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New Hampshire primary is Nikki Haley's best shot at beating Trump for the nomination

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The Republican race for president is now down to just two viable candidates, Nikki Haley and Donald Trump. And tomorrow's primary in New Hampshire has stakes for Republicans across the nation because New Hampshire voters may cast a decisive message about who will be the last woman or man left standing. Josh Rogers of New Hampshire Public Radio has been talking with voters in his state. Hi, Josh.

JOSH ROGERS, BYLINE: Good afternoon.

SUMMERS: So, Josh, I want to mention first that we'll hear elsewhere in today's show about how Democrats are preparing there in New Hampshire. But in the final hours before polling places open, tell us. What's the state of the race there in New Hampshire for Republicans?

ROGERS: Well, the only consequential Republican candidates left are, as you mentioned, president - former President Donald Trump and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. And for Trump, a win in New Hampshire of really any size could effectively end the nominating contest for Nikki Haley. Tomorrow in New Hampshire may be her best - really, her only - chance to check Trump's progress and possibly make this race more of a competition. New Hampshire is a state where the primary is open, meaning that independents can cast ballots in the primary of their choosing. And Haley is going to need support of independents and, in general, backing from voters outside the Republican mainstream because Donald Trump's grip on many core Republicans here does appear to remain very strong.

SUMMERS: Right. I know it's been a cold weekend there in New Hampshire, and you spent your weekend tracking the candidates, talking to voters. What did you hear and see?

ROGERS: Well, the animosity between Trump and Nikki Haley has certainly ramped up in the closing moments of the primary. Each one is really questioning the other's fitness to lead. More interesting to me, and maybe more telling than the candidates, are what voters are saying. And, you know, in some ways, the crowds at Trump and Haley events - they almost operate in different, separate worlds. At Trump events, you'll find plenty of voters who say they never really seriously considered other candidates - people like Greg Salts, a former state lawmaker who works as a truck driver.

GREG SALTS: If you're not Team Trump, you're on the enemies list. I just don't want to even be seen at any of the other events. I mean, I'd like to go hear Nikki Haley and DeSantis, but I just don't want to be seen there because, you know, I got my reputation. You know, I'm Team Trump.

ROGERS: You know, I spoke to Greg Salts before Ron DeSantis dropped out of this race. But for him and lots of other folks backing Trump, the identity of being a Trump supporter has really become, you know, sort of a key part of how they see themselves in the world.

SUMMERS: OK, so that is a Trump supporter. But what about at Nikki Haley's events? Is it a different kind of feel there?

ROGERS: Well, there are definitely voters there who are really committed to Nikki Haley, think she'd be a fantastic president. There are also many who are turning out due to an antipathy to Trump or Trumpism. Eileen Kirk is a doctor who was checking out Haley last night in Exeter. She voted for Donald Trump before but says she now is seeking a president who could plausibly lead the whole country.

EILEEN KIRK: Somebody that's strong in their convictions, is sane and thoughtful in their weighing of the facts, is not bombastic could be somebody that pulls the country together.

ROGERS: You know, in essence, she's making one of Haley's main arguments for running. But I ought to add that Kirk said she's not fully made up her mind even though she traveled over an hour to see Haley last night.

SUMMERS: As you mentioned, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis dropped out of the race. He has endorsed former President Trump, making this essentially a one-on-one contest between Trump and Haley. In a sentence or two, Josh, what are you watching for as votes come in tomorrow night?

ROGERS: Turnout. The secretary of state's projecting a record Republican turnout - 322,000 people. You know, the higher...

SUMMERS: OK.

ROGERS: ...The turnout is, the better it could be for Nikki Haley. She'll need to maximize support from people who...

SUMMERS: Right.

ROGERS: ...Don't tend to vote Republican. And she'll need to pick up...

SUMMERS: OK.

ROGERS: ...Independent voters.

SUMMERS: Senior political reporter Josh Rogers with New Hampshire Public Radio. Thanks.

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.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000 and serves as NHPRâââ

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