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Cruz beats Trump, Clinton barely edges Sanders in Iowa caucuses

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas rallied a broad coalition of conservatives around his anti-Washington message to win Iowa’s presidential caucuses Monday night, edging out Donald Trump in their battle to claim the Republican Party’s outsider mantle.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida finished a surprisingly strong third in the GOP caucuses, which positions him as the leading establishment choice when the campaign moves to New Hampshire.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton’s campaign declared victory Tuesday over her late-surging rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, setting up what is likely to become a prolonged nominating contest.

Clinton and Sanders effectively battled to a draw, splitting the vote in the first presidential selection contest of 2016, a stunning outcome considering Clinton’s onetime dominance over a challenger who entered the race a virtual unknown.

Even if Clinton ends up on top - as her campaign believes - the close contest in Iowa confirms that Sanders’s anti-establishment message has real muscle and appeal. While a narrow victory for the former secretary of state would make good on nearly a year of dutiful campaigning and heavy investment in Iowa, it would also leave residual doubts about her weaknesses among Democratic voters.

On his way to New Hampshire, Sanders told reporters that his campaign is now “in this for the long haul.”

Sanders leads Clinton in New Hampshire, which votes in seven days, and has money and national support to continue to challenge her for weeks or months beyond that. Clinton remains the favorite to win the Democratic nomination this summer, but a pair of losses to begin the primary season would be likely to leave her hobbled.

Trump - the brash billionaire whose populist rage and unconventional campaign have upended American politics - fell short in seeking a decisive victory that would have fully validated his unlikely place at the center of the battle for the Republican presidential nomination. He comes under new pressure to win next week’s primary in New Hampshire, where he has long enjoyed a double-digit polling lead.

Cruz led with 28 percent, followed by Trump at 24 percent and Rubio at 23 percent. The remaining eight major candidates were far behind and in single digits. Edison Media Research estimated GOP turnout at 187,000 voters, about 50 percent higher than four years ago.

Clinton took the stage at her election-night party late Monday without immediately claiming victory. Instead, she acknowledged how unresolved her battle with Sanders is.

“It is rare that we have the opportunity,” Clinton said, “to have a real contest of ideas, to really think hard about what the Democratic Party stands for, and what we want the future of our country to look like.”

Later in her remarks, Clinton said: “I stand here tonight breathing a big sigh of relief. Thank you, Iowa.”

Ted Cruz was buoyant and overwhelmed as he claimed victory at a large rally of supporters.

“To God be the glory,” he said. “Tonight is a victory for the grass roots. Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa and all across this great nation.”

Cruz has been a divisive figure since the moment he was sworn into the Senate in 2013, making more enemies than friends, even among his own party’s leadership.

“Iowa has sent 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, but will be chosen by the most incredible, powerful force where all sovereignty resides in our nation - by we the people, the American people,” Cruz said.

Cruz, 45, and Rubio, 44 - both sons of Cuban immigrants serving in their first terms in the Senate - cemented their roles Monday night as serious contenders for the nomination and offered their party hope of broadening its general-election appeal to Latino voters.

Addressing supporters in Des Moines, Rubio sounded a triumphant and optimistic note, saying he could unite the divided Republican Party and lead the charge against the Democrats this fall. Rubio said: “Tonight here in Iowa the people in this great state sent a very clear message: After seven years of Barack Obama, we are not waiting any longer to take our country back.”

Cruz overcame a nasty barrage of attacks from Trump, Rubio and their allies - as well as steadfast opposition from Iowa’s political and business elite, including the longtime governor, Terry E. Branstad (R) - to unite evangelical Christians, tea party activists, libertarians and other conservatives.

The first nominating contest answered one of the biggest questions looming over the presidential campaign: Would the throngs of Trump fans who have packed gymnasiums and cheered his incendiary commentary participate in the caucuses, Iowa’s time-honored act of democracy?

Not enough did.

Rubio won over many caucus-goers who waited until the final weeks to pick a candidate, according to preliminary network entrance polling. Evangelical voters, who turned out in record numbers, favored Cruz over Trump and Rubio by roughly 10 percentage points after splitting their loyalties in polls over the past month.

It was disappointing showing for Trump, a celebrity who had never before faced the judgment of voters.

Trump had hoped that winning Iowa would force the political class to take seriously the prospect of him as the nominee. He hopes to rebound in New Hampshire and then carry his campaign into the South, where he regularly packs arenas with thousands of people.

Trump was atypically magnanimous as he spoke for just four minutes to supporters. He congratulated Cruz and thanked the people of Iowa - even joking that he would return to the Hawkeye State and buy a farm. He vowed to fight on in New Hampshire, predicting that he would be “proclaiming victory” there.

“We will go on to get the Republican nomination,” Trump said, “and we will go on to easily beat Hillary or Bernie or whoever the hell they throw up there.”

The Iowa results should help winnow what has been a sprawling and chaotic Republican field. Eleven major candidates competed in the caucuses, but low single-digit finishes are likely to force some to consider suspending their campaigns.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee announced Monday night he was suspending his candidacy after finishing with 2 percent of the vote.

Cruz rocketed to national prominence soon after his 2012 election to the Senate. In 2013, Cruz’s 21-hour speech on the Senate floor opposing President Obama’s health-care law forced a partial shutdown of the federal government. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who ran on their executive records and policy know-how, each finished with 2 percent.

Meanwhile, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, a son and brother of past presidents, entered the race as the establishment favorite but saw his support dwindle despite extraordinary spending by his campaign and super PAC. He ended in sixth place with 3 percent.