ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In New Hampshire, the polls have now closed in much of the state, and we are awaiting the results. Officials have been predicting record voter turnout in the state's primary. And here are the voices of just a few of those voters.
JEFF ERRANT: It's exciting to see a candidate like Bernie Sanders making the headway that he is.
MADONNA MORAN: Love the fact that we have a woman who is so highly qualified.
PAYTON ANDERSON: He's a man. He's a businessman. We need a businessman. Politicians don't get anything done by arguments - businessmen will get something done.
SHAPIRO: The voices of voter Jeff Errant (ph), Madonna Moran (ph) and Payton Anderson (ph) in New Hampshire. We will be here all night, sorting through the results and figuring out what it all means. We're joined here in the studio by NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Coming back to you in a second, we're going to first go to New Hampshire to see how things are going on the Republican and Democratic sides, first to NPR's Asma Khalid at Marco Rubio's headquarters in Manchester. Hey, Asma.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: All right. Donald Trump has been leading polls for a long time, but New Hampshire is known for last-minute surprises. You've been with Marco Rubio the last couple days who felt good coming out of Iowa hoping to pull together mainstream Republican support. What are you hearing?
KHALID: I think you're right. I mean, he came into New Hampshire with - soaring, you know, off this momentum from Iowa. But then I think he made a few fumbles in the debate, and his rivals were very quick to pounce on those mistakes and those rivals being, you know, some of the governors - say, Governor Chris Christie or former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. He's been positive. I met up with him at a polling place today and said that he's trying to catch and trying to gain as many delegates as he possibly can.
But I think he's also trying to sort of lowball expectation. He said that Donald Trump has led every single poll here for months and pointed out that some of his rivals have been campaigning in New Hampshire for months, and he just hasn't spent as much time here.
SHAPIRO: OK, Asma, with Rubio, stay with us. We're going to bring in another voice. This is NPR's Ailsa Chang. She's following the Bernie Sanders campaign at his primary night headquarters in Concord. Ailsa, Bernie came from nowhere at the beginning of this campaign. He has established a wide lead in polls over Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. You have watched that trajectory over the months. Tell us how things have changed.
AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: (Laughter) It is the journey of Bernie. I was here last May when Bernie was trailing - I'm sorry - Sanders was trailing Clinton by as much as 50 points. And I remember descending into New Hampshire. People were telling me, you know, this is a state that usually embraces establishment-friendly moderate Democrats. Sanders is not the typical candidate that this state would embrace. And sure enough, here, tonight, on the night of the New Hampshire primary, we see Sanders with a healthy two-digit lead over Clinton. And it's been quite a trajectory, quite a soaring trajectory for him.
SHAPIRO: All right. Moving on through New Hampshire, we're going now to NPR's Don Gonyea. He is also in Manchester covering some of the governors running in the GOP race. New Hampshire is supposed to be a state that is perfectly suited for these guys who so far have struggled to gain traction in the Republican contest. Don, how do they seem to be feeling today?
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: After Ailsa, I'm trying to figure out what rhymes with Kasich.
SHAPIRO: LASIK eye surgery, maybe. I don't know.
GONYEA: Well, look. These should have been, might have been, in another year, the big dogs in the race - right? - Chris Christie of New Jersey, Jeb Bush of Florida, John Kasich of Ohio, you know, these hugely important states - big, big battlegrounds. But each is basically trying to look at New Hampshire as a place where they can really prove that their candidacy means something.
But John Kasich, for example, has run a very old-fashioned campaign. He has done 105 town halls here. He hit a bunch of polling places today. I think maybe we've got a piece of tape of him. But I caught up with him in Nashua where he said he feels very good about tonight, about running a campaign where he says he's been honest with voters. Give a listen to Kasich.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOHN KASICH: I've been set free. You know, I can do what I want and say what I want and feel what I feel in these town halls. And I think people want to know that you care about them. They want to have a sense that you might understand them.
SHAPIRO: OK, well that's from Governor John Kasich of Ohio. Mara Liasson here in the studio with us, pull these threads together. What are the big questions you're hoping to answer tonight?
LIASSON: Well, one of the big questions obviously is about Donald Trump and whether that debate hurt Marco Rubio. We do know something from the exit polls. We know that on the Democratic side, 77 percent of voters told pollsters as they went into the polls - these are actually entrance polls and exit polls - that they had decided long ago. Fifty-five percent made up their mind more than a month ago. So this race has been set. Bernie Sanders has been in the lead, and Hillary Clinton has had a really, really hard time closing the gap. Only 22 percent of Democrats were late deciders.
SHAPIRO: And on the Republican side...
LIASSON: However, on the Republican side - very, very different. Forty-six percent of Republicans said they made up their minds in the last few days, and 65 percent of Republicans said that debate was very important to their decision.
SHAPIRO: Wow. So it could be much more uncertain.
LIASSON: Could be much more uncertain, could be bad for Marco Rubio.
SHAPIRO: We have one last stop on this roundtable. Earlier tonight, NPR's Tamara Keith talked with a spokesman from Hillary Clinton's campaign. His name is Brian Fallon, and here's what he had to say.
BRIAN FALLON: I think over the last three or four days, Hillary Clinton has really returned to retail-style campaigning in a big way. But obviously this is very friendly terrain for Senator Sanders. It's essentially a home game for him. He's had a pretty consistent lead here throughout save for maybe a couple of weeks in October, and so we know that it's an uphill climb for us. But we will judge success based on whether we can eat into that margin that the polls in the last couple of weeks have shown him to have. Some polls have had him up by as many as 30 points. We're going to try to narrow that gap as much as we can.
SHAPIRO: Mara, that sounds like they're really...
LIASSON: A very...
SHAPIRO: ...Tamping down expectation.
LIASSON: A very, very low bar they're setting for themselves. If they...
SHAPIRO: Eat into his margin.
LIASSON: If they can make the gap smaller than 30 points, that's a success for her. That's real spinning.
SHAPIRO: OK (laughter), so they must be looking beyond New Hampshire.
LIASSON: They are certainly looking beyond New Hampshire. The next two states are Nevada and South Carolina. Those are states where the electorate - the Democratic primary electorate - much more diverse, more African-Americans, more Hispanics, more union members. These are states where Hillary Clinton hopes to right her ship and that she hopes to beat Bernie Sanders very definitively in both those places and then go on to other states that are more similar to them than New Hampshire and Iowa, which has the most liberal - the whitest and most liberal Democratic primary electorates happen to be the first two states in the process.
SHAPIRO: So we're looking at a very different voter population in the states yet to come. That's NPR's Mara Liasson along with our team of reporters in New Hampshire. We're going to be here for hours tonight, bringing you the results from New Hampshire, the candidates' speeches. Please stay with us on the radio, and you can also follow our coverage in real time online at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.