Manchester-NH

Tonight, New Hampshire decides. The first-in-the-nation primary state — sometimes referred to as the Granite state — will do more than just tell the rest of America who their choices are for the office of the President of the United States: It may also winnow the large field of Republican candidates to just four or five before sending them along to South Carolina where the field is expected to be further whittled down. So, who will win the Republican primary in the state? Who comes second? The second question is just as important as the first.

And as for the Democrats, the question should be: Can Hillary Clinton conquer the insurmountable odds stacked against her? Can she come from behind Bernie Sanders to win? Paraphrased differently, can she re-enact history by offsetting her double digit poll deficits and relegate Sanders to a second-place finish like she did against Obama in 2008? Well, many would say, Nah! And for a number of reasons.

Sanders comes from the neighboring state of Vermont. New Hampshire voters historically side with a candidate from either New Hampshire or a neighboring state. Know-it-all pundits would also tell you that Sanders is a far better candidate than Clinton, and that his message, simple and plain, has penetrated deeper than the “mumble jumble” they think Clinton is offering the electorate. But these same pundits also forget to remember that New Hampshire retains the capacity to shock, all in an attempt to orient the rest of America to the fact that they, and not the pundits, get to decide who to vote for in the very last minute.

But first, as we wait for the results to trickle in hours from now, let’s play some catch-up as this blog has been absent from the events of the last four days.

We start by asking, Whatever happened to the momentum that Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton had from their Iowa wins just over a week ago?

Answer: Donald Trump, the Republican brawler-in-chief and the only candidate who seems to understand the news media ecosystem better than his Republican and Democratic competitors, stepped on Cruz’s momentum by trumpeting the allegation that Cruz stole his Iowa victory. The issue resurfaced at last Saturday’s Republican debate in Manchester, New Hampshire, where Cruz, finding himself put on the spot, had to crank out an apology to Ben Carson as he simultaneously groped for extricating explanations for why and how his campaign’s alleged last-minute shenanigan ended up divesting Ben Carson of his votes and putting them in Cruz’s column in a way that helped tip the scale against Trump.

Talking about the Republican debate, the entire world witnessed something on stage at St. Anselm College, Manchester, the likes of which no one had seen in a long time — Chris Christie buried Marco Rubio alive. Christie, the bully politician from New Jersey who had been raving and ranting about prosecuting Hillary Clinton on stage if that general election match-up ever happened between them, switched his attacks to Rubio in the waning days of the New Hampshire primary. Reason? Rubio had grabbed a third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses with a momentum far greater than Cruz’s, and the possibility that such a momentum could vault the Florida senator into second place in the New Hampshire primary. Christie thought it fell to him to either reverse the tide or weaken it into an ebb.

Manchester 3

On the campaign trail, the New Jersey governor had been stressing the point that Rubio was inexperienced and unprepared to be commander-in-chief. He charged that Rubio was robotic, a programmed politician who boringly repeated well-rehearsed nostrums and sound bites handed to him by his handlers. On the debate stage at St. Anselm College, Rubio validated Christie’s charge by repeating the same sentences he had been heard using on the trail. Then Christie pounced: “This is what Washington D.C. does. The drive-by shot at the beginning with incorrect and incomplete information and then the memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him.” In response, Rubio trotted out the same sentence that had prompted Christie’s attack. Swiftly, Christie again came back at Rubio, as he (Christie) spoke directly to television audiences at home: “There it is, the 25-second memorized speech,” he said. The Florida senator known for being quick on his feet in past debates, could not pivot away to any improvised, extemporaneous response: he went back to exactly the same sentence, eliciting boos from the debate audience.

Rubio once arrogantly derided Obama for using the teleprompter. Rubio probably needs one from now on.

Clinton, yes, had a smidgen of a momentum coming out of Iowa, but certainly not strong enough to help her recovery and propel her to victory.  In the days between Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton and Sanders had two town hall appearances before party members. They also had one debate during which the duo exchanged fire. The world saw a feisty Clinton. She accused her opponent of engaging in an “artful smear” against her over her alleged closeness to Wall Street and big money donors.

Her husband, Bill Clinton, who all along had played the role of  a validator, momentarily shelved that assignment and took on the job of an attack dog instead. Two days ago, the former president condemned the sexist attacks on his wife by many of Sanders’ supporters. He accused Sanders of dishonesty and mocked his promise to stage a revolution. “When you’re making a revolution you can’t be too careful with the facts,” Clinton said.

Madeline Albright, former secretary of state and a Clinton supporter, also lamented the lack of support Clinton was getting from women, especially the young ones, and she let the whole world know that there was a special place in hell for women who would not support other women. It was a controversial remark, and a lot of women felt offended by it. Clinton defended her by saying that the former secretary of state was just making a joke. That remark could further energize many female voters into voting for Sanders tonight.

However hard Clinton tries to surprise the political world tonight, one thing is clear: she is unlikely to repeat what she did in 2008. But she may be able to narrow the gap of defeat from double digit to a close single digit. That way, she can earn the right to spin it as a win of some sort.

But the Republican competition presents a more curious and interesting case. Everyone remains keen to see if Trump can pull this one off, after having flunked in Iowa. Who comes second then? Cruz? Rubio? Christie? Or John Kasich? Will Jeb Bush rise from the dead?

Answers to the above questions will remain unknown until later tonight. So let’s wait.