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One day to New Hampshire, five story lines to watch

We are now one day away from Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, and there are five story lines we're watching after an eventful weekend on the ground here.
Supporters came out to hear candidates speak in the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary, which will be held on Tuesday, February 9.
Supporters came out to hear candidates speak in the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary, which will be held on Tuesday, February 9.

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

One day out and five storylines to watch

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — We are now one day away from Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, and there are five story lines we're watching, particularly after an eventful weekend on the ground here:

1. Can Trump hold on to his double-digit lead? Every poll we've seen in the past few days -- and there have been plenty of them! -- shows Donald Trump leading the GOP field here by double digits, including some by 20-plus points. Of course, every poll in Iowa had Trump ahead in the Hawkeye State, and we saw how that turned out. But there are important differences that New Hampshire has from Iowa: It's a primary, not a caucus; independents, not evangelicals, play a significant role; and there is no clear/obvious threat (like Ted Cruz was in Iowa).

2. What kind of impact does Rubio's rough debate performance have in New Hampshire? We remember when many of us declared Trump the winner for skipping the debate before the Iowa caucuses, so we caution how Marco Rubio's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad debate will play out. But at the very least, it seems to have blunted any momentum he had going into Tuesday. And just look at the latest 7News Boston/UMass tracking poll: Trump 34%, Rubio 13%, Cruz 13%, Jeb Bush 10%, John Kasich 10%, and Chris Christie 5%. There's a traffic jam for second place, especially on the establishment side. Add up the Rubio/Bush/Kasich/Christie percentages, and you get 38% -- more than Trump's percentage.

3. Will the GOP field winnow after New Hampshire? (Don't bet on it after the debate): No matter who finishes second/third/fourth/fifth in New Hampshire, don't expect anyone to drop out after New Hampshire, especially after smelling blood versus Rubio. That's maybe the biggest consequence of Rubio's debate performance. And it complicates his path to victory in South Carolina, because that same traffic-jam dynamic will continue in the Palmetto State if everyone stays in the race.

4. Just how far ahead is Sanders in New Hampshire? Unlike the GOP race, the Democratic race in New Hampshire has polling that seems all over the place. The 7News/UMass poll shows Bernie Sanders ahead of Hillary Clinton by 16 points, 56%-40%. But the Boston Herald/Franklin Pierce University survey has Sanders' lead at seven points, 51%-44%.

5. Can Clinton bring back home women and registered Democrats? If so, she has a more than realistic chance of making New Hampshire a single-digit race. Indeed, in last week's NBC/WSJ/Marist poll that showed Sanders ahead by 20 points, the Vermont senator was leading Clinton among women (50%-46%) and Democrats (51%-46%). So that helps explain the Madeleine Albright comment from the weekend, as well as Bill Clinton's verbal assault on Sanders yesterday.

Bill Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders

Speaking of Bill Clinton's verbal assault on Sanders, here's the dispatch from NBC News: "'You can't offer a healthcare program [if] you don't know what it costs,' Bill Clinton said. 'And we don't need to do it … just implement the law we've got, fix the payment systems and get the drug prices down.'" More: "The former president also hit out at the Sanders campaign for 'looting information from our computers' — likening the episode to stealing a car with the keys in the ignition — and sent a message to young voters, who polls have suggested currently favor Sanders over Hillary Clinton by as much as two to one. 'Free college for everyone sounds better than what I said … [but] we can't afford everything,' Bill Clinton told the audience." It feels like Clinton's attacks, however, play better in print than on TV. Some of them fell flat with the audience.

Des Moines, we have a problem

On Sunday, the Iowa Democratic Party released updated numbers on its caucus results, showing Bernie Sanders make up a little ground, but not enough to erase Hillary Clinton's lead:

  • Clinton: 700.47 SDEs (state delegate equivalents) 49.84%
  • Sanders: 696.92 SDEs 49.59%
  • O'Malley: 7.63 SDEs 0.54%

Yet after back-to-back problems counting close caucus results -- first in 2012 on the GOP side, now in 2016 on the Dem side -- Iowa has a big problem on its hands. Can future contestants trust the results from a caucus system? Our election process is already complicated when there's a close race (see Bush vs. Gore in 2000, Franken vs. Coleman in 2008), but's 100 times more complicated when you have a close race in a caucus race.

On the trail

Donald Trump holds four events in the Granite State, including an evening rally in Manchester… Hillary Clinton stumps in Manchester and Hudson, while husband Bill hits Rochester… Ted Cruz has three events in the state, and Marco Rubio has two… Bernie Sanders campaigns in Nashua, Manchester, Derry, and Durham… And Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Carly Fiorina all campaign in New Hampshire, too.

  • Countdown to New Hampshire: 1 day
  • Countdown to Dem Nevada caucuses: 12 days
  • Countdown to GOP South Carolina primary: 12 days
  • Countdown to GOP Nevada caucuses: 15 days
  • Countdown to Dem South Carolina primary: 19 days

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