New Hampshire GOP Primary: 4 Storylines to Watch Tonight

Former Massachusetts governor and frontrunner by default Mitt Romney is going to win the New Hampshire primary. This is not in question, there are no surprises coming.

Move along, nothing to see here.

He’s had an insurmountable lead in the state for months on end that has not changed radically since the Iowa Caucuses and none of his rivals are in a position to overtake him or make a strong run at second place.

So what could possibly be learned from tonight’s polls?

There are a couple of scenarios that could keep the Republican nomination process interesting instead of the 12 month coronation process that it has been thus far.

The Huntsman Rises

Most polls show Romney with anywhere from an 18 to 15 point lead over his next closest competitor Ron Paul. A poll released Monday by Suffolk University and a local news station had Romney at 37%, Ron Paul at 18%, Huntsman at 16%, Santorum at 11%, Gingrich at 9% and Rick Perry representing the 1%.

If Jon Huntsman were to capture a huge chunk of the undecided voters (7%) and perhaps catch a wave of contrarian Republicans in New Hampshire – that don’t want to rubber stamp Iowa – he could catapult himself into 2nd place. Would this make Huntsman the nominee? Of course not. However, the effect of his second place finish would keep him in the debates for South Carolina and all but guarantee that candidates like Rick Perry would be out of the race within two weeks.

Santorum Surge Part 2

Santorum is polling anywhere from a distant third to 4th in the New Hampshire primary and there’s no reason to think that he’ll perform a miracle in a state whose Republican voters are not nearly as conservative as Iowans or South Carolinians. However: similar to Huntsman, if Santorum were to come in second in this primary or at least come within a hairs breath of Ron Paul (who will likely come in second) then he can claim a legitimate Santorum surge and there will be sweater vests for everyone.

Paul Falls

Everyone in politics knows that Ron Paul’s ceiling in this presidential campaign is limited by many factors, from his own ambivalence about wanting the job, to the Republican establishment’s desire to shoot him and his supporters on sight.

However, one scenario that would radically change this race would be if he were to precipitously fall in the final polls here in New Hampshire. This is less about placement in the polls (2nd, 3rd, or 4th) and more about what numbers he’s able to pull. New Hampshire is seen as the last primary state where Ron Paul’s non-traditional foreign policy views and criticism of his own party will have any traction with GOP primary voters. Places like South Carolina and Florida will not embrace him politically and the lack of young voters makes his chances of scoring significant numbers even less likely. If Paul doesn’t break 20% of the vote, even if he comes in second to Romney then his campaign, even as a Ralph Nader type spoiler movement will have lost all steam.

Going Newt-Cular

Newt has already made it clear that he’s going after Mitt Romney with every ounce of resources he’s got left, and he doesn’t really care about winning the nomination at this point. He scored some points with his King of Bain type attacks against Romney and like clock-work Mittens slipped up and gave the other Republicans and Team Obama one of the most damning quotes of this entire primary season. Newt doesn’t have to win, or even do well in New Hampshire, but he can’t totally fail either. If he earns less than 10% of the vote, knowing that he trails Santorum and Romney in South Carolina and has little or no chance of winning there, his campaign would be reduced to an extended speaking tour and roast of Mitt Romney. Funny, engaging … but not actually relevant to the race anymore.

In just a few hours we will begin the countdown to the end of the Republican nomination race. Hopefully one of the scenarios above will occur, leading to healthier competition down the road. If not, Romney will have wrapped up his nomination sometime in early February.

This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.

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