Rubio seeks to turn momentum from endorsements, fundraising into votes

Rubio Looks Forward To Teaming With Santorum
Rubio Looks Forward To Teaming With Santorum

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — Marco Rubio has more reasons to smile after his strong showing in Iowa, with a cascade of endorsements supporting his case that he's the only viable GOP alternative to Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.

On Wednesday, Rubio's campaign announced raising $2 million in the day following his stronger-than-expected third-place win in the Iowa caucuses.

Rubio also picked up the endorsements of seven current and former elected officials, including three prominent Pennsylvanians — Sen. Pat Toomey, Rep. Glenn Thompson, who will endorse him officially on Thursday, and former Sen. Rick Santorum, who endorsed Rubio on Fox News after announcing he was dropping his own bid for president.

Rubio got the backing of popular Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina on Tuesday, and will announce Rep. Lynn Westmoreland's endorsement on Thursday.

That gives Rubio nine new endorsements this week — 35 total — pushing the Florida senator's tally past his rival, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who had held the most endorsements of any Republican in the race — 31 — until this week.

See more of ​Marco Rubio on the campaign trail:

Taken together, the endorsements and fundraising are certain to continue boosting the momentum Rubio received from his Iowa finish, already evident in bigger-than-ever crowds for the senator across New Hampshire this week.

Rubio's good week heading into the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday puts extra pressure on Bush, once considered by many to be the establishment front-runner but now a trailing candidate whose hopes of continuing on in the presidential race hinge in large part on his performance in the New England primary.

The endorsements from brand-name politicians have also fueled Rubio's pitch that he's the one candidate that can unite the GOP and defeat Democrats.

The endorsements came from both a staunch conservative — Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon, a co-founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus — and a moderate-leaning senator in a tough swing-state reelection fight this year, in Toomey.

Rubio's campaign is selling the broad range of support as evidence both conservatives and moderates see Rubio as a safe pick, one that won't turn off either the base or the swing voters and that will be key to GOP hopes of both winning the White House and holding onto the Senate next fall.

Indeed, Rubio on Wednesday night continued to pitch himself as the candidate to expand the GOP tent, and one that, in doing so, would help the party win in tough states.

Read the 10 Rubio facts you should know:

"I know we'll win, and we'll win in places like Michigan, we'll win in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida — New Hampshire! I want to win this state twice," he told supporters at a town hall in Dover.

Scant polling has been released since the Iowa caucuses, so it's difficult to say yet whether the momentum reflected in fundraising and energetic crowds is translating to broader support for Rubio in the Granite State. If he is indeed on the upswing, he's certain to face a showdown with the party's front-runner in the state — Donald Trump, who's led most New Hampshire polling by double-digit margins.

On Wednesday, Rubio refused to take aim at any of his opponents aside from Cruz, dodging a question on Trump's claim that the Iowa caucuses were rigged to instead answer with an attack on Cruz over reports his supporters spread rumors Ben Carson had left the race at caucus sites.

Rubio also declined to flaunt his growing momentum to other establishment-minded candidates that are still struggling to gain traction. When asked by NBC News' Gabe Gutierrez whether he planned to deliver a "knockout blow" to Jeb Bush, Rubio said only, "I just want to do as well as we possibly can here in New Hampshire."

"We're going to keep working hard, it's not — I'm not running against any of the other candidates in this race, I'm running for president," he said.

More from NBC News:
Cruz Digs at Trump: My Kids Are Better Behaved
Judge Won't Stop Cosby Trial Due to Old 'Deal'
Medicaid Births Rose When Texas Cut Planned Parenthood