1. Mitt Romney. It’s a foregone conclusion that Mitt Romney will win New Hampshire. The question is, by how much and what will the margin of victory say about his candidacy? A strong showing would be in the high 30s to low 40s. Less than 32 or so, and the narrative continues that he’s a weak front-runner limping out of his own back yard, and ripe for serious challenge as the primary heads south. Under 30 percent and there’s blood in the water.
2. Who finishes in second? Jon Huntsman badly needs a strong second place finish to establish some relevance in the campaign. Most polls here have Ron Paul in second, from 14 to 29 points behind Romney, with either Huntsman or someone else in third. Second place punches a ticket for Huntsman to continue on as a shadow Romney, but with less campaign savvy and a better actual record as governor. He could make a stand in Florida, especially if someone beats Romney in South Carolina and scrambles the race. Third place, especially a weak third or even fourth, and it may be time for him to pack it in. As for Paul, there has been no evidence that he is surging in New Hampshire, and some evidence that he may be fading since finishing third in Iowa. That was a caucus that favored Paul’s campaign style, New Hampshire is a more straightforward vote. He is retiring from Congress and has money to burn, but even he doesn’t see himself actually winning the presidency. If he finishes poorly in New Hampshire, what does he do? His activists have been joining forces with the occupy protesters in New Hampshire, pestering other candidates on the campaign trail.
3. The impact of the revenge candidacy. Negative campaigning works, and New Hampshire has seen its share on TV ads and in stump speeches. Newt Gingrich has a glint in his eye lately after taking a pounding in Iowa, and he and his allied super PACs have taken after “Massachusetts moderate” Mitt Romney, not to win here but looking ahead toward the next contest. The negativity won’t defeat Romney here, but may expose him in the more conservative South Carolina, where his tax hikes and RomneyCare may turn voters off. But what will it do to Gingrich’s own candidacy?