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The state of the 2024 Republican presidential race

ERIC DEGGANS, HOST:

The Republican presidential primary field grew by two this week. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis jumped into a race that's already dominated by former President Donald Trump. That means the challenge for the GOP field will lie in convincing loyal Trump supporters that there's a path to victory that doesn't include the former president. NPR political correspondent Kelsey Snell is following this, and she joins me now. Hey, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

DEGGANS: So let's start with DeSantis. He jumped into the race on Wednesday with a kind of rocky live event on Twitter. Setting the technical glitches aside, what's his pitch to voters?

SNELL: Well, he basically wants to be seen as the only candidate who can beat Trump. He is betting that his war on woke, which is what he calls it, back in Florida and his general identity as a conservative culture warrior will be a big appeal to GOP voters and a path to winning.

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RON DESANTIS: Biden's allowed woke ideology to drive his agenda. We will never surrender to the woke mob, and we will leave woke ideology in the dustbin of history.

SNELL: Yeah. He framed Florida as a success that he created, and he promised to take that success that he built and turn it into something that can be replicated across the country.

DEGGANS: So, you know, when I'm not guest hosting, I'm actually a Florida resident. And I can say that many of the policies that DeSantis has passed during his tenure have been pretty controversial.

SNELL: Yeah. I mean, as you know, he's overseen book bans and drag bans, a ban on abortion after six weeks. He was also overseeing laws targeting LGBTQ people and trans people more specifically. And, you know, while that might be popular with some Republican voters, many of those policies are broadly unpopular in the country in general. And some Republicans are warning that they really do risk alienating critical independent voters if they follow this kind of path of policies.

DEGGANS: Well, now, you know, our former president Trump, is not known for holding his tongue when it comes to rivals. How did he respond to DeSantis getting in the race?

SNELL: You know, what's interesting here is that DeSantis and Trump were once quite close. Trump actually endorsed DeSantis when he first ran for governor in Florida. But Trump has been attacking DeSantis on Trump's own social media site, Truth Social, and he's also running ads attacking DeSantis. He's spending money on this. He has really reserved that treatment for just DeSantis. He's actually welcomed other candidates to the race and hasn't really spent any time attacking them.

DEGGANS: Well, OK. Speaking of the other candidates, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott also jumped in the race this week. What can you tell us about him?

SNELL: Well, he certainly has less of a national brand. He is the only Black Republican in the Senate. And there he's known for his work on police reform and for having been a reliable vote for President Trump when he was in office. He was actually a very strong Trump supporter. But he is now running on a message of faith and expanding the GOP tent. He often tells his own personal story about being raised in poverty and about his rise to the Senate, though he has a lot of work to do to gain name recognition with people outside of his home state.

DEGGANS: So are there any other potential candidates still waiting in the wings?

SNELL: We do know that former Vice President Mike Pence does intend to run. He already has a super PAC supporting him. And we expect he'll announce sometime the first week of June, and he is also already out campaigning. The message he's been putting out there so far has been that he will bring the Republican Party back to a type of conservatism that defined the party before Trump remade the Republican base. It isn't clear yet how Trump will respond to all of that and to the fact that it is his former running mate trying to distance himself from the former president and trying to challenge him for this nomination.

DEGGANS: Well, that's NPR political correspondent Kelsey Snell. Kelsey, thanks for joining us.

SNELL: Thanks so much for having me. 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.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.