The Rubio comeback

The momentum from Cruz’s finish tonight puts him into strong contention for second place in New Hampshire. Polls taken in New Hampshire over the past week have found Cruz around 12 percent, putting him a point or two ahead of the establishment pack. What’s more, New Hampshire Republicans say there is an opening for Cruz there. Though the state historically votes for a more moderate, establishment-style candidate, there is a sliver of the electorate to whom Cruz’s brand of conservatism would likely appeal. As of yet, no candidate has made any significant effort to win over these voters.

If Cruz decides to play hard in New Hampshire, a state in which he has heretofore spent little time, it could hasten the long-predicted head-on collision between Rubio and Cruz.

But the collision seems more likely to come in South Carolina, a state where both senators have devoted significant time and resources. Rubio’s team feels good about going up against Cruz in South Carolina, a state where Rubio has a strong team and the support of Representative Trey Gowdy, among the most popular conservative politicians in the state.

What is certain is that Rubio will be fending off attacks from all sides. The campaign acknowledges that the amount of money the super PAC supporting Bush, Right to Rise, has spent attacking him — the Rubio campaign says $20 million; Right to Rise says it is less than that, but declines to provide a specific number — has dented him in the polls. And Bush is a particular, if unnamed, target of Rubio’s speeches.