DES MOINES, IOWA – It was a bad night in Iowa for the establishment on both sides of the political aisle.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas won Monday’s Iowa Republican caucuses in an upset over billionaire Donald Trump, while Democrat Hillary Clinton eked out the narrowest of wins over Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida exceeded expectations with a strong 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.
With 99 percent of precincts counted in the Republican contest, Cruz led Trump 27.7 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 but one precinct reporting, she was awarded 699.57 state delegate equivalents against 695.49 for Sanders, who, like Cruz and Trump, ran a campaign appealing to the populist anti-establishment strains in the electorate.
“Tonight is a victory for the grass roots,” Cruz told supporters in Iowa. “Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa and all across this great nation.”
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 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 his supporters gathered 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.”
Cruz, Trump and Rubio dominated the Republican contest. Retired surgeon Ben Carson was fourth with 9.3 percent followed by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul with 4.5 percent. None of the other Republicans, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, polled above 3 percent.
The results prompted Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrat Martin O’Malley, two former governors, to end their campaigns.
Turnout was high, which both Cruz and Sanders were counting on. Long lines were reported for both Democratic and Republican 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, precinct 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 and appeals to evangelical voters, who make up a substantial part of the Republican base in Iowa.
Sanders told supporters before the final result that the results were a “virtual tie” and congratulated Clinton “for waging a very vigorous campaign.”
“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 before the
Clinton was seeking vindication for her crushing third-place finish in the 2008 Iowa caucuses that set then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama on a path to the White House. Sanders’s campaign had worked to lower expectations ahead of the results.
The race could be reset yet again in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary on Feb. 9. Trump and Sanders both have held substantial leads in polls there.
Voters were greeted by above-normal temperatures, even as a significant snowstorm was forecast for the state late Monday and Tuesday. Iowans were making their decisions after being saturated for more than a year by candidate speeches, media coverage, advertising and telephone calls.