After Iowa, keep your eye on Marco Rubio, not Trump or Cruz

The 2016 primary season began Monday night in Iowa

And the results were not what was expected. At least on the Republican side.

In the final Des Moines Register poll, released over the weekend, Trump was up five points over Ted Cruz 28-23. And in the Real Clear Politics average, he also held a five-point lead.

But the outcome Monday night didn’t look anything like what was predicted.

The race was called for Cruz with 28 percent of the vote to 24 percent for Trump and 23 percent for Rubio.

Cruz’s ground game is due most of the credit. For months, Cruz has had the most elaborate organization in the state where he spent majority of his time campaigning specifically with the Evangelical community. The son of a pastor, Cruz always connected well with this all important group in Iowa and wound up with 62 percent support. And though Jerry Falwell, Jr. endorsed Donald Trump, the final days of the campaign showed quite clearly that Cruz was hugely popular with this community.

Indeed, the Cruz camp over-performed the polls, turned out people in the suburbs and used big data to their advantage by targeting those who would be open to Cruz even if he wasn’t their first choice. And it paid off.

Donald Trump officials are already saying that he never expected to win Iowa. We all know that it didn’t sound like that since he took the lead there and it especially didn’t sound like that when he declined to attend the Fox News debate last week. It’s doubtful that he would have sat out the debate if he had thought a first place finish was in jeopardy, but we’ll never really know what was going on in Trump’s head.

It doesn’t matter much now.

It’s actually more important to take note of how well Marco Rubio did on Monday evening.

He came into the Iowa caucus with 16 percent of the vote and he managed to pull in a remarkable 23 percent -- just one point shy of Trump. He did this while being the subject of relentless attack ads by Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz supported Super PACs, the most scarring – or meant to be the most scarring – of which painted him as the Republican Barack Obama.

Nevertheless, Rubio obviously won voters over with his argument that he’s electable. This is something I’ve been arguing for years.

Rubio has a compelling vision for the future of this nation. He is strong on national security and the most adept speaker.

He’s a fierce debater and has been the most pointed in his criticisms of Hillary Clinton.

It obviously paid off.

As Rubio said Monday night in his speech after the results came in, people told him he had to wait his turn, but his turn is now. And with movement in New Hampshire in his favor, we could very well be starting to see the ascension of the GOP nominee.

That isn’t to say that this is decided. Trump will not go away and Cruz will gain steam after his big win tonight. But the demographics in New Hampshire are very different and Cruz certainly doesn’t have the same kind of chance as he did in Iowa to pull off an upset.

But watch Marco Rubio. You’ll be glad you did.