Elving Discusses N.H. Primary

Melissa Block talks with NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving about Tuesday's first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In New Hampshire, voters are still lining up for their chance to cast the first primary ballots of this year's presidential contest. The New Hampshire primary remains a key test for frontrunners and also-rans alike. And this year it's especially relevant for one seasonal resident of the state, Mitt Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts. But there's plenty of opportunities for others to make news there tonight.

And keeping track of all things New Hampshire in Manchester, is NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving.

And, Ron, let's start with a timetable question. How close are we to knowing the result from New Hampshire's vote today?

RON ELVING, BYLINE: We're getting pretty close, Melissa. Some of the polls are going to be closing at 7 P.M. Eastern Time here in New Hampshire, some more at 7:30. And all the polls will be closed here by 8 P.M. Eastern Time.

Now, we expect that officials will begin releasing some of the results from the early-closing parts of the state, before all the polls are closed. Remember, we heard those Dixville-Notch numbers back at midnight. And then we expect to get a little peek at some of the exit polls that have been underway, all day long. So we should be having some straws in the wind, let's say, by the time all the polls have closed by 8 P.M. Eastern.

BLOCK: And, Ron, the expectation has been that Mitt Romney will win in New Hampshire. Conceivably will win big if the polls leading up to the vote are right.

What questions are you looking for answers for tonight, besides that Mitt Romney win?

ELVING: The big question, most salient question is how well, how easily, by how much did Mitt Romney win. If it's an easy win for him, well then it's a well baby check. And the Romney campaign will smile and go on. If the margin does not reflect Romney's substantial polling lead, if it's, let's say, in the single digits instead, that means trouble.

BLOCK: Trouble because that would mean some of the attacks of his fellow Republicans are taking a bite?

ELVING: Yes, indeed. And also, because they sense that Mitt Romney is just unsatisfactory, even to the people who are his neighbors, even to the people who seem to like him the most. It's pervasive throughout the country and throughout the Republican Party, there's a sense that, Gee, this isn't quite good enough. We want somebody who can knock off President Obama in the fall. Maybe Mitt Romney isn't the guy.

BLOCK: Ron, let's pitch for it a little over 10 days from now to South Carolina, which votes on Saturday the 21st. A very different electorate down there, different terrain. What are you thinking will be shaping up in the South Carolina primary?

ELVING: It is better ground for some of the other candidates, other than Mitt Romney Southerners. For example, like Newt Gingrich or even, for that matter, Rick Perry the governor of Texas who abandoned New Hampshire where he came into the debates here is, but really hasn't campaigned here recently. He went on to South Carolina to campaign and it does seem to be a friendlier place for him. It also has a great number of great more of the social issues conservatives we saw in the Iowa caucuses a week ago I was in. And they are natural base is for Rick Santorum, someone else who's probably not going to have a great time here today.

So, over the next 10 days so we expect that down in South Carolina we're going to be hearing and hearing a different issue mix. And we're also going to be hearing a good deal more of this talk about Bain Capital and the years that Mitt Romney was there, as an investment and it was a businessman.

There's a huge ad buy you that Newt Gingrich is put on already in South Carolina, multimillion dollar ad buy using money and he just got from a Las Vegas casino owner. And they're going to be making this case that Mitt Romney plundered some companies, or to companies into bankruptcy is a template a lot of people out of work.

BLOCK: Ron, the delegate count in these early-voting states is really small. If you look at the math, the majority of delegates won't be chosen until March, April, later than that. But it's these January events that get so much attention and so much of our focus.

ELVING: That's right. It's partly because they're first, of course. And this year - as opposed to you're supposed to 2008, 2004, 2000 -four 2000 and the majority of the delegates are really being chosen quite late. It ought to be reforming around the country by the time the most of the delegates have actually been chosen.

But, you know, the field of candidates who have a chance to win those later delegates that will be chosen in the spring, is going to be shrinking. They start shrinking tonight. And they will definitely be with you with old and he will win out down will to live probably just one, if Mitt Romney can run the table and when all the January events. No Republican non-incumbent has ever won Iowa and New Hampshire. That would be a formidable performance.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving in Manchester New Hampshire. Ron, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Melissa.

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