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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

New Hampshire holds its presidential primary tomorrow, with the Republican contest down to two.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis dropped out yesterday and endorsed Donald Trump. The former president has a significant lead over Nikki Haley, his final challenger for the GOP's presidential nomination.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ashley Lopez is in Manchester, N.H. I just checked the temperature here for Manchester, Ashley, and it says 12 - 12 degrees. I hope you're inside.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: I am. Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK, good, good.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: I can't wait to hear from the campaign trail later today. But for the moment you're warm. So how did DeSantis fall apart so completely?

LOPEZ: I mean, well, Ron DeSantis' campaign had trouble from the start, right? I don't know who remembers his campaign's announcement on Twitter Live, but it was kind of a disaster. And that really did set the tone for the rest of the campaign. Notably, there was a lot of turnover in his staff, including campaign manager resets, which really did not help. And while DeSantis did poll pretty well before he got in the race, once he actually announced, he really wasn't able to translate that into support for his campaign. So realizing that he probably wouldn't do particularly well in New Hampshire or on the next voting contest in Nevada, he decided to cut his losses and drop out, which I guess isn't too surprising.

INSKEEP: It feels fair to ask if any particular kind of campaign would have worked for DeSantis, given the person he was trying to dethrone, if that's the word.

LOPEZ: Yeah, I mean, that's a good question. I mean, even though this started as, like, a fairly crowded field of candidates for the GOP nomination, I mean, it never really was all that competitive, right? Trump has had an almost immovable lock on the nomination since the very beginning. And DeSantis' campaign is particularly interesting to look at - right? - because he was sort of positioned as this, like, Trump-like character, except that he doesn't have all the legal baggage that Trump is dealing with right now. So if voters cared about those legal issues and Trump's electability in the midst of all that, they would have had more support for DeSantis. But they just didn't. And this race looks pretty much like the way it started.

INSKEEP: Although we do have one challenger left...

LOPEZ: Right.

INSKEEP: ...Nikki Haley, who has said again and again and again that things could be different once she is the single challenger. And now she is.

LOPEZ: Yeah, that's right. And I would say, like, New Hampshire is going to be a good place for her to sort of, like, make that case. In comparison to Iowa, there are likely to be more moderate voters weighing in on this race. That's because New Hampshire allows independent and unaffiliated voters to cast a ballot in a GOP or Democratic primary. I should also note that in New Hampshire, there are more unaffiliated registered voters than there are actually registered Republicans or Democrats. So this is a particular help to Haley because she's a favorite among more moderate voters. Closed primaries or caucuses tend to be dominated by those base voters who are a little further from the center politically. And Haley also does better among more educated voters. And New Hampshire's population happens to have a higher education attainment compared to some of these other early states in the race.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should define our terms. When we say moderate or not, I mean, if you were to ask Haley, she would define herself as conservative. If you went through her policy positions, they are conservative. But really, what we're talking about is, are you for Trump or for something else in the Republican Party? And Haley is arguing for something else...

LOPEZ: That's right.

INSKEEP: ...In the Republican Party. Now, what factor will those 12-degree temperatures or whatever you're going to have tomorrow play in the turnout tomorrow?

LOPEZ: We'll see. For now, New Hampshire's secretary of state, David Scanlan, is predicting record turnout tomorrow. His office said in a statement late last week that they predict 322,000 votes will be cast in the state's Republican presidential primary on Tuesday. So we'll see (laughter).

INSKEEP: OK. All right. NPR's Ashley Lopez in Manchester, N.H., stay warm.

LOPEZ: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK, this next story takes us to India, where we are hearing the sounds of a celebration.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLOWING CONCH SHELLS)

MARTÍNEZ: Priests were blowing conch shells as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was leading the consecration of a temple to the Hindu Lord Ram, a temple that some argue has helped change India's very trajectory. A Hindu group built it on the site of a historic mosque razed three decades ago.

INSKEEP: NPR's Diaa Hadid is in Ayodhya, which is where the ceremony is taking place. Hey there, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What did you see?

HADID: Well, Steve, I'm sitting in the media room where journalists have been penned in while the consecration goes on. And we saw Narendra Modi, the prime minister, climb the stairs of the sweeping temple. And as he did, folks in this room broke out in cries of Jai Shri Ram, which means victory to Lord Ram. And the media has been breathlessly covering this event and the days leading to it. Kids have the day off. So do many civil servants. It feels and looks like a national celebration. Thousands of pilgrims have flocked here, as well, to Ayodhya, and they're celebrating, too. Have a listen.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in non-English language).

INSKEEP: Can you help us understand the backstory here? We mentioned that this temple was built on the site of what had been a mosque. What makes this a matter of some controversy?

HADID: Right. What makes it a matter of some controversy, Steve, is that this temple was built on the site of a 16th century mosque that was torn down more than 30 years ago by Hindu nationalists who believe it's the birthplace of Lord Ram. And that act triggered communal violence across South Asia, killed thousands, mostly Muslims. But in neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh, mobs also attacked Hindus. And those rioters were whipped up in part by the BJP. That's the party that now rules India, led by the prime minister, Narendra Modi. And he initiated the temple's building after the Supreme Court handed over the land to Hindu litigants in 2019. And, Steve, there's another interesting thing about this huge event, and that is that the construction of this temple is actually not complete.

INSKEEP: OK. If it's not complete, why is the prime minister leading this giant ceremony that you're describing?

