Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioLobbying world Former Florida congressmen mull bipartisan gubernatorial run: report Winners and losers from Jim Bridenstine’s confirmation as NASA administrator MORE posted a strong third-place showing on Monday night and nearly caught Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans hold on to Arizona House seat Dems win majority in New York Senate, but won't control it Mulvaney to bankers: Campaign donations will help limit consumer bureau's power MORE at the Iowa caucuses, giving him considerable momentum heading into New Hampshire.
 
Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCambridge Analytica whistleblower briefs House Dems After Dems stood against Pompeo, Senate’s confirmation process needs a revamp Cruz's Dem challenger slams Time piece praising Trump MORE took the top spot, with 28 percent of the vote in Iowa, followed by Trump, at 24 percent, and Rubio, at 23 percent.
 

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Rubio did far better than the polls predicted. He entered Monday night at 17 percent support in the RealClearPolitics average, more than 11 points behind Trump.
 
But in the end, Rubio nearly caught the billionaire businessman, finishing only about 300 votes behind him, according to initial results.

A triumphant Rubio told supporters at a campaign rally in Des Moines that they had beat the odds.

“So this is the moment they said would never happen,” Rubio said. “For months they told us we had no chance. For months they told us that because we offered optimism in a time of anger we had no chance. For months they told us that because we didn’t have the right endorsements, the right political connections, we had no chance.

"But tonight here in Iowa, the people of this great state have sent a very clear message."

There had been strong buzz on the ground for Rubio ahead of the caucuses, but much of it was dismissed by political watchers who have long been tantalized by the Florida senator's unfulfilled promise.
 
Now, Rubio heads toward the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary with momentum. He crushed his next-closest competitor for establishment voters, Jeb Bush, who finished with just 3 percent in Iowa.
 
Polls in the Granite State show a logjam among the mainstream conservatives who have typically excelled there.
 
But with his strong showing in the Hawkeye State, establishment conservatives could rally behind Rubio as the candidate with the best chance of taking out Cruz and Trump.

Rubio on Monday said he could be the candidate who unites the party in an election year when anger at Washington has been a defining feature.

“Tonight we’ve taken the first step, an important step towards winning this election,” he said. “If I’m the nominee — and I will be the nominee thanks to what you’ve just done in this great state — when I’m our nominee, we’re going to unify this party, and we’re going to unify the conservative movement. When I’m our nominee, we’re going to grow the conservative movement."

Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler sought to dismiss Rubio’s strong showing, saying on MSNBC that it is a “two-man race between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.”
 
“Marco Rubio is going to come in third,” Tyler said. “Coming in first is better than coming in third.”

Updated at 10:57 p.m.