Strong organization pushes Cruz to Iowa caucus win
Texas senator won about half of Iowa's counties to edge Trump, Rubio
DES MOINES — Sen. Ted Cruz took a Texas-sized step toward the White House on Monday night, leading an impressive army of volunteers who brought Iowans out in droves to best Donald Trump and Marco Rubio in the kickoff of the 2016 Republican presidential nominating process.
Cruz, 45, proved once again that organization trumps hype in a state where voters reward retail politics by garnering more than 27 percent of the support with most of Iowa’s 1,682 precincts reporting late Monday.
He won about half of Iowa’s 99 counties in the nation’s first test of candidate strength leading up to the selection of a GOP nominee in Cleveland this summer.
“Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa and across the great land. Tonight the state of Iowa has spoken,” Cruz told cheering supporters at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. He praised supporters for producing the most votes for any Iowa GOP caucus winner in delivering a victory for “we the people.”
By winning the leadoff 2016 contest, Cruz was able to tatter Trump’s storybook rise to head of the class and at least temporarily derail the New York billionaire’s plan to “run the table” by capturing the Iowa vote and marching through New Hampshire and other early states.
Trump, who led in Iowa polling for most of the campaign, settled for second place with about 24 percent of the Iowa vote, followed closely in third place by Rubio – who may have carried the better-than-expected banner out of Iowa with about 23 percent of the vote as of late Monday.
In a speech to supporters in West Des Moines, Trump proclaimed his love for Iowa and Iowans and suggested he might extend his real estate holdings to Iowa farmland.
“I absolutely love the people of Iowa,” the New Yorker said at the Sheraton Hotel.
Trump congratulated Cruz on his victory, but his remarks were not exactly a concession speech. He proclaimed confidence that he will win in New Hampshire, where he is leading by more than 20 points.
His second-place finish was much better than was projected when he joined 16 other candidate in the race last summer, Trump said.
“They told me I couldn’t finish in the top 10,” he said.
Rubio, 44, another first-term U.S. senator making his first nationwide bid, offered himself as a new-generation Republican with fresh ideas and broad appeal among younger, independent and disillusioned Americans who could unite the country under a banner embracing conservative principles and focused on keeping America safe.
Rubio – who polled in the 10 to 15 percent range during most of the caucus campaign season — quietly built a strong get-out-the-vote ground game while fortifying it with solid debate performances and a barrage of paid advertising that paid dividends in what Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said was a record turnout.
Fourth place went to retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, another first-time candidate who also tried to capitalize on voter anger and frustration with the partisan gridlock gripping the Capitol.
He was followed by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former business executive Carly Fiorina, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Cruz and Trump waged a bare-knuckles political brawl in the weeks that led up to Monday night, but the Texas senator succeeded in scoring a decisive win by enlisting the help of Iowa Rep. Steve King and conservative powerbroker Bob Vander Plaats in convincing the influential bloc of religious, social and liberty conservatives to unite behind Cruz rather than dilute their impact in a crowded field.
Gov. Terry Branstad, who pledged not to endorse any GOP candidate in the caucuses, nonetheless urged defeat of Cruz — saying the Cruz did not support federal rules that mandate the use of ethanol. import to Iowa’s economy.
Still, the Texas senator amassed a field operation with thousands of volunteers who enabled him to withstand body blows during tough campaigning from Trump, Rubio and other rivals who sought to siphon off support that Cruz had built early among the base of conservative Republicans in Iowa.
The first-term U.S. senator making his first presidential run crisscrossed the state in the final month leading up to Monday night. He pitched himself as an outsider who was taking on the “Washington cartel” by championing conservative causes.
However, Cruz may have a tough time maintaining the momentum he carries out of Iowa with a New Hampshire vote a week away, and him far behind in the polls.
Both Paul and Huckabee entered Monday’s test saying they were poised to shock the world, but neither was able to make good on that claim.
Paul, 53, relied heavily on young voters, especially on college campuses, who liked his libertarian views on social issues and privacy rights, and the liberty voters who had delivered a third-place 2012 caucus finish for his father, former Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who returned to Iowa to rally support for his son.
Huckabee, 60, worked to siphon off support from Cruz and Carson by offering himself as someone with experience as a past governor of Arkansas who knows how to defeat the Clinton machine and could appeal to conservative Christians and gun-rights advocates alike.
He said he likely needed a top three finish in Iowa to stay viable as a candidate and announced Monday night he was suspending his presidential bid.
Christie, 53, fell short in his goal of finishing first among the four governor’s competing in 2016, trailing Bush, Huckabee and Kasich after enlisting the campaign know-how of several operatives closely aligned with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad in hopes of making a respectable showing in a state where he did most of his intense campaigning down the stretch.
Kasich, 63, made occasional appearances in Iowa, while Bush, 62, and his super-PAC allies committed more time and considerably more resources to press his message and attack rivals here but failed to move the needle very far in his column despite his familiar family name and sky-high expectations heading into 2016.
Santorum, 57, and Fiorina, 61, both delivered strong debate performances and had messages that resonated with voters, but faced a difficult time punching through in a crowded field where rival campaigns with similar positions, more resources and higher electability ratings attracted support within a limited pool of conservative Republicans.
Chelsea Keenan of The Gazette contributed to this report.