We’re 24 hours out from an election. At this point, there’s no poll too dubious to blog. Besides, there’s something here for everyone. If you’re a Rubio critic, you may commence high-fiving at the thought that his “Rubot” malfunction during the debate on Saturday night did real damage to him in New Hampshire. If you’re a Rubio fan, this is little more than a fart in the wind, something to help lower expectations and make his impressive second-place finish tomorrow look that much more impressive.
I think the fans will end up having the better of this one. Rubio has a good ground game, and it’s hard for me to believe three bad minutes at one debate are going to push too many people off the fence the other way.
The poll, conducted by the pro-John Kasich New Day for America Super PAC, shows Rubio plummeting to fourth place in the primary here, with 10 percent of the vote. Most of the polling conducted in the immediate days before the debate showed Rubio in second place…
Donald Trump holds a wide lead in the survey, receiving 35 percent. He more than doubles runner-up Kasich, who has 15 percent. In third is Jeb Bush, with 13 percent. Behind Rubio in fifth and sixth place, respectively, are Christie and Ted Cruz. Both receive 8 percent.
Kasich ahead of Bush and Bush ahead of Rubio, eh? Well, hey — it’s just one poll. Of course a poll for Kasich’s own Super PAC is going to show him doing well.
Except … what if it’s not just one poll?
Conversations on the ground with campaign insiders in New Hampshire have revealed that Kasich has done the most to separate himself from the pack in the wake of Saturday night’s debate. While the situation remains fluid, three separate campaign entities, not all of which are aligned with Kasich, say that according to internal polls, he has risen to a strong second place behind Donald Trump.
“We had a very good surge — it was of an extent that I’m nervous about it,” said one source close to Kasich.
Is there any evidence yet of this Kasich surge in independent surveys? Nope. Rubio was down a point overnight in the ARG tracking poll — but so was Kasich, leaving them tied at 16. Rubio also dropped a point in the UMass/7News tracker while Kasich gained a point, but that still leaves Rubio tied with Cruz at 13 percent for second place, three points ahead of Kasich. Then again, what kind of reliable sample are you likely to get polling people not just on a Sunday but on Super Bowl Sunday? This evening’s polls will be better.
Now, a question. Realistically, based on the numbers that are out there, is there any chance at this point that we’re going to end up with the three-man race in South Carolina that people thought might develop after Iowa? The theory was that if Trump and Rubio finished 1-2 in New Hampshire, with Bush, Kasich, and Christie also-rans in single digits, that would eliminate the latter two men (who’ve staked everything on a good showing in NH) and would put severe pressure on Bush to get out rather than damage Rubio against the populist menace in SC. Christie’s probably done tomorrow night given his terrible polling recently but it seems increasingly likely that Kasich will crack double digits and may well finish in the high teens or even low 20s. (He’s already in the mid-teens in more than one poll.) If he ends up a narrow third to Rubio, why wouldn’t he keep going to South Carolina? Likewise, Jeb has hovered around 10 percent in NH for so long that it won’t take much for him to claim a “good” showing tomorrow that justifies continuing the campaign. Fifteen percent, say, might be all the encouragement he needs, especially given South Carolina’s fondness for Bushes and the fact that Dubya’s going to bat for him there. Unless Rubio wildly outperforms not just his current polling but the competition’s polling, it seems all but certain that the center-right lane will remain crowded in SC between him, Kasich, and possibly Jeb. How does Rubio win a race with Trump and Cruz there when he’s being squeezed from the right and the left?
Which brings us to another question. If Rubio finishes third, say, in South Carolina, how many more shots at a primary win does he get before people start writing him off? He’s still got Nevada, his supposed firewall, after South Carolina, but Cruz is expected to challenge him there (it’s a caucus state after all) and Trump would have major momentum if he won New Hampshire and South Carolina. After that comes the SEC primary, where Trump and Cruz are expected to fare best, and then Florida, but who knows if even that will save him if he’s still without a win at that point. Even if he wins FL, you can guess the spin afterward: “A win in your home state means nothing.” His path to the nomination depends on him becoming the one clear alternative to Trump and Cruz as soon as possible. Unless the polling in New Hampshire is wildly wrong, that’ll have to wait for at least one more state.
In lieu of an exit question, a reminder: The polling in New Hampshire is often wildly wrong.
— Bruce Mehlman (@bpmehlman) February 8, 2016