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Breaking down some of the stakes for the Republicans with Iowa's caucuses

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Does former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley have what it takes to supplant former President Donald Trump as the standard-bearer of the Republican Party? We'll be one step closer to answering that question after tonight's Iowa caucuses, which officially kick off the GOP presidential primary. To help break down some of the stakes for the Republican candidates, I'm joined by Sarah Isgur. She's senior editor at The Dispatch, and she also brings the conservative point of view to the weekly political podcast and radio show "Left, Right & Center," from NPR member station KCRW. Good morning, Sarah. Thanks for being on the program.

SARAH ISGUR: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

FADEL: So with Trump leading his nearest rivals by more than 30 points in the polls, I mean, do the Iowa caucuses actually matter? Is this primary a foregone conclusion?

ISGUR: The outcome of this primary in terms of what order people are going to come in looks like it's pretty well set. Donald Trump is certainly in no risk of losing the Iowa caucuses. We expect Nikki Haley to come in second, with Ron DeSantis in third place. That being said, the Iowa caucuses matter in a sense, at least historically, when we look back on this election for the role that Donald Trump played in taking over the Republican Party, really owning the Republican Party. And that's why we're going to be watching it so closely. How close does Nikki Haley come in second place? And does that really launch her into New Hampshire, where she has some chance of actually coming in first?

FADEL: So it's also life-threateningly cold in Iowa today, meaning there might be fewer people willing to go outside and vote. How might that affect the outcome here?

ISGUR: So I may be an outlier here, but I've spent lots of time in Iowa. And, you know, they're pretty used to this weather.

(LAUGHTER)

ISGUR: It's life-threatening for me, a Texan, but maybe not so much for Iowans. I expect that Iowa - you know, this won't be the largest turnout we've seen in the Iowa caucuses, certainly. But I don't expect it to tamp down turnout as much as others because this is what Iowa does. They take this incredibly seriously. Republican primary voters, caucusgoers have been out there, meeting these candidates four, five or six times sometimes, and all of the candidates. They think it is their civic duty to sort of inform the rest of America, hey, this is what we learned from the retail politics that have been going on in this state. And the caucus is their chance to have their voices heard.

FADEL: Now, you mentioned earlier how this - the outcome here might be important, especially for Nikki Haley with New Hampshire coming up. I mean, short of a huge upset, what are some other subtleties political watchers might look for in the final tally and how it might change things for campaign strategies in New Hampshire, South Carolina, eventually Super Tuesday in March.

ISGUR: Well, campaigns and these primaries are all about expectations. So as I said, at this point, we are expecting Nikki Haley to come in second. If for some reason she doesn't, that would be a real problem for Nikki Haley. We're also expecting her to win New Hampshire at this point. Now, what happens from there is a bit of a problem because she is not really playing in Nevada at all. In South Carolina, her home state, she is trailing Donald Trump by double digits.

That takes us into Super Tuesday, which is basically a national election where Donald Trump is, as you said at the beginning, up 30-plus points. The strategy of the Haley campaign at this point, though, is to win New Hampshire and that that momentum will dull Donald Trump's hold on the party. And they're really counting on that. They have to come in second in New Hampshire to hope for that win in New Hampshire - they have to come in second in Iowa to hope for that win in New Hampshire.

FADEL: Sarah Isgur is senior editor at The Dispatch and the conservative voice on "Left, Right & Center," the weekly politics podcast and radio show from NPR member station KCRW. Sarah, thank you for your time.

ISGUR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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