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What Does The 2016 Campaign Roadmap Tell Us?


This past year, presidential candidates have been crisscrossing the primary and caucus states. They often run into one another in airport concourses or while waiting on the same tarmac. Still, each candidate's travels take a distinct path, which tells us about how they expect to get to the nomination. NPR's Don Gonyea has this look at the travel choices of the crowded GOP field.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: It's all part of the endless wheels up and wheels down, get-on-the-bus, get-off-the-bus life of a presidential hopeful.


RAND PAUL: It is great to be in South Carolina.


JEB BUSH: I've had a blast in New Hampshire.


MARCO RUBIO: Thank you so much for having me. It's great to be back in Las Vegas.


TED CRUZ: God bless the great state of Iowa.

GONYEA: Those are the four early-voting states. And as usual, Iowa and New Hampshire are getting most of the attention. But for Republicans, those are two very different places - Iowa dominated by evangelicals, New Hampshire by fiscal conservatives. Here's University of New Hampshire professor Dante Scala.

DANTE SCALA: So you've got a lot of candidates in this Republican field who essentially see Iowa and New Hampshire as two separate brackets in the tournament, so to speak.

GONYEA: Which results in a calculation - where to allocate time and resources.

SCALA: A number of candidates feel as if Iowa is their only path to the later rounds of the nomination contest. So first, you have to win the Iowa bracket and then move on.

GONYEA: Iowa has been priority number-one for several Republicans. Ted Cruz has surged in polls there. He's spent 32 days in the state - double the number of days he's been in New Hampshire, according to a tally by the National Journal. Ben Carson's schedule is also dominated by Iowa.


BEN CARSON: I tell you, I've been to a lot of state fairs, but this is a state fair, I tell you guys.

GONYEA: But Iowa is not as important for establishment-style Republicans. As Jeb Bush's poll numbers have declined, so too has the frequency of his Iowa visits, so place Bush in the New Hampshire bracket, along with Governors John Kasich and Chris Christie, who has spent the vast majority of his time there.


CHRIS CHRISTIE: You'll get a belly full of me by time we're done here. Fact is, in New Hampshire, folks wants to see you multiple times, and they want to really dig in and get to know you.

GONYEA: Christie has gotten a boost in New Hampshire polls as a result. Now, Trump - he seems to be everywhere. He's leading in national polls, but no longer in Iowa, where Cruz is holding many more events and rising above Trump in some polls. Trump has even taken to scolding Iowans on some visits.


DONALD TRUMP: Iowa, will you get your numbers up, please?


TRUMP: Will you get these numbers up?

GONYEA: Like Trump, Marco Rubio is not focusing so intently on any one state. And while he's increasingly seen as the leading establishment figure in the race, so far he's not the front-runner anywhere. Again, here's Dante Scala.

SCALA: In such a crowded field, Rubio runs the risk of getting lost and falling behind candidates putting all their eggs in one basket.

GONYEA: Beyond Iowa and New Hampshire, this your candidates have touched down in a lot of Southern states. A big block of them will vote on March 1 in what's nicknamed SEC primary after the big college football conference. On a campaign stop in Arkansas, Ted Cruz said he believes those conservative states will give a candidate like him a boost.


CRUZ: And the role that I believe Arkansas's going to play and the SEC states throughout the South are going to play is ensuring that the next Republican nominee for president is a strong and genuine conservative.

GONYEA: As for the the coming months before the first votes are cast, travel choices can also become cold, hard decisions. If Iowa looks lost, then all resources can be shifted to New Hampshire or elsewhere. But once a candidate goes all-in on a state, it can become either a launch pad or their final destination. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.