Let's start with the Republicans, because there are more of them with more to gain or lose.
Lots to Lose
Jeb Bush: No one in either party has more riding on the vote than the former Florida governor. Bush largely wrote off Iowa — he spent caucus night in New Hampshire — in order to focus his full attention on this state. He and his allied super PAC have spent twice as much on TV ads as the second-biggest spender, a move indicative of just how important a surprising showing in the state is for him.
Total ad spending in NH: $111m. Top spenders (campaign + PAC): Bush $36m, Christie $18m, Rubio $15m, Kasich $12m, Clinton $11m, Sanders $8m— Reid Wilson (@PoliticsReid) February 9, 2016
For Bush, it’s hard to see him continuing in the race as a major player unless he wins, places or shows tonight. First place seems out of the question as Donald Trump has led for almost 200 straight days. The key for Bush, then, is to find a way to get ahead of Marco Rubio, John Kasich and/or Chris Christie. I know his campaign is pledging to go on to South Carolina in 11 days no matter what happens tonight — he's holding a rally in the state Wednesday — but there's a big difference between staying in the race as a bit player and continuing on as someone who has a real chance at being the nominee. New Hampshire will decide which Bush is tonight.
Chris Christie: It's always been New Hampshire or bust for Christie. The New Jersey governor has showered the state with attention and money — his $18 million spent on ads puts him behind only Bush — and he has made clear for months and months that this was the state where he would make his mark on the race. Unfortunately for Christie, he appears to have peaked in the state about six weeks too soon. After a burst into double digits late last year, most polling puts Christie in the mid-single digits as of late. If that’s where he winds up, he won’t be able to keep going beyond New Hampshire.
John Kasich: Like Christie and, to a slightly lesser extent, Bush, Kasich has effectively run a single-state campaign in New Hampshire. And the rumblings in the final days and hours before primary day seemed to indicate that the Ohio governor is well positioned to finish in the top three in the state. According to the Real Clear Politics rolling average of polls, Kasich is in a statistical dead heat with Rubio for second. A second-place finish would probably set Kasich up as the establishment alternative to Rubio in South Carolina and beyond. Third place is a bit more dicey — particularly if Rubio finishes second. If Kasich finishes anything worse than third, he's done.
Some to lose
Marco Rubio: The big question surrounding the senator from Florida is how badly he has hurt himself in the final 72 hours before the primary with a series of robotic debate answers that led his opponents to insist that, while he talks a good game, he lacks the experience and depth to take on someone like Hillary Clinton. A second-place finish by Rubio almost certainly turns the race into a three-way contest among him, Trump and Cruz as the race moves to South Carolina and then Nevada. Third place should be fine for Rubio, although questions will be raised as to whether he hurt his chances to seize the establishment mantle with his debate flub. Anything outside the top three will force Rubio to spend the next 10 days trying desperately to reclaim the momentum he got by finishing a surprisingly strong third in Iowa.
Donald Trump: The real estate billionaire has led in New Hampshire for months. And his lead has stayed at a steady 20 points or so.
Given the steadiness in Trump’s numbers, anything short of a convincing win would be regarded as a sign that while people come to rallies for him, they don't vote for him — especially in light of his disappointing second-place showing last week in Iowa. What is a “convincing” win? In 2000, John McCain beat George W. Bush by 19 points in New Hampshire; in 2012, Mitt Romney beat Ron Paul by 16. A victory along those lines would probably re-situate Trump as the race’s front-runner. A victory similar to McCain’s over Romney in 2008 — six points — would probably keep Trump in the top tier but do little for him momentum-wise heading into South Carolina.
Little to lose
Ted Cruz: The senator from Texas has the least riding on the New Hampshire vote of any of the top-tier or wannabe top-tier candidates. Cruz’s victory in Iowa ensures his spot as a major actor in South Carolina on Feb. 20 and in the “SEC” primary on March 1. Cruz made the beginnings of a real effort in New Hampshire following his Iowa win but has largely pulled back, knowing that how he finishes won’t matter all that much and preferring to save his money for more consequential states (for him) down the line. What's a good showing for Cruz? Bettering what 2008 Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee got in New Hampshire — third place with 11.2 percent.
And now for the much-shorter list of Democrats.
Some to lose
Hillary Clinton: As I wrote in this space earlier today, it's ludicrous to give the former secretary of state a pass if she loses in New Hampshire. While Bernie Sanders is from a neighboring state and has led in polling for several straight months, there was absolutely no reason to think at the start of this race that Clinton wouldn’t be competitive or even win in the state.
That said, it seems unlikely Clinton pulls a rabbit out of her hat as she did in New Hampshire in 2008, when she won by three points after most polls showed her losing to Barack Obama by high single digits in the days before the vote. If you take the Clinton people at their word, they see victory as holding Sanders to a single-digit win, which would be less than the 13-point edge he enjoys in the Real Clear averages. If they are saying single digits publicly, it’s because they feel relatively confident they can hold down Sanders’s margin. If she loses by 10 or more, then it’s problematic for Clinton as the race moves to Nevada next.
Little to lose
Bernie Sanders: He should win. And he should win relatively easily.
New Hampshire, at least on the Democratic side, has a history of relatively close races, which could make it hard for Sanders to live up to the sky-high expectations being set for him. Clinton beat Obama by three point in 2008, and Al Gore, then the sitting vice president, narrowly edged Bill Bradley, 50 percent to 46 percent, in 2000. A win — moral and literal — for Sanders would be to match or eclipse the 12-point margin John Kerry ran up against Howard Dean in 2004.