Much like the evangelicals and liberals that took part in last week’s Iowa caucuses, there is a bloc of voters poised to play an influential role in the Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary: independents.
Unlike the Hawkeye State, where registered Iowans had to stick to their party’s voting process, independent, or “undeclared,” voters in the Granite State can cast their ballots in either primary.
That option causes no shortage of headaches for presidential campaigns, especially since pollsters estimate that independents make up between 40 and 45 percent of the New Hampshire electorate – not surprising for a state whose motto is “Live Free or Die.”
Making matters worse, there’s no rhyme or reason to which contest they choose to vote in, though history has shown independents flock to the race where they feel their pick will make the most difference.
This year, an influx of ballots in the Democratic primary could help Hillary Clinton close the substantial gap between her and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who weeks of polls show with a substantial, double-digit lead over the former Secretary of State.
If Clinton loses to Sanders by only single digits because of the extra boost, her campaign can spin it as her beating expectations in an attempt to give her once inevitable bid new momentum heading into the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 20.
A bigger shake-up could occur on the Republican side. While billionaire Donald Trump holds a commanding lead over Sens. Marco Rubio (FL) and Ted Cruz (TX) – both of whom are jockeying for second place – three GOP governors are locked in a no-holds-barred cage match for a top place finish to keep their struggling campaigns afloat.
Ohio Governor John Kasich, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush need a strong showing n Tuesday night to punch their ticket out of the Granite State. Independents voters could give any of them the percentage point or two that makes all the difference, something the contenders are very much aware of.
"I ought to be running in a Democrat primary, I got more Democrats for me -- you have any Republican friends?" Kasich joked on Saturday during a campaign stop in New Hampshire, according to CBS.
But there is one saving grace to the first in the nation’s primary: voting is straightforward. Unlike the complex caucuses, the primary is run by the state, not the two major parties themselves. That means more changes for the Democratic side, where the totals came back in terms of delegates, not votes, won.
New Hampshire’s system should prevent the kind of fallout that’s occurred since Iowa, with retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson accusing Cruz of spreading rumors that he dropped out to the race to try to tilt the results, and Sanders questioning the returns that had him losing to Clinton by a fraction of a percentage point.