By COREY SHIREY
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the Republican Iowa caucuses Monday, according to projections from The Associated Press, NBC News and CNN, beating back attacks from real estate developer Donald Trump and a late surge from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton edged out Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by fewer than four delegate equivalents, according to the final tally by the Iowa Democrats. Clinton said she breathed a “big sigh of relief” as the final votes were still being tallied, while Sanders hailed the night as a virtual tie and a testament to his rabid, grassroots supporters.
In the GOP race, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, Cruz leads with 28 percent, Trump has 24 percent and Rubio 23 percent, with those numbers seemingly showing a contest for second place.
“Tonight is a victory for the grassroots,” he told his supporters as his wife, Heidi, stood by his side and the evangelical leaders who helped deliver his victory stood behind him. “Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives all across this great nation.”
A relatively humble Trump, speaking in West Des Moines, congratulated “Ted” on his victory and then took aim at the Democrats.
“We finished second, and I want to tell you something. I’m honored. I’m just honored … We’re just so happy with the way everything worked out.”
He added, “We will go on to win the Republican nomination, and we will easily beat Hillary or Bernie or whoever the hell they throw up there.”
For his part, Rubio basked before the enthusiastic cheers of his supporters and the reality of his better-than-expected finish. The latest poll before the vote showed him with the support of only 15 percent of Iowa’s GOP voters.
“They told me I need to wait my turn, that I need to wait in line”, Rubio said to supporters with his family standing to his side. “But tonight the people of the great state of Iowa sent a very clear message: After seven years of Barack Obama, we’re not waiting anymore.”
Voting in the Iowa Caucuses got underway after months of debates and personal attacks that helped self-proclaimed anti-establishment candidates reach unlikely perches atop their political parties.
Caucus-goers began gathering in long lines more than an hour before events were to kick off at 7 pm local time, and large turnouts flooded caucus sites with lines out many doors delaying the start of voting in some precincts.
With the Democratic winner not likely to be settled before Tuesday, Clinton addressed her supporters with her husband and former President Bill Clinton behind her with daughter Chelsea.
“There is so much at stake in this election, I don’t need to tell you,” she said crediting young, energetic organizers. “I am deeply grateful. It is rare — it is rare — that we have the opportunity we have now to have a real contest of ideas, to think hard about what the Democratic Party looks like. … I am a progressive who gets things done for people.”
Speaking at a Des Moines hotel near the Des Moines airport, where a plane was ready to take him to New Hampshire, Sanders said: “Nine months ago, we came to this beautiful state. We had no political organization. We had no money. We had no name recognition and we were taking on the most powerful political organization in the United States of America. … It looks like we are in a virtual tie.”
The Iowa Democratic Party said early Tuesday morning that Clinton had been awarded 699.57 delegate equivalents, with Sanders earning 695.49. Results in Des Moines precincts, worth 2.28 delegates, were still outstanding.
CNN reported, based on its entrance polling, that the number of first-time caucus participants was up substantially compared to 2012 for Republicans but lower than 2008 for Democrats, when Barack Obama’s late surge won the state, and that evangelicals showed in numbers much larger than pre-voting polls had indicated.
GOP caucus kingmaker Bob Vander Plaats, who has shown the ability to deliver tens of thousands of evangelical voters, supported Cruz as did Congressman Steve King and Iowa talk-radio host Steve Deace, who also hold sway with Iowa’s most conservative voters.
Clinton and Sanders entered the day in a statistical dead heat, according to The Des Moines Register/Bloomberg News Iowa Poll. Trump led Texas Sen. Ted Cruz by 5 points.
Pollsters predicted the finish would be close, regardless of who ends up on top, though no one projected a finish like the 2012 Republican caucus, when it took two weeks to declare Rick Santorum the winner.