- Rubio's third place may reshape Republican nomination battle
- Democrat Sanders calls close finish message to establishment
Senator Ted Cruz used the power of evangelical voters and an old-fashioned ground game to upset billionaire Donald Trump in Iowa Republican caucus voting that was fueled by anti-establishment sentiment.
Battling some of the same populist forces, Hillary Clinton eked out the narrowest of wins over Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic caucuses.
One of the biggest winners in Monday night’s caucuses was Senator Marco Rubio, who exceeded expectations with a third-place finish that will give him a chance to make a case that establishment Republicans, uneasy at the prospect of Trump or Cruz as the party nominee, should coalesce around him.
“Tonight is a victory for the grassroots,” Cruz told supporters in Iowa. “Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa and all across this great nation.”
The campaigns of both parties now move to New Hampshire for the first primary election in the nominating contest next Tuesday. Though polls consistently show Trump and Sanders leading their respective fields in the state by significant margins, the results in Iowa defied pre-caucus surveys showing Clinton and Trump ahead there.
With all precincts counted in the Republican contest, Cruz led Trump 27.6 percent to 24.3 percent. Rubio trailed close behind with 23.1 percent. The rest of the Republican field was far distant.
In the Democratic race, Clinton eventually prevailed in a contest that the party said was the closest in Iowa Democratic caucus history. With all precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press, she was awarded 701 state delegate equivalents against 697 for Sanders, who, like Cruz and Trump, ran a campaign appealing to anti-establishment strains in the electorate.
Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, said his win represented a victory over special interests.
“The Republican nominee and the next president of the United States will not be chosen by the media, will not be chosen by the Washington establishment, will not be chosen by the lobbyists, but will be chosen by the most incredible, powerful force -- where all sovereignty resides in our nation -- by we the people, the American people,” Cruz said.
Trump gave a short address to supporters, congratulating Cruz. “We finished second and I want to tell you something, I’m just honored,” Trump said.
Though only about 1 percent of the delegates needed to win either party’s presidential nomination are awarded in the Iowa caucuses, the results render an initial verdict of the 2016 presidential campaign. It was one that buoyed Rubio.
“So, this is the moment they said would never happen,” Rubio told supporters in Des Moines. “For months, they told us we had no chance. For months they told us because we offered too much optimism at a time of anger, we had no chance. For months, they told us because we didn’t have the right endorsements -- or the right political connections -- we have no chance. They told me we that we have no chance because my hair wasn’t gray enough, and my boots were too high.”
End of Line
For the rest of the Republican candidates it was time to regroup and rethink. Retired surgeon Ben Carson was fourth in the caucuses with 9.3 percent followed by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul with 4.5 percent. None of the other Republicans, including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Ohio Governor John Kasich, broke above 3 percent support.
The results were the end of the line for Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrat Martin O’Malley, two former governors, who said they would suspend their campaigns.
Turnout was high, which both Cruz and Sanders were counting on. Long lines were reported for both caucuses at a church in West Des Moines and there were not enough chairs at a Republican caucus site in Van Meter, in Dallas County. At Iowa State University in Ames, workers checking in voters ran out of registration forms and had to get more printed.
The big crowds drawn to Trump rallies by the candidate’s unconventional campaign style didn’t translate into enough votes for a victory. Cruz relied on tried-and-true organizing tactics, data analysis and appeals to evangelical voters, who make up a substantial part of the Republican base in Iowa.
White evangelical or born-again Christians accounted for 62 percent of the Republican electorate and Cruz won a third of that vote, according to an entrance poll conducted for the Associated Press and television networks. He also won 44 percent of those who consider themselves "very conservative."
Sanders called the results on the Democratic side a “virtual tie,” and a signal to the party and to officeholders.
“I think the people of Iowa have sent a very profound message to the political establishment,” he said.
Speaking before the near-final results were announced, Clinton said she was breathing “a big sigh of relief.”
“Thank you Iowa -- I want you to know I will keep doing what I have done my entire life, I will keep fighting for you,” she said.
Clinton was seeking vindication for her crushing third-place finish in the 2008 Iowa caucuses that set then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama on a path to the White House. Sanders’s campaign had worked to lower expectations ahead of the results.
“I have lost there,” Clinton said during an appearance in Nashua, New Hampshire Tuesday, referring to her performance in the state eight years ago. “It’s a lot better to win”
Clinton opened the rally in the Granite State saying that she had won in Iowa. Under the party’s arcane state delegate math in Iowa, she came away with about four more state delegate equivalents than Sanders with all the precincts counted Tuesday.
“After thorough reporting -- and analysis -- of results, there is no uncertainty and Secretary Clinton has clearly won the most national and state delegates,” Matt Paul, Clinton’s Iowa state director, said in a statement, adding that there was no statistical way for Sanders to overcome Clinton’s advantage.
Caucus-goers were greeted by above-normal temperatures, even as a significant snowstorm was forecast for the state late Monday and Tuesday. Iowans made their decisions after being saturated for more than a year by candidate speeches, media coverage, advertising and telephone calls.
About an hour after his charter flight arrived in Manchester, New Hampshire, Sanders addressed several dozen supporters in the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant across the street from his hotel in Bow. Many had been standing outside for several hours.
“We just got in from Iowa, where we astounded the world, and now in New Hampshire we’re going to astound the world again,” Sanders said from the bed of a white Dodge Ram pickup truck.
Julia Barnes, the Sanders campaign’s New Hampshire state director, said the campaign was unfazed by the narrow loss in Iowa. “I think we went above and beyond our expectations in Iowa,” she said. “It’s not going to change what we’re doing. We’re ready to go.”