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Trump and Haley will take center stage in the New Hampshire primary

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump got a huge endorsement last night ahead of the crucial New Hampshire primary.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: He's a senator from South Carolina. He's a fantastic man, Tim Scott.

SIMON: Senator Tim Scott appeared on stage with Trump at a rally in Concord as he looks to finish off his competitors, specifically Nikki Haley. Former president is leading the polls in New Hampshire, but she may be closing in on him. Last night's endorsement is already fueling speculation that Tim Scott could become Trump's choice for running mate. NPR's Franco Ordoñez is covering the campaign. Franco, thanks so much for being with us.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: A number of reasons why this is a particularly significant endorsement, isn't there?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, there's so many. I mean, you mentioned one, and that's him potentially being a running mate. You know, Scott dropped his own bid for the White House in November, and at the time he said he had no plans to endorse a candidate. You know, Trump was courting him. Haley was courting him. So was DeSantis, a source told me. You know, Scott is popular. He's influential. He's also the only Black Republican in the Senate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIM SCOTT: You see, we need a president who doesn't see Black or white. We see a president who sees Americans as one American family. We need...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Trump, Trump.

ORDOÑEZ: And, Scott, this is a really big blow to Nikki Haley. Nikki Haley appointed Scott to the Senate when she was governor of South Carolina. And Scott also enjoys more support in their shared home state, you know, which is an important one in the primary calendar. You know, it's a big win for Trump. And just one more thing - you know, Elise Stefanik of New York, she was also in New Hampshire yesterday kind of warming up the crowd. She's also in the veepstakes, you know, as a potential running mate.

SIMON: Nikki Haley is still behind Donald Trump in the polls, but she may have her best prospects in New Hampshire, right?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. One reason is that Republicans in New Hampshire are generally more moderate. They're more traditional, fiscally conscious. But perhaps a bigger variable is the independent voters who in here can pick what party's primary they want to vote in, and they're expected to vote in the Republican primary because that's where the action is. Plus, it's the first-in-the-nation primary, and they really don't kid around about that in New Hampshire. Here's how the state's former attorney general, Tom Rath, explained it.

TOM RATH: We understand that our vote in this primary is probably our most significant political possession, and we take our role very, very seriously.

ORDOÑEZ: Now, Haley's trailing Trump by over 10 points in the polls. But again, it's really hard to predict how many of those independent voters will show up on Tuesday.

SIMON: And what about Ron DeSantis 'cause he actually bested Haley by a couple of points in Iowa?

ORDOÑEZ: He did, but he's just not much of a factor in New Hampshire. DeSantis invested so much of his energy and his money in Iowa but didn't pay much attention to the Granite State. I mean, he's not even in the state this weekend. He's instead making appearances across South Carolina, and he's polling in the single digits, while Haley - she's kind of bet it all on New Hampshire and is polling around 30%. This is really a two-person race.

SIMON: Nikki Haley has been pointedly sharper talking about Donald Trump. She had been reluctant to do that for much of the campaign.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, I mean, her campaign is on the line here, and she kind of has to turn up the heat. Now, I wouldn't say it's been red hot, but her attacks have been stronger, you know, saying Trump's throwing a temper tantrum, that he's lying about her supporters. You know, this is the best chance for Haley to stop his campaign from running away with the nomination. The next two states are South Carolina and Nevada, where there are more Trump-style voters. So if someone's going to rise from Trump's shadow, it really, really has to be here.

SIMON: NPR's Franco Ordoñez, thanks so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thanks, Scott. 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.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.