Another poll-related election-eve overnight thread for you in case you need to vent your anxieties before the big vote, especially after that bombshell Emerson College poll earlier. I can’t remember a primary where the order of finish — beyond first place — was as much of a mystery as New Hampshire is right now. Rubio, Cruz, and Kasich each have a legit shot at second place and each could conceivably end up well ahead of the other two, which would change the race before South Carolina. Even if they’re bunched up, the order of finish will be crucial to the media narrative on Wednesday. A Rubio-Cruz-Kasich 2-3-4 means Rubio has a plausible case that he’s the center-right champion, even if Kasich isn’t far behind; a Kasich-Cruz-Rubio 2-3-4 means that Rubio is a paper tiger and that it’s time for the establishment to panic as the race moves south.
The only near-certainty, even with a small sample and a high margin of error (5.2 percent), is that Trump’s going to win regardless of whether he underperforms. He’s been at 30 percent or better in seven of the last eight polls of New Hampshire, including tonight’s new one from CNN. His lead in those polls has never been smaller than double digits. It’s reasonable to expect that he’ll finish a bit short of 30, as his ground game in New Hampshire has been under fire since Iowa (Trump actually told the AP this weekend, “It would seem to me that people would just go out and vote”) but even New Hampshire polls can only be so wrong. If you’re a Trump fan, start preparing for the return of the “Beltway Republicans contemplate Trump as nominee” news cycle that’s been on hiatus ever since he lost Iowa. If you’re a Rubio fan, you’ve got reason to celebrate the CNN poll too: He’s still in second, and based on the small subsample polled yesterday (on Super Bowl Sunday), the debate didn’t hurt him.
Trump holds 31%, down two points from the February 3-6 release, but within the poll’s margin of sampling error.
Behind him, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio earned 17% support — within the margin of sampling error of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 14%, but significantly ahead of the fourth and fifth place candidates in the poll, Ohio Gov. John Kasich at 10% and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 7%…
About three-quarters of the interviews conducted for this poll were completed before the Republican candidates debated Saturday night, their final such match-up before Tuesday’s election.
Although the post-debate sample size is too small to produce a separate estimate of the vote, interviews conducted Sunday and Monday found no drop in support for Rubio, and actually showed a slimmer margin between Trump and Rubio.
If you’re wondering about Chris Christie, he’s stuck at four percent, a point behind … Carly Fiorina. The last time he was at double digits in New Hampshire was in an ARG poll taken almost a month ago, when he was at 10. According to FiveThirtyEight’s model, he’s got a 69 percent chance of finishing sixth or worse.
Jeb’s got a 49 percent chance of finishing fifth or worse, which would put him behind Trump, Rubio, Kasich, and Cruz in some order and would, one would think, start the Bush 2016 death watch. But who knows? Against all odds, Christie is vowing to soldier on to South Carolina no matter how he does tomorrow night. Bush, who’ll certainly fare better in SC than Christie will, is likely to march on too. Christie, at least, may have talked himself into believing that Rubio really is dangerously unqualified to be president and therefore must be stopped so long as Christie has the money to keep going, even though a decisive defeat in New Hampshire tomorrow would mean the end of his own chances. I’d bet that impulse happens a lot on the trail — given the ego, ambition, and sour grapes involved in losing to a guy whom you consider less worthy than yourself, every candidate must be tempted to undertake seek-and-destroy missions against their adversaries. It rarely happens because it risks alienating influential members of the party who don’t want to see a prospective nominee crippled out of spite, but maybe Christie doesn’t care. Imagine passing on a chance in 2012 to be a serious contender for your party’s nomination only to find yourself an also-ran this time, badly trailing a guy who sometimes seems like he can only speak in scripted soundbites. Maybe he’ll hit the trail in SC as an attack dog against Rubio for Kasich or Bush. Or maybe he’s full of it and the South Carolina events he’s planning are just false bravado to encourage his supporters to vote while he quietly plans to quit tomorrow night if he performs as expected.
Exit question via NPR: Will Trump inflict the final humiliation on Jeb tomorrow night by “stealing” his delegates? Answer: Yes, if Trump wins and Bush finishes with less than 10 percent.