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GOP Candidates Head To South Carolina After Trump Victory In New Hampshire


The Republican race for president is on in South Carolina. Donald Trump took New Hampshire's primary last night, and that was after Ted Cruz's win in Iowa. Now the other Republican candidates are desperate for a win in the Southern state that often plays a key role in identifying the eventual Republican nominee. NPR's Scott Detrow reports.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: In the weeks and months before his second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, Ohio Gov. John Kasich all but moved to the Granite State. That means many voters in other early states may not know too much about him. At a town hall at a Charleston country club this morning, a woman asked a blunt question. She said she had heard Kasich has a, quote, "hair-triggered temper." So how could he bring people together like he's promising?


JOHN KASICH: No, I probably can't.


DETROW: As the laughter died down, Kasich said he's probably mellowed since trading Congress for the governor's office.


KASICH: Let me put it to you this way. When I was in Congress, I spent my whole life with a battering ram, trying to knock down the walls of the city to get what I wanted. Now that I'm the governor, I now run the city.

DETROW: The Republican race comes to South Carolina in a much more muddled state than many people expected it to. Not only did Kasich do better than many people thought, but Marco Rubio faltered, and Jeb Bush survived. The result - all three are still battling each other to be the GOP establishment's candidate of choice as well as clawing at early winners Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. In South Carolina, Bush is planning on focusing on experience.


JEB BUSH: We need a president that has a steady hand, that knows that the military needs to be rebuilt.

DETROW: In Hilton Head this morning, Bush argued he'd make the best commander-in-chief of all the candidates left in the race. That's an argument that his brother, former President George W. Bush, is already making in a radio spot airing in South Carolina.


GEORGE W. BUSH: We live in troubled times with the military deployed around the world. We need a strong leader with experience.

DETROW: The former president is expected to hit the campaign trail in South Carolina for the first time this year. As for the other Floridian in the race, Marco Rubio is trying to shake off a disastrous debate performance that turned talk of Marcomentum (ph) into a disappointing fifth-place finish in New Hampshire.

On the flight to South Carolina, Rubio told reporters he'll be more active about pointing out differences between him and other Republican candidates. But at his first appearance in Spartanburg, Rubio kept the focus on the big picture and beating Democrats in November.


MARCO RUBIO: If they win, Obamacare is permanent. If they win, these executive orders that they did are permanent. If they win, our military keeps getting gutted.

DETROW: Bush, Kasich and Rubio are all fighting for the same chunk of the Republican vote - the more traditional, business-friendly establishment that has backed previous nominees like John McCain, Bush and Bob Dole - all men who won South Carolina. While the establishment sorts itself out, Ted Cruz is working to paint the race as a two-man contest.


TED CRUZ: One of the most important conclusions coming out of these first two states is that the only candidate who can beat Donald Trump is me.

DETROW: That's not stopping Cruz from taking shots at the other candidates, though.


CRUZ: Well, listen; one of the realities is you cannot beat Donald Trump running from the left. When you see more establishment candidates standing on the debate stage saying, gosh, Donald, you know, we need more amnesty; gosh, Donald, don't be so tough on radical Islamic terrorists, that's not going to work.

DETROW: Two candidates who aren't making the trip to South Carolina - Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina. Both Republicans decided to end their campaigns Wednesday after disappointing finishes in both Iowa and New Hampshire. At one point, the New Jersey governor had been a Republican favorite, but he passed on a run in 2012 when his popularity was near an all-time high. By the time he got into the 2016 race, the ground had shifted both for a governor facing a high profile scandal and for a Republican electorate that suddenly wasn't so sure it was interested in governors. Scott Detrow, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.