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From Iowa To New Hampshire: Presidential Candidates Focus On Next Contest


All right, we're going to pull back from some of that math and bring in NPR's Mara Liasson to talk about the politics. Hey there, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hey there, Audie.

CORNISH: Let's start with the Democrats. Now, how does this very, very narrow win - what does it mean for Hillary Clinton?

LIASSON: Well, it's deja vu all over again. Iowa is a really cursed state for Hillary Clinton. She wanted to exercise those demons from 2008 when she came in third, and her field operation thought that they'd crossed every T and dotted every I. And in the end, it probably did heave her over the finish line and avoid a real loss there.

So what she got in Iowa wasn't the worst-case scenario. It was the second-worst-case scenario. She's now heading to theoretically friendlier turf. New Hampshire has been good to both Clintons, but this time, there's Bernie Sanders, who's the super popular next-door neighbor, and so she doesn't get the advantage of the momentum that a more decisive win in Iowa would have given her in New Hampshire.

CORNISH: You talk about New Hampshire being a friendly place to Bernie Sanders. Talk more about that - New Hampshire and beyond.

LIASSON: Well, assuming Sanders wins, he'll have the money to carry on till the bitter end. It could be a long slog. The South is theoretically better terrain for Clinton. So she has to decide where to invest resources this week. Does she stay in New Hampshire where Bernie Sanders has a 25-point lead, or does she go to Nevada and South Carolina where there are more Hispanics and African-Americans and union voters?

So for Sanders, he also has a decision to make - how much, if at all, to talk about the FBI investigation and the possibility that Clinton could be indicted. I think for Clinton, the worst thing about Iowa was not how close Sanders came but how much it exposed her own weaknesses.

And this is what really worries Democrats that I've been talking to. They're saying maybe she's just the wrong candidate for the times. She can't seem to connect with this antiestablishment voter mood other than to channel Bernie Sanders in a very loud voice. She hasn't found a way to relate to young people, which is a really important part of the Obama coalition that Democrats will need in November. Sanders just crushed her with young people. And it's also not clear what her message is, what her unifying theme is. She has a very commendable list of detailed policy proposals, but voters today are really angry, and they want something more.

CORNISH: On the Republican side, Ted Cruz the clear winner, Donald in second place. But New Hampshire - right? - primaries are not caucuses.

LIASSON: That's right. Cruz does get the bragging rights - the first guy to make Donald Trump into a loser. Trump's concession speech was, to coin a phrase, low energy. But when he goes to New Hampshire, he might get his energy back because he has a very big lead there. As you say, it's a primary, not a caucus. He doesn't need a Cruz-level field operation to get his voters to the polls there. There are fewer evangelical voters. Trump is getting the endorsement of former Senator Scott Brown today. Ted Cruz's challenge in New Hampshire is to expand his coalition beyond evangelicals and come in second and then look to the South, where there are more friendly states.

CORNISH: And the storyline about beating expectations went to Marco Rubio who finished third. What does that mean for him going forward?

LIASSON: Well, Rubio is in the position he always wanted to be in. He was one point behind Trump in Iowa, so he got the most momentum of any Republican coming out of Iowa. But waiting for him in New Hampshire are a lot of people who are not ready to give up, like John Kasich and Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. They haven't gotten the memo about how they're supposed to step aside for Rubio, at least not until after New Hampshire.

It's going to be interesting to see who Rubio sees as his biggest obstacle in New Hampshire. So far, he has refrained from attacking Trump, but can he really keep that up in New Hampshire? Rubio has to place a strong second in New Hampshire and then go on to win either Nevada or South Carolina or both. He got the endorsement of South Carolina Senator Tim Scott today, and the Republican establishment which has really sidelined itself so far in this race wants to coalesce around Rubio. And he's the Republican that Democrats feel would be the hardest to beat. But the Republican battle looks like it could also be a very, very long one.

CORNISH: That's NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.