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Three more candidates are expected to jump into Republican presidential primary race


It's a big week in the Republican presidential primary. Three more candidates are expected to jump into the race. And the candidates already running are on the campaign trail, often focusing on the culture wars. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is following the field. Hi, Domenico.


SHAPIRO: OK, let's start with former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who had a town hall on CNN yesterday. How'd she do?

MONTANARO: You know, certainly more cogent than the town hall that former President Trump did on the network. And that's reflective of their personalities. It's a contrast Haley really wants to draw. You know, she had a clearer position on Ukraine than Trump had. And, you know, she's comfortable on foreign policy, which makes sense. She was Trump's U.N. ambassador. On domestic topics, though, it was a bit rockier. You know, she was vague on abortion policy, was lacking some real context when talking about transgender youth. For example, she had this to say about girls' sports, transgender participation and mental health.


NIKKI HALEY: How are we supposed to get our girls used to the fact that biological boys are in their locker rooms? And then we wonder why a third of our teenage girls seriously contemplated suicide last year.

MONTANARO: You know, that's a real stretch. I mean, a combination of complex factors can place young people at high risk for suicide and depression, including substance use disorder, poor academic performance, other severe consequences. You know, Haley really misses a key point here. The CDC found in 2021 that a third of teenage girls had contemplated suicide the year before. But that same report said the risk was far higher among female LGBTQ+ students.

SHAPIRO: The culture wars have been central to this campaign, especially when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump are out giving their campaign speeches. Both have overshadowed Haley up to this point. How do they differ in their messaging on the culture wars?

MONTANARO: Yeah, it's interesting. You know, DeSantis has made taking on progressive culture, what he calls woke, a hallmark of his time as governor of Florida. Trump says that he's not a fan of using the phrase woke because he doesn't think people really understand what it means. That triggered this response from DeSantis, who spoke with a reporter from NBC on the sidelines of a campaign event in a gymnasium.


RON DESANTIS: It's about putting merit and achievement behind identity politics. And it's basically a war on the truth. And as that has infected institutions, it has corrupted a lot of institutions. So you've got to be willing to fight the woke. We've done it in Florida. And we proudly consider ourselves the state where woke goes to die.

MONTANARO: So you can hear him say that being woke essentially makes someone's identity more important than whether they're good at something in the eyes of liberals. And, you know, he calls it a war on truth. DeSantis has taken on corporations like Disney when it comes to gender identity issues, really pressed schools to steer clear of teaching about gender or racial discrimination.

SHAPIRO: And we're expecting other candidates to enter the race this week and learned about one who won't. Give us a snapshot.

MONTANARO: Yeah. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu says he's not going to run, which opens up a key early primary state, New Hampshire. Sununu says beating Trump is what's most important, and nominating him could mean risking alienating voters by pushing unpopular policies. But, you know, if DeSantis is the alternative, it's not like he's somehow more liberal. He's running to be more right-wing. Tomorrow we're expecting former New Jersey governor Chris Christie to get into the race, and then on Wednesday, it's going to be former Vice President Mike Pence who makes it official.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks a lot.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. 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.

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.