Republicans have allocated just 40 delegates between Iowa and New Hampshire. In terms of the math, neither state is essential to boosting the candidates to the required 1,144 delegates. Rather, the first two states of the GOP nomination contest have traditionally winnowed the field in years; finishing near the bottom of the pack pushes the candidates off the front page of newspapers, and fickle donors flee to spend their dollars on a more likely winner.
Iowa already succeeded in forcing Michele Bachmann out of the race, and tonight's results in New Hampshire may cause others to follow suit. On the other hand, the number of debates and the influence of unfiltered money from super PACs might allow candidates to stick it out longer than in years past.
Ground organizations have played little role in this election; Rick Santorum had spent the most time in Iowa, and Jon Huntsman essentially lives in New Hampshire these days, but neither received a bump until the media started paying attention. The debates have taken the place of door knocking, with fluctuations of polls depending on strong (or more often embarrassing) debate moments.
Thanks to Citizens United, it is now possible to run a campaign on a shoestring budget as long as you have one rich friend willing to pour countless funds into a super PAC. All a candidate requires is enough money to book a flight to the next debate destination to keep his or her name in the headlines. The super PACs—which unlike the candidates have no cap on the size of donations they can receive—can blitz the airwaves with ads and stuff voters' mailboxes full of fliers while the Republican candidates keep their hands clean. Newt Gingrich, for instance, just needs to maintain a nominal staff and hope that the roulette wheel spins in casino owner Sheldon Anderson's favor. If Jon Huntsman manages a strong second or third place showing in New Hampshire today, perhaps his billionaire father will bequeath junior's super PAC with enough funds for an ad campaign in Florida's expensive media markets. As New York's John Heilemann noted, "An investment of, say, $10 million—a rounding error on the Huntsman Sr. balance sheet—would allow the super PAC to blanket the airwaves in South Carolina and Florida with ads, many of them (no doubt) attacking Romney."
But new rules instituted by the Republican National Committee force states to allocate a portion of their delegates on a proportional basis if they vote before April, which could prevent Romney from locking up the definitive victory until midway through the year if his opponents are determined to drag out the fight.