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Politics watchers turn their attention to New Hampshire for the first primary

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Coming out of Monday's Iowa caucuses, just three major candidates remain.

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NIKKI HALEY: Iowa made this Republican primary a two-person race.

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RON DESANTIS: Nikki Haley said only the top two from Iowa, you know, go on to be viable. Well, guess what. We punched our ticket out of Iowa yesterday.

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DONALD TRUMP: So it's now off to New Hampshire, a great place.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Former President Trump is leading in polls in New Hampshire, and everywhere, among Republicans. But the contest is closer in New Hampshire than elsewhere, where Nikki Haley is appealing for voters' help to avoid a rematch of the 2020 campaign. Ron DeSantis is trying to build on his second-place finish in Iowa. Both of those challengers have past ties to Trump and now have been trying to win over some of his supporters.

MARTIN: And they are all in New Hampshire today. And so is NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben, who is here to sketch out the state of the race there. Good morning, Danielle.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So I know it's cold and it's early.

KURTZLEBEN: It is.

MARTIN: Now six days out, what are the candidates talking about, and how are they talking about these things?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, their messages haven't really changed since Iowa, except I guess you could say there is a bit more attacking between the candidates, especially between Haley and Trump. Last night at a rally, Trump made it very clear he's focusing on taking aim at Haley both personally and at some of her policies. Haley had an event last night where she also stuck to her usual script. She is set to give Trump more of a challenge here, so she's really focusing on hitting him. Here in New Hampshire, she's kind of trying to treat this as if it were a two-person race.

Now, as for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, we haven't heard from him yet in New Hampshire. He first went to South Carolina to sort of troll Nikki Haley in her home state and try to beat her there. He has now come to New Hampshire, but he's had to cancel his events so far because of bad weather. It just kind of followed us all here.

MARTIN: OK, let's talk about Trump. What's he up to?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, he went to New York first after Iowa for the opening of the E. Jean Carroll defamation trial. That is the writer who accused Trump of rape. And a jury has found that he sexually abused her, so this is a defamation case related to that. And that's where his head was yesterday. After winning Iowa, he spent a couple hours yesterday just posting on Truth Social, attacking Carroll, complaining about the trial. But here in New Hampshire at his rally last night, he really attacked Haley a lot on a few points - for example, that she wants to raise the Social Security eligibility age and also that she wants to send aid to Ukraine.

MARTIN: So you mentioned that Haley does appear to be the top rival to Trump in New Hampshire. Just say more about that.

KURTZLEBEN: Yeah. So her margin here is much tighter than it was in Iowa. She's polling maybe 12 points behind Trump, per the FiveThirtyEight polling average. And the spin her campaign has after her third-place finish in Iowa is that she has long-term momentum. When he was introducing her yesterday, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu said that Haley had just a few months ago been in single digits in Iowa and New Hampshire. And that all is true. But Trump is so dominant, she would need a huge pickup in support to be more of a threat. And so she's really focusing on him. Case in point - there had been a debate scheduled for Thursday, but Haley has since said she wouldn't debate again unless it was against Trump or Biden.

MARTIN: OK. And to round things out, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has not been doing well in New Hampshire so far. So he's - I guess he's hoping that the momentum from that second-place finish in Iowa will help him there.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes, but like you said, he hasn't really contested New Hampshire much yet. It's clear he's focusing on South Carolina, likely thinking that he's going to do better with Southern, traditional, evangelical voters as opposed to New England Republicans, who are known for having a bit more of a libertarian streak. And like I said, we just haven't heard his message yet here. We've got to wait out this weather.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben in New Hampshire. Danielle, stay safe. Stay warm. Do your best.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes. Thank you. 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.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.