Two conservative Republican senators, two potential paths to the White House. Cruz, who during nine months in office has made at least a half-dozen trips to early-primary states, is riding the wave. Rubio, whose last visit to an early-voting state was Iowa in November, is playing the long game. His allies dismiss the early polling and argue that letting Cruz be the poster boy for the government shutdown might not be such a bad idea.

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican who partnered with Rubio on immigration reform, said Thursday: “You’re looking at a snapshot of a couple of days of something. I always felt that Sen. Rubio will benefit from his serious work on a substantive issue, and I still think he will.”

Flake added, “Winning the presidency is about winning a general, not just a primary.”

Asked why he hasn’t been more outspoken this week, Rubio said he’s “more than happy to share his views” with House Republicans that the health care law will damage the economy and Democrats are to blame for the budget impasse. Rubio said he supports the effort by House Republicans to pass short-term funding for veterans, the National Park Service, and the D.C. government.