New Hampshire shows that numbers do not tell the whole story.
Ted Cruz came in third in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary there, but is considered by many to be the true winner for what it implies to the party and those still trying to decide whom in the party to support.
The Texas senator, whose campaign has stressed ultra-conservative positions on such things as abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration and foreign policy, was expected to do well in Iowa – a rural state where such themes play well, given its large evangelical community. Cruz was the top vote-getter there.
But in New Hampshire, where the frequent mentions of God and the Bible traditionally don’t have the impact that it does in the so-called heartland, Cruz sounded like less of a preacher and more of a politician, sounding alarms about the ethanol lobby and how to grow the economy.
He spent less time there than many of his rivals, and the least amount of money — $580,000.
And yet he came out ahead of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who appeared in some 100 events in New Hampshire and spent $18.5 million and came in fourth; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who also was a fixture in the state and spent $15.2 million and came in sixth, and Sen. Marco Rubio, who spent $12.1 million and came in fifth.
Cruz also got the most endorsements of any GOP presidential candidate from New Hampshire's state legislators, according to The Washington Post.
"New Hampshire showed that Ted Cruz can connect and do well even in a blue state" said Rick Tyler, the Cruz campaign's communications director. "He beat all expectations for a conservative in moderate New Hampshire and beat several establishment candidates."
Cruz’s stronger-than-expected showing in New Hampshire exposed vulnerabilities in the GOP field, particularly establishment candidates, and many say, raised even more concerns about the viability of Rubio and, in particular, Bush.
“Ted Cruz’s third place [finish] is meaningful,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Texas, to Fox News Latino. "He’s more than in good shape to compete for the party nomination."
The New Hampshire results showed that for the short haul, at least, Rubio’s poor performance in the most recent GOP debate has slowed the momentum he had just before and immediately after the Iowa caucus, when he came in at a surprisingly strong third.
“Rubio just blew it big time — having nothing to do with Bush,” Politico quoted Tony Fabrizio, pollster for former presidential candidate Rand Paul, as saying. "For Bush — despite the better than expected showing — still never has so much been spent for so little."
Cruz can use the unexpected New Hampshire boost to allay the concerns of many in the GOP that he can do well in more moderate states and beyond the pew-and-altar crowd.
He can gain further altitude if he does as well as many experts expect him to in the Feb. 20 primary in South Carolina, and after than on Super Tuesday, when the 12 states that have votes include six in the South where Cruz has committed considerable resources.
Things may get more challenging for Cruz, Jillson said, once the field of more moderate Republicans winnows down.
“Right now he is performing well in a field that is still badly divided,” Jillson said.
Breitbart notes that Cruz campaign staff wasted no time in heading to South Carolina after New Hampshire, and are going full-throttle there, leaving nothing to chance.
“Cruz is appealing to the electorate there and if you take that and combine it with the fact that he actually has a very, very, very good data operation, it makes it dangerous for Trump,” Breitbart quoted Trump supporter Seth Weathers as saying. “If it were anywhere but South Carolina, I’d be extremely worried, but I’m only slightly worried, because of the confidence I have in his team there.”
“I worry about Cruz in the South because Cruz is actually running the perfect [expletive] campaign,” Breitbart quoted another supporter of Trump whom it did not name.