“The question is: does New Hampshire end up being a forcing mechanism?” Mackowiak said.
“Let’s say Rubio finishes second at 18 percent in New Hampshire. What if Jeb or Christie finishes third with 16 percent? Are they really going to be forced out of the race if the difference between second and third is really small?”
The Rubio campaign did not follow up to requests to detail its early-state strategy. But allies believe his national appeal and conservative spending will buoy him even without wins in the first two states, and leave him in position to snatch up the establishment support if Kasich, Bush, and Christie drop after New Hampshire.
“If I had to label the strategy, it would be the ‘nomination through attrition,’” Peter M. Brown, a top Rubio donor, told The Hill, before noting that it’s a “pretty good strategy.”
In Brown’s mind, Rubio will “still have the resources to go as far as he wants” even if he falters in the early rounds, which gives him viability that other candidates who are primarily relying on one state don’t have.
But Brown admits the strategy could falter if Iowa and New Hampshire don’t sufficiently winnow the field, particularly of candidates competing with Rubio for votes.