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As Mount Washington calmly reigns over much of New Hampshire's geography, Mount Romney smiles down on the last day before the state holds the nation's first presidential primary.

The front-running former governor of neighboring Massachusetts spent the day getting chummy with crowds in Nashua and Hudson and Bedford, reciting his favorite lines from "America the Beautiful" and engaging in other behaviors just as risky. He came out in favor of free enterprise and job creation and got really cross with the Chinese for currency manipulation and intellectual property theft.

On Tuesday night, New Hampshire voters could catapult Mitt Romney securely onto the path of the Republican nomination, or they could undercut the air of inevitability surrounding his campaign.

The former Massachusetts governor is clearly expecting the catapult. One indication? On Monday morning, the candidate changed his rhetoric to reposition himself even more squarely as a general election candidate.

White House Chief of Staff William Daley is stepping down from his post and will be replaced by Budget Director Jack Lew, NPR's Scott Horsley has confirmed.

It's ScuttleButton Time!

Jan 9, 2012

There was a lot of talk about God and religion during last week's Republican caucuses in Iowa.

Then came the miraculous victory Sunday in the playoffs by the Denver Broncos and their quarterback, Tim Tebow.

There are no coincidences when it comes to politics, sports and religion.

A handful of new polls are out, all of which have Mitt Romney ahead in the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary by varying margins.

On Morning Edition Monday, Steve Inskeep spoke with six women in Derry, N.H. who all plan to vote in Tuesday's first presidential primary.

Inskeep dropped by the home of Elaine Sweeney, where the women gathered for coffee, donuts and wine on Sunday to talk politics. Her house in Derry overlooks Beaver Lake, covered this time of year with a thin film of ice.

At last, the rivals who were supposed to savage front-runner Mitt Romney in the final weekend before Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire got down to business.

In the opening minutes of their debate Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, several of those chasing Romney in the polls let fly the roundhouse punches they'd been pulling through weeks and months of TV debates.

Once more, the great media consensus was confounded. Saturday night's debate at St. Anselm's College in Manchester, N.H., produced another battle among half a dozen presidential contenders, much like a dozen before it. Front-runner Mitt Romney was neither knocked out nor even knocked down. He was scarcely even knocked around.

Once again, the evening ended with the bruises pretty equally distributed among the contestants. And with the New Hampshire primary bearing down on Tuesday, virtually no time remains for Romney's rivals to bring him down.

Many of the journalists and professional political types who dutifully watched Saturday night's Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire probably had the same thought occur to them at several points: "For this we missed most of the NFL wildcard game between the New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions?"

Saying he's there "to make sure we make Mitt Romney the next president of the United States of America," 2008 Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain just returned to New Hampshire to endorse the White House bid of his one-time rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

McCain and Romney fought a hard battle for the GOP nomination n 2008, after which Romney endorsed the Arizona senator.

The Ultimate NH Primary Cheat Sheet

Jan 4, 2012

After months of political debates, ad buying, and hand-shaking, the New Hampshire Republican primary is finally upon us. And not surprisingly, the latest WMUR Granite State Poll from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center shows that the economy/jobs is the top issue for about 60 percent of the state's voters.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann announced Wednesday that she is suspending her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. The conservative provocateur finished a disappointing sixth in Tuesday's caucuses in Iowa, with just 5 percent of the vote.

"Last night the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice," Bachmann said at a mid-morning news conference in West Des Moines. "So I have decided to stand aside."

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Republicans may not necessarily agree on whom should be their party's presidential nominee. But they're fairly unanimous that the contest won't take a truly decisive turn until it reaches the Palmetto State.

And Tuesday night's inclusive results in the Iowa caucuses in which Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum could each declare victory, with Romney declared the winner by just eight votes should do nothing to dispel that notion.

Though he said last night that he would go home to reassess his bid for the presidency — a signal that he might drop out of the race — this message just popped up on the personal Twitter page of Texas Gov. Rick Perry:

"And the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State...Here we come South Carolina!!!"

Iowa proved a road to victory for Mitt Romney, but it was a road to nowhere for Michele Bachmann.

"Last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, and so I have decided to stand aside," Bachmann said Wednesday at a West Des Moines news conference. The Minnesota congresswoman decided to end her 2012 presidential bid after finishing sixth in Tuesday's caucuses in Iowa — the state where she was born and where, just five months ago, she won a Republican straw poll in Ames.

The photo finish in Iowa — officially, Mitt Romney bested Rick Santorum by only eight votes — has catapulted Santorum into the front ranks of Republican presidential hopefuls.

