The numbers in New Hampshire could shift rapidly after Iowa, as could the other early states of South Carolina and Nevada. National GOP polls at this point remain an interesting data-point about the mood of the party but little more.
So Trump, who has already labeled Cruz a little bit of a "maniac," will likely go on the offense against the Texas senator in the CNN debate. But Cruz, who has assiduously courted Trump supporters, may not take the bait. So far, every time Trump has come after him, Cruz has laughed it off and spoken of The Donald as his "good friend."
While doing this, Cruz has also spoken in private of Trump as lacking the temperament to be president. The Texas conservative firebrand appears content to praise Trump publicly while sowing doubts about him in private. Don't expect that to change in Las Vegas on Tuesday night, though Cruz will have to respond if Trump hits him on specifics.
Among the other candidates, pressure is again on former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who still has not moved at all in the polls. Somehow he needs to show some fire and go on a sustained attack against Trump and others in the field. The question is whether Bush has it in him to do this. He is not a natural attack dog, preferring policy discussion to trading barbs and insults. This reporter spoke with an unaffiliated GOP operative in New Hampshire last week who said he saw no indication that Bush would be able to transition to the kind of bare-knuckled approach the 2016 campaign seems to require.
"You need to be able to know your spots and then stick the knife in repeatedly when you have the chance," the operative said. "Jeb doesn't really want to do that."
For the rest of the candidates, the drill remains about the same. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is generally very strong in debates, though he could stand to seem a little less polished and scripted. His path to the nomination remains being the center-right, establishment favorite and alternative to Cruz or Trump. Expect Rubio to train fire at Cruz over the Texas senator's votes on privacy and national security. Rubio thinks Cruz is vulnerable on the issue after San Bernardino and Paris and he may be right.