We’ve reached Day Three of Four in the Power Rankings. The countdown began on Friday with Tier 4 and continued yesterday with Tier 3. We now arrive at Tier 2. (Previous monthly rankings in parentheses, starting with December.)
Tier 2: Come Onnnnn, New Hampshire!
6. John Kasich (6, 7, 5)
5. Jeb Bush (5, 3, 2)
4. Chris Christie (4, 4, 4)
None of these candidates budged since last month. Each of them are banking on a New Hampshire surprise. Here are their New Hampshire polling trends over the last five months with Trump, Rubio, and Cruz (Christie in red, Kasich dark blue, Bush orange):
Trump’s orbit seems to be slowly decaying among the discerning New Hampshire voters. Since New Hampshire “breaks” very late — meaning the dye is not cast until the last few days before the primary — the other five candidates in tiers 1 and 2 are all still alive.
It’s not difficult to sort out these New Hampshire hopefuls. Kasich barely qualifies for Tier 2 because he has a shot at the state and therefore a shot at becoming the establishment candidate, but his campaign is almost identical to Jon Huntsman’s failed bid four years ago, not just in the New Hampshire strategy but as every Democrat’s favorite Republican. Even with a surprise showing in New Hampshire, it’s tough to see how he wins over the party like that. Bush and Christie, though also on the moderate side of the GOP’s spectrum, are much better at touting their conservatism. Plus, if you look at Kasich’s trend line above, you can see he’s only barely made progress in the last month.
Bush, despite being edged out by Kasich in New Hampshire polling, still has the higher upside thanks to money, party support, and better numbers nationally, in Iowa, and in South Carolina. The New Hampshire polling trend lines show that he has at least slowed down his losses. Recent reporting has Bush on the upswing in the state, a trend which might not be captured by the polls just yet thanks to the expected “Holiday Freeze.” Like Kasich and Christie, he’s become totally focused on winning that primary, which he thinks will be set up by finishing ahead of Christie in Iowa, and his campaign is still waiting for that big break that can convert all his potential energy into something more kinetic.
Of course, based on those New Hampshire trend lines, Christie is looking best of these three candidates. On Monday, I wrote that he might be about to take off, so it’s no surprise I have him ranked best of these three. Take a look at his red line from the earlier chart. It’s climbing quite nicely. Notably, in order to time the New Hampshire surge just right, he’s starting to spend more time in Iowa. A better than expected finish there would set up New Hampshire nicely.
Still, I can’t put him in the top tier because those trend lines reveal that both Cruz and Rubio are also making gains in New Hampshire, while nationally and in Iowa Christie is far back of them. Here are national trend lines with the same six candidates. I’ll zoom in on just the last two months.
Christie might be the only establishment candidate making a modicum of progress nationally, but Rubio still doubles him up thanks to broader national support, and he quintuples him in Iowa. Moreover, Christie has no plan or campaign infrastructure for the states after New Hampshire, while Rubio is banking on a national campaign if he can just survive February. While I would argue a Christie win in New Hampshire would translate into inheriting the infrastructure of the other establishment candidates, that’s no guarantee, nor is it an instantaneous process.
Of course, looming over each of these three candidates and Rubio is how the presence of each of them limits the other three, both nationally and in New Hampshire. As Trump remains on top and Cruz aims to join him, the four leading establishment candidates average about ten points each in New Hampshire. If three of them were to drop out tomorrow, the remaining candidate would almost certainly be first place in the state’s polls right now and would not only go on to win the state, but would easily win the nomination itself. Their egos, however, won’t allow them to drop out, because each of them thinks they could be that one guy left standing.
Clearly, February 9‘s New Hampshire results will be a fascinating night. The state’s voters will do the weeding for the rest of the nation. Realistically, only one of these candidates will survive it — maybe two, if it’s close — so not only are we watching to see if Trump wins it or how Iowa affects Cruz in New Hampshire, but we’re seeing which of these guys can make a run at that top tier, perhaps pass Rubio, and survive into Super Tuesday. Like the NFL today, it’ll be like scoreboard watching on the last day of the regular season, and I can’t wait.
Time for Tier 1. You know who the candidates are, but what’s their ranking? Find out right here tomorrow.