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In New Hampshire, Mainstream Republicans Battle To Revive Campaigns


Voters in New Hampshire started casting ballots at midnight, and soon, we'll learn which presidential candidates they've chosen. We're going to check in now on a couple of the Republicans. Donald Trump has been dominating the field in New Hampshire for months while Marco Rubio has tried to consolidate support from mainstream Republicans after his strong finish last week in Iowa. NPR's Sarah McCammon and Asma Khalid are both in Manchester, N.H. Sarah's been following the Trump campaign, and Asma's been following the Rubio campaign. Welcome to both of you.


ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Happy to be here.

SHAPIRO: Sarah, we saw what happened in Iowa to Donald Trump where he came in second despite the polls. Is he acting like a man who has nothing to worry about tonight?

MCCAMMON: Well, Ari, arguably, he has less to worry about. He does have a bigger lead in the polls. Although, as you mentioned, last time, the polls were wrong, and he did not win in Iowa. But the campaign seems very confident that they're going to win tonight. I spoke with Trump's state director here in New Hampshire today, and he said, you know, they're confident. But they were kind of trying to downplay the margin by which they think he'll win. He said a win is a win. And they're really working hard to get out the vote. They've got hundreds of volunteers, phone banking even today.

Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump's daughter, was at the state headquarters today thanking those volunteers for their hard work. And I did ask the state director for the campaign who the biggest competition is for Trump, and they say that's something that will be sorted out by how things go tonight in New Hampshire.

SHAPIRO: Well, speaking of the competition, Asma, you have been with Marco Rubio today. How does he look like he's feeling?

KHALID: Well, Ari, Rubio has run this campaign of optimism throughout the election season so far. And you know, today, he was trying to stay positive as well. He stopped by a few different polling stations, and I was with him at one. It was really crowded. You know, there were supporters who were chanting his name. And he talked strategy, you know?

He was asked about his game plan. And one reporter asked him, was his strategy, essentially, a three, two, one, meaning, essentially, a third place in Iowa, a second-place finish in New Hampshire and then aiming for a first-place finish in South Carolina. He insisted no, that that's never been his strategy, and he wants to win as many delegates as possible.

But one thing I want to throw in is that, you know, he has been consistently trying to somewhat lowball expectations. He did tell us yesterday that Trump has led every poll here for months. And he also pointed out that some of his GOP rivals have focused exclusively on New Hampshire for months, which he has not been - done.

SHAPIRO: Well, his performance at the debate Saturday night might have succeeded in lowering expectations. He got pretty rough reviews from there. How has he acted since?

KHALID: You're right. I mean, the debate, I think, was largely, especially in the view of sort of the media and the political class, viewed as a misstep for him. I will say at his campaign events, though, he still brought out very, very large crowds, and you get mixed reviews when you talk to voters, particularly those undecided voters.

I think the biggest takeaway from the debate was that, you know, when he made those missteps - and we should clarify; the misstep is when he sort of repeated the same line about how President Obama wants to change America multiple times back to back - his rivals pounced on him. And the suggested that this first-term senator doesn't have the experience to be president. And I think we've seen the governors in this race - Chris Christie, John Kasich and Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush - all trying to prove that they're more seasoned to handle the job. And we've heard them all insist that they are seeing momentum, too, now. So you know, who's really got the momentum, who's really got the edge is a little unclear.

SHAPIRO: If we look past the New Hampshire, Sarah, if Trump doesn't take first place, if he loses again as he did in Iowa, what does that mean for his campaign?

MCCAMMON: Donald Trump really needs to win here in New Hampshire, Ari. So much of his campaign, so much of his messaging is about being a winner. You know, almost every rally, he gets up and talks about his great poll numbers and his debate performances and the strength of his campaign. If he doesn't come in with a first place win, that looks very bad for Donald Trump.

Again, like we mentioned, if the polls are any indication, he should win. He has an advantage. But last time, you know, those poll numbers and those big rallies did not translate in Iowa. And you know, New Hampshire's the kind of state that typically picks more establishment candidates, so Donald Trump would be a departure from that. Of course, his campaign has been a departure from convention in so many ways. But his campaign says if he wins here tonight in New Hampshire, that will seal him as the Republican frontrunner.

SHAPIRO: Well, we're going to continue with updates from New Hampshire all night, including - we'll check in on the Democratic race elsewhere in the program. That's NPR's Sarah McCammon and NPR's Asma Khalid, both joining us from Manchester. Thanks to you both and talk to you soon.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.