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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump won overwhelmingly in the Iowa caucuses, the first official voting of the 2024 presidential primary.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Trump captured just over half of the Republican vote. That was in line with months of Iowa opinion polls.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: We want to thank the great people of Iowa. Thank you. We love you all.

(CHEERING)

MARTIN: While Trump ran away with it, the contest for second place was far closer, with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at 21% and former U.N. ambassador and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley at 19%.

INSKEEP: OK, everybody was up late last night, so we're going to hear lots of gravelly voices this morning, beginning with the distinctive voice of NPR's Don Gonyea, who's in Des Moines. Don, good morning.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

INSKEEP: How's the weather?

GONYEA: Eight below zero.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

GONYEA: But, you know, you get used to it. (Laughter).

INSKEEP: OK, OK, eight below zero. And it was almost that cold last evening when people showed up at these caucus sites to vote. What does Trump's big margin tell you?

GONYEA: You know how when we see polls, we're always careful to say polls say - as we should. But sometimes, the results come in, and the quick, the really quick call last night affirmed the Iowa polls and confirmed that this was just Trump's night. And it put a big exclamation point on it. Again, that's despite the 91 criminal charges Trump faces. Republicans here clearly not bothered by that. And that cold weather - it does appear to have helped pull down turnout compared to the record year, 2016, when Trump was last on the ballot. But look. There's no sense here that greater turnout was going to change these numbers in any meaningful way.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the runners-up because there was much focus on that and some question about whether Nikki Haley would be second or Ron DeSantis would be second. We will note that by a narrow margin, Ron DeSantis is in second place. What do you take away from that?

GONYEA: You know, while it's true being the winner in Iowa doesn't necessarily mean you go on to be the nominee over the years and years, this is clearly a much steeper comeback climb for Haley and DeSantis. In fact, it's a mountain, right? DeSantis finished second narrowly, and he needed that second place, given all that he invested here. You can argue he needed a better second place than he got. But this gives him something to hang on to to fight another day. Here's how he framed the result.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: Because of your support, in spite of all of that that they threw at us, everyone against us, we've got our ticket punched out of Iowa.

(CHEERING)

INSKEEP: Ticket punched, says DeSantis. What about Haley?

GONYEA: She's got to be a little disappointed, given her recent rise in polling that showed that second place was certainly possible, maybe even likely. But she was always thought to do better in the next state up - right? - New Hampshire, where there are more independents and more moderate voters. Those are more her voters. When she spoke last night, she tried to still set up a contrast with Trump, ignoring DeSantis.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIKKI HALEY: And the question before Americans is now very clear. Do you want more of the same?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: No.

HALEY: Or do you want a new generation of conservative leadership?

(CHEERING)

GONYEA: And, Steve, we should also add here that Vivek Ramaswamy finished in fourth place. And when he met with his supporters, he ended his campaign last night, and he endorsed Trump. So those are more votes for Trump to pick up in New Hampshire and other states because they were really kind of running in the same lane.

INSKEEP: Don, thanks, as always, for your insights. I hope you get some rest on the flight home.

GONYEA: Indeed. Thanks.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Don Gonyea.

Now, Iowa Public Radio's Sheila Brummer also followed last night's caucuses and, in fact, spent the evening at a caucus site in Sioux City, Iowa. Good morning.

SHEILA BRUMMER, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

INSKEEP: You know, in all the years that I've covered politics, been to Iowa, done lots of different things in almost every state, I've never literally been inside the room for an Iowa caucus event. What's it like?

BRUMMER: I'm surprised you haven't. It's a little different. You know, the Democrats - they go to corners, and it's very vocal, and they jockey around to figure out where they're going to be. But the Republicans - it's not quite the same. They get together. They pick out who's going to be, like, going to the the county caucus to see who's going to eventually maybe go and be a state delegate. But what they do is they get a piece of paper. They write down the candidate's name. And then a precinct chair counts, you know, who got what. And then they read it over a loudspeaker to everybody. So everyone knows before they leave how the precincts turned out. We had six of them here.

INSKEEP: Six below zero, if I'm not mistaken, was the temperature at caucus time. Did that affect turnout in your location?

BRUMMER: You know, I kind of thought it would, but they had 25% more people show up. We're at Western Iowa Tech Community College. And I think what happened is this area had a lot of storms. It was a week of nasty weather, a couple of snowstorms, a blizzard, the coldest air in a long time. And I think people maybe just wanted to get out of the house, maybe. And I know the former president - his supporters really wanted to make a big showing. And that's what they did.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that because it was thought that the weather would depress turnout. Don Gonyea noted that it was not as dramatic as 2016, when Trump was on his way up the first time, and there was a record turnout. But still, it was a bigger turnout than some other years. Did you hear from people who said, I think it is vitally important for me to show up, even though I know how the result is probably going to come out?

BRUMMER: Well, they didn't want to have that repeat of 2016 when Ted Cruz won. They wanted to get out, and they wanted to make sure that their candidate's going to be the one on the ballot in November.

