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What to watch in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary

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Nashua, N.H. – A billionaire reality TV star and a septuagenarian democratic socialist have commanding leads in New Hampshire’s polls, but anything can happen Tuesday as Granite State voters decide the nation’s first primary.

Here’s a few things we’re watching:

Can Donald Trump actually win? The brazen billionaire has led the Granite State’s polls for weeks, and he’s attracted droves of supporters at his rallies across the state. But the same could be said about Iowa, where he finished second to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. A second straight Trump loss in a state he’s favored to win would be devastating to his presidential bid. “I certainly hope so,” Trump said of his chances Tuesday. “I certainly have the biggest crowds.”img_9305

Will Hillary Clinton cut into Bernie Sanders lead? It would come as little shock if Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton lost to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has had a double-digit lead for weeks. The bigger question she faces may be whether she can invigorate a bloc of younger voters she’ll need to win her party’s nomination and regain an edge among women voters. Making gains among both those voter groups gives her a more realistic shot of narrowing the race.

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, and Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton spar during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by MSNBC at the University of New Hampshire Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Durham, N.H. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Does Marco Rubio’s support slip? The Florida senator’s strong third-place finish in Iowa helped him make the case that he’s the Republican who can unite the party, but his uneven performance in Saturday’s debate in Manchester raised fresh doubts among some New Hampshire residents about his experience. His chief adversaries are trying to leverage his miscues – he repeatedly relied on the same scripted talking points when challenged by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – to say he isn’t ready for primetime.

What happens to the mainstream also-rans? The primary could bring some clarity to the muddle of mainstream candidates near the bottom of the polls, or leave it just as tangled as before. Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are all battling each other, along with Rubio, for the establishment vote. Yet the longer they all stay in, the harder it is for Republicans who can’t stomach Cruz or Trump to coalesce around an alternative. How the three governors fare tonight could well reshape the race.

How will the snowfall impact the race? A snowstorm rumbled through New Hampshire on Monday and was expected to dump a few more inches across the state through Tuesday. Hard-bitten residents are used to driving storms, and the storm is likely to clear up by the afternoon. If the forecast shifts, though, one survey predicted it would have a more muted impact. A UMass/7News poll released Monday showed Sanders’ lead over Clinton would drop by 1 percent, while Trump’s advantage would jump by 2 percent. Still, Trump seemed worried at a town hall meeting in Salem. “I may be standing there by myself,” he said. “Why does it have to snow now?”

Read the AJC’s set up story on the Republican race

Read the AJC’s set up story on the Democratic race


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