Eight more Tuesdays, and it’s all over.
Eight weeks from today, Granite Staters will finally cast their ballots in the First in the Nation presidential primary, bringing to an end a campaign that technically began on November 15, 2022, when former President Donald Trump announced his candidacy at Mar-a-Lago.
The room wasn’t full, the crowd wasn’t enthusiastic, and the candidate wasn’t particularly sharp. A series of polls in the wake of the GOP’s anemic 2022 performance showed Trump’s support sliding. One March 12, 2023 poll by CNN actually had Trump trailing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and the gap between the two was less than 20 points.
Then came the April 4 announcement from progressive Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg that he was slapping Trump with 34 felony counts, making him the first former president to be indicted on criminal charges. By April 10, Trump once again had a two-to-one lead over his closest competitor, and his support has been trending higher since.
Trump’s first-ever election victory came in the New Hampshire primary in 2016, and polls show his support remains relatively strong — though not the 62-14 percent margin he currently enjoys in national polling over DeSantis.
So, what is the state of the race in the First in the Nation primary? NHJournal asked more than a dozen political professionals, grassroots activists, academics, and operatives for their off-the-record take, including their predictions for the New Hampshire primary. We also asked them to describe the Granite State primary as it stands today in one sentence.
Not surprisingly, they broke down into two categories. The minority view was expressed by one less-than-Trump-friendly longtime Republican: “It’s still early, and anything can happen.”
It’s a view repeatedly expressed by Gov. Chris Sununu, who said on the campaign trail with DeSantis last week that “a lot of folks are going to really wait to see where this thing goes in late December, early January, and make up their minds.”
The other view, shared by most of the Republicans NHJournal spoke with, was captured in a single word by a GOP political operative:
With Trump currently holding a 27-point lead in the Granite State and his popularity trending higher, many New Hampshire Republicans find it hard to see a path forward for any of the other candidates. That includes Nikki Haley, whose support has recently spiked in New Hampshire, but who is still below 20 percent, while Trump’s support is above 45 percent.
Each participant was asked to predict how the GOP primary would turn out based on the current state of play. Their aggregated response:
- Trump: 43.4%
- Haley: 21.8%
- DeSantis: 13.1%
- Christie: 10.1%
- Ramaswamy: 6.8%
Is there any path forward for the other candidates in a field like this? We asked national political analyst Mark Halperin.
“IF Haley finishes second or a shockingly close third in Iowa, and IF Chris Sununu endorses her, and IF Trump agrees to a WMUR debate and tells Haley she is ‘likable enough,’ and IF Christie drops out, and IF Haley surges a record number of independents into the Republican primary…then I think Trump will probably still win New Hampshire.”
On Jack Heath’s radio show Monday, Anna Brown, Director of Research & Analysis for Citizens Count, admitted polling history shows that, in most cases, candidates with large leads at this point in the primary calendar tend to win the First in the Nation contest. However, she added, the cases of Sen. John McCain’s victory in 2008 and Democrat Gov. Howard Dean’s loss in 2004 are reminders that surprises can still happen in New Hampshire.
At the same time, none of those races featured a former U.S. president seeking his party’s backing for a third time.
“So yeah, most of the time, Donald Trump would end up winning. But someone could still connect with those independent-minded, retail-politicking New Hampshirites,” Brown said.
Several New Hampshire Republicans agreed with the premise that it is possible that Trump could have a glass jaw, but they didn’t see anyone in the field who could throw a hard enough punch to take advantage of it.
As former New Hampshire GOP chair Fergus Cullen put it, “Watching this primary campaign is like the movie ‘The Sixth Sense.’ Most of the characters are doing the normal things, but they don’t realize they’re already dead.”