It is time once again to peer deeply into my somewhat-foggy crystal ball, and attempt to pick the winners of tomorrow night's New Hampshire primary. Before I get to that, though, some old business needs to be brought up. First, we have some very recent old business and then some truly ancient business, so bear with me.
So far this year, I'm not doing very well in the prediction business. Last week I boldly made my Iowa predictions, but they didn't turn out so hot. I had Bernie Sanders narrowly defeating Hillary Clinton, and I had the GOP lineup as: (1) Trump, (2) Cruz, (3) Rubio. Counting the Democratic race as only one pick (with only two candidates, being right about the order shouldn't count as two picks, whether right or wrong), I only got one right out of four. So my stats look pretty dismal here at the beginning:
Total correct 2016 Democratic picks: 0 for 1 -- 0%
Total correct 2016 Republican picks: 1 for 3 -- 33%
Total overall correct picks: 1 for 4 -- 25%.
To be blunt, that record is nothing to brag about. Being an eternal optimist, however, means I believe it'll get better over time, as we get deeper into the primary calendar. Which brings up my full record, which I really should have looked up last time (but was too lazy to do), for my initial pick-the-primaries column. The previous presidential race featured a sitting president, so there was only one party to predict. Here's how it turned out for me, when primary season came to an end:
[Final 2012 Primary Pick Stats]
Total correct 2012 Republican picks: 41 for 60 -- 68%.
I did a little better back in 2008, when there were two exciting races to follow:
[Final 2008 Primary Pick Stats]
Total correct 2008 Democratic picks: 43 for 60 -- 72%
Total correct 2008 Republican picks: 37 for 50 -- 74%
Total overall correct picks: 80 for 110 -- 73%.
Of the final two picks I made in that article, I got only one correct (South Dakota went for Clinton). I post these results because I think political prognosticators should be held to the same standard as those who predict sporting contests for a living -- your full record of how accurate your predictions are should always be publicly available, in other words. But that's enough old business, let's get on with making educated guesses about tomorrow night.
I'm going to start with the Democrats, because it is a much easier call -- unless the polls have been wildly inaccurate all along (which is always a real possibility, especially in New Hampshire). The only real question is how big a margin Bernie Sanders will win by.
Bernie's been polling anywhere from 15 to over 25 points ahead of Hillary, but my guess is that the result is going to be closer than expected. My gut tells me Bernie will get at least a double-digit margin, so I'm going to say he wins by 12 percent. Hillary will (no doubt) attempt to spin this as a victory (for beating expectations), in the same way Bernie tried to spin Iowa as a victory. Then it'll be on to Nevada and South Carolina, where the strength of minority voters' support for Clinton will be tested. Bernie will have the momentum heading out of New Hampshire, so late shifts in the next two contests are possible, but not in any way guaranteed.
The Republican field is in disarray -- and that's putting it politely. Up until Saturday night, the conventional wisdom held that Donald Trump would likely win, followed by either Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, or possibly by Rubio then Cruz. Then Rubio had a rather spectacular meltdown at the debate, where he hilariously tried to answer the charge that he was just repeating a memorized talking point -- by repeating the same memorized talking point, over and over again. Hoo boy. Time for the Rubiobot to get a software upgrade, obviously!
Now things are completely up in the air. Rubio lost his momentum, and could be headed back downwards. Trump didn't seem to take any major hits during the debate, but his stock also seems to be sliding a bit with Granite State voters.
There is an intense fight going on between Rubio and "the governors" -- Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie. While Christie was the one to savage Rubio onstage at the debate, he doesn't seem to have benefited from the takedown much at all. Even before the debate, his poll numbers were around half what Bush and Kasich were getting. This doesn't seem to have changed much. Likewise, even after a decent debate performance, Bush doesn't seem to be gaining support with the public.
John Kasich, however, seems poised to have a very good night. Kasich doesn't seem to have the negatives that Bush and Christie do among New Hampshire Republicans, and Kasich has devoted almost his entire campaign effort to winning New Hampshire -- which means a lot of town halls and personal contact with the voters. Kasich tried the "out-campaign everyone on the ground" strategy, and it might just pay off in a big way for him. If voters who had been leaning towards Rubio are now having major second thoughts, Kasich is in the best position to pick them up.
My biggest question is how Kasich does against Rubio. Will Marco hold on to enough voters to place second, or will he slip back to third? Cruz is also somewhat of a dark horse, as he's at a respectable second or third in many polls, but doesn't seem likely to appeal to undecided voters in New Hampshire (who are known for being much more pragmatic than emotional about their presidential choices).
The order of not only the top three finishers but the top six will be important tomorrow night, because even if the totals are very close (I could see third through sixth place being in a very tight range) it is going to be important who manages to beat the others -- because after New Hampshire both the Republican establishment and the big GOP donors are going to be clamoring for several candidates to exit the race, to "clear the field" for who gets the honor of taking on both Trump and Cruz. So placing fourth is a big deal over placing fifth or sixth -- something that normally not many people would care about.
I went largely with the polls in my Iowa picks, and that didn't turn out so well, so this time around I'm going on nothing more than guessing who has the last-minute momentum, and how big that momentum will be.
I think Trump's going to win the night. If he doesn't, then his campaign will be in real trouble (since they will be seen as not being able to turn out actual voters when it counts). But I think he'll carry the night, even if he doesn't get as big a margin as the polls now show. For second place, I'm going to go out on a limb and predict Kasich beats expectations. I think he'll pick up a lot of the last-minute undecideds as well as siphoning votes away from Rubio.
Third place is a tough one to pick. I could either see Cruz or Rubio making it (or possibly even Bush), but for no real concrete reason I'm going to pick Rubio. I think Cruz isn't all that appealing to average New Hampshire Republicans, so I don't see him getting a last-minute surge, but I also think that the Republicans he does appeal to are likely pretty solid in their choice and won't have last-minute doubts. Rubio's last-minute momentum is heading backwards at the moment -- and last-minute shifts often get bigger on the day of the election. So the smarter pick would probably be Cruz for third place, but I think Rubio will be able to hang on to enough voters to outperform Cruz tomorrow night.
Without a whole lot of confidence, I'm placing my bets on (1) Trump, (2) Kasich, (3) Rubio on the Republican side. My Democratic pick is a lot easier, because no matter what the margin turns out to be, I think Bernie Sanders easily beats Hillary Clinton. Those are my picks -- if you disagree, then please share yours in the comments.
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