How Cruz blew the Iowa expectations game

Rubio adamantly refused to set any kind of a bar for himself. “I’m running to get as many votes as I can,” he told reporters in Ames, brushing aside talk of even a second-place finish. His aides only speak of finishing third.

Curiously, both campaigns have embraced the other’s narratives. Rubio’s operation has pumped up Cruz. And Cruz’s team has tamped down Rubio, trying to cast the race as a two-man contest between their candidate and Trump. It amounts to one of the most strategically significant gambles of the campaign.

“This is a binary decision now in Iowa,” said Iowa Rep. Steve King, a prominent Cruz endorser. “I’m not worried about not finishing in the top two and I don’t think it’s about maneuvering for second place. It’s about winning the state of Iowa, and I think it’s going to be close, and I think it’s going to be Cruz, Trump and Rubio a distant third.”…

The Cruz operation continues to project confidence. For weeks, they have bragged about their infrastructure in the state, their “Camp Cruz” housing 80 volunteers, their precision analytics that had campaign manager Jeff Roe rattling off the fact that there were 9,131 voters still deciding between Cruz and Trump on Friday and 2,807 torn between Cruz and Rubio.