By Alexander Bolton and Scott Wong - 02/03/16 06:00 AM EST
Presidential contender Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio apologized to Trump for 'small hands' crack Sunday shows preview: Bernie soldiers on Fla. Senate candidate bashes Rubio MORE’s supporters on Capitol Hill are seeking to capitalize on his strong third-place showing in Monday’s Iowa caucuses.
House surrogates are making the pitch to colleagues supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that they should switch to Team Marco, while Senate allies are predicting more endorsements in coming days.
They argue Rubio has a better chance of beating Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDems see political gold in fight over Trump's taxes Trump tears into Kristol on Twitter Hillary's ObamaCare problem MORE, the likely Democratic nominee, than Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFormer NSA head on Trump: 'He’s feeding their recruitment video' Trump thanks Border Patrol for 'first time' endorsement Dems see political gold in fight over Trump's taxes MORE or Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzDems to Clinton: Ignore Trump on past scandals Meet the billionaire donor behind Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Party chairs see reversal of fortune MORE (R-Texas), who both beat Rubio in Iowa.
Trump holds a double-digit lead in New Hampshire and Cruz leads a pack of candidates for second place, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls.
Rubio has his eyes on a second-place finish, which could elevate him ahead of the GOP’s South Carolina primary on Feb. 20, a state that has a long tradition — except in 2012 — of picking the eventual Republican nominee.
South Carolina Sen. Tim ScottTim ScottGOP senators propose sending ISIS fighters to Gitmo GOP senators: Obama bathroom guidance is 'not appropriate' Senators unveil bill to overhaul apprenticeship programs MORE (S.C.), the Senate’s only African-American Republican, endorsed Rubio Tuesday morning, emphasizing his electability.
He said in a video announcement that Republicans have “one shot” to beat Clinton in November and “that shot is Marco Rubio.”
Alex Conant, a spokesman for Rubio, said his campaign expects more endorsements “in coming days.”
Risch said his allies are pulling out all the stops to build on the momentum coming out of Iowa.
“We’re doing all we can to get him elected president,” he said, hours after arriving back in Washington after campaigning for Rubio in Iowa.
Senate and House Republicans are becoming more alarmed at the prospect of Cruz, who won Monday’s caucuses, heading the ticket because they fear it would hurt candidates down-ballot.
“For everybody who gets out, I think Rubio’s going to be the beneficiary,” Risch said, predicting that voters would begin to flock to Rubio as other candidates fall away.
On Tuesday, freshman Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said he would likely endorse Rubio after former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, his top pick, suspended his campaign Monday night.
“Marco Rubio is probably my second choice,” he told The Hill.
Republicans on Capitol Hill — even those backing Bush — applauded Rubio’s strong showing in Iowa, which exceeded pollsters’ expectations.
He finished with 23 percent of the vote, only 1 percentage point behind Trump, the second-place finisher, who had been projected to win.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday and a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg survey published Jan. 30 showed Rubio in a distant third, with 17- and 15-percent support, respectively.
“I don’t think many people thought he would come in as high as he did,” said Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchTen senators ask FCC to delay box plan An affordable housing solution both parties can get behind Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate MORE (R-Utah), a Bush backer. “He’s handled himself, in my opinion, very, very well throughout this process.”
Rubio’s performance had lawmakers buzzing on the House floor Tuesday.
Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) was one of several GOP colleagues who congratulated the senator on the Iowa results during votes.
“They were saying, ‘Your man did good’ or ‘Is there something I can do to help out, how do I get involved?’ ” said Mullin, who advocated for Rubio at a caucus in Orange City, Iowa, on Monday night. “I had two or three members come up to me and say he did a phenomenal job last night and today in interviews. He brings excitement, he brings consistency, he brings hope.”
Other Rubio surrogates on Capitol Hill were using the Iowa results to try to get some Bush backers to switch sides. They’re raising the bar for Bush’s performance in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday by arguing that he should drop out if he doesn’t finish in the top three.
Freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who supports the former governor, said two Rubio surrogates, Reps. Mia Love (R-Utah) and Jason Smith (R-Mo.), have tried to convince him to join Team Rubio. He’s sticking with Bush but acknowledged he’s always been a fan of Rubio, a fellow South Florida Cuban American who once headlined a Curbelo fundraiser.
“Like for many Republican primary voters, Rubio was always my second choice,” Curbelo said in an interview in the Speaker’s lobby. “I am supporting the person who I believe is most qualified, most prepared, most experienced and who would make the best president in the field. That’s Jeb Bush.
“If Jeb Bush, for whatever reason, doesn’t make it, I would be very happy to support Mr. Rubio.”
A senior House Republican supporting Bush also told The Hill he would back Rubio if the former Florida governor drops out.
But it’s by no means clear that congressional endorsements will translate into actual votes in primary contests. Some lawmakers are staying clear of the race for fear of diminishing some candidates’ appeal as outsiders.
“In this environment, I don’t know whether people want the establishment endorsements or not,” said Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynClinton email headache is about to get worse Overnight Tech: House GOP launches probe into phone, internet subsidies Senators hope for deal soon on mental health bill MORE (Texas).
With Trump leading by 20 points in New Hampshire, politicians there say the real battle will be for second and third place.
Cruz, Rubio, Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are all separated by less than 2 percentage points.
“Clearly Rubio over-performing expectations in Iowa is going to give a lot of people in New Hampshire a reason to give him a very strong look,” said Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.), who has not endorsed in the primary.
Risch said Bush needs to deliver in a big way to keep his campaign afloat.
“Certainly New Hampshire is do or die for him,” he said. “If he wants to get the momentum going forward he’s got to be in the top three, and I don’t see that happening.”