Barring a dramatic collapse tomorrow, Donald Trump is going to win the New Hampshire primary by a wide margin. He has consistently led the rest of the field there for months by double digits, and his supporters seem committed to him. The race for second place among the Republicans is where things are most uncertain, but before we get to that Trump’s very likely victory tomorrow deserves a few more comments.
Assuming that he wins as expected, Trump will cement his position as national front-runner, and his candidacy will be that much harder to stop. Trump will be the first Republican candidate since Pat Buchanan in 1996 to win the primary despite having no support from party leaders, and he appears to be on track to win by at least 10 points and probably quite a bit more than that. A Trump win in New Hampshire puts him in the same position that McCain and Romney were eight and four years ago respectively, and he is in an even stronger position in South Carolina than either of them was at this point in their campaigns. It will be interesting to see what the exit polls show about the past voting habits of Trump supporters. There may be more overlap with the past front-runners than most of us imagine.
The crowded field behind Trump has been jostling for position and changing positions for weeks, but in the end the candidates that invested more time and effort into campaigning in the state are likely to be rewarded with late gains. I guessed yesterday that Kasich would take second, and that seems even more likely than it did. Winning the so-called “establishment” lane will force a lot of party leaders and donors to take a longer look at Kasich, who is after all a popular two-term governor of Ohio, and he will easily be able to justify pressing on at least through early March. Rubio will be at pains to stay ahead of both Bush and Cruz, and anything resembling a tie with either of them will be very bad for him. A tie for third or a close fourth-place finish for Bush or Cruz isn’t great news for either candidate, but it probably gives Bush an excuse to keep going for at least a few more weeks. Fourth place or worse for Rubio halts and probably reverses whatever momentum his Iowa finish gave him. He risks falling short of the ever-lower expectations people keep setting for him. Cruz can’t be happy with a fourth or fifth place finish, but he is a bad fit with New Hampshire and his best states are still to come. Cruz has enough resources to ride out a disappointing showing tomorrow. “Establishment” fratricide will continue, and Trump and Cruz stand to benefit.
On the Democratic side, Sanders has led comfortably for a long time, and again barring some dramatic last-minute change he seems sure to win the primary. The key for him will be to win by a decisive margin of 10+ points. He leads by almost 13 points in the average, so that should be within reach. Whether that improves his standing in later-voting states remains to be seen, but trouncing Clinton in New Hampshire after practically tying her in Iowa guarantees that his challenge to her isn’t going away anytime soon. If Sanders’ margin of victory turns out to be a lot more than 10-15 points, Clinton will be very bruised heading into South Carolina and might start bleeding a lot more support.
Predictions: 1) Trump 30% 2) Kasich 18% T-3rd) Rubio 13% T-3rd) Bush 13% 4) Cruz 12% 5) Christie 7% 6) Fiorina 3% 7) Paul 2% 8) Carson 2%
Sanders 57% Clinton 43%