HADID: Critics say the timing is key. They say that Modi has consecrated the temple today with an eye to upcoming elections, probably this spring, where he's expected to win a third successive term. I spoke to Ashutosh Varshney about this. He's the director of the Saxena Center for Contemporary South Asia at Brown University. And he argues that this is a winning electoral strategy precisely for what this temple has come to represent, which is the primacy of Hindus in India. But this is also a country that is meant to enshrine the equality of all its citizens.

ASHUTOSH VARSHNEY: The fact that the highest office of Indian polity will be leading the consecration essentially means a political declaration in favor of Hindu supremacy.

HADID: It's really like looking at a tale of two cities here. We spoke to one Ayodhya Muslim community leader, and he says he's genuinely happy for Hindus. Lord Ram is deeply revered here. But he says he wants his community to be treated with the same equality.

INSKEEP: NPR's Diaa Hadid is in Ayodhya, India. Diaa, thanks for the observations.

HADID: Thanks, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Today is the anniversary of a former constitutional right.

MARTÍNEZ: The Supreme Court issued its Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Now, for half a century, that ruling said Americans had the right to abortion. In 2022, the court majority said that right did not exist and never did. The ruling then threw abortion to legislatures, to politics, basically. And that energy and that turnout is something that Democrats are hoping to tap into this year in the presidential election. Here's Vice President Kamala Harris.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: In this year of our Lord 2024, the government should not be telling women what to do with their bodies.

MARTÍNEZ: So today, she's kicking off a tour on this issue in Wisconsin.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Deepa Shivaram is covering this story. Good morning.

DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK, so why are you guys traveling to Wisconsin?

SHIVARAM: You know, it's interesting because there are a lot of places where Kamala Harris could've started this tour, right? And to start in Wisconsin was a really deliberate choice by the VP's team. And she's not only starting just in Wisconsin, but she's in Waukesha County, which is a suburb of Milwaukee. It's a county that Donald Trump won in 2016 and in 2020. But it's part of the state where Democrats have been making inroads in recent elections. And when I spoke to a White House official a few days ago about this trip, they described Wisconsin as really representing the chaos of what overturning Roe did to people's lives. Right after the Supreme Court struck it down, Wisconsin decided to essentially ban abortions based on this little-known state law from 1849. And there was a 15-month stretch where people couldn't get legal abortions in the state. So the idea from the VP's team is really to showcase how far the country was taken back when Roe was overturned and kind of remind people, you know, how much the lives of patients and providers were disrupted and the dangers to people's health that has come with that.

INSKEEP: Well, the last couple of years have shown the political momentum on the Democrats' side here, or rather on...

SHIVARAM: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Let's say the pro-abortion rights side because more conservative places - Kansas, Ohio - have voted or found support for abortion rights. But how does the White House try to keep up momentum on their side in this?

SHIVARAM: Right. So I think one thing that will be notable to watch is where Harris ends up traveling on this tour. We don't have all the places she's going to go yet, but the goal for the VP is to highlight both sides of the spectrum on this issue, to visit states that have rolled back abortion rights and also states that have voted recently to enshrine them, like you mentioned them, turn them into law, and have advanced reproductive freedoms because people turned out to vote. And I'm also watching to see if Harris will be going to any states that are trying to have abortion initiatives on their ballots this fall, states like Arizona and Nevada, which are really crucial get-out-the-vote states for Democrats.

One thing that's also been kind of a different strategy, Steve, is that Harris has also been sharing a bit more about her own experience as a prosecutor and how she personally is connected to this issue of fighting for women and children. I spoke with Christina Reynolds from Emily's List, which is a political organization that helps elect women who support abortion rights. And she says it's likely that Harris may put some emphasis on the tour on what Republican candidates are also saying they'll do to reduce those rights.

CHRISTINA REYNOLDS: It's less about changing and more about making sure that that message gets out there, that the threat on the other side gets out there and making sure that a variety of audiences hear it.

SHIVARAM: And one of those key audiences that she's talking about that Harris is trying to reach on this issue is young voters, which the campaign is really trying to energize right now.

INSKEEP: It is interesting. On the Republican side, Donald Trump has effectively said this issue that he's been so involved with is a political loser. Nikki Haley has wanted to take it off the national table. Is President Biden likely to weigh in?

SHIVARAM: He's going to weigh in because people will hear from him tomorrow, actually. The campaign is throwing a big rally in northern Virginia. It's the first one this year that both Biden and Harris will be there for, as well as the first lady, Jill Biden, and Doug Emhoff, who's the second gentleman, of course. And the fact that it's in Virginia is pretty notable, too. In a state-level elections that happened last year, you know, Democrats campaigned on protecting abortion rights and were able to win back full control of the state legislature. And, you know, that kind of momentum is what Biden and Harris really want to tap into for their campaign this year.

INSKEEP: NPR's Deepa Shivaram, thanks.

SHIVARAM: Thank you.

INSKEEP: We also have this morning one of the numbers that quantifies, that gives a sense of the war between Israel and Hamas.

MARTÍNEZ: More than 25,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began nearly four months ago. That's according to the health ministry in the Gaza Strip. Israel has said many of those killed are militants. Palestinian authorities say most of the dead are women and children. It's a very young population overall.

INSKEEP: Hamas-led militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, on October 7 2023 and took many hostages back to Gaza. Many of them still remain in Gaza. And over the weekend, Israel said one of them had been killed.

MARTÍNEZ: Speaking at a global summit, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told an audience there, quote, "Israel's military operations have spread mass destruction and killed civilians on a scale unprecedented during my time as secretary-general."

INSKEEP: One view of the war between Israel and Hamas, which we will continue covering here on NPR. 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.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.