The Buzz

Cruz ahead in Iowa, Trump in NH, Sanders-Clinton close in both

With three weeks to go before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, the storyline largely remains the same.

It’s Ted Cruz slightly ahead of Donald Trump in Iowa, a new Marist Poll shows. It’s Trump easily pacing the field in New Hampshire.

And on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are neck-and-neck in both states.

Perhaps the more intriguing storyline is the fight for that third ticket out of Iowa. Political tradition suggests that a candidate doesn’t have to win Iowa to have a shot at a presidential nomination, but he or she has to finish in the top three.

On the Republican side, Marco Rubio holds that third ticket with 13 percent to Ben Carson’s 11 percent. So that third-place race is close.

In New Hampshire, Rubio is second with 14 percent (to Trump’s 30 percent) with Chris Christie at 12 percent and Cruz at 10 percent.

What does all this say?

Rubio, the Florida senator, is hanging in there and positioning himself as in the race for the long haul. Watch him. A top-three finish in New Hampshire would place Cruz in an enviable position heading into the Deep South primaries in the weeks after New Hampshire. Watch him, too.

Establishment contenders such as Jeb Bush and John Kasich are fighting for their political lives. It doesn’t look good.

And finally, on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has a chance to set off a political tidal wave as he is positioned to beat Clinton in both the first two states. His long-term prospects remain suspect, but wins in the first two states would send a powerful message to Clinton that a significant segment of the party is not ready to anoint her as the Democratic nominee.