DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Ted Cruz, a hard-driving conservative, defeated national front-runner Donald Trump in a fierce struggle for supremacy in the Iowa Republican caucuses Monday while Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders battled far into the night over who will claim the first prize in the Democratic presidential contest.
The Iowa caucuses, a tradition-steeped exercise in untraditional times, opened voting in the slog to November as people filed into schools, churches and veterans’ halls, with a looming snowstorm holding off long enough not to mess up voting night.
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PATH TO VICTORY
Neither race produced a quick winner but it was immediately apparent that the flamboyant Trump, a magnet for excitement from his massive crowds and derision from his rivals, had a terrific fight on his hands — not just from Cruz, but from an ascendant Marco Rubio.
Cruz went into the caucuses with a ground organization that was the envy of his rivals. He scored heavily with conservatives and won the day. Late preference polls had suggested a tight finish between Cruz and Trump — with the New York billionaire having a clearer advantage in next-up New Hampshire.
Clinton tried to fend off an upstart challenge from avowed socialist Bernie Sanders and score an Iowa victory that eluded her eight years ago against Barack Obama. As their dead heat dragged on, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, with a negligible performance for the night, dropped out of the race.
Even though Rubio’s team had made clear he was fighting for third place — and that’s where he finished — Rubio outperformed expectations. That’s because he shrank a gap in preference polls to finish just behind Trump.
With Iowa (and New Hampshire) offering only a small contingent of delegates needed to win the party nominations, the national campaign at this point is very much about who does better and worse than people think they will.
That changes when the rush of big-state primaries begins and the delegate math becomes decisive.
Voters at Republican caucuses indicated they were deeply unhappy with the way the federal government is working. Half said they were dissatisfied and 4 in 10 said they were angry, according to surveys by Edison Research for The Associated Press and the television networks.
YOUNG & OLD
Democrats under 45 favored Sanders; those older tended to back Clinton, the surveys found. That trend was even more pronounced among the youngest and oldest Democrats interviewed.
The bracing Sanders-Clinton contest came down to a struggle between practicality and passion, with both candidates from the left but Sanders farther to the left. That continues in New Hampshire and beyond.
Clinton went hard after Sanders for “magic wand” ideas, like substituting government-paid health care for the hard-won and landmark health law everyone knows as Obamacare.
She called herself a “progressive who wants to make progress and actually produce real results in people’s lives.”
Said Sanders, “You don’t make progress unless you have the courage to look reality in the eye.”
From one provocative comment to the next, Trump was the man to beat in Iowa, just as he will be in New Hampshire next week despite his defeat Monday. He flouted convention at every turn and capped his iconoclastic ways by blowing off the final Iowa debate in a snit with Fox News.
Cruz, who campaigned and organized exhaustively in Iowa, put into motion a strong ground game to get Iowans to the caucuses.
IOWA VOTERS SAY…
— “He’s the one true conservative in the race. I don’t think he’s the wolf in sheep’s clothing.” — Brad Sorensen, 46, of Waukee, who works for the Iowa Farm Bureau, on why he came out for Cruz.
— “I think he’s got leadership written all over him.” — Wayne Wagemann, 35, who was among more than 2,000 people at a concert hall in Clive, a Des Moines suburb,on why he backed Rubio.
— “I look for real. I look for transparent. I look for a statesman, not a politician. I look for a heart.” — Jane Gaines, 66, of Churdan, Iowa, at a pre-caucus Ted Cruz rally, with a pile of his pamphlets and a children’s Cruz-themed activity book next to her seat. She was going to the caucus undecided.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
A final call on the Iowa Democratic race, then the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have already decamped to New Hampshire, where they figure they’ll do better.
Also ahead: Some further winnowing of the field as trailing contenders decide whether to pack it in. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee ended his campaign Monday night.
Woodward reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Scott Bauer, Jill Colvin, Thomas Beaumont and Ken Thomas in Iowa and Emily Swanson in Washington contributed to this report.