The outcome of New Hampshire’s primary Tuesday could have major implications for all the candidates left in the field, except Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has skipped New Hampshire to focus on South Carolina.
list of five key issues to watch carefully Tuesday.
1. Mitt Romney’s number
The front-runner is almost a sure thing to win the primary. The issue is by how much. Given that a win appears to be in the bag, the victory margin will have to be hefty to give the former Massachusetts governor any real momentum heading into South Carolina. Polls have consistently shown his support between 35 and 40 percent, though the number has slipped in recent days. Rich Killion, a New Hampshire-based GOP strategist, tells Politico Romney needs at least 38 percent to gain steam from the Granite State. That would match John McCain’s winning total from 2008 and exceed Romney’s total of 32 percent the last time around. Politico views anything above 40 percent as a resounding victory and anything below 35 percent as a stinging defeat.
2. Will Ron Paul fade at the end?
Pundits thought the Texas representative had a good chance to win the Iowa caucuses last week, but he finished a disappointing third. And while Paul stands in second place in most New Hampshire polls, his support level is slipping, as former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman mounts a spirited charge. Huntsman is cutting into Paul’s support among Independents voting in the GOP primary, and it’s not clear that the Texan can keep Huntsman from getting those votes. Paul does have a strong and loyal following. But if he fizzles in New Hampshire, his campaign faces a tough road.
3. The race for fourth
While Paul and Huntsman are engaged in a pitched battle for second place, the more important contest may be the one between former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for fourth place. The two are neck and neck in the most recent polls. Neither has put much time or money into the New Hampshire race. Santorum’s strong second-place finish in Iowa doesn’t seem to have translated into much momentum in the Granite State. Whoever emerges on top in this duel can head into South Carolina, which holds its primary Jan. 21, arguing he is the main conservative challenger to Romney.
4. Will the polling be screwy?
New Hampshire primary polling has proven to be wildly inaccurate in the past. In 2000, for example, former Texas Gov. George W. Bush polled close to Arizona Sen. John McCain before the New Hampshire vote, only to suffer a smashing defeat of 19 percentage points by the Arizona maverick. To be sure, Romney’s lead in the polls would appear to be a lot safer this time, given all the advantages he has in New Hampshire – his proximity to the state, its moderate make-up, etc. But when it comes to the rest of the field, there may well be upsets.
5. Will there be a Union Leader bounce?
The influential, conservative New Hampshire newspaper provided a strong boost for the Gingrich campaign with its late November endorsement of the former House speaker. And it has backed him vigorously. The paper’s editors showed the extent of their influence in 2008, when they backed winner McCain and attacked Romney. They’ve gone after Romney with their gloves off again this year, but with less frequency. So it’s unclear if the paper will end up affecting the race as much this go 'round.
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