Though Cruz wins, the real story is Rubio

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Surprise! Thirty percent of late deciders broke for Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioCould Snapchat be the digital bridge to younger voters? Koch-linked veterans group launches ads in Senate battlegrounds Senators express 'grave concerns' about ObamaCare 'bailout' MORE in Republican Iowa caucus. Donald TrumpDonald TrumpIce Cube: 'Can we get Obama again?’ Former Miss Universe becomes surprise story to emerge from debate Sanders tells Bernie-or-bust crew to 'get beyond personality' to issues MORE flopped, with only 14 percent of late deciders voting for him. He ran far below his polling lead. Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzCould Snapchat be the digital bridge to younger voters? Senate passes funding bill to avoid shutdown Bad science is everywhere and people are buying it MORE (R-Texas), the winner, and Rubio finished significantly better than earlier poll numbers.

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Record Republican voters crowded into jammed caucus sites, pulled out of their warm homes by a desire to beat Hillary Clinton in November. Some were turned out by a Cruz machine that has never been seen or experienced before in the Republican caucus. With a majority of Iowa Republicans being evangelical Protestants Cruz, designed his campaign outreach to find them, convince them and bring them to the caucuses. Observers predicted his machine would do well if GOP turnout was 150,000 or less, yet turnout amounted to a record 180,000-plus people.

Though Cruz wins with a small plurality, the real story is Rubio, whose final Monday morning RealClearPolitics poll average was 16.9 percent against Cruz's 23.9 percent and Trump's leading 28.6 percent. Rubio and Cruz both ran way ahead of their RealClearPolitics averages with Trump running more than four percentage points lower than his.

An aside: As people gathered in caucuses, stunning political news broke: Republican Sen. Tim Scott, the African-American senator elected from the South since Reconstruction, announced his support of Rubio. That, added to South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy's (R) support, immensely boosts Rubio's chances to do well in the critical South Carolina primary in March.

Consider that millions of dollars were spent by a Jeb Bush super-PAC smearing Rubio and that those millions were joined by a pro-Cruz super-PAC, one must wonder at the political miracle Rubio pulled off with his last-minute surge to come in just behind Trump. Millions of those combined Bush/Cruz smear dollars look to have propelled Rubio to within an eyelash of knocking Trump out of the race entirely.

Rubio, with 23.1 percent, shocks Trump (24.3 percent) and is not far behind Iowa winner Cruz (27.7 percent). He delivers the very blow that the Republican establishment-types desperately needed. He campaigned against Clinton, survived attacks from Bush and Cruz, and now walks into New Hampshire, South Carolina and his former home-state of Nevada a winner in the eyes of many, many people.

Hillary Clinton now has two huge bumps on the way to the White House: a gaggle of law-and-order sworn FBI agents and a very likable national-defense Republican whose father was a bartender, mother a hotel bedmaker, and who paid his way through college and law school with student loans just like so many others.

Contreras formerly wrote for the New American News Service of The New York Times Syndicate.