"This is huge news for Santorum," says Charlie Arlinghaus, who directs a conservative think tank in New Hampshire. "I don't think there's a way to spin the results without saying he's the big winner tonight."

Several news outlets, including the AP and The New York Times, report that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., will endorse Mitt Romney.

At Ron Paul's caucus night event in Ankeny, Iowa, most of his supporters were celebrating. Paul finished a strong third in Tuesday night's caucuses.

But one man in the crowd — famed Republican strategist Frank Luntz — was much more concerned with what happens next.

"I think over the next 24 to 48 hours, the campaign's gonna get a little bit meaner, a little darker, and a little bit more personal, as the candidates now fight for their life," said Luntz, who spoke with NPR in between television appearances Tuesday night.

Rick Perry To Reassess Bid After Loss In Iowa

Jan 4, 2012

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he will return to his home state and "assess the results" of Tuesday's Iowa caucuses, after getting just 10 percent of the vote.

"With the voters' decision tonight in Iowa, I decided to return to Texas, assess the results of tonight's caucus, determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race," Perry said.

He was originally scheduled to campaign in South Carolina on Wednesday, but those plans were put on hold after his distant fifth-place finish.

The Associated Press adds:

It's on to New Hampshire for at least some of the Republican presidential candidates, and The Associated Press reports that Newt Gingrich will take out a full-page ad in the New Hampshire Union Leader Wednesday contrasting himself as a "bold Reagan conservative" against Mitt Romney, who he labels a "timid Massachusetts moderate."

NPR's Ari Shapiro reporting from the campaign trail in Des Moines Tuesday night spoke to a supporter of Mitt Romney, who was locked in a close race with GOP rivals Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

"I'm not really surprised," said Colleen Boyle. "Santorum's put in a lot of effort here, so it does make sense that he surged ahead in the polls."

At a coffee shop in Muscatine, Iowa, Tuesday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was asked whether nominating a social conservative might sink the party's chances of winning the White House in November.

Muscatine is in a more moderate part of eastern Iowa, and the man who asked the question told Gingrich there are many business people — fiscal conservatives — who don't agree with the GOP platform positions on abortion, gay rights and other issues. The man asked Gingrich if social conservatives are throwing fiscal conservatives "under the bus."

While Iowa caucusgoers are kicking off the official 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest, in the social media realm among users nationwide, Texas Rep. Ron Paul already is in the lead, according to a data analysis of Facebook use by Socialbakers, which collects social media statistics.

"The amount of interactions are just insane," said Socialbakers CEO Jan Rezab. "Ten percent of Paul's Facebook fans are talking about him. The average for brands like Coca-Cola is just 1 percent."

The results from Iowa suggest what has been clear for months: Republicans remain divided about their presidential choices.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney eked out an eight-vote win after he and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum swapped the slimmest of leads back and forth in Tuesday's caucuses. With returns complete, each had won the support of roughly 25 percent of caucusgoers.

Despite the near-tie, Iowa caucus rules do not allow for a recount. Texas Rep. Ron Paul was third at 21.5 percent, according to The Associated Press.

In Iowa, It's Decision Day At Last

Jan 3, 2012

After months of campaigning, it's finally caucus day in Iowa. Polls still show a fluid race, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum heading the pack.

If you were listening carefully to NPR's Ted Robbin's report on Rick Santorum on Morning Edition, yesterday, you heard some pretty controversial comments from the Republican presidential candidate.

Plug the name "Jon Huntsman," the state "New Hampshire" and the word "lonely" into a search field and you'll get lots of hits.

"In New Hampshire, Jon Huntsman Walks A Lonely Path," a Los Angeles Times headline reads.

If GOP front-runner Mitt Romney cannot quickly persuade his rivals and voters that he is the inevitable nominee and that further resistance is futile, he may be in for an expensive and time-consuming slog.

Unlike GOP presidential primary seasons of the past, the one that begins in Iowa Tuesday was actually designed to slow down the emergence of a winner by stretching out the calendar and altering the delegate allocation rules.

After concentrating on Iowa more than any other Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum is gaining on front-runners Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, a new Des Moines Register poll shows. Santorum is hoping to consolidate Iowa's Christian conservative vote — the strategy that won the state for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee four years ago.

Jeanne Zyzda did not expect more than 100 people in her Sioux City coffee shop, the Daily Grind. Not all at once, and not on a holiday.

Most of the Republican presidential candidates are stumping in Iowa on this last Sunday before the state's caucuses.

The only major contenders not in the state are Rep. Ron Paul, who is spending New Year's Day at home in Texas but returning to Iowa for several events Monday, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who remains ensconced in New Hampshire, where the scene shifts after Tuesday night.