Donald Trump failed to live up to his own hype and finished second to Ted Cruz, but it was a late surge from Marco Rubio that may wind up the as the biggest surprise of the Iowa caucuses.
Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders finished in what the Vermont senator termed a “virtual tie,” an outcome that may further embolden her critics even as her team claimed victory.
The 2016 presidential contest moves on to New Hampshire, where the nation’s first primary is now just seven days away. To get you started, here are some takeaways from Iowa’s leadoff caucuses:
A Huge Turnout, But Not Huge Enough for Trump
Before Monday’s contest, the major question about Trump was whether his legion of fans would ultimately become an army of voters.
Plenty did, as turnout in the Republican caucuses was up by nearly 60,000 people compared to 2012. The problem for the billionaire businessman was that he still didn’t have enough backers to push past the first-term Texas senator.
Trump, a New Yorker through and through, was never well-positioned to win over rural Iowa’s evangelical voters. More than four in 10 Republicans arriving at caucus sites said the candidate quality that mattered most in their vote was that the candidate shares their values. Among those who said so, Cruz won the support of nearly four in 10, compared to less than one in 10 for Trump.
Trump will be quick to point out that Iowa backed two deeply flawed GOP candidates in 2008 and 2012, neither of whom went on to win the party’s nomination. Yet he missed an opportunity to deal Cruz a blow that would have made his path to the nomination far easier.
A Close Democratic Race
Hillary Clinton’s campaign team declared victory in the early morning hours as they headed to New Hampshire, pointing to her capture of at least 22 delegates to the party’s national convention to Sanders’ 21 — with one left to be decided.
But the Iowa results appeared likely to benefit Sanders’ campaign far more than her own.
“We came in and we took on the entire political establishment and we fought them to a draw,” said Sanders adviser Tad Devine. “It’s a huge step forward for us. We’re very, very pleased with what happened.”
Even before the caucuses, Sanders said he was prepared to compete deep into the spring and fight until the summer convention. He raised $20 million in January and will be well-positioned to build a campaign organization in the lengthy list of states holding contests in March.
Still, Iowa has a largely white, liberal Democratic electorate, which will make it difficult for Sanders to argue that he’s a stronger candidate than Clinton to face off against the GOP in the general election.
To do so, he’ll need to win over the minority voters who play a major role in upcoming states on the primary calendar, including Nevada, South Carolina and several Southern states that hold contests in March.
Iowa Trusted Cruz
By claiming victory in Iowa, Cruz ensures that he’ll be a force in the Republican primary contest for weeks to come — if not longer.
He moves on to New Hampshire as the favorite of his party’s most conservative voters. Expect him to pick up support from likeminded candidates who underwhelmed on Monday, among them former neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who dropped out of the race.
Cruz won with an impressive ground game and beat back brutal attacks from Trump and others about his trustworthiness, the cornerstone of his campaign and his “TRUSTED” slogan.
And he’s got built-in advantages that will help him sustain his momentum as the race moves into the spring. Cruz began the year with more money than most of his competitors combined, and after New Hampshire, he’ll be able to spend it in more friendly territory as the GOP race moves into the South.
He didn’t win the most votes, but Marco Rubio had a very good night in Iowa.
The first-term Florida senator claimed third place, finishing just behind Trump. More importantly, he absolutely dominated his competitors in the mainstream wing of the party, earning more votes than former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich combined.
Rubio’s team also proved to be masters of the expectations game. By casting Trump and Cruz as the overwhelming front-runners in recent weeks, Rubio’s strong third place finish exceeded expectations and recent polls alike — which made it feel like a victory of sorts.