A 2012 oped in the LA Times noted that, with one exception, the eventual nominee in both parties had won either in Iowa or New Hampshire. Had Ron Paul won in Iowa (he almost did, and did among men), he would have had a stronger shot at the nomination. Indeed, he came in second in New Hampshire, and a win in Iowa could have propelled that towards a win, pulling Romney to a halt. Instead, Romney won both and the rest was a slow death.
What this means now is that a win in one or the other is crucial. Currently, Hillary Clinton is ahead in both states, as she was in 2008, but Bernie Sanders is quickly catching up. He has the great enthusiasm behind him that Obama and Ron Paul had. He could put together a win, just a headline by one vote, and suddenly change everything. And unlike Obama, he is well known in New Hampshire, has huge support from Democrats there, and just won a key activist endorsement; mostly because he is from the neighboring state of Vermont. Two wins in those states would be an virtually unrecoverable setback for Clinton, Inc.
Meanwhile, in the Republican race, my favorite Scott Walker, has been a steady frontrunner in Iowa for months. Even Bush has not been able to assail that, altho Donald Trump is starting to have some shoots. Walker happens to be a sitting governor from neighboring Wisconsin, which helps a lot. Over in New Hampshire, Walker led the polls for awhile, after a surge in early February 2015 from 7 to 14 to 18 points. He has been overtaken by Jeb Bush since then, and Donald Trump has been moving up. A top official at Americans for Prosperity – New Hampshire defected to the Trump campaign, and both organizations are based in the same building. Trump now leads Walker in recent polls. A win by Walker in Iowa would boost him a lot in New Hampshire, possibly putting Bush back in second. Bush would then pin his hopes on New Hampshire or Florida.
Wins in both states for Walker would probably hand him the nomination. He is tied with Bush in South Carolina and would win that after two wins. At that point, all the lower tiers drop off and its a cruise to victory with no bumps. Walker has all the credentials required to win the nomination, being a bit of an outsider, but tolerable by the establishment. If Trump wants to win, I would tell him to pin his hopes on a win in New Hampshire, altho he is tied for second in Iowa. Most of this good polling is probably due to media attention (the Herman Cain effect), which is why Walker is stronger: he has real support.
Rand Paul might have hung his hopes in Iowa or New Hampshire, but that has faded. Libertarians should now probably back Walker or Sanders, and work to influence them in the right direction. Or if that doesnt jive, there are plenty of open Senate, House, and Governor races to get into.