DES MOINES -- Marco Rubio isn’t expecting to win the Iowa caucuses Monday night — the first test in the 2016 presidential election — but the state is crucial to his strategy of building momentum in what he is convinced will be a drawn-out battle for the Republican nomination.
A strong showing will propel him into New Hampshire and South Carolina while a weaker one could hobble his chances, underscoring his risky gamble of not focusing on one early nominating state.
No other candidate may have as much riding on Iowa, and Rubio, who has failed to deliver the breakout moment many projected months ago, showed it in recent days. He went on a tear, holding town halls, injecting his stump speech with urgency and highlighting his faith in an appeal to evangelicals.
“I’ve got more to think about now,” said an impressed Jay Jackson, 44, who showed up Tuesday to see Rubio in Marshalltown, one of four town halls the presidential candidate held that day.
Jackson likes Ted Cruz, who is ahead of Rubio in the polls, but said questions about Cruz’s temperament left doubt. “Angry is a buzzword,” Jackson said. Rubio has sounded angrier, too, but overall presents an optimistic message and vows to unite the GOP, a line that resonated with Jackson.
Rubio needs Jackson — and hordes of other Cruz supporters — to caucus for him Monday. If Rubio can come in second to Donald Trump, it would be a major boost heading into next week’s primary in New Hampshire, perhaps making it a two-man race for the nomination.