It’s primary day in New Hampshire. Already, the first ballots in the nation’s first primary have been cast and counted in Dixville Notch, although without a touch of irony, the rest of New Hampshire considers those votes an insignificant curiosity.
There’s also more than a half a foot of fresh snow in some parts of the state. But the plows have done their job, so pay no attention to national reporters who talk about it as a potential issue today. I know this. I’m from New Hampshire.
It’s been a while since I lived in the Granite State, but most of my family is still there. Like a lot of people in New Hampshire, they take their primary responsibilities seriously. This one, they say, has been especially wild.
It’s also hard to predict, even with two clear frontrunners. New Hampshire usually is. But here are some educated primary guesses:
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
New Hampshire won’t come through for Hillary Clinton
Yes, New Hampshire gave Bill Clinton his comeback narrative in 1992. Yes, the state gave Hillary her surprise victory in 2008 after Barack Obama won Iowa.
But 2016 is different. Eight years ago, Obama was the unknown black presidential candidate in a famously white state. (Not that New Hampshire is racist. But a lot of N.H. residents see fewer black people than they do snow plows this time of year.)
Sanders is something more recognizable to New Hampshire voters. The neighbor-in-Vermont factor is overrated – N.H. residents don’t care much about the state next door. But Bernie is familiar. He’s the uncle who talks over the other uncles after the holiday meal. Plus, he’s a movement candidate, and New Hampshire has a history of liking the shiny new thing in non-incumbent races.
Still, there’s some affection for the Clintons, and New Hampshire doesn’t like blowouts. Don’t expect one.
Donald Trump will win
Trump’s lead was more than 20 points just a couple weeks ago. That’s probably too much to overcome, even in a state that’s delivered some stunning surprises on primary day.
As with every other state, Trump has drawn the biggest crowds in New Hampshire, although a lot of it is curiosity, and at least some in the crowds are making the short drive over the Maine and Massachusetts borders to see the circus.
But Trump also dominates the conversation at Dunkin’ Donuts and butcher shops. People are wary of him, but they like the bluntness, and they like that he’s a businessman.
This is important. New Hampshire, which has no significant population centers, is a state that’s driven by small business. It’s filled with men and women who either were bold enough to open their own place, or are this close to doing so. Those people might not connect to all that Trump says, but they respect the entrepreneur he is, not to mention the sheer brass he brings.
Also, New Hampshire was one of the first states to enter the recession, and it’s been one of the last to recover. Trump’s talk of a struggling America resonates there. Will it be enough to overcome how he flat-out scares a lot of voters? Probably.
The moderates will do well
New Hampshire voters, for all their supposed independence, usually pick the moderate candidate over the insurgent candidate. (Yes, Pat Buchanan, we see you waving.) John Kasich and Jeb Bush appeal to the Reagan Democrats and independents who make up a significant chunk of the N.H. electorate. Don’t be surprised if one of them claims second place.
Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, not so much
Unlike in Iowa, Cruz’s overt faith just doesn’t play well in New Hampshire. Rubio was surging in the state after his third-place Iowa finish, but Saturday’s Republican debate was a disaster for the Florida senator. Rubio has done well in individual appearances around the state, but third place would be a victory again.
The wild card: Chris Christie
New Jersey’s governor has been in the single digits in N.H. polls, even this week. But he’s been on fire since a strong debate performance Saturday. He got endorsed by the state’s biggest newspaper, which still has some sway. He could be the out-of-nowhere candidate that New Hampshire likes to think it supports. A top 4 finish is possible.
Yes, that’s a lot of possibilities. You want a prediction? Trump (with less than 30 percent), Kasich, Rubio, Bush for Republicans, with Christie and Cruz fighting for fifth. Sanders by 12-15 over Clinton.
Or none of that could happen. It is, after all, New Hampshire.
Peter St. Onge