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Politics chat: New Hampshire primary, independent voters

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Last week's snowy Iowa caucuses yielded pretty clear results for the GOP. Former President Donald Trump won by a wide margin. But now Trump and Nikki Haley are each trying to rally the voters for Tuesday's New Hampshire Republican primary.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: So if you want to save America, then this Tuesday, January 23, you must go out and vote for Trump. That's me.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: That's me.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIKKI HALEY: If you will commit to go out and vote on Tuesday, I promise you, our best days are yet to come. Thank you very much. God bless you.

RASCOE: And NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith is in New Hampshire right now. Good morning, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

RASCOE: OK, so there have been some rallies and some smaller events, too, in recent days. Tell us what you've been seeing.

KEITH: Let's talk about scale. Last night, I was at a Trump rally in a large arena in Manchester, N.H., where I actually covered another Trump rally roughly four years ago. Back then, the arena was packed, but this time, the entire upper deck was empty. The crowd was probably half the size, and I met a lot of people from out of state, which is normal for a Trump rally, but everyone there stood in long lines in the freezing cold. And they're as excited about Trump as ever.

By way of contrast, the largest Haley event I've been to so far would have filled one section in this arena. At her events, there are people just hoping to get eyes on her, independent voters trying to decide if they really want to vote for her or really think she can beat Trump. And at Trump rallies, there's none of that nuance. No shopping around - they are all in.

RASCOE: This primary is getting close. Like, how are the candidates closing out the campaign?

KEITH: Well, Haley and Trump have really ramped up the attacks on each other. At the rally last night, Trump tore into Haley at length. Then he brought up onto stage a whole bunch of leading South Carolina politicians and the state's governor in a show of strength. South Carolina is, of course, Haley's home state and the next major contest in the nominating calendar. But Trump appears intent on knocking out his competition before South Carolinians even get to vote.

Meanwhile, Haley is dismissing all of these endorsements that Trump is racking up and going after the former president as too old, bringing too much chaos and likely to lose to Joe Biden. Now, also, she is questioning his cognitive abilities.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HALEY: We can't have someone else that we question whether they're mentally fit to do this. We can't.

(APPLAUSE)

KEITH: Then at Trump's rally, he claimed, boasted that he had just passed another cognitive test and aced it.

RASCOE: I don't - you can't ace cognitive tests, though, I don't think (laughter). But I get what he's trying to say. What got this back and forth started?

KEITH: So Friday night, at another smaller rally in Concord, Trump was seemingly delivering one of his regular rants about January 6 and Nancy Pelosi. But instead he said Nikki Haley repeatedly. You just have to hear it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: By the way, they never report the crowd on January 6th. You know, Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley - you know they - do you know they destroyed all of the information, all of the evidence, everything? Deleted and destroyed all of it, all of it, because of lots of things. Like, Nikki Haley is in charge of security.

KEITH: Nikki Haley was, of course, nowhere near Washington, D.C. or the Capitol on January 6. Trump's campaign is dismissing the glitch, saying Nikki and Nancy are two politicians whose names start with N, one and the same, but it certainly gave Haley an opening.

RASCOE: What about for the voters out there?

KEITH: One Trump supporter told me that early on, he didn't think that Trump had a chance, and he was looking at other candidates. But then Trump got indicted multiple times, and he knew he had to support Trump. You hear that a lot.

At the Haley events, she's getting polite applause, not the sort of roaring applause. But, you know, a lot of here - people here are really just trying to figure out what to do. Independent voters can vote in the Republican primary, and many we spoke to are looking for a way to stop Trump, and they think Haley has the best chance or, honestly, maybe the last-best chance because it's essentially a two-person race here in New Hampshire.

Ron DeSantis has a few events but really isn't competing. And New Hampshire may just be the last big contest before Trump runs away with it. Certainly, that is the impression he wants to leave.

RASCOE: That's NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you so much, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. 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.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.