HOLLIS, N.H. (AP) — After months of predicting a comeback for their preferred candidates, Republican establishment leaders now concede the first two contests of the presidential race, in Iowa and New Hampshire early next month, are Donald Trump's and Ted Cruz's to lose.
That leaves many GOP traditionalists, who fear each candidate would be a disaster in the November general election, pinning their White House hopes on a feat no Republican has pulled off in modern political history: securing the nomination without winning at least one of the first two states on the calendar.
It's a risky strategy at best, and party officials are hoping that weaker candidates will drop out before the South Carolina primary that follows New Hampshire, allowing voters to more easily coalesce behind an alternative to the billionaire real estate mogul and the Texas senator.
"I don't know how they can convince themselves that they'll be able to go into South Carolina and get something going, having come in a distant third, fourth, fifth place in Iowa and New Hampshire," said Mike Dennehy, a New Hampshire Republican operative. "Especially when you will have two candidates who have been very strong."
Trump and Cruz are atop the field in Iowa, where voters caucus Feb. 1. Preference polls find Trump with a commanding lead in New Hampshire, which votes Feb. 9, and Cruz in the mix for second place. ...