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The key takeaways from Iowa


After a year of campaigning, after more than 120 million bucks in ad spending in Iowa, the caucuses have come and gone. And the result was what everyone pretty much expected. Former President Donald Trump won in a landslide.


DONALD TRUMP: It was a very special night. And...


TRUMP: ...This is the first because the big night is going to be in November when we take back our country. And truly, we do make our country great again. Thank you very much.

KELLY: So what's it all mean? For that, we turn to NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hey there, Domenico.


KELLY: The Associated Press made a swift call, made quite an early call last night. And the call was that Trump had an insurmountable lead. What stood out to you about last night?

MONTANARO: Well, surprises can happen in politics, and we should prepare ourselves for those. But this result was not one of them. I mean, I was surprised, though, at how quickly the race was called. I mean, just half an hour after voting began, AP and other networks were able to do that because of the overwhelming lead that Trump had in the entrance polls that were taken throughout the state. And then that matched some key precincts. And that's all that was really needed for them to have that kind of confidence level. In the end, it was Trump with more than 50% of the vote, exactly what polling had shown for months and months.

KELLY: And then in second place, admittedly a distant far behind Trump second place, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. What does this mean for his campaign?

MONTANARO: Well, DeSantis eked out second place over Nikki Haley, the former Trump U.N. ambassador. And that means he's using that as a reason to keep going.


RON DESANTIS: You helped us get a ticket punched out of the Hawkeye State. We have a lot of work to do. But I can tell you this - as the next president of the United States, I am going to get the job done for this country.

MONTANARO: You know, this is only going to prolong a three-person race, which would only help Trump. You know, in all honesty, a path to the nomination for DeSantis looks all but closed off. I mean, he finished 30 points behind Trump. That's more than double the largest margin of victory in Iowa caucus history. You know, DeSantis was trying to sell himself to conservatives as Trump without the baggage, Trump lite. But at least in Iowa, Republican caucus-goers said they preferred the original.

KELLY: And what about for Nikki Haley? Where does last night leave her?

MONTANARO: I mean, she missed a real opportunity to nudge DeSantis out of the race and make this really a two-person race. You know, polls have shown her trending up. The super PAC supporting her opened the spigot in Iowa in the last couple of weeks, really trying to win there. and she just missed finishing a couple of points behind DeSantis. Here she was last night, making the argument to voters that Trump and Biden are unpopular and that the country should try something new.


NIKKI HALEY: The question before Americans is now very clear. Do you want more of the same?


HALEY: Or do you want a new generation of conservative leadership?

MONTANARO: You know, really, I think the question is whether Republican base voters will buy that message. She tried to frame this as a two-person race going forward last night, but it's really hard to make that case when you finish third.

KELLY: We'll stay with the race going forward because Nikki Haley spent a lot more time - she spent a lot more energy campaigning in New Hampshire than in Iowa. So what are you looking for ahead of the New Hampshire primary next week?

MONTANARO: Well, the stakes are certainly much higher now for Haley in New Hampshire. She may not need to win it to stay in, but she does have to come reasonably close, I think, and show that she can give Trump a real run for his money. I mean, remember; this is about as moderate a state as we're going to see in this nominating process. Independents can vote in New Hampshire, unlike in Iowa. Voters there are far less religious, more moderate, more suburban. If she can't do well there, what's the rationale for her to stay in and who she appeals to?

KELLY: Who she appeals to, indeed. All right, well, send us out into the night. Let's close this chapter. Send us out with a final - your final thought on Iowa.

MONTANARO: I mean, turnout really jumped out to me. I mean, it's just kind of bizarre. Only 110,000 Republicans went out to vote. That's 15% of the total number of registered Republicans in the state. Let's put this another way. Almost $124 million was spent in ads over the past year in Iowa to motivate 110,000 people to vote? I mean, that's $1,124 per voter.

KELLY: Yeah.

MONTANARO: I mean, we're in a really weird situation where that few voters play such an outsized role in the process.

KELLY: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks.

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.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Kathryn Fox