With today being the big day for New Hampshire’s primary, much of the nation’s attention is on the Granite State to see which candidate from each party will emerge victorious. Though even beyond just the winners, there are a multitude of stories swirling around how everything plays out tonight. Often how you finish, even in defeat, can matter almost as much as actually winning.
That said, if you’re a Republican, you’ll probably want to finish at least second. As Alvin Chang noted at Vox, “In the past 60 years, no eventual nominee finished worse than second in New Hampshire.”
So knowing what’s on the line, I thought I’d list some things to look out for tonight.
1. Will Donald Trump lose two in a row?: If “The Donald” were to lose tonight, that would be a massive blow to a candidate whose polling numbers have been dominant in New Hampshire for months. Though coming off a weaker than expected finish in Iowa, anything short of a big victory tonight could be painted as the start of his downfall. A weak finish tonight could certainly hurt him going forward in other states.
2. How will Hillary Clinton finish?: I’m not sure anyone actually expects Clinton to win New Hampshire. Being that it’s a state that demographically favors Sanders (mostly white liberals), and it just so happens to neighbor Vermont, it’s really not a matter of if Bernie Sanders wins tonight – but by how much. While I’m not really a proponent for “moral victories,” if Clinton can manage to lose by single-digits in a state where some polls had her down by 20-30 points as recently as just a week ago, that is about as good as she can probably hope to do this evening.
This is really all the “drama” there is on the Democratic side of things.
3. The possible end of Ben Carson’s campaign: While I’m not exactly expecting Carson to drop out after New Hampshire, it also wouldn’t surprise me if he did. The last couple of debates Carson has seemed fairly disinterested in the whole process. With a last place finish almost all but certain (at least among major the candidates), if he somehow does even worse than the three percent that he’s been polling at recently, I wouldn’t put it past him to be the next candidate to drop out.
4. If Trump wins, which candidates round out the top five?: With Trump the overwhelming favorite to win tonight, the “drama,” if you will, is really on who’ll round out the top five. With Rubio struggling since his “strong” third place Iowa finish, and Cruz’s support taking a fairly sizable hit in the last few polls, this could be the night where Jeb Bush sneaks in there and finishes in second or third place. Something that could revitalize a campaign that’s been an absolute disaster thus far.
This is also a huge night for John Kasich. Considering he’s put so much work into New Hampshire, if he doesn’t finish in the top five, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him bow out. The same could be said of Chris Christie – someone who once polled fairly well in the state, though has since fallen back to around five percent in most polls. If Kasich or Christie can leap to a top 3 finish ahead of people like Rubio, Bush and Cruz, that would be huge for either of their campaigns. (Look for Kasich to have the better outside chance at that second place finish.)
5. Voter turnout: At the Iowa Caucus we saw incredible voter turnout. In a primary where Trump and Sanders are overwhelming favorites (unlike Iowa where the race was much more competitive), it’s worth paying attention to see if we’ll get high voter turnout in New Hampshire. Being that voter turnout is going to play a huge part in the general election, these primaries are great tests to see what we might see in November.
6. How will Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz finish?: While this ties into the “top five finish,” these two candidates, in particular, are interesting to follow. I’ve never seen two candidates have campaigns go from positive momentum to negative turmoil so quickly. Especially considering how high both were flying following the Iowa Caucus. If both candidates underperform tonight that could be a fairly big setback for two campaigns that have struggled to build on any sort of “surge” they might have had coming out of Iowa.
While media pundits hype New Hampshire throughout the day, into the evening and definitely after the final results are in – ignore most of it. Historically speaking, New Hampshire is possibly the worst state in the country to determine much about what might happen in the general election.
A Democrat hasn’t won the New Hampshire primary and gone on to win in the general election since Jimmy Carter did it in 1976 – forty years ago. Meanwhile, George H. W. Bush in 1988 was the last Republican to win in New Hampshire who went on to win the presidency in November.
So, the truth of the matter is, it’s been quite a while since the winners of the New Hampshire primary for either party went on to become president.