Countdown to New Hampshire With 5 Things to Watch in Tuesday's Primary

Tuesday will be a critical moment on the road to the White House.

February 08, 2016, 2:23 PM

— -- Tuesday will be a critical moment on the road to the White House as residents of the Granite State cast their votes in the first-in-the-nation primary.

With independents making up more than 40 percent of the electorate, the New Hampshire primary can often surprise, and that may be the case Tuesday.

Here are the five things to watch for when New Hampshire votes:

1. The Sanders-Clinton Expectations Game

Sen. Bernie Sanders seems poised to win the Democratic primary. The latest University of Massachusetts-Lowell tracking poll out today shows the Vermont independent up 16 points, 56 to 40.

But other surveys have showed Clinton narrowing the gap. A surprise win here for the former secretary of state would be huge news, but even a closer-than-expected, second-place finish would be significant.

That said, a Sanders win would surely keep the “Bern” alive going into the next primary contests.

2. Could Kasich Be the 2016 ‘Comeback Kid’?

John Kasich seems to be getting some late-stage momentum, and he has been campaigning as hard as anyone in the Granite State. The Ohio governor finished in eighth place in Iowa with about 2 percent of the vote, but he had already decamped to New Hampshire well before Iowans caucused.

“Three separate campaign entities, not all of which are aligned with Kasich, say that according to internal polls, he has risen to a strong second place behind Donald Trump,” according to a report over the weekend by the Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman and Scott Conroy.

Jeb Bush’s campaign released a video hitting Kasich this morning, apparently recognizing the growing threat.

And in a sign of confidence, the Kasich campaign already put out his South Carolina campaign schedule for the rest of the week.

3. Has Rubio’s Rise Slowed?

A widely panned weekend debate performance, coupled with relentless attacks from Chris Christie, appears to have left Marco Rubio trying to regain his footing.

Despite his strong finish in Iowa, the big question on Tuesday is whether the Florida senator has hit a plateau.

In the University of Massachusetts-Lowell tracking poll released Monday, Rubio is in a dead-heat with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 13 percent.

4. Moment of Truth for Trump

It’s do-or-die for the Donald.

The Republican front-runner was expected to win in Iowa, but instead snagged second place, falling to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

The New Hampshire polls have long showed the real estate mogul ahead by a big margin in the state. And there’s no doubt Trump needs to deliver a strong ground game in the Granite State.

If he doesn’t, look for pundits to employ the old saying: The emperor has no clothes.

5. Governors’ Game of 'Survivor'

Until recently, conventional wisdom held that there was probably only one ticket out of New Hampshire for the three governors in the race: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Now it seems like there may be at least two.

The Bush campaign is feeling good enough here that it’s already looking ahead to South Carolina. Christie is projecting confidence, declaring on “Good Morning America” today that “the race is now wide open.”

If all three governors have strong showings in New Hampshire, perhaps bunched together in the final vote tally, it’s possible they could all move on to the next contests. Then again, one or more of them may not be so lucky.

ABC News’ Ryan Struyk and Michael Falcone contributed reporting.

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