What to expect tonight in New Hampshire?

Tonight is a big night for Mitt Romney; and even if he “wins” New Hampshire, he may very well “lose.” There is little doubt that he is coming off a victory by winning in Iowa, though by a very small margin, even though he didn’t spend a lot of money. He lost the state four years ago, despite spending millions.

As you can guess, Romney has an advantage in the Granite State since he served for four years as Governor of neighboring Massachusetts. Needless to say, he is expected to perform well there. However, Romney has a threshold he needs to cross, even though he’ll win, for it not to be considered a disappointment.

Polls have showed that Romney has fallen off some in recent days. Last week, for example, Suffolk University’s daily tracking poll showed Romney hitting 44%. But by the weekend, he’d dripped to 33%. Though he maintains a double-digit lead over his closest rivals in the state, Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. Today’s Suffolk poll shows Romney at 37%.

Romney needs to receive 40% or more of the vote in order him to walk away from New Hampshire with confidence. If he falls below that mark, expect to hear his rivals and conservative talking about how his nomination isn’t inevitably. And they’re right to a certain extent, this election cycle has taught us that nothing is a certainty.

Also, Huntsman’s future in the race may be determined this evening. If he finishes third or furthers down, he may well exit by the morning. A second place finish would likely keep him in the race until at least Florida.

Like Huntsman, Dr. Paul’s campaign also made New Hampshire a priority, given that the state is home to the Free State Project and has a notable independent streak. While he had sole possession of second for some time, Huntsman has managed to catch up. Normal campaign rules don’t apply to Paul, so even if he slips to third tonight, he’s going to stick around.

For everyone else in the race, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry, the focus has been on South Carolina. They knew that New Hampshire wasn’t somewhere they could waste a lot resources, money and staff. But as noted on Monday, Romney has taken the lead there, over Gingrich and Santorum; but with two weeks to go until South Carolina’s primary, anything could change.

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