Wednesday, February 03, 2016

5 Biggest Questions for the New Hampshire Primaries

Just two days out from Iowa and six days away from New Hampshire, the entire political world is trying with all their might to be the loudest, not least of which are the pundits who are determined to be correct after pretty much everyone crapped out in Iowa by underestimating Cruz and Sanders.  I won't necessarily be doing that here, but instead I wanted to pose the five biggest questions that I have headed into New Hampshire-the questions that, depending on the answers, will largely shape who are next president is.

1. Donald Trump-the Real Deal or Bluster and Smoke?

No question posed to Granite State voters next week will be more important than that of what happens to Donald Trump.  After months and months of being atop pretty much every poll in America, Trump got caught both in GOTV and in late-deciding voters turning against him, giving a huge advantage to Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who came out the "winners" of the Iowa Caucuses for the GOP.  I said before Iowa that no one needed a win there more than Ted Cruz, and headed into New Hampshire no one needs to win-not place, not show, but win-there more than the New York reality star.  To discount Trump from the race after just Iowa would be a fool's errand (he still has universal name recognition, and broad support nationally and in upcoming states), but if he loses here it's difficult to see a way that Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee for president, even if he retains his media attention.

2. Cruz, Rubio, and the Momentum Question

Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio had a good Monday night, outperforming polls and both went to New Hampshire with the added bravado that, nine months from now, they could be winning a far bigger contest and a place in history.  The question becomes now, though, will either of them gain in the polls or outperform in a similar way in New Hampshire.  This question is particularly compelling for Rubio, who got a little bit of a backlash from pundits (or at least a side-eye) over being so enthusiastic over a third place finish.  Were he to beat Trump or pose an impressive second place showing here, I suspect that could be enough to quell doubts that he's all potential and no sizzle, but I think Rubio needs to shoot for a silver at the least in order to retain his momentum and not cede it to someone else...

3. Does the GOP have room for a fourth man?

Let's assume that the polls are right for a second, and that Donald Trump ends up winning New Hampshire as expected.  That would leave Cruz, Trump, and Rubio as the likely three candidates to go the distance through Super Tuesday and potentially beyond (this, for the record, would be the best thing to ever happen to Marco Rubio, who would have all of the establishment support).  The question is, though, whether or not there's room for a fourth man, something Govs. John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie are all asking.  I may be shooting myself in the foot by saying this (this has been, after all, a wild and crazy election season), but really this is a question that only Jeb Bush should be asking.  Chris Christie and John Kasich could, of course, outperform here but where do they go from there?  Neither man has the infrastructure or the room in the race to really turn this election into their corner, unless somehow they beat or nearly tie for first.  Jeb Bush, on the other hand, still has an incredibly large amount of money in his Super PAC, a robust operation in South Carolina that would be advantageous if he did well next Tuesday, and huge establishment support from his family and their decades-old connections in the party, to turn a silver medal into something that could rival Marco Rubio.  Admittedly, nothing about Bush's campaign so far has really indicated anything could happen and he might simply be too toxic in the GOP, but his polls in the Granite State have rebounded, to the point where Harper has him at second place.  If he manages second place, and has a similar sort of effect that Rubio had (where he gained on Trump dramatically at the last minute with the media pronouncing him a "winner"), it wouldn't be impossible for him to become one of the last men standing and regain some of his lost reputation.

4. What Kind of Lead Does Bernie Sanders Get?

It seems near-impossible for Bernie Sanders, after essentially tying Hillary Clinton in Iowa, to lose in New Hampshire, and the Clinton camp knows this.  This is perhaps the last spot on the tour where they can make Sanders look like an "also-ran" since it's the last primary for a while (at least based on current polling) where Sanders is expected to win, so Hillary Clinton's narrative can't be damaged by a loss here.  Clinton has dispatched dozens of volunteers from her Brooklyn office to try and tie up this race, since a close math here would reflect poorly on Sanders.  If Sanders can post into the double-digits, it's difficult to see Clinton able to spin this in any way as a good thing for her, but if she can make the race much closer, or (very slim odds, but not impossible considering she's done it before) win the state, it would perhaps be the last way she could end a potentially fractious and lengthy primary battle.

5. Who drops out in the meantime?

Martin O'Malley, Mike Huckabee, and Rand Paul have all dropped out since Iowa, and rumors abound about who could be next.  While the Democrats don't really have any questions around this (it's a two-person race), the Republicans are collectively going to be watching these candidates like a hawk as even a handful of voters here and there could be the difference between second or third in New Hampshire (there's a reason that Hillary Clinton pointed out Martin O'Malley is a good man in her Iowa acceptance speech-she knows his 2-3 points could be useful in the near future).  In particular, keep your eyes on Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson, both of whom have about a 4-point base of support in New Hampshire, but an endorsement of another candidate (say Fiorina going for Bush/Rubio or Carson for Trump/Cruz) could give an extra bounce that could mean a wind at someone's back.  Lest we forget the winners and losers in the Iowa caucus were decided by a slim margin, so a 4-point add would be a huge plus for someone running in the Granite State.

There they are-what about you?  What questions are you wondering about headed into New Hampshire?  Share your thoughts below!

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