Cruising past the Donald in Iowa
But it was above all Marco Rubio’s night while Hillary Clinton contained the Democrats outsider rebel
The voters at the Iowa caucuses have thrown the cat among the pigeons. It was a good night for angry, alienated voters on both sides of the aisle, for hard right Republican Ted Cruz (28 per cent), and for socialist Democrat Bernie Sanders, who gave their respective frontrunners a bad fright.
A bad night for Donald Trump (24 per cent) whose cloak of invincibility was definitely tarnished and for Hillary Clinton, until recently spoken of as having an unassailable lead, who scraped ahead by the barest majority.
But it was above all Marco Rubio’s night. Shaking off the also-rans in the Republican race to take third place with a very respectable 23 per cent, the Florida senator succeeded in positioning himself clearly as the mainstream candidate that the party establishment has been yearning for to take on the still predominant Trump/Cruz nightmare axis which has defined this election.
However, opinion polls still show Trump leading nationally and in New Hampshire which holds the next nominating contest next week.
The Republican establishment believes Rubio has at least a chance – at best – of beating Clinton for a party whose nomination process has been effectively hijacked by ultra-conservative, Tea Party and evangelical forces. No liberal either, he has been a Tea Party favourite and the election will certainly be fought far from the centre ground.
Cruz, who in December vowed to “carpet bomb” Islamic State into oblivion, adding that “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark but we are going to find out”, said the result was a rebuke to what he called President Obama’s liberal agenda and a win for “Judaeo-Christian values”.
Though Clinton’s defeat of Sanders was narrow, it will reassure her. This was strong ground for her opponent – a relatively poor and liberal state that is 91 per cent white and where his 84 per cent support among 17-to-29-year-olds won him the day.
He’ll probably win New Hampshire but will find it difficult later on less favourable ground to make inroads into Clinton’s strong support among women and blacks. The Democrats, at least, have contained their outsider rebel.