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Next GOP Stop: New Hampshire


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Voters in New Hampshire are getting a last close-up glimpse of the candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination. But the number of candidates is dwindling in this last weekend before Tuesday's primary vote. Now, in a moment, we'll hear how Congressman Ron Paul's New Hampshire bid is shaping up. First, we're joined by NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea in Manchester. Don, thanks very much for being with us.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: My pleasure. Good morning.

SIMON: And we're just days away from New Hampshire's primary. Give us a sense of what's going on, please.

GONYEA: Candidates are busy. I don't know if this is an indicator of anything. But not a single event that has the word pancake in it this morning, Scott. So….

SIMON: We're living in the age of the vegan omelet.

GONYEA: I think that's it. But there are unseasonably warm temperatures here today. The forecast is 48 degrees. So, expect big crowds, expect a lot of activity. Again, everybody is here with the exception of Texas governor Rick Perry, who's putting it all on South Carolina. He's down there. But it's important to remember how different New Hampshire is from Iowa - aside from the obvious. Voters here are far more likely to be independent. Thirty-eight percent of them self-identify as independent. They're far less likely than Iowa to be evangelical Christian or conservative Christian. Twenty-two percent here, compared to 57 percent in Iowa. So, it's a different kind of race and a different dynamic up here.

SIMON: Now, I understand you traveled a bit with Rick Santorum's campaign this week. Has he adjusted his message for New Hampshire after the success he enjoyed in Iowa?

GONYEA: He's shifted his focus a bit more, away from some of those social conservative topics - abortion, gay marriage - more toward a populist economic message. But again, he's drawing huge crowds, but he's not sneaking up on anybody here in New Hampshire the way he did in Iowa. He comes here after that very strong finish, losing by just eight votes to Mitt Romney in New Hampshire. So, everywhere I went with him yesterday, we also saw the fire marshals.

SIMON: That's a good sign for a candidate.

GONYEA: It's a very sign because it means they have filled the room they booked, and then some. Now, the Santorum campaign has booked relatively small rooms. But yesterday afternoon in Manchester, we were at the Belmont Hall, a kind of a place where you have wedding receptions and the like in town and it was just packed. So, ultimately they moved the whole thing out to the parking lot; no sound system, just the candidate standing there, shouting to the crowd, taking questions. His message there was: don't assume Mitt Romney is the only guy who can beat President Obama. Give a listen:


GONYEA: So you can hear him kind of shouting to this crowd, but there was something else there that we've seen at a lot of these Santorum events - hecklers. They had easy access to the candidate this time because he was standing outside. But you heard a guy yell: Why do you want to take our freedoms away? He has been encountered by people at every stop, either heckling or asking questions about his staunch opposition to gay marriage, to same-sex marriage, and he has been very happy to step away from his economic message and engage. So there's been a lot of that for him.

SIMON: Now, of course, Don, there're just a small number of delegates that are actually at stake in New Hampshire. Help us understand why we cover this event so much.

GONYEA: At this stage of the game, it's not about the delegates. It's about these candidates demonstrating early strength. New Hampshire is so important because it is Mitt Romney's backyard. He was governor of Massachusetts. He owes a vacation home here in New Hampshire. He is expected to do very well. He needs to do very well. But already people are looking to South Carolina, the next contest and candidates are already bouncing back and forth between these two states.

SIMON: NPR's national political correspondent, Don Gonyea in Manchester, New Hampshire. Don, thanks so much.

GONYEA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.