Although we’re all rightly focused on Iowa, there’s another early state where it’s going to be extremely close: New Hampshire.
Now, nobody doubts that Donald Trump will win that state, perhaps even by double digits. According to the latest poll, he currently leads by 15 percentage points. In normal English that means he’s got the Granite State locked up.
However, the race for second place is extremely close:
Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich tie with 12 percent apiece, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 11 percent and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) at 10 percent.
The results in Iowa will undoubtedly play a big role in New Hampshire. At this moment, the race in Iowa is probably too close to call, which also goes for second place in N.H. After Monday. However, we can expect things to change dramatically.
If Cruz wins Iowa, he’ll almost certainly surge to second place in New Hampshire. This will especially be the case if Ben Carson (who’s at 5% in N.H.) disappoints Monday; he may then drop out. Most of his evangelical support will undoubtedly go to Cruz.
And then there’s another scenario. Although Cruz insiders seem to believe that Iowa is theirs for the taking, some commentators believe Trump’s poll support will translate into a caucus win (I don’t think it will). If that happens, Cruz will suffer a blow, although the severity of it depends on the gap with Trump. If it’s just a few percentage points, the anti-Trump vote may still rally behind him. If he loses by more than five points, however, the race for second place nationwide will be wide open and Cruz will be in serious danger of losing momentum.
Even if Cruz wins, there’s no reason for another man with a real chance of being the nominee, Marco Rubio, to give up yet. He’s behind in Iowa and trails Kasich and Jeb in New Hampshire, but if he finishes a strong third in the state (and many believe he’s currently surging), he’ll undoubtedly surge in New Hampshire, which would put him on equal footing with Cruz (providing Cruz does win Iowa). Kasich and Jeb will then be left behind. And if Cruz loses Iowa while Rubio finishes a strong third, second place in New Hampshire is his for the taking.
On the other hand, it’s also possible that Rubio’s surge in Iowa is less impressive than the chattering classes think, which will enable both Kasich and Jeb to claim the establishment mantel, arguing that Rubio had his shot, but missed. If that happens, Rubio could actually lose some support and Jeb or Kasich could rise in the polls, possibly ending up third or even second in the second primary state.
In other words, New Hampshire will almost certainly go to Trump, but second and third place will be determined by the results in Iowa.