Sunday, February 7, 2016

New Hampshire's Jump Ball

By Mary Claire Kendall

On the eve of the GOP New Hampshire primary, the picture is becoming clearer and what is emerging is the lack of a clear GOP presidential front runner, as exemplified by the latest Monmouth poll, showing Trump on top with 30%; Kasich (14%), Rubio (13%), Bush (13%), and Cruz (12%), clustered in the middle; and Christie, Fiorina and Carson, bunched at the bottom with 6, 5 and 4 percent, respectively.

While this one poll is but a snapshot in a constantly changing race, it is instructive to see how the is race tightening, where, at this point, any of the middle tier candidates could surprise by defying expectations and “win” with a second, third, or even fourth place finish. 

“Volatility is the name of the game in 2016’s first primary contest, just as it was in the first caucus state last week,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Polling Institute at Monmouth University. “While Trump’s placement as the top finisher seems fairly secure at this point, the margin of victory and final order of the remaining candidates are still very much up for grabs.”

Marco Rubio beat expectations and came in an unusually strong third in Iowa, as analyzed for Daily Caller. Donald Trump’s decision to skip the Iowa debate was a mistake, as predicted in Town Hall and was, it seems, one of the main contributing factors in Trump’s loss.

But, two days from now in New Hampshire, it seems, a whole new story will be told.

It’s the story of how, finally, the “establishment” candidates – the three governors: Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie – are starting to emerge as real contenders.  Saturday’s ABC debate at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire was replete with examples of how these candidates are fighting and fighting hard.  Monday’s Emerson poll reinforced this storyline. “Bush and Kasich have the highest favorability ratings among likely GOP primary voters,” the poll reported.  Bush, polling second place at 16% to Trump’s 31%, suggests this son and brother of two former presidents is closing in.

It’s also the story of how the first place winner in Iowa, Ted Cruz, who was establishment when establishment was cool during the George W. Bush era, now running hard as an outsider, may lose traction. 

But, more than anything, it’s the story of how long and drawn out the process of choosing a president is.  Before the New Hampshire primary, the 100th anniversary of which we celebrate this year, party bosses overtly picked the candidate in smoke-filled rooms.  No one would argue a return to those days. Just a little more predictability.  Yet, if drama is what you want, Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, like any good movie script, will not be wanting.

February 10, 2016 Postscript 

The above prognostication was fairly accurate. Trump somewhat over-performed his polls, coming in first with 35%, almost half of which came from non-Republicans. Kasich, mirroring election eve polls, had a solid second place showing with 16%. Cruz, as predicted, lost altitude, coming in third with 12%. And, Bush, in the surprise of the evening, finished fourth at 11%, beating out Marco Rubio.  Meanwhile, Carly Fiorina, garnering only 4%, suspended her campaign today. And, Chris Christie went home to New Jersey to take a time out and then announced at 4 PM, he was indeed pulling out of the race.  Needless to say, South Carolina promises even more surprises. 

Mary Claire Kendall, a Washington-based writer, is author of Oasis: Conversion Stories of Hollywood Legends.

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