DES MOINES — Ted CruzTed CruzConservatism's worst enemy? The Freedom Caucus. Republicans giving Univision the cold shoulder: report How 'Big Pharma' stifles pharmaceutical innovation MORE won the Iowa Republican caucuses on Monday night, but Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump tweets: 'Trump Russia story is a hoax' Path to 60 narrows for Trump pick Overnight Cybersecurity: New questions for House Intel chair over WH visit | Cyber war debate heats up | Firm finds security flaws in 'panic buttons' MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders: Trump budget ‘must be defeated’ The Hill's 12:30 Report Sanders will 'absolutely' work with Trump to lower prescription drug costs MORE were locked in a razor-close race that was still undecided early Tuesday morning.
Clinton sought to make an implicit claim to victory when she told cheering supporters, “I stand before you breathing a big sigh of relief — thank you, Iowa.”
Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Andy McGuire also declared Clinton the winner early Tuesday.
“Tonight we saw an historically close Iowa Democratic caucus that featured one of our strongest turnouts ever and passion and energy from Democrats all across our state,” he said, according to The Globe Gazette in Mason City, Iowa. “The results tonight are the closest in Iowa Democratic caucus history.”
Clinton, who led most of the night, was clinging to an edge of just 0.2 percentage points at 1:30 a.m. EST, with 99 percent of the results in.
On the GOP side, Cruz had a more comfortable win, besting Trump by more than 3 points. His victory was all the more striking because almost all the opinion polls in Iowa indicated that Trump was on the path to victory.
The Texas senator, who had run a much more conventional campaign than Trump, replete with a strong ground game and high-profile endorsements from social conservatives and evangelicals, saw that approach pay dividends in the end.
“Tonight is a victory for the grassroots,” Cruz said in his victory speech. “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.”
Instead, he said, that leader would be selected “by we the people, the American people.”
Trump, whose candidacy has dominated discussions of the GOP race since it began, must now deal with a host of sharp questions.
One is whether his celebrity will fail to translate to actual votes in subsequent states, as it did here. Another is how his supporters will react to seeing a loss inflicted upon a candidate whom they admire in part for his braggadocio and self-image as the ultimate winner.
In a brief and controversy-free concession speech, Trump looked ahead to the New Hampshire primary, where he holds a very large polling lead, and pledged that he would ultimately win the Republican nomination. Injecting a lighter note at his speech’s conclusion, he said he had grown to love Iowa so much that he was contemplating buying a farm there.
Multi-candidate races are partly about managing expectations, and that was demonstrated again on Monday night: Trump was dealt a blow by coming in second, while Marco RubioMarco RubioRepublicans giving Univision the cold shoulder: report Week ahead: Senate panel to vote on Trump's Labor pick Senators introduce new Iran sanctions MORE appears to have been boosted by finishing a strong third.
The Floridian drew around 23 percent support, significantly higher than most polls had predicted and only 1 percentage point behind Trump. His aides clearly believe he has solidified his position as the chosen candidate of more centrist Republican voters.
“I think it’s a three-person race leaving here,” Rubio spokesman Alex Conant told MSNBC Monday evening. “If you don’t want Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump to undo Obama's climate change agenda Kushner met Russian bank executives: report Trump tweets: 'Trump Russia story is a hoax' MORE or Ted Cruz to be the nominee, you better get on board with Marco Rubio.”
The real drama, however, was in the closeness of the Democratic race.
The narrowness of the result is deeply uncomfortable for Clinton. But she at least avoided a clear-cut defeat at her left-wing rival’s hands. Such an outcome could have been disastrous for the former secretary of State, who famously suffered a heavy loss to then-Sen. Barack ObamaBarack ObamaOvernight Energy: Trump's climate order coming Tuesday Feehery: Freedom Caucus follies Perry visits proposed Yucca nuclear waste site MORE (Ill.) here in 2008.
Sanders claimed a moral victory on Monday night. But Clinton is such a strong favorite in the overall battle for the nomination that the Vermont senator needs to definitively knock her off track — and the caucuses were his best opportunity to do so.
Even if Sanders prevails when New Hampshire votes on Feb. 9 — he has a large lead in Granite State polls — Clinton and her allies could spin such an outcome as a one-off largely attributable to his political base in the adjacent state of Vermont.
Sanders struggles in polls in the states beyond that, especially in the South, where he lags Clinton by enormous margins with African-Americans. South Carolina holds its Democratic primary on Feb. 27, and several other Southern states vote on March 1.
The Vermonter’s supporters will note that he lagged by enormous margins in Iowa polls at the outset of his bid. They will also stress that small-dollar donors have given him the resources that will allow him to continue his campaign all the way to the summer’s Democratic National Convention, which he vowed to do on Monday.
Sanders raised $20 million in January alone, according to a campaign statement on Sunday.
Iowa delivered some drama at the bottom of each party’s field as well as at the top.
Martin O’Malley suspended his Democratric campaign, which had never gained traction. He secured less than one percent support in the caucuses.
Mike Huckabee also left the race. Huckabee failed to recapture the magic that saw him win the Republican caucuses in 2008.
Several other candidates on the Republican side will also face hard questions about the viability of their campaigns.
Ben Carson finished fourth with just over 9 percent support, in a state where he once led polls. No other GOP candidate received the backing of more than 5 percent of caucusgoers.
This report was first published at 1:47 a.m. and last updated at 6:54 a.m.