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Thousands of Democratic New Hampshire voters are switching party affiliation

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Following Donald Trump's convincing win in the Iowa caucuses, the race for the Republican presidential nomination now turns to next Tuesday and the primary in New Hampshire. There, Nikki Haley's poll numbers have been improving, giving her a shot at an upset victory against Trump. Anthony Brooks of member station WBUR reports.

ANTHONY BROOKS, BYLINE: Voters like Marie Mulroy of Manchester might hold the key for Haley in next week's primary. She's an unenrolled - or independent - voter who fervently opposes Donald Trump.

MARIE MULROY: He doesn't have a moral compass. I don't understand how anybody could vote for him.

BROOKS: Mulroy leans Democratic and voted for Joe Biden in 2020, but she's so concerned that Trump could be reelected president that she plans to pull a Republican ballot next week and vote for Nikki Haley.

MULROY: She has the ability to get elected to beat Trump. And the primary goal is not to ever let Trump back into office again, to be honest.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRIS SUNUNU: Let's just kick it off with Nikki Haley. Here we go.

BROOKS: That's New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, who has endorsed Haley and has been cheering her on as she campaigns across the state. In Bretton Woods yesterday, Haley, who's 51, said it's time for a new generational leader.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIKKI HALEY: Seventy percent of Americans have said they don't want to see another Trump-Biden rematch. The majority of Americans think that having two 80-year-olds running for president is not what they want.

BROOKS: In contrast to Trump, Haley strikes a more moderate tone that appeals to many of New Hampshire's independents, who make up the state's largest bloc of voters. Sununu says they're a big reason he believes Haley can beat Trump next week.

SUNUNU: People are just tired of the chaos, right? And when you look at the fact that well over 50% of the Republican core base voter wants someone else - the fact that in New Hampshire, you're going to have independents that come out, I believe, in record numbers.

BROOKS: Sununu says he's seen enough primaries to know when someone has momentum, and he says Haley has it. New Hampshire secretary of state says more than 4,000 Democrats switched their party affiliation to undeclared or Republican ahead of next week's primary. That could help Haley, so could the efforts of Robert Schwartz. He's co-founder of Primary Pivot, a superPAC urging centrist and center-left voters to vote for Haley as a way to stop Trump.

ROBERT SCHWARTZ: We are seeking to damage Donald Trump because we believe he's an existential threat to democracy.

BROOKS: Schwartz is urging Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who plan to vote for President Biden in November to support Haley in the primary, but some leading Democrats in the state disagree.

KATHY SULLIVAN: Nikki Haley is not the person to stop Donald Trump. The only person who's going to be able to stop Trump is Joe Biden in the November election.

BROOKS: Kathy Sullivan is the former chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, who's leading a writing campaign for President Biden. He won't be on the primary ballot next week because the Democratic National Committee, at Biden's behest, picked South Carolina to vote first. Sullivan says even if Haley wins New Hampshire, Trump holds big leads in scores of states that follow. So she believes Trump will be the Republican nominee and says Democrats and independents need to get behind Biden now.

SULLIVAN: If you want to beat Donald Trump in November, the best thing you can do is write in Joe Biden on the primary ballot to give Joe Biden a boost of energy and momentum going forward into the campaign.

BROOKS: Beyond that, Sullivan argues that Haley is a staunch conservative who signed some of the most restrictive abortion measures ever passed in South Carolina, and who has refused to rule out becoming Trump's running mate. When Haley talks about Trump, she picks her words carefully, saying he was the right president at the right time, but then adds chaos follows him. Haley's third place finish in Iowa was a disappointment, but she says New Hampshire is a new ball game.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HALEY: And our goal was to be strong in Iowa - we were - it's to get stronger in New Hampshire - we'll do that - it's to go to my sweet state of South Carolina and continue to get stronger. That's what we're going to focus on.

BROOKS: The New Hampshire primary has a long history of delivering surprises, and next week could be another.

For NPR News, I'm Anthony Brooks. 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.

Anthony Brooks has more than twenty five years of experience in public radio, working as a producer, editor, reporter, and most recently, as a fill-in host for NPR. For years, Brooks has worked as a Boston-based reporter for NPR, covering regional issues across New England, including politics, criminal justice, and urban affairs. He has also covered higher education for NPR, and during the 2000 presidential election he was one of NPR's lead political reporters, covering the campaign from the early primaries through the Supreme Court's Bush V. Gore ruling. His reports have been heard for many years on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.