Preview of the ABC New Hampshire #GOPDebate

To set up the stage for the ABC New Hampshire Debate in the Republican primaries, we need to first see what Iowa taught us.

1. The polls haven’t settled yet. I’ve been grousing about the polls looking sloppier and sloppier as Iowa approached. Small sample sizes. Large margin of errors. The final poll that was supposed to be the best was the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll, which had a MOE of 4%. So by almost that percentage, they overestimated Trump and underestimated Cruz, and Rubio did over 8% better in his results.

Where was the greatest difference between the actual results and the RCP average of the last 9 polls?

Marco Rubio +6.99%
Ted Cruz +3.65%
Ben Carson +1.42%
Rand Paul +0.54%
Rick Santorum -0.16%
Carly Fiorina -0.47%
Chris Christie -0.8%
John Kasich -1.03%
Jeb Bush -1.2%
Mike Huckabee -1.21%
Donald Trump -4.91%

How did they actually finish?

Ted Cruz 27.65%
Donald Trump 24.31%
Marco Rubio 23.1%
Ben Carson 9.31%
Rand Paul 4.54%
Jeb Bush 2.8%
Carly Fiorina 1.861%
John Kasich 1.86%
Mike Huckabee 1.79%
Chris Christie 1.76%
Rick Santorum 0.95%

2. The enthusiasm is on the Republican side. Over 186,000 votes were cast on the Republican side in Iowa. Compare that to 2012 when Iowa’s turnout was 121,501 and 2008 when it was 119,188. Rubio’s 3rd place amount of 43,165 voters would have been an easy 1st place in the previous two cycles. You know how people could tell the Democratic candidate was going to win in 2008 no matter what? The amount of participation in the caucuses and primaries. The Clinton/Obama/Edwards race was much more interesting than the McCain/Romney/Huckabee one.

3. The exit polls were interesting. for example, Cruz won with those who called themselves “Very Conservative,” Rubio won with those who called themselves “Somewhat Conservative,” and Trump won with those who called themselves “Moderate.” 64% of those who cacucused would describe themselves as a born-again or evangelical Christian, and while Cruz won those voters, he came in third with the other 36%. Among those who said immigration was their most important issue, Trump won. (“I’m gonna build a wall!”) Among those who said terrorism was their biggest concern, Cruz won. (“Let’s carpet-bomb Syria!”) Among those who said the economy was their biggest concern, Rubio won. (“My dad was a bartender…”)

Now, looking ahead to the debate…

ABC set its rules weeks ago. The participants would be whoever the top three were in Iowa, and whoever is averaging in the top six nationally and/or in New Hampshire. Personally I would think that a candidate that actually won a delegate would carry more weight, but with this criteria, and because Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum dropped out, it means that Carly Fiorina is the only candidate of the remaining eight who will not be on the stage. Not a good look to have the only female candidate excluded in this manner. They might as well let her on because she has a delegate, she finished higher than Kasich and Christie in Iowa, and she’s polling ahead of Carson in New Hampshire. (The WBUR poll had her ahead of Christie too.) Not to mention the MOE’s on the national and New Hampshire polls are no different than the ones before Iowa, and we see how that turned out.

The line-up will be John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump in center, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Chris Christie. The moderators will be ABC’s David Muir and Martha Radditz, WMUR’s Josh McElveen, and TownHall.com’s Mary Katharine Ham.

Going into the debate, the campaigns are about trajectory. Trump absorbed his Iowa loss for about 12 hours, then came swinging as only Trump can. The polls were inflated, Cruz stole the election, Cruz is a Canadian, “He’s a fraud!” etc. But now New Hampshire is a must-win for Trump. He’s been way ahead in the polls there for so long that if he goes 0-2, his message about winning is dead.

Cruz has the ability to say he won Iowa, but over the past 40 years, George W. Bush is the only Republican to win Iowa and go on to win the nomination. Plus the Carson campaign is still made about the dirty tricks played on caucus night. Cruz isn’t naturally a good candidate for New Hampshire, but if he doesn’t finish in the top three, he looks like a Huckabee-Santorum Iowa candidate, not someone who can actually unite the party and win.

Rubio finished better than expected of any candidate in Iowa. The worst thing for him was to have Rick Santorum endorse him. Santorum was so bad in post-endorsement interviews, I’m sure Rubio’s campaign wishes Rick had just endorsed anyone else. Rubio’s numbers have shot up, and now he needs to finish first or second in New Hampshire. Second would be a win. First would be a mandate to everyone not named Trump or Cruz to drop out.

Carson went home for a few days “to get a change of clothes.” Uh huh. I expect him to finish seventh or eighth in New Hampshire.

Two words define Bush right now: “Please clap.” His main goal right now is to have the best finish among the three remaining governors. If he doesn’t land in the top four, he’s toast. At that point, it’ll look like he’s running to burn through millions of more dollars out of spite.

Kasich and Christie have put all of their eggs in New Hampshire, and Kasich’s been having the better polling. Christie attacks Rubio almost as much as Right 2 Rise these days, and it’s not winning him votes. Meanwhile, Kasich tries to keep it positive. See how that works? Kasich is actually in third in a few polls, and if he can finish in third, he has a path to follow.

We’ll see how the debate goes, but my guess is in about a week, we’ll be down to five candidates, with one of them as the one where everyone says “Why haven’t they dropped out yet?” (No, Jim Gilmore, you’re not a real candidate. Quit pretending.)

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