Iowa: Winners and Losers
Iowans cast the first votes of the 2016 presidential race, and there were a few surprises along the way. GOP turnout increased by 50 percent over 2012. The Iowa winner, Ted Cruz, polled more votes than any other caucus winner in history. And both the Republican and Democratic fields narrowed, as former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley ended his badly-run effort to grab the Democratic nomination, while former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- who won Iowa in 2008 -- ended his campaign as well. Who else won and lost last night? Let's take a look...
1. Ted Cruz. He beat the polls, he beat The Donald, and Cruz now holds the mantle as GOP frontrunner (where it actually matters -- the delegate count). The Cruz ground effort that relied heavily on evangelical turnout overcame a lackluster final debate performance and gave Cruz the win he had to have heading into New Hampshire.
2. Marco Rubio. Voters who made their decision late broke strongly for Rubio, and he nearly nipped Trump for second place. Rubio's partisans are saying he has the wind at his back heading out of Iowa. Perhaps. But the establishment candidates have staked most of their political capital on New Hampshire, and the burden is now on Rubio to drive them from the field.
3. Hillary Clinton. Yes, she's basically in a tie with Bernie Sanders. And winning five precincts by coin flips? That kind of luck doesn't exist outside of Vegas. But recall she lost Iowa in 2008 to Barack Obama and Bernie was drawing massive crowds in the state this time around. A win is a win, and as the primary schedule unfolds, Hillary will move to states where she is much stronger.
1. Donald Trump. This is a close call, but Trump had the crowds, the attention, and the polls behind him. And he came close to finishing third. But he still has a great deal of energy behind him, and that may express itself differently in the states yet to vote. But clearly, the guy who told us we were going to win so much we'd be tired of winning can't afford another miss.
2. The rest of the GOP field. Mike Huckabee bowed out, and others should follow his example. Iowa has a rotten track record of choosing the eventual GOP nominee, so we're not going to count Jeb, Kasich, Paul or Christie out of the race. However, if their campaigns falter again in New Hampshire, losing ground to Rubio, in particular, they should carefully reconsider their plans for 2016.
3. Bernie Sanders. Bernie...what can we say? Iowa set up very well for him, and he came close. But he did not win (though he is still a favorite to win New Hampshire, right next door to his home state of Vermont). He might not know it. He will never admit it if he does...but his campaign has to find another gear. Otherwise, he's toast.