“Live Free or Die” is the official motto of New Hampshire, a state that prides itself on independence and choosing non-traditional candidates in the first-in-the-nation primary.
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New Hampshire’s nominating contest follows the Iowa Caucus on the calendar but voters do not typically follow their lead. New Hampshire primary voters haven’t picked the same winning Republican candidate in 40 years.
There are now nine remaining contenders in the GOP field with recent departures from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who was expected to officially suspend his campaign late Wednesday. The rest of the Republican presidential hopefuls are battling to keep their campaigns alive ahead of the New Hampshire primary.
“No one has an incentive to quit before New Hampshire and everybody has enough money to play there so they might as well roll the dice and see if any magic strikes,” said Matthew Hale, associate professor of political science at Seton Hall University.
“I think right after New Hampshire votes you will see a whole bunch of people calling it a day.”
In a recent poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, real estate mogul Donald Trump is in first place with 30% support from likely primary voters. Newly minted Iowa Caucus winner Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is in second place with 12%, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is in third with 11% and Ohio Gov. John Kasich comes in fourth place at 9%.
Andrew Smith, director of the Survey Center for the University of New Hampshire, says the Granite State is different than any other primary state because it consistently has a “really big turnout” rate, with more than 50% expected this year.
“The people who vote are not political activists, they are just regular old voters and they are not wedded to any one candidate,” said Smith.
Traditionally, New Hampshire primary voters don’t make up their minds about a candidate until right before casting a ballot, which gives contenders a chance to make their final appeals for last votes as long as they have played a good ground game which includes: being personal and sharing policies.
“New Hampshire voters expect a personal connection with the people they are going to vote for. There is an old joke there, ‘who are you going to vote for? I don’t know I haven’t met them all yet.’ Voters expect to have shaken hands, seen and heard them all in person either at a town hall or diner, not just on TV. So the number of personal connections a candidate has really play out on Election Day,” said Hale.
Hale says the lowest ranking candidates who are considered to be more of a long shot in the still overcrowded Republican field should start examining the reality of getting out.
“I think [former Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) CEO] Carly Fiorina is still holding on and every once in a while she seems to show some signs of life, but she is pretty much done. [Former Virginia Gov.] Jim Gilmore has never been around and he is still holding on,” said Hale. “I think [Retired Neurosurgeon] Ben Carson is probably in a fair amount of trouble because it seems Ted Cruz has cleared the decks of his wing of the Republican party. Carson is on the bubble right now so he has to beat Cruz in New Hampshire.”
Other candidates on the bubble include Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Hale says “all three must beat Marco Rubio in New Hampshire in order to stay in the race.”
Kasich, who has recently been rising in the polls while scoring key endorsements from the Boston Globe and New York Times, has dedicated as much time to New Hampshire as Christie. The New Jersey governor has been working an intense ground game, practically living in the Granite State, and was recently introduced to the state legislature as the “Governor of New Hampshire.”
“Christie was rising in the polls a couple weeks ago: He may have peaked too early and now Kasich is the flavor of the week. Kasich could be rising because people are still searching for the mainstream establishment Republican. Iowa said it’s going to be Marco Rubio but I don’t think New Hampshire has made that decision yet,” said Hale.
The New Hampshire primary will be held on Tuesday, February 9.