By Max Greenwood
DES MOINES – Texas senator Ted Cruz delivered an unexpected blow to Donald Trump in Iowa’s Republican caucuses on Monday night, sweeping to victory as Florida senator Marco Rubio made it a three-man race.
On the Democratic side, the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders remained close. With 95 percent of the vote counted, the rivals were in a virtual tie, with Clinton leading Sanders by less than 1 percent.
The third Democratic candidate, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, won less than one percent of the delegates and suspended his campaign.
Cruz, who appealed to Christian conservatives and vowed to reverse President Barack Obama’s policies, finished with 27 percent of the GOP vote, three points ahead of Trump. Just 48 hours earlier, the usually reliable Des Moines Register poll predicted a comfortable victory for the New York real estate developer.
“Tonight, is a victory for the grass roots,” Cruz said. “Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa and all across this great nation. Tonight, the state of Iowa has spoken. Iowa has served notice that the Republican nominee and the next president of the United States will not be chosen by the media; will not be chosen by the Washington establishment; will not be chosen by the lobbyists.”
Rubio gathered 23 percent of the vote and vowed to unite conservatives and win the presidency in November. Far behind at 9 percent was retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, the former Iowa front-runner. Rand Paul was next at 4 percent, with Jeb Bush at barely 2 percent.
The caucus was not a complete loss for Trump, who vowed to charge into New Hampshire, which holds its primary Feb. 9, and it was not necessarily golden for Cruz. Neither of the winners of the last two Republican caucuses – Rick Santorum in 2012 and Mike Huckabee in 2008 – won the GOP nomination.
Despite the reluctance of news organizations to call the race, Clinton declared victory, starting a spirited to her energized supporters while Cruz was delivering his speech across town.
“I know that we have differences of opinion on how best to achieve our goals,” she said, referring to Sanders, “but I believe we have a very clear idea that the Democratic Party in this campaign stands for what is best in America.”
As for the Republicans, she said, “I understand what they’re appealing to and I intend to stand against it.”
Sanders, speaking after Clinton, acknowledged a virtual tie with the former secretary of state and used the opportunity to deliver a fiery stump speech. He spoke of income inequality, climate change and health care, the issues at the heart of the Democratic race.
“It is not fair when the 20 wealthiest people in this country own more wealth than the bottom half of America,” Sanders said to a raucous crowd of supporters. “So are you guys ready for a radical idea? Well, so is America, and that radical idea is: we are going to create an economy that works for working families and not just the billionaire class.”