Marco Rubio, the consensus front-runner with no consensus

This effort by Rubio to please all sides – the moderate voters prizing electability and the conservative rabble-rousers attracted to Cruz and Trump – gives him more upside than many rivals, but it’s also left him struggling to find his core message. For a while he tried to position himself as the wonk reformer with a sheaf full of middle class policy ideas, but they’ve never become the focus of the race. He tried positioning himself as the field’s leading hawk, but everyone has adopted the same general message of destroying ISIS without mercy.

Still, buried in the last few minutes of a town hall in Plymouth this week were moving flashes of the optimistic message that had launched his campaign.

“I will never ask you to hate another group of Americans in order for me to win an election,” Rubio told the crowd. “The president has to be president of everybody, and I will be.”

The upside for Rubio is that there’s still lots of room to grow in New Hampshire. Large chunks of the state’s voters make up their mind at the last minute, and he seems better positioned than Christie, Bush or Kasich to leave Iowa with at least some momentum. Some New Hampshire Republicans are still holding out hope that – no matter what the polls and crowd sizes say – Trump’s support is an illusion.