On Tuesday morning, and in a few isolated pockets where everyone shows up to vote at midnight, residents of New Hampshire will trudge through the snow that is blanketing the Granite State in the nation’s first presidential primary.
There’s little doubt who will finish at the top in the GOP and Democratic contests.
Billionaire Donald Trump has enjoyed #yuge leads in New Hampshire and though his numbers have dipped a bit, his margins are in some cases are greater than the next closest rival in polls.
Furthermore a primary plays more to his constituency than a caucus as Trump voters tend to be less partisan and politically involved. Unlike Iowa, whose caucus system requires about an hour’s worth of participation at a set time, voters in New Hampshire can cast their ballot in a matter of minutes throughout Tuesday.
Though Trump’s share if the vote is likely to be a tad below his poll numbers, the drop off won’t be as severe as it was in Iowa.
On the Left side, New Hampshire’s parochial habit of voting for local Democrats favors Vermont US Senator Bernie Sanders.
However, and this is a big if, in the event former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were to win New Hampshire, whatever chance Sanders had of winning the nomination, short of a federal indictment of Clinton, would evaporate.
Similarly a Trump loss would cause the wheels to fly out from under his candidacy, effectively ending it. Neither scenario is expected.
The real fight is for second place on the Republican side and also the internal struggle within the field of centrist Republican governors.
Ohio Governor John Kasich has bet the house on a strong showing in New Hampshire. Sometimes this strategy works (McCain ’00, ’08) and sometimes it blows up (Jon Huntsman ’12).
Kasich essentially skipped Iowa to stump New Hampshire, which proved to be a wise move considering how he and his fellow centrists fared there.
Southern New Hampshire has been flooded with Ohio legislators and Buckeye winter cap wearing volunteers who have knocked on doors in Manchester, Concord, and Nashua.
Kasich doesn’t need to come in second; he does need to do better than Jeb Bush and Chris Christie
The New Jersey governor arguably won the Saturday night presidential debate, landing body blows on Florida US Senator Marco Rubio. But did “popping the bubble” do Christie any good?
New Hampshire will be the last stop for Christie if he falls below Bush and Kasich.
As for Bush, his once sinking candidacy is finally showing a pulse. Joined in New Hampshire by his popular mother and benefiting from strong debate performances, Bush has found the political footing in New Hampshire firmer than the Iowa cornfields.
A recent Bush town hall meeting in Salem, NH had an overflow crowd. Bush also got some public help from his brother George W. Bush, who cut an ad via the Jeb super PAC that ran during the Super Bowl. A third place finish, even behind Kasich, would keep his candidacy alive.
Dr. Ben Carson seems to be sticking around at least through South Carolina and aside from missing his stage cue, did well at the pre-primary debate, masterfully handling the Cruz tweet controversy from Iowa.
The Texas US Senator did better in the New Hampshire debate than he did in the Trumpless Iowa debate, this time anticipating the flak that had caught him off guard in the previous debate.
Cruz managed to finally dispose of the “dirty tricks” narrative that had hobbled his Iowa win and he was polished. With an eye on South Carolina, New Hampshire is not a make it break for him.
When taking into account what New Hampshire voters do to Iowa winners, Cruz is right to keep his expectations and investment in the Granite State low.
As for Rubio, he saw the buzz that came from his unsurprising third place finish in Iowa meet a buzzsaw in the New Hampshire debate. Rubio looked unprepared and when he attempted to pivot back to regurgitate his standard stump speech, the moderators and colleagues on the stage were not having it.
At one point making a play for second in the New Hampshire primary, the debate may very well caused a crisis of confidence in his candidacy about whether he is indeed ready for prime time.
If Rubio falls below third, he will have a tough time reigniting his candidacy in South Carolina. A third in Iowa and a fourth or worse in New Hampshire would derail his Marcomentum.