Ted Cruz beats Trump in Iowa, Clinton edges vote over Sanders
Conservative Republican bests billionaire tycoon as Democratic race ends in near-tie
Billionaire Donald Trump was dealt a blow in his bid to become Republican presidential nominee, losing to Texas senator Ted Cruz in the Iowa caucuses, the first contest in the race to the White House.
Hillary Clinton, the one-time presumed Democratic nominee, and Bernie Sanders, the upstart candidate threatening her second presidential bid, were locked in a “virtual tie” after a hard-fought battle, but Ms Clinton’s team formally claimed victory a little after 2.30am (8.30am Irish time).
“Hillary Clinton has won the Iowa Caucus,” said Mrs Clinton’s Iowa state director Matt Paul. “After thorough reporting - and analysis - of results, there is no uncertainty and Secretary Clinton has clearly won the most national and state delegates.
“Statistically, there is no outstanding information that could change the results and no way that Senator Sanders can overcome Secretary Clinton’s advantage.”
The statement aimed to remove any doubt from the result after the Sanders campaign questioned the accuracy of the results from some of the state’s voting precincts.
With 99 per cent of the final votes counted, Ms Clinton had 49.9 per cent and Mr Sanders had 49.6 per cent.
Mr Cruz, a firebrand conservative running a virulent anti-Washington campaign, took almost 28 per cent of the Republican vote, edging out the one-time Iowa frontrunner Mr Trump who received 24 per cent.
“Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives,” the 45-year-old senator told his supporters at his victory party in a state where conservatives and evangelicals hold sway in the Republican race.
Marco Rubio, the first-time senator from Florida, scored an impressive third-place finish behind Mr Trump and Mr Cruz, putting him in a strong position to challenge in New Hampshire, which votes next on February 9th and in later nominating states.
The 44-year-old received 23 per cent, surprisingly close to Mr Trump, as he showed he has a prospect of being a viable establishment alternative to the outsider campaigns of his two main rivals.
“We have taken the first step,” said Mr Rubio, remarking that he had been told he had no chance after failing to gain traction in the polls.
“I will be our nominee because of what you have done here in this great state,” he said.
After months of a brash campaign in which he has insulted Mexicans, Muslims and rivals, Mr Trump was more restrained than usual when speaking to supporters in a West Des Moines hotel.
“On June 16th when we started this journey there were 17 candidates. I was told by everybody ‘do not go to Iowa’,” he said.
“They said don’t give it a shot. I said ‘I have to do it’. And we finished second and I have to tell you something, I am honoured. I am just honoured.”
Despite his second-place finish, Mr Trump thanked the local crowd for their support, declaring that he loves the people of Iowa.
“I think I might come here and buy a farm - I love it,” he said.
Due to the close count, neither of the two leading Democratic candidates would declare victory when they spoke to their supporters.
The former secretary of state delivered a defiant speech, touching on her campaign’s main themes, but did not openly claim victory, saying instead that she was “breathing a big sigh of relief. . . thank you Iowa!”
“Iowa, thank you,” Mr Sanders told a boisterous crowd at his post-caucus party, taking to the stage shortly after his Democratic rival.
Stealing a line from his stump speech, the self-described democratic socialist said that months ago his campaign had no money, no name and was taking on the most powerful political organisation in the country.
“And tonight, while the results are still not known, it looks like we are in a virtual tie,” said the 74-year-old Vermont senator.
Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley received less than 1 per cent of the votes and announced that he was withdrawing from the presidential race long before the final votes were counted in the state.
Another candidate, Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and a winner of the 2008 Republican caucus, also dropped out.
Despite the close race in Iowa, Mrs Clinton’s supporters at her post-caucus party at Drake University in Des Moines were confident that she would ultimately win the Democratic nomination.
“I’m not sure it really matters one way or the other. I think she will go on to win,” Charles Fuson (63), an attorney from Iowa.
“We knew Bernie Sanders would be close to her,” said Gilmara Mitchell (40), leader of one of Iowa’s voting precincts. “I think we did all we could. She is still leading. We will take that victory.”
Mr Trump’s supporters were equally upbeat about his prospects in the race at his party about 10 minutes down the road.
“It is very early in the presidential race and we will continue to see Donald Trump maintain his lead and continued forth with his nomination for his presidency,” said Jessica Miller (34), who works in public relations working in West Des Moines.
“I don’t think second is so bad in the first contest of the year.”
Wearing one of the Trump campaign’s “Make America Great Again” caps, Craig Friedrichs (62), a retired local man, noted how Iowa had not picked the eventual Republican nominee for some time. That was 16 years when Iowa voted for George W Bush.
“I am disappointed of course but you know I can live with second place,” he said. “I think he will take New Hampshire and South Carolina. He will get back on track.”