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Rubio's Iowa surge was keyed by faith, positive message and cash

Keys to Marco Rubio's success in Iowa:

Hustle: Not long ago, Rubio was facing steady criticism for not spending enough time on the ground. But he took up full-time residence in the state for the past week and a half, doing town halls and interacting with voters. He had a polished team on the ground, led by state Sen. Jack Whitver, his Iowa chairman.

Faith: Rubio played up his faith. "Our goal is eternity, the ability to live alongside our Creator for all time. To accept the free gift of salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ," he said in one ad. "The struggle on a daily basis as a Christian is to remind ourselves of this. The purpose of our life is to cooperate with God's plan." His stump speeches often began with a shoutout to God.

Message: Rubio veered right and adopted a gloomier tone, not to be outdone by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. But overall, he never dropped his optimistic message. People we talked to at his events said they were drawn to that message. Rubio also portrayed himself as the candidate who could unite the various factions of the GOP and kept a clear focus on Hillary Clinton. "When I'm our nominee … " he often said. The Rubio surge, #Marcomentum as his campaign branded it, set in with the media, helping drive a narrative.

Spending: This factor cannot be overstated. Rubio spent at least $12 million on TV ads, more than anyone but Jeb Bush. The money came from Rubio's campaign, super PAC and a dark money group.

Bush fan puzzled

At a Bush town hall in Manchester on Monday night, we ran into Marie Stevens, a payroll manager, who lived in Pinellas County from 2000 to 2002. She's a New Hampshire voter now, but like so many Floridians who remember him as governor, she's struggling to figure out what happened to Jeb Bush's presidential prospects.

"When I first heard he was running, I was so excited because he was such a great governor. He was just amazing," Stevens said. "But his numbers just aren't there. I don't know if it's his age or what."

The strong governor she remembers and describes to friends in New Hampshire seems like a different person from what they see.

"I was telling my boss just today, 'Jeb was a great governor. He had balls, was a good leader.' My boss was like, 'What happened? He's so quiet.' I don't understand it," she said.

She's leaning toward Bush, but remains undecided: "I don't want to waste a vote if he's not going to win or has no chance."

Carson changes up

Ben Carson's poor showing in Iowa had him running to Florida — for "fresh clothes."

"After spending 18 consecutive days on the campaign trail, Dr. Carson needs to go home and get a fresh set of clothes," a campaign statement said.

On CNN, Carson said he would be back on the trail soon and added that it was nice to sleep in his own bed.

Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed.

Rubio's Iowa surge was keyed by faith, positive message and cash 02/02/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 2, 2016 6:57pm]
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