Cruz wins Iowa; Dems too close to call

Cruz wins Iowa; Dems too close to call
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DES MOINES — Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate Gang of Four to meet next week on immigration Live coverage: High drama as hardline immigration bill fails, compromise vote delayed Trump renews call to end filibuster amid immigration furor MORE won the Iowa Republican caucuses on Monday night, but Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSessions says FBI agent Peter Strzok no longer has his security clearance Melania Trump puzzles with 'I really don't care' jacket Grassley wants to subpoena Comey, Lynch after critical IG report MORE and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBernie Sanders: Trump thinks like an authoritarian Democrats protest Trump's immigration policy from Senate floor Trump's America fights back 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.”

But Sanders, who addressed his own rally after Clinton's, declared the result to be “a virtual tie” against “the most powerful political organization in the United States of America.” 

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 Antonio RubioPolitical figures pay tribute to Charles Krauthammer Senate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump Hillicon Valley: New FTC chief eyes shake up of tech regulation | Lawmakers target Google, Huawei partnership | Microsoft employees voice anger over ICE contract 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 John TrumpCNN analyst Kirsten Powers: Melania's jacket should read 'Let them eat cake' CNN's Cuomo confronts Lewandowski over 'womp womp' remark Sessions says FBI agent Peter Strzok no longer has his security clearance 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 Hussein ObamaOvernight Energy: EPA declines to write new rule for toxic spills | Senate blocks move to stop Obama water rule | EPA bought 'tactical' pants and polos Clarifying the power of federal agencies could offer Trump a lasting legacy Dems allow separation of parents, children to continue, just to score political points 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.