NASHUA, N.H. — It's game time.
In the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, the retail campaigning at town halls and state fairs means a presidential hopeful can run a campaign fueled by little more than, well, hope. With an early victory, a long-shot candidate (think Jimmy Carter in Iowa, 1976, and John McCain in New Hampshire, 2000) can catch fire, at least for a while. But after those two opening contests, the campaign moves to bigger states and a faster pace that can mercilessly winnow the field.
Win, place or get out of the way: Here's a look at what each candidate needs to do in Tuesday's primary.
Sanders: Win in a walk
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has led former secretary of State Hillary Clinton in just about every statewide poll in New Hampshire this year, usually by double digits. The Granite State's independent-minded electorate and its history of rewarding candidates from neighboring states (Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts actually won the 1992 primary here, although Bill Clinton won the spin by declaring himself the "comeback kid") makes this a contest that Sanders must win. He has built a formidable fundraising base that has kept him competitive with Clinton in money. But he needs political momentum to propel him through the next set of states, starting with Nevada and South Carolina. Winning in New Hampshire is a start, but it's just that. A dramatic double-digit victory here in 1984 by Colorado Sen. Gary Hart wasn't enough to claim the nomination when Walter Mondalebattled back in the states that followed.
Clinton: Keep it close
If Hillary Clinton somehow managed to win the New Hampshire primary — as she did in 2008, against the odds, over Barack Obama — she would go a long way to re-establishing herself as the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Even if she simply narrows the gap with Sanders to, say, single digits, she could help minimize the bump he gets from a victory. During the final days of campaigning here, she already was looking ahead. A quick trip to Flint, Mich., to highlight the water crisis there just 48 hours before Granite Staters would be voting was, among other things, a nod to the African-American supporters she's counting on in South Carolina and Super Tuesday. The Clinton campaign is now braced for a fight it expects to last into the spring.
Trump: Prove Iowa was an aberration
Donald Trump has something to prove: That he can prevail not only in the polls but also at the polls — that is, that his strong standing in surveys can be matched by voters actually turning out for him on Election Day. That didn't happen in Iowa, where the real-estate mogul led in the dozen statewide surveys leading up to the caucuses but ended up second to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Trump is a more natural fit with the Granite State — evangelical Christians aren't the political force here that they are in the heartland — and he's been leading by overwhelming margins. In the polls, anyway. Advisers to a rival campaign (that would be Ohio Gov. John Kasich) even suggest a surging challenger (that just could be, well, you know) might be able to edge past Trump. That outcome would be a stunning surprise and a political game-changer.
Rubio: Finish second
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is following what strategists dub a 3-2-1 strategy: Finish third in Iowa, second in New Hampshire and first in South Carolina. He not only finished third in Iowa but succeeded in having that portrayed as an impressive accomplishment, to the annoyance of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, who came in ahead of him. A second-place finish in New Hampshire would bolster Rubio's claim to be the GOP establishment's strongest alternative to Trump. He has drawn big and enthusiastic crowds to town halls, but he seemed rattled by attacks from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the final debate Saturday. That was a good night for the trio of governors who also are jockeying for support from the Republican mainstream. The other two, John Kasich and former Florida governorJeb Bush, had their best debates to date, and not a moment too soon.
Cruz: Just hang on
No candidate has less at stake in New Hampshire than Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. He won the Iowa caucuses and has built formidable organizations in South Carolina and Super Tuesday states, especially across the South. His religious-tinged message and fierce conservatism is likely to resonate better there than in the Granite State, where votes from independents can moderate the electorate in the GOP primary. A second-place finish could bruise Marco Rubio and help Cruz cast the nomination battle as a two-man race between him and Trump, but the Texas senator is poised to campaign into future states no matter what happens here. And a muddled finish by his more mainstream rivals — Rubio and the trio of current and former governors — could be helpful if it encourages all of them to stay in the race, splintering that vote in the next set of contests.
Kasich: Now or never
Kasich, who brags he has held more than 100 town halls in New Hampshire, doesn't pretend that his campaign will continue if he doesn't have a good night Tuesday. "If we don't do well, we're not going to be dragging around like some band of minstrels that beg people to come to our shows," he told reporters at a breakfast hosted by Bloomberg Politics. For one thing, raising money would become increasingly problematic. Kasich has won newspaper endorsements and cut a distinctive course in the Republican contest, supporting a path to legal status for illegal immigrants and the expansion of Medicaid. So what's doing "well?" Finishing in the top three would do it.
Bush: Survive to South Carolina
Members of the Bush family running for president have been able to count on South Carolina. After Arizona Sen. John McCain defeated George W. Bush by double digits in New Hampshire in 2000, the then-Texas governor roared back in South Carolina. George H.W. Bush helped steady his campaigns in 1988 and 1992 with victories in the primary there. Now Jeb Bush, who has been more successful raising money than attracting votes this year, hopes his campaign could score a turnaround there. He needs one: He finished a distant sixth in Iowa and is running fifth — a close fifth, but still fifth — in the RealClearPoliticsaverage of New Hampshire surveys.
Christie: A closing surge
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the most forceful figure on stage at Saturday's final debate, mocking Marco Rubio as a neophyte who memorized talking points and lacked the executive experience a president needs. That rattled Rubio, but it didn't necessarily elevate Christie among voters. While he's drawn sizable audiences to town halls and won the endorsement of the New Hampshire Union Leader, the combative Christie needs to best rivals Jeb Bush and John Kasich. In the latest polls, he doesn't.
Carson: A miracle
The most unlikely candidate in the presidential field — a retired pediatric neurosurgeon who had never run for office before — was briefly the front-runner for the Republican nomination. But that was last fall, and since then Ben Carson has seen his standing tumble and his organization falter. "I'm still here," he declared at Saturday's debate. But without something akin to divine intervention, he's no longer likely to be much of a factor.
Fiorina: See you later?
Carly Fiorina's current political plight was underscored when her low poll standing meant the former Hewlett-Packard CEO didn't qualify for the debate stage Saturday. But supporters hope her relentless attacks on Hillary Clinton just might make her a contender for the vice presidential slot down the road.
Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore has lasted longer than the many other Republicans who have already dropped out. Whether or not this is a viable strategy remains to be seen.
(© 2016 KUSA)