When the dust clears tonight, no one will be the Republican nominee. Instead, candidates will be jetting on, either to New Hampshire, or, in the case of Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, who’ve already signaled that they’re giving up on the Granite State, to South Carolina. What happens then? USA Today breaks down the three possibilities thusly:
- It’s a sprint: If Mitt Romney wins tonight, and wins again in New Hampshire, “that momentum would be very difficult to stop,” says one GOP consultant. “If he goes one-one, the party moves quickly to unite behind him.”
- It’s a marathon: Thanks to new rules requiring states voting before April 1 to award delegates proportionately, it won’t be mathematically possible to clinch the nomination until the spring, well after Super Tuesday. A long, drawn-out primary is definitely possible—though Romney has the best organization in place to win that kind of fight, too.
- It’s a whole new race: There’s a chance—politically unlikely, but decidedly possible—that another candidate could jump into the race after Iowa, capitalizing on the aforementioned rules to launch a late campaign. Said newbie would be able to compete for at least 1,200 of the 2,200-plus delegates at stake, analyst Rhodes Cook estimates. “You’d have to be creative,” Cook says. But “I wouldn’t rule it out.” (Maybe Cook reads Bill Kristol.)