January 7, 2016 6:05 AM EST

BERNIE SANDERS COULD HELP PICK THE GOP NOMINEE

The largest bloc of voters in New Hampshire is registered independents, who can vote in either the Republican or the Democratic primary. That means Sanders’ viability after Iowa will help determine the size and makeup of the Republican electorate. If he is competitive with Hillary Clinton, strategists expect less support for GOP populists; if he fades, a conservative swing in the Granite State should follow. It’s an only-in-America mind bender.

IT’S THE TUITION AND PILLS, STUPID!

Despite stagnant wages and terrorist attacks, the political debate in early states has been dominated by once tangential issues: the rising cost of college and the opioid-addiction epidemic. Democrats and Republicans have gone all-in on both issues, promising more federal help for struggling families. Grassroots democracy still matters.

THE POLLS AREN’T PREDICTIVE–YET

Two weeks before the Iowa caucuses in 2008, the eventual GOP nominee, John McCain, polled in fourth place nationally, and Hillary Clinton was still the prohibitive favorite over Barack Obama. Newt Gingrich was beating Mitt Romney nationally on New Year’s Day in 2012. Polls are useful, but this race is just now getting serious.

–Philip Elliott and Zeke J. Miller

This appears in the January 18, 2016 issue of TIME.

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Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com.

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