This is easily the most bizarre Iowa campaign I have ever seen. Right now, all the prominent politicians in Iowa are being forced to basically project their endorsements rather than outright making them. Terry Branstad is basically in the tank for Christie but is Donald Trump’s favorite campaign. Similarly, longtime establishment hero and fellow barely literate tweeter Chuck Grassley appeared on stage with Trump the other day but remains coy about who he will support. The last domino to fall-but-not-fall is Joni Ernst, who is remaining nominally neutral but has announced that she will introduce Rubio at a Des Moines event, in a statement that sounds a lot like an endorsement:

Ernst, who maintained she is remaining neutral in the race, will be introducing Rubio at an event in Des Moines.

“Our nation faces exponential threats, and over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside Marco Rubio on issues critical to our national security,” Ernst said in a statement. “Marco is not only a strong conservative and a good friend, but someone that I trust to secure our country.”

What’s interesting about this is that Ernst, so far as I know, is not set to appear with any of the other candidates in the race. Grassley, at least, plans to also introduce Ted Cruz at an event later this week, so he can credibly claim that he’s just being friendly. Ernst, though, appears to really just be maintaining the semblance of neutrality while offering Rubio a de facto endorsement.

As the sniping between Trump and Cruz gets nastier and nastier, Rubio is banking that there’s room for someone to benefit by not being in the middle of the mudslinging between the two front runners. There’s precedent for this as well on the Democrat side, as Kerry capitalized late on the disgust Iowa voters had for the increasingly ugly campaign between Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt to pull off a surprise win.

May be too little, too late for Rubio, but at this point his goal has to be to clear 15% in Iowa, which would presuambly give him a PR bounce headed into New Hampshire.