the game. He backed Trump.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So now - didn't these two guys, though - Trump and Christie - have some pretty fierce battles, serious differences when they were running against each other?

GONYEA: Boy, they sure did. A lot of examples. On Trump's call to ban Muslims from coming into the country, Christie called it ridiculous. On Trump's call to build a wall and make the Mexicans pay for it, Christie says not going to happen, this just isn't practical. He spoke on the day of the Iowa caucuses, and he kept asking the question how? How are you going to do these things you propose?


CHRISTIE: He needs to answer how. What he says - I'm a man, I make deals. I make deals, I make everything happen, I'll make it happen. We had a debate question, Don and I, on social security. I gave my plan. You know what his answer was? We don't need to touch the social security, it would be wrong. Under the Trump administration, everyone is going to get so rich, so wealthy, we're not going to have to worry about social security.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So that doesn't sound like a guy who really likes Donald Trump.

GONYEA: Not, at least, on the day of the Iowa caucuses, and a bad impression to boot (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. How does this all affect Marco Rubio? He was getting a lot of good reviews, a lot of headlines about how he handled Trump in the debate on Thursday.

GONYEA: He was enjoying a really great news cycle because of his performance at the debate. It ends. Chris Christie's endorsement is now the big story. It's particularly galling for Rubio because of his history with Christie. That debate in New Hampshire, when Christie just went after him - now here's the weird thing. Rubio has been actually sounding a lot like Trump himself. Listen to how he mocks Trump's behind-the-scenes performance at the debate.


MARCO RUBIO: First, he had this little makeup thing, applying, like, make up around his mustache 'cause he had one of those sweat moustaches.


RUBIO: Then he asked for a full-length mirror. I don't know why because the podium goes up to here, but he wanted a full-length mirror. Maybe to make sure his pants weren't wet, I don't know.


GONYEA: He's clearly decided this is where he needs to go to try to keep Trump off balance.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So meanwhile, of course, the Democrats in South Carolina have a race today.

GONYEA: Right, in South Carolina. Hillary Clinton has had a strong lead in polls there, she's looking to do very well. African-American voters make up more than half of the electorate there, and Clinton polls really well with those voters, and did very well with them in Nevada about a week ago. Bernie Sanders is already looking ahead to Super Tuesday. He's campaigning today in Texas and in Minnesota. He's not even in South Carolina tonight. Sanders says this thing is far from over, a lot of states left to vote.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. NPR's Don Gonyea, thanks so much.

GONYEA: A pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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