In an upset victory, Ted Cruz finished first in the nation’s first election of 2016 by capturing 28% of the popular vote to Donald Trump’s 24%. He began his victory speech by framing his win in terms familiar to this election cycle:
“Iowa has sent notice,” he stated to an exuberant Iowa crowd, “that the Republican nominee for 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”
A Cruz win is significant because it reveals a chink in the Trump armor that, up until now, seemed impenetrable. Trump had spent the week hurling personal attacks and insults against the Texas senator, at one point even resorting to schoolyard tactics by saying, “Nobody likes him. Nobody in Congress likes him. Nobody likes him anywhere once they get to know him.”
Another surprising turn of events on the Republican side was the third place showing by Marco Rubio that put him only one percentage point below Trump. Most polls had him running below 20%, so his narrow loss only translates into a win as he positions himself as the establishment favorite.
Mike Huckabee ended his campaign shortly after the election was called for Cruz. His exit spells doom for the other under-two-percenters in this contest. Barring Cruz-like upsets in New Hampshire, it’s hard to see Bush, Fiorina, Kasich or Christie sustaining their fledgling campaigns.
It was clear before the voting started that the Democratic caucus would be close. By eleven o’clock Politico’s real-time results showed an uncertain vote count, but a clear win for the Clinton camp in terms of delegates. By eleven-thirty the campaign declared themselves the winner and Clinton delivered a vague, but forceful victory speech.
Bernie Sanders took to his stage about a half an hour later and declared the contest, “a virtual tie.” His rousing speech repeated the familiar refrain of income inequality and a campaign centered on the voters, rather than himself.
A slight win by Clinton gives her an even slighter advantage by halting comparisons of 2016 to 2008, when she lost Iowa to Barack Obama and he went on to win the nomination. The fact that she managed to blunt the Senator from Vermont’s onslaught of enthusiasm gives credence to her results-oriented message. It also softens the blow of an all but certain New Hampshire loss. Either way, both sides can claim success.
Both candidates graciously thanked and showed their support for Martin O’Malley who dropped out of the race after falling victim to the caucus’s 15% viability rule.
The establishment can take a little comfort in the fact that it remains viable in both races. Status quo Republicans will start lining up behind Rubio as he heads into New Hampshire and later states. For Clinton the path is still perilous, if not a haul towards the convention. Sanders and Cruz will continue their forward attacks and the momentum remains on their side. Unless you’re Mike Huckabee or Martin O’Malley, Iowa determines very little. If anything, it reminds us of how long and potentially drawn out the primaries will be for Republicans and Democrats.