A Preview of the New Hampshire Primary

Where the Contest in New Hampshire Stands Heading into Today's Primary:

Real Clear Politics Polling Average

  1. Sanders: 28%
  2. Buttigieg: 21%
  3. Klobuchar: 12%
  4. Warren/Biden: 11%

FiveThirtyEight Polling Average

  1. Sanders: 26%
  2. Buttigieg: 22%
  3. Warren: 13%
  4. Biden: 12%
  5. Klobuchar: 10%

Most recent polling has shown a relatively tight race between Sanders and Buttigieg at the top, with Sanders probably slightly ahead. And then it's a toss-up between Klobuchar, Warren, and Biden for third place, with Klobuchar gaining quite a bit of momentum following the New Hampshire debate Friday night. 

Storylines for the New Hampshire Primary

  1. Bernie Sanders: Based on the most recent polling, how he performed four years ago, and the size of his campaign rallies over the past few days, you have to put Sanders as the favorite to win tonight. Anyone else winning would be an upset. 
  2. Pete Buttigieg: For all the chaos to come out of the Iowa caucuses, the most significant thing they accomplished was solidifying Mayor Pete's candidacy in the early contests. There's no question he got a big boost in New Hampshire following his first or second-place finish in Iowa, depending on how you look at the many types of caucus results. There also seems to be some real excitement around the Buttigieg campaign, even with his momentum hitting a bit of a speed bump following the New Hampshire debate. One thing to watch for tonight as the returns come in, how does Mayor Pete do with independents and disaffected Republicans? He's been actively courting them, and that's a lane many Democrats think they need to hit hard to beat Trump in November. 
  3. Joe Biden: The announcement this morning from the Biden campaign that he'd be skipping his New Hampshire primary party to head straight to South Carolina tells you all you need to know about where he stands at the moment. He's no longer leading in the national polls, and he faces the real possibility of finishing in fifth place tonight, after a fourth-place finish in Iowa. The decision to go to South Carolina also highlights how his campaign feels about their chances in Nevada, a state where he was leading, but where Sanders is currently on the rise. 
  4. Elizabeth Warren: Anything below a third-place finish for Warren is a disappointment, and if Klobuchar eclipses her, that could spell real trouble for her campaign. New Hampshire is right next door to her home state of Massachusetts. It's a state she should perform well in. After finishing third in Iowa, another third-place finish would keep her in the mix, but anything worse would lead to a growing negative narrative about her chances. A consequence of that could be a shifting of her support over to the Sanders or Buttigieg campaigns. 
  5. Amy Klobuchar: Tonight's a big night for the Klobuchar campaign. Fifth place was not a great finish for her in Iowa, a midwestern state that played to her strengths. But after a strong showing in the New Hampshire debate and a surge over the weekend, she might be peaking at the right time. You also have a scramble among establishment and moderate Democrats to find the candidate that can not only beat Trump in November but beat Sanders for the nomination. Biden's fall, along with an active independent streak in the state, could play well for Klobuchar. If she finishes third, she may get more out of the upcoming news cycle than the winner. 
  6. Andrew Yang - Tom Steyer - Deval Patrick: This is likely the end of the road for the Yang Gang. He already laid off a ton of staffers, and the path isn't there for him. The same might be right for Deval Patrick, who got into the race late and, unlike Michael Bloomberg, didn't have the resources to make up for lost time. As the former governor of Massachusetts, he needed to make a move in neighboring New Hampshire, but it looks like he's failed to accomplish that. Tom Steyer is focusing on Nevada and South Carolina, where he's spending most of his money and performing well in recent polls. The question is: After being a non-factor in the first two contests, will voters in those two states stick with him or perhaps go to one of the campaigns with real momentum? 
  7. Bloomberg: The former NYC mayor looms large over the race, even though he hasn't competed in a contest or a debate yet. The $350 million he spent so far has helped propel him into the top four nationally and has even cut into Joe Biden's support among minorities. However, the game is just about to begin for Bloomberg. He'll compete in his first Debate next week, and today leaked audio of private comments about the stop and frisk program he oversaw in New York have created his campaign's first serious obstacle. The real impact of his candidacy remains a huge question mark. 

What to Watch for Tonight

  • Who comes in third might be more important than who finishes first. If Warren doesn't manage to finish third, her supporters might start to abandon her campaign, especially if the momentum is with Bernie and Mayor Pete. If Klobuchar doesn't finish third, you have to wonder if that takes a bit of the wind out of her campaign's sails, especially since she was on the rise heading into today. A fourth-place finish ahead of Biden might give her reason to stick around, but her campaign isn't flush with cash, so money could become a real problem. Finally, at this point, a third-place finish for Biden would almost be a victory. Expectations were so low going into today that he waved the white flag before most voters even got the polls. A fourth-place finish would be disappointing but not necessarily surprising, and a fifth-place finish could lead to questions about how much longer his campaign can stay alive. 
  • As for the first two slots, a Bernie #1, Mayor Pete #2 finish seems to be the most likely and would be a win for both campaigns. For Sanders, he has to win the state he dominated four years ago. For Buttigieg, he'll have finished ahead of Warren, Biden, and Klobuchar yet again, and will have a real case to make for those looking for an alternative to Sanders. 
  • If the finish is Mayor Pete #1, Bernie #2, the comparisons between Buttigieg and Obama will only grow. While he'll still have to show he can win the minority vote in states like Nevada and South Carolina, the momentum Buttigieg would have, along with the fundraising he'd recieve, would put him in a strong position to consolidate the moderate Democratic vote. 
  • Does anyone drop out? Usually after Iowa and New Hampshire you have a shrinking field of candidates, but this race is so muddled that might not be the case. Sanders and Buttigieg certainly aren't dropping out. Even with another poor finish, Biden isn't dropping out either. Unless Warren tanks to fifth place, it's unlikely she's going to get out of the race. If Klobuchar comes in fifth, that could be enough to lead to an exit, especially if the dollars it would take to continue aren't there. Steyer's definitely staying in, no matter where he ends up tonight. Yang is the most likely to drop out, and then keep an eye on the 3% or less campaigns, like Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and former Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick. 
  • Finally, how big is voter turnout? Iowa didn't see large turnout numbers, and the expectations aren't a whole lot different in New Hampshire. Some argue that won't bode well Democrats in the general election, but it could also be due to the broad field, and Donald Trump isn't on the ballot. 

For more analysis and to listen to the results as they come in tonight, click here for our iHeartRadio nationwide New Hampshire primary special from 8p-12a ET.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.