Leaving the Iowa Caucus behind, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio clearly have momentum and excitement headed into the New Hampshire Primary taking place next Tuesday. In most of the latest polling, Donald Trump still leads by roughly twenty points. He will probably win on Tuesday, barring a complete implosion of support over the next five days. I’m not holding my breath.
Tuesday, then, will be about expectations and setting up for South Carolina. As of right now, the latest polls look like this:
Rolling RCP Average:
Trump: 32.8 Cruz: 11.8 Rubio: 11.3 Kasich: 11 Bush: 9.3 Christie: 6.3 Fiorina: 3.5 Carson: 3
Trump: 36 Cruz: 15 Rubio: 14 Kasich: 7 Bush: 8 Christie: 5 Fiorina: 3 Carson: 4
I will readily admit that I’m not a pollster, and moreover, I am not all that familiar with New Hampshire. I’m from suburban Atlanta, which is quite a bit different; however, it seems to me that Trump, Cruz, and Rubio both benefited after Iowa while Kasich, Bush, and Christie are sinking. I didn’t bother with Huckabee, Santorum, or Paul, as they’re all out, and their points together totaled 3.3 in the RCP average.
Here are a few scenarios:
1) Trump wins by a lot, with Cruz and Rubio close together in either order. The rolling average suggests this result. Trump looks strong in SC.
2) Cruz and Rubio over-perform by five points each, drawing mostly from Trump. That puts Trump at a modest 22.8% off the rolling average, or 26% from the latest UMass poll, with Cruz and Rubio in the mid to high teens. Given Trump’s recent numbers in the PPP poll, I’d put my money on something like this result or the next one. If Trump under-performs, it slows him down for SC.
3) Cruz and Rubio over-perform by seven points each, again drawing mostly from Trump. That’s a narrow win or narrow loss for Trump. That’s about equally likely as #2, I think. A narrow loss for Trump would cause another major meltdown from him, I’m sure. Who knows? He might even rush to the defense of Jeb! due to Cruz or Rubio’s theft of still another vote.
4) Total Trump implosion: Cruz and/or Rubio blow out expectations, and Trump finishes in second or third. That sets up a follow up second or third place finish for Trump, and he, like Giuliani 2008, inexplicably collapses despite strong showing in national polls.
Summary: Options 2, 3, and 4 are the ones Cruz and Rubio want in order to stop Trump in South Carolina. If he runs away with it in New Hampshire, South Carolina looks a bit more dicey. Trump is up around 20 points in South Carolina now.
Predictions: Kasich and Christie probably go away after NH. Their combined total in SC is 4.3% in the rolling average, and so their withdrawal will have minimal impact on SC. Meanwhile Bush, Carson, and Fiorina stay well past their sell-by date, hanging on until South Carolina’s primary ends. Their running total points on the RCP average are 18%, mostly from Bush and Carson. I am reasonably confident that even if Trump manages narrow wins in NH and SC, the field will have narrowed so much by Florida that Cruz or Rubio stop Trump there at the latest. Nevada’s another caucus, and the last poll there only had Trump up 13 in December. Trump blow outs in NH and SC, though, will make it hard to recover unless the race is down to just Trump and someone else.