New Hampshire fought, like usual, to maintain its “first primary in the nation” status this year. But we won’t know until tonight whether it will maintain its status as a primary that matters.
Mitt Romney will win. The questions are: By how much? And who’s closest to him?
Just as Romney’s eight-vote win in Iowa was a win, but a weak one, it will be harder for him to beat the drum of inevitability if he captures less than 40 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, where he’s led for months if not years. That’s the first number to watch in the returns tonight.
The next thing to watch is whose name is second. Ron Paul has been sitting in that position, but recent polls show him slipping a bit relative to Jon Huntsman, who has staked his campaign on the Granite State. If either of them can finish in second above 20 percent, especially above 25 percent, he may have a springboard to the next few states. If second place — and Huntsman’s position in any case — is in the teens, New Hampshire will mostly have been useful as a means of narrowing the field further. I don’t see how Huntsman carries on if he wins less than 20 percent after campaigning virtually nowhere else for months.
Finally, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum may have a truce of sorts between them, but their placement relative to one another will matter going into South Carolina. Santorum in particular would be well-served by a third-place finish after Iowa jump-started his candidacy. Either of them would probably be heartened by finishing in a tight pack of second through fourth places. (Rick Perry can only resuscitate his candidacy with a strong showing in South Carolina; his finish tonight is fairly unimportant.)
– By Kyle Wingfield