On to New Hampshire for the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates

Sen. Ted Cruz campaigned last week in New Hampshire ahead of Tuesday’s presidential primaries for Republicans and Democrats.
Sen. Ted Cruz campaigned last week in New Hampshire ahead of Tuesday’s presidential primaries for Republicans and Democrats. Bloomberg

GOP: New Hampshire

▪ Ted Cruz has the opportunity to keep his winning streak going in the Granite State. But he likely won’t. Donald Trump is leading in the polls (as he will remind you at every chance) and desperately needs a victory after his semi-surprising second-place finish in Iowa. Most GOP establishment eyes will watch how Marco Rubio fares — by late last week he was polling in second place — to determine whether he’s really going to be the party’s best hope for the White House. Centrist John Kasich is hanging on to hopes that he could poll well enough to stay in the race. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and the rest just don’t want to be too embarrassed on Tuesday.

GOP: South Carolina, Nevada and beyond

▪ The key question for Cruz: Can he find enough evangelical voters in South Carolina (primary, Feb. 20) and Nevada (caucus, Feb. 23) to keep him in the spotlight as Super Tuesday looms? Trump has high hopes for a strong showing in South Carolina, as he ramps up his appeals to the “mad as hell crowd” in the South. Meanwhile, if Rubio does well enough in New Hampshire, he’ll be hoping the weaker candidates will exit the race. For Bush, South Carolina could be his last stand; if he can’t win there, his future is dim.

▪ Super Tuesday will be March 1 in Texas and 13 other states (plus American Samoa), followed by some big contests in mid-March. Kansans caucus on March 5; Missouri’s primary is March 15. If the Republicans really are down to a Big Three by this time — Cruz, Rubio and Trump — voters will see even more negative campaigning from the candidates and their camps. The wild card: If the well-funded Bush can revive his struggling campaign, he will do everything possible on March 1 to reclaim the crown of being the GOP establishment’s best bet to beat the Democrats in November.

Democrats: New Hampshire

▪ Bernie Sanders likely will use use his next-door status as a Vermonter to defeat Hillary Clinton. Her challenge is to use some late momentum — perhaps building on a well-received debate performance last Thursday — to edge closer to Sanders. But Clinton’s problem in New Hampshire and going forward could be the fact that younger voters are flocking to Sanders’ often-idealistic campaign, as Iowa showed. Clinton remains the more well-rounded Democratic candidate — but issues of trust linger. Still, if she gets within spitting distance of Sanders in the Granite State, a stronger wind will be at her back.

Democrats: South Carolina, Nevada and beyond

▪ Clinton’s backers contend she will do quite well in Nevada (Democratic caucus Feb. 20) and South Carolina (Democratic primary Feb. 27). Most recent polls agree. Now for the Sanders rebuttal: He impressively closed the gap in Iowa and — partly based on his margin on victory in New Hampshire — could be attracting a lot of second looks in South Carolina and Nevada by the end of this month.

▪ Super Tuesday could be a super day for either candidate. Here’s one key. Remember the Democratic debates and town forums that were supposed to be Clinton’s strong points? She’s done well, especially in showing her breadth of knowledge on financial issues and foreign affairs. But Sanders has gained a ton of positive national exposure. He comes across as empathetic and as someone who will battle for the middle class. Sure, his policies often are unrealistic, and expect Clinton to hammer away at that fact in the run-up to Super Tuesday — and likely a lot longer in this surprisingly close race.