No sooner was Ted Cruz declared the winner in the Iowa caucuses Monday night, and after much excitement over Marco Rubio's strong third place finish, speculation began that both senators would quickly gain ground in round two of the primaries — New Hampshire.
According to a just-completed American Research poll of likely voters in the New Hampshire GOP primary, Trump leads with 34 percent, followed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich at 16 percent, Rubio at 11 percent, and Cruz 10 percent. (All other Republican hopefuls, American Research found, are in single digits in New Hampshire).
Given the surprising results from Iowa Tuesday, Cruz is likely to gain fresh momentum on the right in New Hampshire and Rubio is very likely to get support from more center-right Republicans — very possibly at the expense of Kasich, who has consistently run second to Trump in the most recent polls of New Hampshire primary voters.
In addition, Rubio’s campaign coffers will almost certainly grow in the days following Iowa. Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who spent millions on behalf of Mitt Romney, is reportedly poised to join “Team Rubio” (although several sources report his wife prefers Cruz).
In topping Donald Trump by a margin of 28 percent to 24 percent, Cruz defied the final figures in both the Des Moines Register poll and the Quinnipiac poll. Both of them had given the final edge to Trump.
“When you have strong a conservative ground game, you’ll find people making up their minds in the two days before the caucuses and then delivering a surprise result,” Joe McGargall, a Cruz co-captain in Clive, Iowa told me just before the start of a caucus meeting. He cited the upset wins in Iowa by Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in ’12 as good examples of this.
Rubio’s finish showing just behind Trump (23 percent) was clearly a boost to the Florida senator. In the final days of the race, there was clearly a strong movement among more traditional Republicans toward Rubio.
“The establishment is coalescing around Rubio,” Pete Jeffries, onetime press secretary to former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and chairman of a caucus meeting in West Des Moines, told me on Saturday. (Jeffries emphasized that he was neutral in the race).
Clearly aware of the last-minute momentum that was moving in his direction, Rubio predicted to me on Sunday morning that “we’ll do very well in Iowa.” When Rubio arrived to address the packed caucus at the Seven Flags Fitness Center in Clive, I asked him how well he was going to do.
“I just don’t know,” he replied with a smile.
“Rubio outperformed and Cruz had to win,” said veteran GOP consultant Ford O’Connell, who has no horse in the presidential race, “and Trump underperformed.”
Even the most passionate supporters of the billionaire agreed he had been seriously wounded in Iowa by losing to Cruz and eking out second place over Rubio.
“Sen. Cruz has been campaigning here for two years and he ran a good campaign,” said State Sen. Brad Zaun of Urbandale, one of the few elected officials in the Hawkeye State to endorse and campaign for Trump.
Zaun also pointed to what he called “the heavy attacks on Donald Trump” in the twilight days of the caucus campaign that weakened his performance. TV salvos run by supporters of Cruz and other candidates underscored Trump’s past record of supporting abortion, same sex-marriage and other issues that would set off alarms among the large contingent of evangelical caucusgoers.
“But remember — Cruz has focused everything on Iowa and New Hampshire,” Zaun told me, “Donald Trump is running a nationwide campaign. He’ll win in the long run.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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