MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We are going to start today in Iowa, where Democrats and Republicans start selecting their nominees for president in just over a week at the caucuses. Right now, we're going to focus on the Republicans. There are still 12 in the race for the nomination, but this week, it felt like a race between just two - businessman Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. NPR's Don Gonyea is on the road with Donald Trump today, and he's with us now from Pella, Iowa, to talk about the race. Hi, Don.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hi. I'm in a little auditorium in Pella at a college campus, so if gets noisy, that's what it is but hello.
MARTIN: All right, good to know. So Donald Trump is spending a lot time in Iowa, which means you are too - four days this week, I understand. So does that suggest that he's feeling the heat from Texas Senator Ted Cruz?
GONYEA: He's feeling the heat, but he also senses opportunity, right? These guys are clearly the two big, big guys here. The polls tell us that, but also their organization and just kind of their footprint in the state tells us that - so two events today for Donald Trump, both in Christian conservative strongholds, the kind of places that Ted Cruz goes for votes. So one in Sioux Center earlier, and then I'm in Pella right now. And, of course, this follows the appearance earlier this week with Trump of Sarah Palin, who endorsed him.
MARTIN: So has Donald Trump changed his message at all or sort of fine-tuned it for this final week before the caucuses in addition to the Sarah Palin endorsement which was very eye-catching?
GONYEA: Yeah. He's still hitting all the same notes. He's making the sale. We're hearing from his aides at every event. They stand up, and they tell people how easy it is to caucus and how it works. So they're really concerned that they have to get people to turn out. But, look; Trump is still Trump, and that means he says things that politicians just don't say. Give a listen to this from this morning in Sioux Center.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DONALD TRUMP: I could stand in the middle Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?
MARTIN: What? What is he saying? What is he saying?
GONYEA: I'm not sure. I am not sure what he's saying there except that it is Donald Trump very confident in his standing with his supporters and one who could do and say anything and have it not affect him. It's like he's the ultimate Teflon candidate if he feels like he can say things like that at a rally
MARTIN: Is there any reaction to that kind of abrasiveness? I mean, it has been that it's true that you attract some people with that, but you repel other people with that. Is there any sense that it's cut in both ways there?
GONYEA: His audiences love it. His opponents try to use it against him but so far to no avail, right? There have been so many things that we thought, oh, this is really going to hurt him, and it hasn't. I talked to some of his supporters and they, say, yeah, sometimes he makes me cringe, but I still like him, and I still think he's the right thing for America. So that's what you hear at these events.
MARTIN: So there's word today that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, also a very wealthy man, is thinking about putting some of his wealth into a presidential bid. Is there any truth to that?
GONYEA: We've confirmed that he is, indeed, considering it and that he will make a decision by March. And if he does get in, he is prepared to spend one billion - with a B - one billion dollars of his own money. Here's the thing. He sees Donald Trump and Ted Cruz on the Republican side. On the Democratic side, he sees Hillary Clinton struggling a bit. He sees Bernie Sanders. And Mayor Bloomberg sees a big lane in the middle for a moderate former Republican who believes in gun control and climate change. Now, the obstacles are huge for any third-party candidate, even one willing to spend a billion dollars of his own money. But it could get very interesting in a year that's already been really unpredictable
MARTIN: That's NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea joining us from Pella, Iowa. Don, thank you.
GONYEA: My pleasure.
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