Jeb Bush's New Hampshire strategy is working out fine -- just not for him.
But for John Kasich, it's a different story. The Ohio governor is on the rise, adopting elements of the Bush playbook and threatening to elbow his rival out of the role of establishment conservative with genuine general election appeal.
Should he build on a fast start in the Granite State and improve his so far limited appeal elsewhere, it's becoming clear that Kasich could emerge as a viable rival to Bush for the affections of the GOP elites.
For all his struggles to deal with the volcanic outsider Donald Trump, it could be the biggest threat to Bush winning the GOP nomination will be the chipper career politician from the Buckeye State.
Even if he fails to make it big nationwide, Kasich could still wound Bush with a big night in New Hampshire in February. That's because the former Florida governor's tough road in other early voting states makes a strong Granite State showing imperative.
Republican strategist Ford O'Connell agrees on the importance of New Hampshire for Bush, arguing that history shows the state favors an establishment GOP candidate who is fairly moderate on many issues but is hawkish on national security.
"That would favor someone like Jeb Bush, but when it comes to corralling those establishment voters, I do think that John Kasich is the biggest threat to Jeb Bush becoming the nominee," he said.
And Bush needs a victory, or least a robust performance in New Hampshire, to set him up as a formidable candidate in later contests.
"Bush has to win New Hampshire and Florida. To get that momentum he has to have a strong showing in New Hampshire. If John Kasich wins New Hampshire or places second, the game board dramatically changes for Jeb Bush in a lot of ways," said O'Connell.