Ted Cruz Upsets Donald Trump in Iowa, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders Are in Virtual Tie

A screen shows CNN projecting U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz will win the Iowa caucus, February 1. Jim Young/Reuters

Updated | After months of anticipation, the first votes of the 2016 presidential campaign were cast on Monday as a plurality of Iowa Republicans chose Ted Cruz to be their party's presidential nominee and Iowa Democrats split their votes almost evenly between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

The win by Cruz, a former Texas attorney general who was sworn into the U.S. Senate just three years ago, was an impressive feat of organization and ideology. He defeated a host of establishment candidates and staved off Donald Trump, who had been leading in the polls, as well as Marco Rubio. Cruz's strong performance among evangelicals—who constituted an eye-popping 64 percent of GOP voters—helped seal his percent plurality. While Trump prevailed among new voters, it wasn't by large enough margins to offset Cruz. His victory is unlikely to be applauded in the U.S. Senate, where Cruz has called the leader of his party a liar and earned the wrath of colleagues in both parties for his promiscuous use of the filibuster.

As he addressed supporters, Cruz was surrounded by his family, including his father, Raphael, an evangelical minister, as well as Representative Steve King, the state's most conservative house member, and one of the state's leading evangelical leaders, Bob Vander Plaats, whose endorsement was widely coveted. "This is a victory for the grass roots," Cruz said to thundering applause after his victory.

Rubio, who now seems likely to emerge as the choice of establishment conservatives, was the first to address supporters—a familiar move by candidates eager to define the narrative in their favor. "They told me that I needed to wait my turn," he said. "Tonight, the people of Iowa sent a very clear message after seven years of Barack Obama: We are not waiting any longer to take our country back." Like Cruz, Rubio is still in his first term in the Senate.

In the past, Iowa caucuses have helped thin the presidential field, and Monday night's results seem likely to continue that tradition. Martin O'Malley, the former Maryland governor, suspended his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Mike Huckabee, who won the caucuses in 2008, also suspended his bid, and others seem likely to follow in coming days, including Rick Santorum, who garnered just 1 percent of the vote, after winning Iowa in 2012.

The results were a blow to Trump, who had hoped to win here and invested considerable time in the Hawkeye State, including giving children rides in his helicopter. But his second-place finish gives him something to build on as he heads to New Hampshire, where he's held a more commanding lead in polls than he ever had in Iowa. After conceding defeat, Trump vowed to carry on, although he joked he might return to Iowa "to buy a farm."

Cruz's win and Rubio's strong third-place finish marked something of a milestone for Cuban-Americans. Both 40-something Republican senators trace their ancestry back to Cuba. And if you add in Ben Carson's vote, fully 60 percent of Iowa Republicans voted for Hispanic or African-American candidates. Nothing like that has occurred in modern GOP presidential primaries.

Clinton emerged as the narrow winner in the Democratic race, according to the Iowa Democratic Party. However, as of Monday morning, some news outlets such as the Associated Press had yet to call Clinton the clear winner.

Clinton received 699.57 state delegate equivalents, while Sanders received 695.49, according to the Iowa Democratic Party, which said 171,109 Iowa Democrats cast their vote on Monday night. Currently, there are 2.28 outstanding state delegate equivalents, which is not enough for Sanders to pull ahead.

The contest for the Democrats was also historic. It marked the first time a woman has finished either first or second in the Iowa caucuses. (Clinton came in third in 2008.) It's also the first time an avowed democratic socialist has run in the Iowa contest. Sanders's strong showing puts him in a very good position to win in New Hampshire, where he is heavily favored and likely to enjoy another small-donor surge. The question in coming weeks is whether Sanders can garner enough of the African-American and Latino vote to challenge Clinton not only in February contests like South Carolina and Nevada but also in diverse mega states such as California and Texas. Vermont's African-American population is the smallest of any U.S. state.

On the Republican side, one looming question is whether Rubio can clear what's been called the "establishment lane" of competitors like Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie. He seems to be in a much stronger position given their dismal showing. News that South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott will endorse Rubio this week could presage a slew of elected officials lining up being the Floridian. Meanwhile, there's no sign that Cruz can clear the field of the conservative insurgent Trump or also-rans such as Carson.

When historians look back on the night, they'll likely see it as a win for the insurgents. Trump, Cruz and Sanders are an odd trio with little in common, but each has uprooted the established order in his own way. Whether mainstream candidates like Clinton or Rubio can beat them back is far from certain.

Correction: An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect first name for Vander Plaats. His name is Bob Vander Plaats.