Nine days after the Iowa caucuses, voters will hit the polls today in New Hampshire in the first primary contest of the 2016 presidential election.
Unlike Iowa, polls in New Hampshire don’t show a tight race in either party. On the Republican side, polls have longtime frontrunner and Iowa runner-up Donald Trump in first place by over 15 points. On the Democratic side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders leads former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by over 13 points.
It was all but impossible to predict a winner on either side in the days leading up to Iowa. Clinton held on to the slim lead that polls had suggested — defeating Sanders by less than one percentage point. On the GOP side, however, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz beat Trump by four percentage points, despite the fact that polls had given the real estate mogul a slim lead hours before the caucuses.
This time around, however, there’s little doubt as to who the favorites are to take home a key early-voting state victory. For the first time, expectations are through the roof for the insurgent campaigns of Trump and Sanders. And although both campaigns are likely feeling confident as voters head to the polls, the fate of their candidacies may very well rely on polling holding true when the final results are in tonight in New Hampshire.
Trump, whose frontrunner status was diminished by his second-place finish in Iowa, needs to win big in New Hampshire to demonstrate that he’s capable of translating his massive rallies and dedicated group of supporters into actual votes.
Cruz is unlikely to win again in New Hampshire, but he doesn’t have to win after his decisive victory in Iowa. Indeed, even a second-place finish today could perhaps give Cruz a clear path to the nomination as the race heads South. For Trump, just winning New Hampshire won’t be enough — he has to take home a commanding victory to gain the momentum that he needs going into South Carolina, Nevada and beyond.
The stakes are similarly high for Sanders, whose strong finish in Iowa guaranteed that his campaign will go far beyond the first two states. For the first time, Sanders is expected to handily defeat Clinton’s juggernaut campaign. The self-proclaimed democratic socialist took the lead in New Hampshire in early December and never looked back, and anything short of a decisive victory could be devastating for his campaign.
Sanders has seen great success with the liberal, mostly white voters of Iowa and New Hampshire. Once the race moves to South Carolina and beyond, however, the electoral map is far more favorable for Clinton and Sanders will need all the momentum he can get.
Fortunately for Sanders and Trump, it’s unlikely that either will lose their big leads today. It’s not impossible — after all, then Sen. Barack Obama saw a big lead slip away in New Hampshire just days before the primary in 2008, giving a shocking victory to then Sen. Clinton. But Sanders and Trump are the odds on favorites to be making victory speeches tonight. If they fail to live up to expectations, their days in the race may very well be numbered.
While Trump will likely emerge victorious tonight, there are other names to look out for on the GOP side. One of the biggest questions remaining in the race for the Republican nomination is who will emerge as the establishment alternative to Trump and Cruz.
For weeks it looked like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio would be that guy. But Rubio’s miserable performance in this week’s GOP debate (see below) will likely hurt him today in New Hampshire, and other candidates like John Kasich and Chris Christie could chip away at his support with a good performance in New Hampshire tonight.
There are plenty of questions surrounding the 2016 presidential race as voters hit the polls in the Granite State. Tonight, we’ll get some answers.