What to watch for in New Hampshire, the second contest of 2024

Republican candidates for president landed in New Hampshire this week after the bitterly cold Iowa caucuses ended in a landslide victory for Donald Trump early Monday evening.

Mr Trump’s two remaining competitive rivals, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley, are now set up for their second showdown with the frontrunner in New Hampshire, which votes in a “semi-open” primary style which allows the state’s sizable population of independent voters to participate in the respective major party primaries.

This is the second chance for either of them to prove that this entire exercise isn’t just one long, drawn-out coronation. That was certainly the vibe in Iowa, where Mr Trump ran away with 51 per cent of the vote and the lion’s share of Republican delegates as his opponents battled to break 20 per cent. Ms Haley, once thought to have surpassed Mr DeSantis’s support levels in the state, settled for third place. Vivek Ramaswamy, who had told The Independent that he would “prove the media wrong” and shock the country, dropped out after a distant fourth-place showing.

In New Hampshire, the fortunes of the Trump-alternatives are reversed. Mr DeSantis is noncompetitive in the state, according to all available polling which puts him just above the number Mr Ramaswamy was registering before he departed the race. Ms Haley, however, is battling close to Mr Trump’s polling average; she still trails him, by single digits in a few polls and by larger margins in more. None show the likelihood of an Iowa-style blowout, however, which she hopes will invigorate her campaign as the primary landscape shifts south towards Nevada and South Carolina, the state where she served as governor.

Given the way the race is looking right now, six days out, we can reasonably expect another victory for Donald Trump in the Granite State. It’s not a certainty, especially now that Ms Haley is back on the ground there, but it remains the far most likely outcome. That doesn’t mean the former UN ambassador and governor cannot pull a silver lining out of defeat — she could still find some momentum going forward with a second-place finish of a few percentage points, but even that result will require Ms Haley to make great strides to win over undecideds and pick off voters from her rivals in just a short time.

Unlike Mr Trump, who is sticking to his strategy of holding occasional large rallies attended by thousands, Ms Haley is taking a traditionalist approach, barnstorming the state with multiple smaller events. She has two currently scheduled for Thursday and Friday, a meet-and-greet in Hollis followed by a larger rally in Manchester. There are consequences to this approach — it is more physically taxing, and costs can quickly add up on the road unless the candidate travels with a shoestring staff.

It can also be more effective, however, as word of mouth travels fast even when the candidate technically interacts with a relatively smaller number of voters.

A Suffolk University survey of the state released on Wednesday put Mr Trump up 16 points over Ms Haley, while Mr DeSantis was sitting at just 5 per cent. Between now and next Tuesday Mr Trump’s rivals have two individual goals: Ms Haley, obviously, to get within single digits (at least) of the former president, and Mr DeSantis to break out of the single digits. A third-place showing is likely guaranteed for Mr DeSantis at this point, but there is a difference between “third place” and “afterthought” — he needs to cross that gap.

Mr Trump, meanwhile, needs to continue driving up Ms Haley’s negatives as he seeks to maintain the coronation-esque trajectory of his campaign.

If you look at Washington, it’s clear that Mr Trump remains the only candidate with the wind at his back.

Following his Iowa blowout victory the man who remains charged with 91 felony counts, some related to his attempts to stop the peaceful transfer of power in 2020 and early 2021, picked up the endorsement of Senator Ted Cruz; in doing so, he now has the official support of more than half of the Republican Senate caucus.

Unless something seriously changes soon, New Hampshire and the race both are only going one way.

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