SAN FRANCISCO – After winning the Iowa Democratic caucuses by less than a percentage point, embattled former secretary of state, senator and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton flew to New Hampshire on Tuesday hoping to stoke her support in a state considered partial to her rival and their neighbor from next door, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Dimensions of the Republican primary grew more complex, as well, after Senator Ted Cruz of Texas topped real estate mogul Donald J. Trump in the 12-person contest.
Trump’s candidacy, predicated on the power of winning, may now rest on a decisive victory in the Granite State.
After competing as the presumed front-runner since announcing her candidacy in April 2015, Clinton’s campaign took on elements of a genuine fighting posture Monday night, when Iowa caucusgoers cast the nation’s first ballots for president of the United States and offered both Sanders, 74 years old, and Clinton, 68, virtually equal support. In the draw, Clinton drew 49.9 percent of the vote to 49.6% for Sanders.
Clinton’s struggle to fend off underdog Sanders – a self-described democratic socialist – reignited questions within the party over her ability to close the deal with Democratic voters. Compounding pressure on her, Sanders has long been favored to win New Hampshire on February 9, according to statewide polls from the past several months.
But that will not dissuade the Clinton campaign from aggressively campaigning there, according to her aides, who note that she was consistently down in the New Hampshire polls by double digits in 2008 against then-senator Barack Obama before surging to a victory.
Monday’s caucuses took place on a cold night in Iowa, where residents were bracing for blizzard conditions, but that did not curb robust turnout for the vote in which nearly half of all caucusgoers engaged in the process for the first time.
More than 171,000 Democrats showed up to vote on Monday night, indicating – according to Clinton’s campaign spokesman, Brian Fallon – that enthusiasm for the two candidates was equally distributed.
“Sanders has been saying for several weeks that if this caucus was a high turnout affair, then he would win,” Fallon said. “He was wrong.”
But Sanders – the first Jewish candidate to come so close to winning a presidential primary contest – characterized his showing in Iowa as a sign that the “political revolution” he seeks had finally arrived.
“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,” Sanders said from Des Moines after the results came in. “That is why what Iowa has begun tonight is a political revolution.”
Clinton said she was breathing a “big sigh of relief” after the results.
“It is rare that we have the opportunity we do now to have a real contest of ideas,” she said, thanking Sanders for the fight.
In her last campaign for the presidency in 2008, Clinton earned third place in these caucuses, behind Obama and former North Carolina senator John Edwards. But Clinton won support this year in regions she lost considerably in her last cycle – both in the cities of Sioux City and Des Moines, as well as in their suburbs.
Democratic Party caucuses in Iowa require voters to cast their ballots publicly and allow for second-round voting if candidates fail to meet preset viability thresholds. Supporters of former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley were repeatedly forced to revote precinct by precinct for this reason, forcing the candidate to suspend his flagging campaign on Monday night.
On the Republican side, Cruz won 28% of the vote to Trump’s 24%, defying polls that implied a Trump victory up until the day of voting. In a close third, Florida Senator Marco Rubio earned 23% of the vote.
In his victory speech, Cruz said his success was owed to the strength of “grassroots conservatives” and his campaign celebrated the victory as a boost in momentum entering the primaries to come.
He spent more than six months building a ground campaign to get out the vote, and won broad support among the state’s evangelical Christian voters, in line with past victors in the 2012 and 2008 Iowa GOP caucuses: former senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
Neither Santorum nor Huckabee proceeded to win a single state in the following weeks, and neither have gained traction this year as both once again ran for their party’s nomination. Indeed, Huckabee suspended his campaign Monday night.
Trump said of the Iowa results that he was “honored” to come in second, and congratulated Cruz, but on Tuesday he offered his own explanation for his second-place finish on Twitter: “I don’t believe I have been given any credit by the voters for self-funding my campaign, the only one. I will keep doing, but not worth it!” Trump maintains double-digit leads in polls nationwide, as well as in the next three states to vote: New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. But Rubio beat expectations on Monday night by earning nearly as much support as the New York business tycoon.
“They said this day would never happen,” Rubio told supporters, of his third-place finish.
Several of his competitors, including former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Ohio governor John Kasich, remained in New Hampshire throughout the results.