These states could pick the GOP nominee, each for a different reason

Ru­bio’s sup­port so far hasn’t been defined as sharply as that for Trump or Cruz. But many in the GOP be­lieve he is now best po­si­tioned to con­sol­id­ate the cen­ter-right, non-evan­gel­ic­al, largely white-col­lar voters who powered John Mc­Cain and Mitt Rom­ney to their re­spect­ive nom­in­a­tion vic­tor­ies in 2008 and 2012. Ru­bio isn’t a sure thing to co­alesce that sup­port: He’s run­ning a con­sid­er­ably more con­ser­vat­ive cam­paign than either Mc­Cain or Rom­ney—much less Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, or John Kasich, Ru­bio’s prin­cip­al com­pet­it­ors for those voters this year.

“He is the most con­ser­vat­ive of the es­tab­lish­ment can­did­ates,” Bol­ger says. And while Christie, Bush, and Kasich have all faded in na­tion­al polls, each man has in­ves­ted heav­ily in New Hamp­shire, whose res­ults of­ten help identi­fy the fa­vor­ite for these voters in later states. But Ru­bio is show­ing more strength than any of those three in Iowa, which could help him sep­ar­ate from them in the New Hamp­shire con­test a week later on Feb. 9.

Ru­bio, or who­ever else emerges as the cham­pi­on of the party’s “ma­na­geri­al” white-col­lar wing, would need to per­form well in the more cul­tur­ally mod­er­ate, mostly coastal states that fea­ture few evan­gel­ic­als and many col­lege gradu­ates. Cali­for­nia, Con­necti­c­ut, New Jer­sey, Mas­sachu­setts, and Mary­land are all states where col­lege gradu­ates cast a ma­jor­ity of primary votes in the most re­cent pres­id­en­tial exit poll, and evan­gel­ic­al Chris­ti­ans ac­coun­ted for only about one-third or less. One com­plic­a­tion may be that Trump’s “home-court ad­vant­age” could help him swipe some of the New York metro-area states that the ma­na­geri­al can­did­ate can usu­ally rely upon.
If the race de­vel­ops along these lines—with Trump as the cham­pi­on of blue-col­lar Re­pub­lic­ans, Cruz as the evan­gel­ic­al tribune, and Ru­bio (or pos­sibly a rival) as the white-col­lar fa­vor­ite—the tip­ping point states could be ones where those forces are closely bal­anced.