Texas Sen. Ted Cruz defeated Donald Trump in the Iowa caucuses on Monday, a come-from-behind victory that raises questions about the billionaire’s ability to translate his support in polls into actual votes.
Trump was barely holding off Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who was a close third according to late returns.
“People are frustrated with the career politicians in Washington who have left the American people behind,” Cruz had said earlier in the day as he completed his tour of all 99 Iowa caucuses.
Trump, who like Cruz waged an anti-establishment battle in the Hawkeye State, told supporters during a downcast rally in West Des Moines that he did much better than many people predicted when he launched his campaign in mid-June.
Rubio, meanwhile, declared his third-place finish a major victory, telling backers it makes him a major competitor for the Republican nomination.
“This is no ordinary election,” Rubio said, calling the result an “important step” to “winning this election.”
Rubio also saluted former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, the 2008 caucus winner who announced he was suspending his campaign after a poor finish on Monday.
While recent polls gave Trump a slight lead over Cruz in Iowa, Cruz told supporters he saw a statistical tie as voters headed for caucus locations Monday night.
Republicans produced a record turnout for the Iowa caucuses. While both Cruz and Trump emphasized efforts to attract new voters to the polls, Cruz and his team appeared to do the better job.
The vote came less than a week after Trump boycotted a Republican debate in Des Moines, claiming sponsors at Fox News treated him unfairly.
Other Republican candidates — Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina — all fought mainly to exceed expectations. All hope a better-than-expected finish here will spark their efforts in the next Republican delegate contest, the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9.
The campaign for Carson, who was running fourth, issued a statement denying media reports that the retired neurosurgeon plans to suspend his campaign.
Bush, who left Iowa earlier Monday to start campaigning in New Hampshire, dismissed the Iowa results before the caucuses even began. Citing Trump in particular, Bush told a crowd in Manchester that “the front-runner candidate — at least as it stands right now — is a candidate who, it’s all about him. That is not what we need in Washington, D.C.”
As for Cruz and Rubio, two first-term senators, Bush dismissed them as “back-benchers who have never done anything of consequence in their life.”
Christie also flew from Iowa to New Hampshire Monday afternoon, focusing on the state that offers him his best hope for gaining momentum in the GOP nominating contest.
The caucuses capped an extraordinary campaign in which Cruz and Trump attracted support by running against the Republican establishment as well as President Obama.
Trump, the businessman who rose to fame in the 1980s as a media-savvy developer, entered the Republican race in June by denouncing Mexican immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. He called most of them criminals and accused the Mexican government of encouraging them to enter the United States. The Mexican government denied it, and Hispanic groups staged demonstrations at many Trump rallies.
The immigration issue and his denunciations of “stupid” politicians who are ruining the country helped Trump expand his lead nationally and in early voting states — an edge that was further solidified in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., which elevated national security as a top concern for voters.
While attacking the government’s counterterrorism polices, Trump also proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. That plan drew criticism from Republican opponents as well as national and international officials.
Cruz, meanwhile, focused his campaign on Iowa and Southern states holding early primaries, targeting their high numbers of religious conservatives. Evangelicals made up more than half of Iowa GOP caucus-goers in 2012.
In the beginning of the campaign, Trump and Cruz treated each other with deference on the trail, even as they chased similar pools of voters.
That changed as Cruz caught and eventually passed Trump in Iowa polls.
The businessman responded with a torrent of criticism directed at the Texan. Trump questioned whether Cruz is even eligible for the presidency, citing his birth in Canada.
Cruz, arguing that he is eligible because his mother was a U.S. citizen, responded by questioning Trump’s commitment to conservatism, citing his past support for Democratic candidates and causes.
Throughout the campaign, Trump methodically went after any GOP candidate who challenged him. He first went after the well-funded Bush, branding the son and brother of previous presidents as a “low-energy” candidate. When retired neurosurgeon Carson rose in the polls. Trump also attacked his energy level as well as aspects of his life story.
The billionaire also took on Democratic critics, protesters and journalists during his tumultuous campaign. Reflecting his hyper-aggressive style Monday in Cedar Rapids, Trump said security warned him that someone in the crowd might throw a tomato at him.
“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato … knock the crap out of them,” Trump said.
The billionaire offered to pay legal fees if a fight broke out, though none did.
Contributing: Chrissie Thompson, The Cincinnati Enquirer
SOURCE: David Jackson