7 things to watch for in NH

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Tuesday marks the second chapter in the 2016 presidential nominating cycle, with momentum and pride on the line for the White House hopefuls.

On the Democratic side, Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump thought biker rally crowd would resemble ‘I Have a Dream’ speech Sanders supporter challenges Wyo. delegate allocation Snowden mocks Trump for refusing to debate Sanders MORE heads into the New Hampshire primary with a strong lead in polls over Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonWeld wins Libertarian nomination for VP Sanders supporter challenges Wyo. delegate allocation Dems to Clinton: Ignore Trump on past scandals MORE as they battle to regain control of the race’s narrative following Clinton’s narrow victory in Iowa last week.

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Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump thought biker rally crowd would resemble ‘I Have a Dream’ speech Weld wins Libertarian nomination for VP Dems to Clinton: Ignore Trump on past scandals MORE looms large in New Hampshire, holding a double-digit lead over the field, while four candidates are within 4 points of one another for second place.

With so many storylines at play, here’s a look at seven things to watch on primary day.

Is Trump for real?

New Hampshire will serve as a crucial litmus test of Trump’s poll numbers as he looks to rebound from an upset in Iowa.

The Hawkeye State dealt a blow to Trump when Ted CruzTed CruzDems to Clinton: Ignore Trump on past scandals Meet the billionaire donor behind Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Party chairs see reversal of fortune MORE edged him out for a victory in the state’s caucuses. But the two had been polling neck-and-neck in the days ahead of the contest, so Cruz’s victory didn’t come out of nowhere.

This time, Trump comes into the New Hampshire primary with an average 17-point lead over the rest of the GOP field, according to RealClearPolitics.

That means a defeat would be devastating and create serious doubt about Trump’s ability to translate high poll numbers into votes, a concern that could cripple his candidacy.

But on the flip side, a win would help the real estate magnate regain his form, establishing him as a bona fide threat to win the nomination and silencing his doubters.

Can Rubio recapture his mojo?

Coming out of Iowa, many asked whether Rubio could leverage his strong third-place finish — 1 point behind Trump — into a decisive win in New Hampshire that would anoint him as the chosen establishment candidate to challenge Trump and Cruz.

He has since risen to second place in Granite State polls, but that narrative took a hit on Saturday night during the GOP debate when his rivals landed a series of blows.

Chris Christie led the charge, flaying Rubio for using the same scripted lines to attack President Obama multiple times throughout the debate. That dynamic dominated the post-debate punditry, and Christie has worked to keep it alive through primary day.

The question remains: Can Rubio overcome a tough night and get back on track toward a second-place finish in New Hampshire. 

Finishing behind only Trump could do just that. But if he falters, his debate performance is likely to take the blame.

Will their focus on New Hampshire pay dividends for the governors?

The three current and former governors in the GOP race — Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich — have all hinged their primary hopes on New Hampshire, putting them in competition with each other for the same more-centrist voters.

So far, Kasich is in third place in the RealClearPolitics average of New Hampshire polling, with 13 percent. Bush is in fifth, with 10.5 percent, and Christie lags behind in sixth, with 5.3 percent.

None is polling close to Trump’s lead, but Kasich, Cruz and Bush were all within just a few percentage points of Rubio as of late Monday afternoon. 

If he or any of the other governors are able to break into the top three or challenge Rubio for the establishment front-runner’s title, the Granite State could provide them with the spark to propel them onward.

But a poor showing could go a long way toward ending the campaigns of Kasich and Christie, who have struggled to match their rivals’ fundraising. For Bush, time is running out for the onetime front-runner to make a move.

Where do independents go?

New Hampshire’s primary races include a wild card: independent voters.

Independents, estimated at about 40 percent of the electorate, can choose to participate in either party’s primary when they arrive at their polling place on Tuesday.

Polling shows that New Hampshire’s independents overwhelmingly support Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side.

Independents interested in voting in the Republican primary favor Trump, but Cruz, Kasich and Rubio all polled well in a recent University of Massachusetts Lowell survey.

So a boost in independent voter turnout on either side will likely have a significant impact on the final results. But the deciding factor in which primary they choose remains unclear. The GOP race could seem more attractive to independents because more is at stake with the large field of candidates.

 How will Clinton fare?

Clinton has been well behind Sanders in New Hampshire in all but one poll since the start of 2016. By 
Monday, she was trailing, on average, by 13 points.

Clinton’s team has shown it’s not willing to cede the primary to her opponent, reportedly sending dozens of additional staffers to the state. And Clinton has adopted an underdog theme to her campaign speeches there.

Still, the question on the minds of most Democrats is not whether she will lose, but by how much.

Losing New Hampshire by a substantial margin after just barely winning Iowa could create doubt among voters in the upcoming contests in Nevada and South Carolina, states with more racially diverse electorates where Clinton now has substantial leads.

If Clinton’s deficit isn’t that substantial, however, Nevada and South Carolina voters could chalk it up to Sanders being from Vermont, which borders New Hampshire. 

Can Cruz win without evangelicals?

Cruz’s victory in Iowa followed a strategy that’s crowned many a GOP primary winner in the state: harness the power of the GOP electorate there.

But Iowa evangelical darlings haven’t won the big prize. Past winners Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee lost the nomination to more moderate competitors.

But Cruz is in a much better position financially than Santorum and Huckabee were when they won the caucuses in previous election cycles. Cruz has raised more money this cycle than any other GOP campaign and has more money in the bank.

He could benefit from a strong performance in a state where less than a quarter of 2012 GOP primary voters identified in exit polls as evangelical, especially because New Hampshire is not a pivotal piece of Cruz’s strategy.

Who might throw in the towel?

When New Hampshire’s primary is over, only two more states hold contests before Super Tuesday on March 1. So candidates who are still struggling after deciding to power through poor performances in Iowa may begin to drop out.

Republicans, Santorum, Huckabee and Rand PaulRand PaulLibertarian ticket will get super-PAC support Overnight Energy: Trump outlines 'America First' energy plan in North Dakota Overnight Regulation: GOP slams new Obama education rules MORE and Democrat Martin O’Malley were all victims of Iowa, dropping out in the hours and days after poor performances there.

On the Democratic side, Sanders and Clinton are in it for the long haul.  But while Republicans Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina have said the same, another poor showing would devastate their fundraising potential and call into question whether their campaigns can continue.

That’s also a risk for Kasich, Christie and Bush, who have all staked their political futures on New Hampshire.

Bush has the organization and deep pockets to continue on even if he falters, but some of his donors reportedly are already talking about jumping ship.

For Kasich and Christie, a poor finish could spell the end of their presidential dreams.

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