Jonathan, there are two other factors at work when considering how Republicans run in 2008 and deal with New Hampshire. One is the primary schedule. The other is Mitt Romney. The presence of a Massachusetts celebrity might make it possible for Giuliani and McCain to make a public show of writing off the Granite State on the grounds they can’t possibly win. This is what happened in 1992 when Tom Harkin ran for president and the other candidates in the Democratic field simply ceded Iowa to him and moved on.
After all, New Hampshire’s value is far less to a frontrunner than it is to an underdog, especially in the Republican primary. Who won New Hampshire in 1996? Buchanan. Who won New Hampshire in 2000? McCain. Those victories gave these candidates some momentum but did not score them the nomination.
There’s another reason why New Hampshire might be far less important in 2008, and that’s the fact that the Republican primary schedule is so up in the air. It’s conceivable that Florida will move its primary to the second week of February, for example — and there’s talk of one or two big states, like California, moving into February as well. To say this will alter the dynamic of the race entirely is to understate the case. Rather than spending six months wandering around New Hampshire and spending untold millions there, candidates will have every reason to focus precious resources and attention on more populous states where the delegate numbers matter far more.
Oh, and to repeat a point I made last night about the polling showing Hillary and Rudy in the lead: What matters isn’t this poll but nearly two years of polling that show Hillary with a 20 point lead and Giuliani and McCain effectively splitting 60 percent of the Republican primary vote. The needle hasn’t moved and the trend lines are unmistakable. That doesn’t mean the nomination is Hillary’s automatically or that somebody can’t take Giuliani and McCain down. But it suggests these are very, very, very strong candidates.