Voters are filling out ballots for the first time this election season in New Hampshire today, striking fear into the hearts of candidates destined to lose — although they hope not by too much.
Here’s a few things to watch out for.
Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump will probably win. Unless...
Both have double-digit leads in the polls; unless Marco Rubio has a spare dose of Felix Felicis lying around, or New Hampshire voters have come down from their super-classy Trump high, the leads seem unlikely to budge.
On the other hand, this is New Hampshire. The first primary state has been fond of defying expectations, something the Clintons know well.
Expecting, however, that the primary will end with the predicted victors, the candidates likely to place second or third have been doing PR calisthenics, preparing to spin their little underdog hearts out until their loss looks like the greatest win in electoral history. Marco Rubio is already primed to spin his loss into a victory, having managed to make his third-place finish in Iowa look like it was exactly like coming in first place during a biathlon while being chased by a bear on a snowmobile. However, he might not win the Most Winning Loser prize this time around, if his broken Discman debate performance manages to turn off any voters.
Ohio governor John Kasich, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush are far more desperate to lose winningly than Rubio. All of them know that the presidential race isn’t big enough for three governors, if any. Only one of these candidates could make an impressive showing tonight — the rest will quickly lose any reason to stay in the campaign. You’d think their surrogates were parents handing out participation trophies after the school Olympics (John Kasich, come up and get your medal in the 100-meter hurdles over low expectations! Jeb, here’s your medal for synchronized sadness!). “We’ve got a chance — a real chance — to finish second,” former New Hampshire senator and Kasich fan John Sununu told the Huffington Post. “Even a close third would be good. Either way, it'll carry John into the next round.”
“Make America Second Place When Everyone Thought It Would Come in Fifth Place Again” may not be an uplifting slogan. But it will be good enough to keep one of the governors in this race.
If this is the end for Kasich and Christie, they have day jobs to fall back on — and might need to suck up to their constituents a bit after being gone so long. Bush, on the other hand, will need to find something else to do. He could always get a job with his super PAC, returning to that happy time before his campaign was announced when he was such a money magnet that he had to tell people to start writing smaller checks.
Even though the losers will quickly try to steal attention away from the primary winners by claiming to be the most impressive loser, don’t forget the winners, especially if Sanders and Trump do as well as expected. (Somewhere, Michael Bloomberg is starting to workshop designs for his independent-candidate superhero costume.)
Bernie Sanders would be the first Jewish politician to ever win a presidential primary. His victory — and the restless excitement of the young people supporting him — would more importantly be a reminder of how fractious and never-ending this primary season might be. If he wins by a lot on Tuesday, he’ll be ahead of Clinton on the delegate count. And then we have Donald Trump, the man who was supposed to have faded from this race months ago. Trump also appears to have a big lead in upcoming primary states. The Republican primary could also last forever — leaving both parties bone tired by the time the general election arrives. And given the array of possible candidates, that contest could be even more of a doozy than this one.
Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton sit in the primary season waiting room.
After a close race in Iowa and a likely loss in New Hampshire, Clinton is just counting down the days until the race turns to South Carolina and Nevada. FiveThirtyEight thinks she has a 95 percent chance of winning the former's primary at this point. There hasn’t been a poll in Nevada in ages, but Clinton had a huge lead in December.
These states feature Democratic voters who are far more diverse, and far less liberal, than those voting in the first two states to pick favorites. After that, it’s March 1 — Super Tuesday. In 2008, Clinton won five of the states voting that day, and is likely to do well among other states up for grabs that day. Things look far from dire for her at this point, as long as she can wait for it (wait for it, wait for it). Sanders’s campaign has beefed up its presence in South Carolina, Nevada, and the Super Tuesday states, however, and is running lots of ads.
The other Iowa caucus winner also knows that New Hampshire isn’t Cruz country — there aren't many conservative evangelicals to win over in New England. Cruz is still trying to tempt forlorn Rand Paul voters over to his side, attempting to persuade them that Cruz = conservative = libertarian. He’s probably not counting on more than a “good enough” in New Hampshire — but would probably be filled with an irrepressible wave of schadenfreude if he did better than Bush & Co., despite their effort to put in 110 percent.
In South Carolina, Cruz is once again scheduled to battle with Trump and Rubio for first place.
What about Carson and Fiorina?
They’ve done all they can do, and they peaked a long time ago. Now it seems likely that all they can do is keep going down. If they decide to stay around until the South Carolina primary, no one will notice. Just as there definitely wasn’t room for more than one governor in 2016, there also was a limited availability for outsiders. There was probably enough room for three — but Trump filled all three slots.
Fiorina is down at the bottom of the polls, behind even the dueling governors. Carson, on the other hand, is still upset about the stunt that Cruz’s campaign pulled off in Iowa — telling voters that it looked like the retired neurosurgeon was about to drop out. He’s not doing as badly as some candidates more skilled at spinning hope out of nonexistent poll numbers, but that doesn’t mean he’s winning.
New Hampshire will be as New Hampshire as possible.
A thick layer of snow coated streets and trees in New Hampshire on Monday, making them dazzle but worrying campaigns eager to turn out the unlikely voters excited about an election for the first time ever.
“This is like a destiny thing,” Trump told voters, imploring them to not be weak and give in to the weather. On the other hand, the fact that large amounts of snow keep falling during important election days may be a sign that America should just give up and make Trump dictator.
However, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner said last week that he doesn’t expect the weather to affect turnout. In fact, he thinks that 2016 turnout might break records. "We had it before,” he told WMUR. “We've dealt with it. People are going to get out to vote. People are used to this."
Not everyone is excited about voting, despite the state’s reputation; about 52 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in 2008, when the state broke turnout records. One eightysomething woman told WGBH that she gave up because she “never seems to pick the winner.”
Among those destined to turn out are the voters of Dixville Notch, a town that casts ballots at midnight and “exists as a town only for voting purposes,” per the Concord Monitor. There are nine eligible voters in the tiny town, which usually attracts candidates eager to win an early, if infinitesimal, lead in the polls; according to the New York Times, only Kasich bothered to stop by this year. In a year when Trump seems likely to win over New Hampshire while hardly visiting the state, it’s hard for those eating his dust to believe everything they’ve heard about how to win the first primary anymore.
If all nine voters in Dixville had decided that Jim Gilmore was their guy, he would have been close to topping his shocking results in Iowa — 12 votes! — just when the day was getting started. And yes, Jim Gilmore is still running.
However, it was not to be. Bernie Sanders got four votes and Trump got two. Kasich, who just might have shaken hands with every single voter in town, got three.
What does it mean? Nothing. But being so excited about voting and promoting your town that you do it at midnight so you can beat everyone else in the country does sound beautifully American.