HUDSON, New Hampshire — If the Iowa caucuses all came down to turnout on the Democratic side, New Hampshire will come down to spin.
There’s little question that Clinton will lose the state, and there’s little question that both sides will try to claim the result as a relative win for their side. But how large the margin is will determine who succeeds.
Sanders has been leading in most polls since August, with a brief intermission at the end of the year, and is currently 20 points ahead, according to the latest NBC News Wall Street Journal poll.
Clinton and her team have done everything they can to broadcast, without ever quite saying it, that they are OK with losing New Hampshire and are already looking ahead to the next batch of contests in late February and March.
The overwhelming Democratic front-runner dropped the word “victory” from her election-night watch party. This weekend, she traveled to Michigan, which holds a primary in March, while Bill Clinton traveled to Nevada ahead of a caucus later this month.
In the lead up to the New Hampshire primary, her campaign released it’s first South Carolina TV ad, featuring former attorney General Eric Holder. They released their second South Carolina ad, focused on criminal justice reform. They released their first Spanish language ad for Nevada.
On the Republican side, the race is as uncertain as ever. Donald Trump leads all polls by double-digits, but many voters say that they’re holding out until the last minute to make their decision.
The billionaire’s final rally on Monday was emblematic of the crudely populist campaign that captured the imagination of Republican voters while horrifying his rivals.
Speaking to a crowd at an arena in Manchester, Trump, who has said he’ll institute interrogation techniques “much worse than waterboarding” against suspected terrorists, chastised Senator Ted Cruz for only pledging to allow simulated drowning in rare circumstances. When a woman in the crowd called Cruz a vulgar epithet for his brief hesitance at embracing torture, Trump gleefully repeated the line.
“She said he’s a p—y,” Trump said, to raucous cheering from the crowd that lasted over thirty seconds. He tried to continue, but was overpowered by chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!” that continued to pour from the crowd. “Terrible!” he said in mock disapproval.
“[Trump is] turning the campaign into the latest episode of a reality show but let’s not forget who whipped who in Iowa,” Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler tweeted in response.
Handicapping the rest of the field is a mess. Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Cruz, Ohio Governor John Kasich, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush have all placed second in different surveys this week, usually separated form each other by a narrow margin. Cruz’s path to the nomination is less reliant on the state than the others and he’s more invested in socially conservative states like South Carolina, which votes Feb. 20.
The biggest question is whether Saturday’s dramatic debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester made any significant impact on voters’ preferences.
Rubio, who appeared on the cusp of consolidating establishment support after placing a strong third in Iowa, stumbled badly at the finish line. In a widely replayed faceoff against New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the senator responded to an accusation that he relied on canned talking points by nervously returning to an anti-Obama line he had just used moments earlier.
Rubio has tried to move past the incident, saying he stood by his repeated debate line that Obama “knows exactly what he’s doing” and is on an ideological quest to “change America.”
“I’m going to keep saying that a million times cause I believe it’s true,” Rubio told voters at a town hall on Monday.
In an uncomfortable echo of the debate moment, however, Rubio repeated himself during his remarks at his pre-vote rally later that night in Nashua, twice describing the difficulty of raising his children in the 21st century given “the values that they try to ram down our throats.”
Bush, Kasich and Christie have all targeted New Hampshire as a critical starting point for their campaigns. Their path to the nomination looks daunting without a surprisingly impressive performance to rally support. But any sign of vulnerability from Rubio heightens the odds they’ll stay in the race, even if they can’t overtake him in the final results.
“He’s a gifted person and he will be a leader going forward, but he doesn’t have a proven record and I think people aren’t willing to make a risky bet on that,” Bush said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Monday.
Kasich has practically camped out in the state, and wrapped up his 106th town hall of the campaign on Monday night. He’s emphasized his willingness to work with Democrats on policy, his experience as a governor and Congressman, and his compassion.
“What I have found in this state is that people share their sorrows and hopes and defeat,” he said in Plaistow on Monday. “When they come to a town hall … they at least feel safe about it.”
This story originally appeared on msnbc.com.