February 3, 2016
Welcome to New Hampshire. Candidates have spent the past year visiting. Chris Christie and John Kasich moved in months ago, Jeb Bush more recently. Iowa gets a solid 4 to 6 weeks of attention. The Granite State gets a full week of concentrated energy.
It’s a small place. You can drive through it in a couple hours, across it in less time than passing a few highway exits during rush hour in a big city. Iowa trims the herd slightly, but when the field hits New Hampshire, it often feels too large for such a compact place.
A week from now, the survivors, and maybe a zombie or two head for South Carolina. Let’s explore what each contender or pseudo-contender needs to do to avoid being a casualty before the primary season moves south:
Wants: A yuuge win. If he’s in the 30s and everybody else is bunched up in the teens and single-digits, it’s like Iowa never happened. Ideally, he at least doubles Cruz’s total, giving him an important edge before their showdown in South Carolina.
Needs: A victory. His Iowa excuse is that a strong second is really a strong result considering Ted’s advantages. He’s actually right. Until the last week or two, that wasn’t far from the conventional narrative. He’s led every New Hampshire poll since mid-July. If Trump doesn’t win, it means he can’t close or a bunch of his voters are imaginary. Neither is helpful.
Might Survive: Another strong second. It’s a stretch, but if Kasich should somehow miraculously finish first, with Trump still well ahead of Cruz and Rubio, he would finish the first two states with the most delegates, allowing him to say he’s a winner by being in first place overall.
In 2012, Newt Gingrich won South Carolina after finishing well down the list in Iowa and New Hampshire, so there’s precedent for a recovery there. Trump absolutely can’t finish behind Cruz a second time in a row.
Wants: A strong second. If Trump wins, Cruz finishes within ten points or so, and Rubio is third or worse, Ted is in very good shape going forward. It would mean he finished ahead of Marco where he should have and where he shouldn’t have. All of a sudden, it looks like a Trump-Cruz race, one that Ted would have an edge in.
Needs: Fourth. If Trump wins, Kasich (or another governor) finishes second, Rubio third, then Ted and the other two governors, that’s good enough. Rubio has nothing to brag about, and Cruz at least managed to do better than a couple of New Hampshire-specific candidates.
Might Survive: Sixth, as long as he’s in double digits. This gets risky. A poor result builds a narrative that Cruz can’t survive outside his comfort zone. But if four or five candidates finish in a tight cluster, it’s probably no huge deal.
Ted finished 5 points ahead of Marco in Iowa. If he stays within the same range in New Hampshire, it’s an effective draw.
Wants: A strong second. I’m sure he would happily take a win, but the campaign has resolutely made sure not to peak too soon. You can argue he’d prefer to have Trump around to fight with Cruz and put off a two-way race until he’s on firmer footing after March 15. Probably a bad argument, but it’s there.
Needs: To finish ahead of Ted. If one of the governors gets in front of Marco, it’s an irritation and an issue. Winding up trailing Ted twice in a row is another matter. Rubio can go a few to several contests without a win, but can’t keep finishing behind both Cruz and Trump each time.
Might Survive: Fourth. If it’s a very close fourth, bunched together with third and second and Cruz winds up fifth or worse, it’s survivable, but would ruin any momentum from Iowa. He’d need to take advantage of endorsements from Trey Gowdy and Tim Scott to outperform reduced expectations in South Carolina.
Wants: To win. He’s saying he just needs to do well enough to be “the story” coming out of New Hampshire. The polls are indicating it’s not safe for him to say more than that. If he wants a real shot at contention instead of just trying to last until Ohio, it would take a victory.
Cruz was the ultimate Iowa candidate. Kasich is just as optimized for New Hampshire. If he can’t win there, where (outside of Ohio) does he win later? I can give you some scenarios, but they’re decently complicated.
Needs: A strong second. Trump 28, Kasich 23, Cruz 14, Rubio 12, etc. would do the trick.
Might Survive: Rubio finishing within a couple points of him. There are few other places on the map where you would think Kasich could or would have an edge on Marco, so this is far from ideal.
Wants: To win. He can’t say this out loud because it’s horribly laughable right now. Jeb can stay in the race with a lower finish than this, but if he wants to be a true contender instead of a partially viable spoiler, it would require a win.
Needs: A strong second. Jeb is showing a light pulse in South Carolina polling. The Bush family used the Palmetto State as a fulcrum in both 1988 (41) and 2000 (43). They have deep ties that would become immediately useful if Bush began resembling his predecessors.
Might Survive: Third, ahead of the other governors and Rubio. He’s still widely unpopular outside of New Hampshire and Florida. It would make Marco look bad more than Jeb good. But the press loves a comeback story, and this would at least partially qualify. He does still have the bank balance (or at least his PAC does) to compete.
Wants: A strong second. Christie is now sitting in sixth in the polling averages. A win is probably pushing it. His tone is more suited to the rest of the country than Kasich, so a good second is both the max he can hope for and good enough.
Needs: A strong second. He’s attempting to follow the McCain 2008 route. He won New Hampshire. I can’t see how a third place finish, or even a very distant second leaves him in anything other than an extreme underdog position.
Might Survive: Third, ahead of the other governors and Rubio. He claims he just needs to finish ahead of the governors. His pitch is that the final four will include a governor. Nonsense. If he can’t finish ahead of Rubio in New Hampshire after becoming a temporary resident, what makes him think South Carolina, Nevada, or anywhere else would be different?
There is no requirement to have a governor in the final group.
If someone not mentioned above finishes third or higher, I’ll commence discussing them in the South Carolina preview.
In all cases, I’ve listed where I think they need to wind up to remain viable (or become viable) as nomination contenders. This is separate from whether a candidate will exit the race. Bush in particular is likely to continue until South Carolina at a minimum, even if he finishes well short of my bar.