Ted Cruz leaves Iowa with the official victory and Donald Trump leaves as a second place finisher but the real winner in the Iowa Caucuses on Monday night was Florida senator Marco Rubio.
Rubio finished just one percentage point behind Donald Trump is last night’s caucuses and only five percentage points behind winner Ted Cruz. It’s a finish that almost no one expected and it turns the GOP contest into a very competitive three-man race.
In what had the look and feel of a victory celebration, Marco Rubio said to his Iowa supporters last night, “This is the moment they said would never happen. For months, they told us we had no chance.”
Rubio’s performance strengthens his argument that as candidates inevitably drop out of the race, they should throw their support and their money behind him. This morning former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee announced his withdrawal. There will be other GOP dropouts following New Hampshire and South Carolina. Votes and dollars that might otherwise have gone to candidates like Huckabee, and soon possibly others such as Carson, Kasich, Fiorina and yes, Jeb Bush, would close or even erase the gap between Rubio and a front-runner such as Trump or Cruz.
Rubio’s showing shocked seasoned political observers. Some polls had him behind Trump by double digits. That he was only one point off the pace of Donald Trump’s second place finish and only five points behind winner Ted Cruz, is a shot of adrenalin to Rubio supporters.
Couple this with the fact that last night the Trump campaign experienced for the first time anything that even resembled a defeat, and the battle going into the New Hampshire Primary becomes very, very interesting.
Last night in Iowa, Marco Rubio did the one thing he set out to do. He defied expectations. A respectable showing in New Hampshire will put him in position to perhaps pull off an upset in South Carolina.
Bottom line: It no longer looks like Donald Trump is going to “run the table.”