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The State Of Play In New Hampshire Hours Before Polls Close

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Voting is still underway here in the first primary state of the 2020 election, but soon enough, we may have a clearer sense of the Democratic presidential field. And here with me in our Manchester studio is NPR's Asma Khalid and Scott Detrow. Good to have you both here at the start of what could be a long night.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good afternoon.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Thank you. It's great to be here.

SHAPIRO: What are you both watching for tonight?

DETROW: Well, obviously, there's who finishes in what place in the primary.

SHAPIRO: Right.

DETROW: But to me, the overarching question is what turnout is like tonight.

SHAPIRO: Why is that important?

DETROW: It was relatively flat in Iowa, concerning some Democrats because if you look at the primary season as a whole - and obviously, we have many, many states to go - higher turnout is a good indication of whether a party is energized a lot. And a lot of Democrats are suddenly concerned that Iowa was relatively flat. There's been years and years of Democratic excitement, enthusiasm to take on President Trump, and they're worried that might be lagging at just the wrong time. We - there are indications that it might be a little more flat today as well, and the Democratic Party chairman was saying, don't expect anything near 2008 levels.

SHAPIRO: Asma, what are you looking for?

KHALID: And that's interesting. I want to kind of echo Scott there because that's so interesting to me because the Democratic Party chair - I recall talking to him back in September at the big state party convention. And at that point, you know, they were touting the fact that they had more people show up to that state convention than they'd ever seen. So clearly, something has changed in enthusiasm levels, and if they aren't where - you know, if they aren't anywhere near 2008 levels, which is what they're foreshadowing, I don't know what that means for a general election for Democrats.

SHAPIRO: Asma, you were originally planning to be with former Vice President Joe Biden tonight as results come in, but he has said that he's going to be leaving for South Carolina. So he had already conceded he was unlikely to perform well tonight. Where does his race go from here?

KHALID: So I guess physically, he is going to be in South Carolina.

SHAPIRO: Right. Yeah.

KHALID: So he is focusing a lot of attention on that state. That state will vote fourth in the calendar. And he and his campaign have long said, you know, you've got to look at the first four votes as a package. You need to focus on more diverse states. And, you know, regardless of where Joe Biden finishes tonight, there is some truth to that statement that Iowa and New Hampshire are fundamentally not representative of the Democratic race.

SHAPIRO: Two of the whitest states in the country, right?

KHALID: Very old as well here in New Hampshire - they're just not really where the party is. I think, you know, the bigger question to me here, though, is - we saw Pete Buttigieg squeeze out Joe Biden's, I would say, sort of quest to really fill that and consolidate that moderate lane in Iowa. Here in New Hampshire, I got the sense that it's not just Pete Buttigieg. It's also Amy Klobuchar. I was at one of her events. She seemed to really be gaining some momentum in just the last couple of days here.

SHAPIRO: Well, let's talk about the person who appears to be the frontrunner, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. He had a strong showing in Iowa, apparently tying for first place. And he's been holding huge rallies here in New Hampshire. One last night had about 8,000 supporters. Scott, what's next for the Sanders campaign?

DETROW: And it was a deafening rally, too. People were there to hear music from The Strokes, but they...

SHAPIRO: Right.

DETROW: ...Were going nuts for Senator Sanders, for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He is showing numbers that - in a way that no other candidate is showing. And I think the math continues to look good for him going forward. After this is Nevada. The Biden campaign keeps talking about South Carolina, but Nevada is, in fact, the next contest.

The Sanders campaign has been doing a lot of work on the ground there. He has strong support from Latino voters, and that's something to watch for - how much Latino voters come out in force for Senator Sanders in Nevada and whether Joe Biden is going to have yet another weak performance there. I think the Sanders campaign has been spending a lot of money and organizing on these massive days in March where so many delegates will be at stake, and that's something where the other campaigns have to catch up to Bernie Sanders.

SHAPIRO: Asma, what about another neighbor, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren? Typically, politicians from neighboring states do well in New Hampshire. What's at stake for Warren's campaign tonight?

KHALID: So Warren finished in third place in Iowa. That was sort of on par with where she was in the polls there. I think the challenge for her campaign, though, has been - they have so frequently been praised for their level of organization. Even other campaigns would praise her organization. And that did not seem to give her, you know, a first- or second-place finish there. Here in New Hampshire, too, there's pressure because both Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders are coming into New Hampshire with momentum from the state of Iowa. You know, I would say, you know, if you're Elizabeth Warren's campaign right now, a poor finish in New Hampshire would be really tough because, as you say, neighbors tend to do really well in the state of New Hampshire. If you can't do too well in your neighboring state, you know, I think the path forward looks kind of murky for her.

SHAPIRO: Do you think underperforming candidates are likely to drop out after New Hampshire?

DETROW: I think it's a big question. You know, when you hear campaigns, as Anita Dunn, Joe Biden's - one of his top advisers told you on the program, that, you know, it's a long race - more than half of the delegates are assigned in March. The race becomes nationalized in March. There is very little room to grow momentum before that happens.

SHAPIRO: Not a lot of money, though, just in case.

DETROW: Exactly.

SHAPIRO: You got to keep campaigning and keep advertising.

KHALID: It'll be really interesting. I mean, Super Tuesday is California, Texas - these large, large states. It's not a lot of room to move after that.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR political correspondents Asma Khalid and Scott Detrow, who will be watching the returns tonight here in Manchester. Thank you both.

KHALID: You're welcome.

DETROW: Hoping for real returns. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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