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Politics In The News: New Hampshire Primary


We called Iowa the first state where people voted in this presidential campaign. Although, technically, I guess they were caucusing.


Which is why New Hampshire can safely say it holds the first in the nation primary. And that would be tomorrow. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders both hold substantial leads in their parties' polling.

GREENE: Of course, New Hampshire is notorious for surprises. On the Republican side, who finishes second and third could be significant, as well. Coming out of Iowa, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio looked like he might have momentum.

MONTAGNE: But in a sometimes-raucous debate on ABC News Saturday night, he was the target of many attacks, especially from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who keeps calling Rubio a boy in a bubble.


CHRIS CHRISTIE: First, let's remember something - every morning, when a United States senator wakes up, they think about what kind of speech can I give or what kind of bill can I drop? Every morning when I wake up, I think about what kind of problem do I need to solve for the people who actually elected me? It's a different experience. It's a much different experience. And the fact is, Marco, you have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable. You just simply haven't.

MONTAGNE: Well, to talk politics we're joined by Cokie Roberts on the line, just as she does most Mondays. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Renee. Hi, David.

GREENE: Hi, Cokie. And in our studio with me in Washington, NPR's Susan Davis. Sue, it feels like we just left Iowa together.


SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Yes, it does.

GREENE: In some ways it feels like a few days or maybe weeks in how a presidential campaign goes. Let me start with you, Sue. You covered Marco Rubio in Iowa. And we were just talking just days ago about how he was leaving with all of this momentum...

DAVIS: Yeah.

GREENE: ...Maybe carrying this so-called establishment candidate flag. Attacks like that from Christie, are they hurting him in New Hampshire?

DAVIS: Well, what makes the New Hampshire primary tomorrow so - that much more exciting is there's really no effective way to poll this state coming out of the Saturday debate. So we don't really know how bad it hurt Rubio until we actually see how the votes fall Tuesday night. You know, for Rubio, there's probably still a path out of New Hampshire unless he's just completely obliterated. He's already working on South Carolina. He has prominent endorsements there. New Hampshire has always been cast as this proving ground for the governors. So even though Rubio did not have a good night on Saturday, New Hampshire is still really about how well can John Kasich, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush do and can any combination of those three survive?

GREENE: You just can't poll people in New Hampshire? It's that difficult?

DAVIS: Well, it's just that the turnaround is so quick that to be able to go out in the field and get an accurate result and measure it...

GREENE: Ah, the timing.

DAVIS: The timing just - so it adds to this sort of excitement factor going into the race.

ROBERTS: Yeah, we saw, for instance, in 1980, a Saturday night debate before the Tuesday primary, Ronald Reagan went from 21 points behind in his own polling to winning by more than 20 points.


ROBERTS: So it can be very, very fast. But look, what Chris Christie just said there that was so damaging is not even the robotic business that we've been hearing about with Rubio but the senator. You know we've only elected - before Barack Obama - two sitting senators in our history. And when Obama ran, he ran against a senator. So one of them had to win. But it is really not a good place to run for president from. And that's really, you know, the problem that - one of the big problems that Rubio and Ted Cruz are having.

MONTAGNE: And, Cokie, let's say John Kasich, governor, does better than expected tomorrow, comes in, say, a second or a strong third, then what?

ROBERTS: Well, it's hard to see where he goes from there. You know, we - the campaign moves south, where really nobody knows him. The hope for him is to hold on, get some money coming out of New Hampshire and hold on until the middle of March, which is an eternity from now in - politically. But at that point Ohio votes, his home state, and it's a winner-take-all primary. And maybe, you know, other people stay in long enough so that everybody's kind of piling up delegates here, delegates there. But of course we can't ignore the fact that the big story coming out of New Hampshire tomorrow night is likely to be Donald Trump. And he was behaving much more like a normal candidate over the weekend.

GREENE: Normal candidate meaning what? I mean, something different than he has in the past? Or what?

ROBERTS: (Laughter) Yes, he showed up personally on Sunday shows, not calling in on the phone in his pajamas.


ROBERTS: He was more restrained in the debate, you know, only going after Bush once and the audience a little bit. But - so I think that - and still, at the moment, but he's got a good lead in the polls.

GREENE: Well, let's turn to the Democrats. Bernie Sanders is still leading handily. Took a star turn on "Saturday Night Live." Sue, is this going to be a blowout for Sanders?

DAVIS: It should. You know, this is a state where Sanders has performed the best against Clinton in head-to-head matchups. The expectation here is that Bernie is not only going to win but he is going to do extremely well. The tighter the race I think the better that Hillary Clinton would be able to spin that coming out of New Hampshire. They have said, you know, this is a state that neighbors his home state of Vermont, that he is very well-known there and sort of playing this expectations game. At the same time, Sanders has said, hey, you know, this was your state in 2008. You won here. If you don't win here it shows how strong my candidacy is. So there's this funny thing going on in New Hampshire where no one's really claiming to be the frontrunner, you know? Everyone's sort of like, after you, no after you, no, no, no, you should be winning this race.

GREENE: It's a little like when the Republicans came out on stage at the debate. It was sort of like that mishap.

DAVIS: Yeah (laughter).

GREENE: It was after you, no, no, come on, after you.

DAVIS: Yeah.

ROBERTS: Well, the excitement among young people in New Hampshire is just as it was that you saw in Iowa, David. It is just overwhelming. And it includes young women. And they got something of a scolding from feminist icons Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem. Gloria Steinem said, you know, the girls were going to Bernie 'cause that's where the boys were. And of course she got a lot of pushback on that. And Pres. Clinton over the weekend also went after Bernie Sanders in a big way. And he is getting a certain amount of pushback. So, you know, I think that you're going to see a lot of that same excitement that we saw in Iowa showing up in New Hampshire tomorrow.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's talk about even further into the future, past tomorrow, and about who might have a blowout. We've heard a lot about Hillary Rodham Clinton's firewall in the South. How solid is she in South Carolina?

ROBERTS: Well, what we've been talking about is her tremendous lead among African-American voters. Now, we saw a former NAACP president, Ben Jealous, come out for Ben Sanders, a prominent South Carolina African-American legislator switch from Clinton to Sanders. So, you know, the firewall might not be as strong as she hopes it is. The truth is that her real firewall is super delegates. And she has many more of them than Sanders does. And those are of course those people who are party operatives or officeholders who were created for just this purpose of protecting the party against a candidate that they think will lose in the general election. But I think if you see a groundswell for Sanders, those super delegates who are all lining up behind Clinton now could change because there would be an outcry if they didn't.

MONTAGNE: Cokie. OK, well, thank you both very much. That is Cokie Roberts and NPR's Susan Davis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.