Gov. Chris Christie trails GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump by 15 percentage points in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary, but that’s good enough for second place according to the latest WBUR/MassINC poll.

Gov. Chris Christie speaks at the Politics and Eggs breakfast meeting at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

The Real Clear Politics average of the four most recent polls in the Granite State had Christie in third place still lagging 15 points behind Trump and 1.3 points behind Marco Rubio. Two Garden State political experts weighed in on what it would mean for Christie to finish second in New Hampshire and if he has any shot at winning.

“It’s unclear whether he can actually win given Donald trump’s current strength, but coming in second is only part of it,” said Rider University political science professor Ben Dworkin. “Chris Christie needs to close the gap between Donald Trump and himself and he needs to widen the gap between himself and everyone who is nipping at his heels.”

If Christie comes out of the New Hampshire primary bunched up with Rubio, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush he wouldn’t have the same kind of momentum that he would if he could separate himself from the rest of the still-crowded GOP field, Dworkin explained.

“He could emerge as the proper alternative to Donald Trump if he can finish second in New Hampshire, but in order to do that he can’t have somebody who finishes third just a point or two behind him. He doesn’t have to just finish second. He has to finish alone in second place,” Dworkin predicted.

Coming in second could be good news for Christie as long as Trump is the one who comes in first, according to another veteran political observer.

“If it’s not Donald Trump and it’s not Chris Christie who comes in first, whoever it is is going to be the big story coming out of New Hampshire and then Chris Christie might as well pack it up,” said Matt Hale, a political science professor at Seton Hall University. “If it is Donald Trump and Christie comes in a close and respectable second I think there could be a lot of movement to sort of consolidate around Christie as the mainstream candidate against Trump.”

The history of New Hampshire tells us that primaries there can produce surprises Hale pointed out. He said it was not totally out of the question for Christie to actually win the primary.

“I think a lot of it depends on what happens in Iowa. If Trump fails badly in Iowa then I think Christie has a legitimate shot at winning in New Hampshire,” Hale said.

At a town hall gathering in Muscatine, Iowa, Christie made it clear what he thought about finishing second in any state’s primary or caucus or losing to the presumptive Democratic candidate in the general election.

“There’s no silver medals in this business everybody,” Christie told the crowd. “You lose, you go home. Nothing to hang on wall afterwards. This is about, as Republicans we need to beat Hillary Clinton.”

Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at kevin.mcardle@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kevinmcardle1.