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Politics chat: Super Tuesday, State of the Union preview

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

This coming week is a big one for politics. Tuesday is Super Tuesday. It's the last day in more than a dozen states to cast ballots for the presidential nominee from each party. Then two days later, President Biden gives the annual State of the Union address to Congress, with the rest of the world watching, too. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro will be following these events closely and joins us now. Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So let's start with Tuesday. What's at stake here? Like, doesn't Donald Trump basically already have the Republican nomination all sewn up at this point?

MONTANARO: He's certainly on that path. I mean, a candidate has to get more than 1,200 delegates to be the nominee. Right now, he has just over 200. So lots of people are going to be voting on Tuesday - 15 states, 874 delegates are up for grabs. That's more than a third of what's available overall. It's the biggest voting day of the year. But, again, you're right, Trump is almost certain to be the nominee at this point. He's won all 10 of the contests that have taken place so far, and there's no sign that Nikki Haley can make a meaningful dent in his support, given the demographics of the states voting on Super Tuesday, and every Republican nominee has won a majority of the states on Super Tuesday since the 1980s, when this became a thing.

RASCOE: And what would you say would be the key reasons that Trump has done so well up until this point?

MONTANARO: Well, it's really been with core Republicans. You know, Nikki Haley exposed some weakness for Trump with independents who lean Republican. We saw Friday, for example, that senators from Alaska and Maine, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, threw their support behind Haley. And those states vote on Tuesday, but there just aren't enough of those kinds of moderate-leaning states to put her over the top. In New Hampshire, for example, self-described Republicans only made up 50% of the voters, and she still lost by double digits. In South Carolina, her home state, she won independence by 19 points and lost overall by 20 points. You know, even if you give Haley all of the states with moderate populations on Tuesday - which includes California, by the way, the biggest prize of the day - she'd still be down something like 700 delegates. So surprise, surprise, you have to win over Republicans to win the Republican nomination.

RASCOE: Yeah, yeah, it seems that way. What is Haley's rationale for sticking it out then, and is she expected to drop out after Super Tuesday?

MONTANARO: Well, we'll see. I mean, there is an argument for staying in through Super Tuesday at least, you know, and that's if you drop out earlier, no one's going to pay attention to you, and any chance of any leverage will be gone. You know, if Haley's able to pick off a couple of states on Tuesday, continue to do well with independents, she could be considered for VP or have potentially enough of a following to be a contender in 2028. You know, Republicans have tended to reward their runners-up. I mean, think about John McCain, Mitt Romney. They're just a couple of the most recent examples. You know, the reality is money allows you to play the game. And she's had boatloads of it between herself and groups supporting her. But we've seen already that some donors, big donors, are already starting to pull back, so it's very possible she does reassess after Tuesday.

RASCOE: So that's the Republican race. Democrats also have a presumptive nominee, President Biden. He's set to deliver the State of the Union address on Thursday. That's basically a political event, too, right?

MONTANARO: Well, yeah, especially in an election year, you bet. Fair or not, when it comes to politics, there's going to be a huge focus on how Biden handles this spotlight, and that's been the case for each of his State of the Union addresses because of questions around his age. You know, he's risen to the occasion in previous ones, when people were wondering if he was serious about running. You know, he got a bump in the polls after his speech in 2022, mostly positive reactions to last year's. But people are going to be paying closer attention this year to how he does, given it's clear he is running and is likely running against Trump.

RASCOE: What else will you be listening for?

MONTANARO: Well, a White House official says that he'll be discussing his accomplishments in these last three years and his vision for the future. We'll see how he balances that. You know, these speeches are really important for rallying the base. What's his message going to be for the base? What's his message going to be for the middle? Inflation has been receding, so he has something to crow about there. But he's suffering for his handling of immigration, and it's going to be notable how he talks about the war in Gaza, since so many younger voters and voters of color are disappointed in how he's dealt with that, too. It's an important moment in this campaign, almost an unofficial kickoff to the general election.

RASCOE: NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro, thank you so much for coming on.

MONTANARO: Yeah, you're so welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.