For Anti-Trump Republicans, It All Might Come Down to New Hampshire

With his usual bluntness, Chris Christie used a recent event in New Hampshire to lay out why he thought the state’s primary election was more important than the Iowa caucuses — and what he saw as its tremendous stakes.

“It’s pretty clear that the caucus system is going to renominate the former president, but that’s not what happens here in New Hampshire,” Mr. Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, said at a diner in Amherst, N.H. “It seems to me that the people from the Live Free or Die State would be the last people who would want to nominate someone who’s going to be a dictator.”

As former President Donald J. Trump’s stranglehold on Iowa Republicans shows no sign of lessening, New Hampshire has become the most critical state for Nikki Haley, Mr. Christie and the small, increasingly desperate contingent of the Republican Party that wants to cast aside Mr. Trump.

It is the only state where polling shows Ms. Haley within striking distance of the former president, and the only place where Mr. Christie has gained any sort of foothold. While Iowa’s caucuses on Monday are likely to be a slugfest for second place, New Hampshire’s primary on Jan. 23 has an outside chance of serving up an upset victory for Ms. Haley.

Such an outcome would be the first sign of vulnerability for Mr. Trump and could serve as electoral rocket fuel for Ms. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina. But a drubbing for her in New Hampshire would probably end her pitch as a viable alternative to Mr. Trump. Mr. Christie, for his part, has already said he will drop out if he does not have a strong showing there.

The state has large numbers of independent-minded voters and a penchant for delivering surprises, reinvigorating the flagging bids of presidential candidates including Bill Clinton in 1992 and John McCain in 2008. Not since 1976 has a Republican contender in an open, competitive primary race won Iowa and gone on to carry New Hampshire as well.

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