Ted CruzTed CruzOvernight Defense: Senators go to White House for North Korea briefing | Admiral takes 'hit' for aircraft carrier mixup | Lawmakers urged to beef up US missile defense Senators get North Korea briefing in unusual WH visit Overnight Tech: FCC chief unveils plan for net neutrality rollback | Tech on Trump's sweeping tax plan | Cruz looks to boost space industry MORE took first place in the Iowa caucuses on Monday night, beating out businessman Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFirst 100 days: A true reflection of Trump, poor reflection of America Fox poll: Trump approval below 50 percent Pelosi gives Trump an incomplete for first 100 days MORE.
The Texas senator was projected as the winner by several networks after 10 p.m.
Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioWhat’s with Trump’s spelling mistakes? Boeing must be stopped from doing business with Iran Top Trump officials push border wall as government shutdown looms MORE (R-Fla.) finished in third place, but his stronger-than-expected showing could be enough to provoke establishment Republicans to move swiftly behind him as the candidate with the best shot to take out Trump and Cruz.
In the night’s biggest surprise, Rubio nearly caught Trump, finishing with 23 percent support. It should give him significant momentum heading into the New Hampshire primary, which takes place a week from Tuesday.
Trump thanked the entire field in his Iowa concession speech, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who dropped out after his disappointing Iowa showing.
“When we started this journey there were 17 candidates, and I was told by everybody: do not go to Iowa, you could never finish even in the top 10,” Trump said. “I said I have to do it. We finished second, and I want to tell you something — I’m honored. I’m really honored. And I want to congratulate Ted and all of the incredible candidates.”
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who said he needed a third-place finish to remain viable, finished at a distant fourth place. No other candidate reached 5 percent support.
Iowa will award its 30 delegates proportionately, so none of the candidates has opened up a big lead in the presidential race yet.
However, Cruz’s toppling of Trump is a huge symbolic victory that could severely damage the real estate mogul's campaign.
Trump’s argument to conservative voters has long been that he’s a winner. At campaign rallies, he's spent considerable time ticking through his polling numbers, which on Monday night proved to be inflated.
The billionaire's second-place finish will reinforce the notion that he may not have the campaign organization in place to turn enthusiasm surrounding his bid into votes.
Still, polls show Trump has a big lead in New Hampshire, so he’s likely to dismiss his Iowa showing as a fluke driven by Cruz’s appeal to evangelicals, who are a power in Iowa.
Trump’s late decision to skip the final GOP debate before the caucuses — many have speculated he was playing it safe to protect his lead — will receive new scrutiny amid his poorer-than-expected showing.
Rubio is the other winner on Monday night. Despite a third-place finish, he far outpaced his standing in the RealClearPolitics average of polls and nearly caught Trump.
But perhaps most importantly, Rubio crushed his next-closest rival for establishment voters, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who had 3 percent of the vote.
"This is a big night for us. This is better than we did in any public opinion poll," Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said on MSNBC.
"It's a lot of momentum,” Conant said. “I think it's a three-person race leaving here. If you don’t want Donald Trump or Ted Cruz to be the nominee, you better get on board with Marco Rubio.”
Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler sought to dismiss Rubio’s strong showing, saying on MSNBC that it is a “two-man race between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.”
“Marco Rubio is going to come in third,” Tyler said. “Coming in first is better than coming in third.”