INSKEEP: Did anybody that you met last evening address the downsides of this candidate, that they are voting for someone who's been indicted multiple times, who has all the distractions of trials, potentially during the general election, if he's nominated, would have all kinds of questions about what would happen if he's elected after being indicted?

BRUMMER: Well, supporters here for Trump say that he is - he's been wrongly accused. He didn't do it. It's just a witch hunt. Now, DeSantis and Haley supporters - they say the country needs someone else who doesn't have all that baggage. And there was even one person that said, you know what? I did support Trump in 2016 and 2020, but I'm moving on to a different candidate.

INSKEEP: One other thing - people who don't follow this every day may be wondering, what about the Democratic side? What's the deal there?

BRUMMER: Well, you may know that we had caucuses for the Democrats, too, in Iowa, but we won't know the results until Super Tuesday because the DNC wanted South Carolina to go first this year.

INSKEEP: Oh, wait. So they they voted but then didn't count the votes? Is that...

BRUMMER: Well, they're going to they're going to mail them in.

INSKEEP: Ah, mail-in ballots. And so the results will be held. This was Iowa's effort to stay first in the nation while technically no longer being first in the nation...

BRUMMER: True.

INSKEEP: ...Which is what the Democrats no longer wanted. OK, thanks so much, Sheila. Thanks.

BRUMMER: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's Iowa Public Radio's Sheila Brummer.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK, Don Gonyea already mentioned it. Let's talk about New Hampshire.

MARTIN: Yes. Primary voters there will have their say in exactly a week. New Hampshire's governor, Chris Sununu, has endorsed Nikki Haley, and it's a critical state for her.

INSKEEP: Josh Rogers of New Hampshire Public Radio is following it. Josh, good morning.

JOSH ROGERS, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Let's just work through how New Hampshire's electorate is different, if at all, from Iowa's.

ROGERS: Well, the Republican electorate in New Hampshire is more moderate than in Iowa. New Hampshire is among the least religious states in the country. And, you know, there's polling that shows most Republicans here support abortion rights, for instance. So it's different. And, you know, while social conservatives aren't the loud force they are in Iowa, it's really independents in New Hampshire. They actually make up the bulk of our electorate. And while they're not a monolith, they tend to gravitate towards winning candidates. They gravitated towards Donald Trump back in 2016 when he won the primary here. New Hampshire was the first state Trump carried. And this year, independent voters are being courted heavily by Nikki Haley, and she'll probably need their backing to make things competitive here.

INSKEEP: Well, what sort of issues are New Hampshire voters raising when they get a chance to question the candidates?

ROGERS: I'd say the economy is the biggest issue. Inflation, the cost of housing is a big issue here. You know, immigration and the border come up a lot also, as does foreign policy. You know, there's more of a debate on foreign policy than over the border. Lots of people curious about Nikki Haley, for instance, will say they're attracted to what they see as her more traditional views on the United States' role abroad. But Republicans who reject Haley often cite the same thing.

INSKEEP: What do you mean, cite the same thing?

ROGERS: Well, they cite - they're leery about potential engagement overseas, sort of a more isolationist, sort of Trump-inflected inflected transactional vision of how the U.S. should act and kind of America first.

INSKEEP: So foreign policy is part of the equation here. Let me raise the same question in New Hampshire that I raised when talking with Sheila Brummer in Iowa. What do you hear from Republican voters as they process the idea that their leading candidate has been indicted multiple times and would face that during a general election? And if he won, there would be all kinds of questions about how he would handle it as president.

ROGERS: Well, there are some who will tell you that is a concern. But most Republican voters I talked to see the legal issues facing former President Trump as being, you know, trumped up and not significant disqualifying factors. So we'll see. And, you know, we don't know what's going to come - you know, before he hits New Hampshire, you know, Trump's going to be in New York, appearing at the E. Jean Carroll defamation case hearing.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

ROGERS: So it's definitely a weird march from - to New Hampshire from a triumphant night in Iowa.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the challengers, who are, as you mentioned, a little closer, according to polling in New Hampshire, than they were in Iowa but still behind - Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis the only two significant challengers who are left. What is the case that they can make to this electorate that you've been describing?

ROGERS: Well, I mean, Nikki Haley is a very disciplined candidate. She's going to make the case that we need a generational shift. And, you know, she's been finding an audience for that message. I mean, she's built a campaign that is picking up momentum here. DeSantis is - you know, been arguing, I've delivered on my promises as Florida governor. And, you know, DeSantis certainly has some hardcore support here. But as far as attracting a broader New Hampshire following, you know, that hasn't materialized yet. And, you know, his campaign here has really felt like diminishing returns for months. So, you know, we'll see what a distant second place in Iowa does for him. But, you know, for Nikki Haley, New Hampshire's obviously going to be critical.

INSKEEP: Josh Rogers, senior political reporter at New Hampshire Public Radio, thanks so much.

ROGERS: 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.

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Morning Edition
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.