Surprise! Thirty percent of late deciders broke for Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioLatino Republicans split on Trump's outreach Illegal immigration foe: Trump shift the 'death knell of his candidacy' Analysis: Clinton speaks at higher grade level than Trump MORE in Republican Iowa caucus. Donald TrumpDonald TrumpA brief history of Paul LePage making people angry Army training slide branded Clinton as ’insider threat’: report 'Never Trump' group launching swing-state ads MORE flopped, with only 14 percent of late deciders voting for him. He ran far below his polling lead. Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzThe Trail 2016: On the fringe FULL SPEECH: Hillary Clinton links Trump to 'alt-right' in Reno Presidential hopefuls still bank on retail politics MORE (R-Texas), the winner, and Rubio finished significantly better than earlier poll numbers.
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.