Expectations are very high for Mitt Romney. He has made a couple of notable gaffes (open mouth, insert foot, fuel perspectives that you are an out of touch robber-baron CEO...) over the past day and there has been a relentless attack on him from the other candidates. Mitt would like to win by 20 points, but that will be a challenge as multiple polls are showing him losing some ground this week.
NH's strong libertarian/contrarian streak will help Ron Paul. He has a very dedicated core of supporters and crossover Independent votes will give Paul a strong showing. Paul will do well and I would be very surprised if he is not a strong second.
Huntsman has been practically living in NH over the past year and will come in third, but this is likely his personal Waterloo. Ironic, as he may be the most electable Republican in terms of appealing to moderates and independents, but the primary system works against him in almost all states. Most of his voters are interchangeable with Romney ideologically .
Newt and Santorum will be in a fight for fourth place. My guess is that Newt barely pulls it out. Newt is really looking at SC in several days to reignite his campaign, but placing in the top four is critical for him.
Santorum's numbers did bounce up earlier this week, but have settled back down. He will have trouble doing well in socially moderate NH and like Newt is focused on SC. But he may surprise...
The unknown factor of course is how Independent voters go to - especially as there is no competitive Democratic primary to compete.
Do Romney's late gaffes hurt him badly or are they lost in the plethora of soundbites?
Will the negative ads on Romney and Bain Capital make his soft support wither?
Does the anti-Mitt vote continue to split four ways or does it start to coalesce? If the vote ends up being close Romney could well suffer a collapse elsewhere. Romney's organization is powerful in NH and will win, but the expectations game is what is important going forward.
Stay tuned! The Prof will be tuned to the results all evening...