Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) finished in a distant and disappointing third place in New Hampshire’s Republican primary Tuesday night, a discouraging result for the senator who hoped to build off his recent victory in the Iowa caucuses.
Donald Trump finished with a big 36-percent victory, more than twice the number of primary voters that second-place finisher Ohio Gov. John Kasich won. Cruz’s third-place finish amid a jumble of second-tier candidates trailing Donald Trump has long been considered a best case scenario for Trump, who can once again claim to be in a league of his own despite the loss he suffered in Iowa.
Trump’s victory has been tipped since he took the lead in New Hampshire polling in July. He hasn’t lost the lead once since. Instead, the real estate magnate built a 17-point lead over rivals in the state, leading to tall expectations that could have been disastrous to miss.
Cruz outperformed in Iowa while Trump underperformed, setting the two apart as the clear front-running pair in the Republican battle that’s been ongoing since Cruz officially launched his campaign in March.
The future of the Republican campaign looks, first and foremost, like a long-term battle against Trump. South Carolina will hold its own primary on Feb. 20, but Trump’s lead is nearly as big in that state. He’s held a double-digit lead there since December. Next up is Nevada, where Trump holds a similar lead over his opponents.
The big day to watch is Super Tuesday, the March 1 flurry of a dozen primaries that will likely be the most important day of the 2016 campaign to that point. The numbers are much tighter across the board here and may change over the coming weeks as some candidates drop out while others gain their supporters.
The Republican field is still crowded and competitive, even two months into 2016. Tuesday night’s primary won’t change that fact, but we are quickly nearing some decisive dates in the race.
If Cruz is able to win some surprise victories on Super Tuesday, he’s set to wage an effective battle for the 2016 Republican nomination. If he loses, Trump may be unbeatable.
Photo via Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman