By James Duffy, political blogger

New Hampshire has the distinction of hosting the first primaries in the nation in the 2016 elections. After the nuanced Iowa caucuses, the Granite State promises a more conventional election with ballots and votes, not crowded cafeterias and coin flips. Along with its “first in the nation” status, New Hampshire also plays a distinct role in deciding who gets a shot at the White House, and, at the very least, will narrow the field.

This year, with a crowded pool on the Republican (GOP) side, New Hampshire could play a role in setting the table for the party moving forward.

So what exactly will Tuesday nights primary mean?

For the GOP, the results in Iowa only made New Hampshire more important. Donald Trump, who is the current front runner in the Granite State, suffered a surprising defeat in Iowa at the hands of Ted Cruz. Trump has seen his momentum begin to slip away after his loss, and what was a comfortable 20 point lead has been cut nearly in half (granted he’s still around 30 percent). His own numbers have slipped in the past week, while other candidates have surged behind him.

Another upset loss could send Trump into a tailspin, shattering his “winner” persona, but that seems like a far-cry, worst case scenario. Nevertheless, a slim margin of victory might hurt him in the perceptions game. Trump needs a commanding double-digit win in New Hampshire to maintain his stranglehold over the Republican party, or he might see his national numbers continue to trend downwards.

Ted Cruz, who shocked Trump in Iowa, has less stock in New Hampshire. First of all, the victory in Iowa and his national standing all but guarantees that he’s in the race for the long run. He’s polling around 20 percent nationally, and has a slate of states very friendly to him coming up in the primary process. His core demographic is evangelicals, which helped him in Iowa and will carry him through the south, but won’t help him in New Hampshire. Luckily for Cruz, he doesn’t need New Hampshire. According to Real Clear Politics (RCP), he’s sitting in the middle of the pack, at anywhere from seven to 15 percent, and he doesn’t need any more than that to coast through to Super Tuesday, where he’ll have more support behind him from his committed voter pool. Even if he does slide in the polls, as long as he remains relevant and above five percent, it should have no negative impact on him.

New Hampshire is most important for Marco Rubio, as he now has the chance to emerge as the favorite son of the GOP. In Iowa, he came out of nowhere to surge to third place, pulling in about 23 percent of the vote. While other “establishment” candidates ignored Iowa and hedged their bets in New Hampshire, Rubio pushed hard, and he’s reaping the rewards now. He’s enjoyed an upswing in the polls in New Hampshire and has given himself some breathing room in second place behind Trump. Currently, Rubio has an average of 16.4 points, with Cruz, John Kasich and Jeb Bush trailing according to the RCP average.

The situation is interesting for Rubio. He doesn’t need to win, and it’s more than likely that Trump will come away victorious anyways. He just needs to outperform the three other candidates that he’s been grouped with for months now. Rubio, Kasich, Bush and Chris Christie have been dubbed the establishment candidates, and before Iowa none of them had any real traction in the election. A surging Rubio is now in position to knock Kasich, Christie and potentially Bush out of the race if he can run away with second place.

The other three have taken a “New Hampshire or Die” type of stance. Kasich said it himself. New Hampshire is his last stand, announcing in a town hall in Keene, NH “if I get snubbed in New Hampshire, I’m going home.” Bush and Christie are also buckling down in New Hampshire, hoping for a strong showing to revitalize their campaigns. If they both slip below three percent like they did in Iowa, it might be time to call it quits. If that’s the case, it seems likely that the supporters of these three candidates would shift to Rubio. While Rubio is second in New Hampshire, he is also the most popular fall back option, as 20 percent of decided voters said that he would be their second choice for the nomination according to a poll conducted by the Boston Globe.

That same poll shows indecision among voters though, as a third of all those polled said that they aren’t completely locked in to one candidate, and eight percent were completely undecided. But if Rubio can keep his momentum going and sway independent and undecided voters, he’ll emerge as the winner, regardless of if he wins any delegates. Handing another blow to his opponents campaigns would be a massive success. The election could become a three-horse race, with Rubio standing alone with Trump and Cruz.

If he finds himself stuck in the pack while Trump commandingly carries the state, things get more complex. As long as the establishment vote is split, Cruz and Trump will continue to control the election while the rest of the party bickers. Should Rubio be stuck in the low teens within striking distance of Kasich and Bush, those two will live to see another day, and might be able to swing a longer run, in effect handing the race to one of the more extreme candidates.

To read about the Democratic side of the race, click here.

Photo courtesy of Marc Nozell, Creative Commons.