WEST DES MOINES — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the first state of the 2016 race — putting the candidate in real contention for the nomination despite businessman Donald Trump’s consistent support in national polls.
Cruz was at 27.7 percent with 91 percent of the Iowa precincts reporting, and Trump was at 24.4 percent. “Let me, first of all say, to God be the glory,” Cruz said at his watch party at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. “Tonight is a victory for the grassroots. … Tonight the state of Iowa has spoken. Iowa has sent notice.”
Flanked by his wife Heidi Cruz and Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has been stumping with Cruz since November, Cruz said that Americans have suffered through seven years of President Barack Obama, but “joy cometh in the morning.”
In a reference to Ronald Reagan’s iconic “morning in America” ad, Cruz added: “Morning is coming.”
Boos broke out at Trump’s victory in West Des Moines when CNN called the race for Cruz. But Trump took the high road when responding to the night’s outcome in a short speech at the Sheraton in West Des Moines, saying: “I want to congratulate Ted, and I want to congratulate all of the incredible candidates.”
Trump downplayed the expectations for his campaign in a state that he led nearly all the way. “When we started this journey, there were 17 candidates,” Trump told supporters shortly after the announcement. “I was told by everybody, do not go to Iowa, you could never finish even in the top 10. And I said, ‘But I have friends in Iowa, I know a lot of people in Iowa, I think they’ll really like me, let’s give it a shot. And we finished second.”
The other surprise of the night was Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — who was at a very close 23.1 percent of the vote with 91 percent reporting. Rubio, who surged in Iowa at exactly the right time, took the stage at his watch party in downtown Des Moines enthusiastically. “I want to congratulate my friend, Sen. Ted Cruz, he fought very hard in Iowa and he earned his victory here tonight,” Rubio said in his speech following the announcement.
Rubio didn’t mention Trump, instead focusing on how he plans to unite conservatives as the Republican Party’s nominee and go on to beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won Iowa in the 2008 Republican primary, announced plans to suspend his campaign after a poor showing in the state Monday.
Cruz’s victory will likely be attributed to his superior ground game in the state, where caucus wins are dependent on making sure your supporters show up at the hours-long events.
Trump had been consistently leading in the Iowa polls, but the big question mark was whether his positive name ID and good showing in polls would actually translate to caucus-goers.
Monday’s results set the stage for next Tuesday’s New Hampshire primaries, where Trump has been blowing the rest of the field away. He’s up by 21 percent according to the Real Clear Politics average, with 33 percent of the vote, compared to Cruz’s 11 percent, Gov. John Kasich’s 11 percent, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s 10 percent and Rubio’s 9.5 percent.
The question now is how much Iowa’s results will play into the New Hampshire vote.