Iowa Caucus: Winners and losers

Clarke Fox, Staff Writer

After what seemed like an eternity of media speculation, prediction, and poll-obsession, the first-in-the-nation caucuses in Iowa on Feb. 1 marked the official beginning of the primary season. And wouldn’t you know it, the caucuses were as wild and unpredictable as the presidential race has been to this point. GOP nominee Ted Cruz emerged as the undisputed Republican winner, securing 27.6 percent of the vote. Donald Trump and Marco Rubio followed with 24.3 percent and 23.1 percent, respectively.

The Democratic race failed to declare an outright victor until Feb. 2. Ultimately, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton won by 0.3 percent; her 49.9 percent of the vote narrowly outdid Bernie Sanders’ 49.6 percent. While the percentage distribution of the enigmatic Iowa caucuses is critical for securing delegates, performance in Iowa is not entirely measured by delegate allocation alone.

Iowa is an expectations game. It functions to validate campaigns and frame the remaining primary contests. In many cases, Iowa can hold the keys to the nomination (Barack Obama circa 2008), even if a candidate doesn’t win outright. An underachieving performance in Iowa can be catalytic in the downfall of a campaign; just ask Clinton about her time in Iowa in 2008. The Hawkeye State is about exceeding expectations and gaining credibility. So, who won the expectations game? Let’s start with the biggest losers.

Trump, the man who has never lost in his life, did just that. Trump is a loser. Trump is a loser! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip … sorry, where were we? Right. Though he did come in second place, securing just one less delegate than Cruz, he did not win as he was expected to, or as he promised he would. The fact that he did not win Iowa should not come as a huge surprise. Iowa Republicans, many of whom are evangelical Christian voters, generally fall to the right of the Republican base and elect more conservative candidates. Iowa Republicans elected Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012, neither of whom went on to secure the nomination. It is no shock that Cruz played well in Iowa, but that’s not the story that matters. The story coming out of Iowa is Trump not winning when he was expected to and guaranteed he would. His supporters love him because he wins, apparently, all the time. The loss in Iowa will bruise his bravado and could very well be the straw that breaks the Donald’s back.

Clinton was the next big loser of the night, as her Iowa woes continued. Though she did win, albeit by the narrowest of margins, it was far from the performance she expected. She held a 34 percent lead in early Iowa polls after Sanders announced his candidacy in May 2015. Sanders came out of relative obscurity to tie one of the most formidable campaign machines ever assembled without so much as one super PAC. His grassroots insurgency threatens to derail what was once thought of as a Clinton cakewalk to the nomination.

A resounding Clinton win in Iowa would have eased the nerves of donors and raised questions to the legitimacy of Sanders’ viability. Iowa did anything but ease nerves for the Clinton team, as evidenced by her tension-laden “victory” speech. Sanders will undoubtedly carry momentum from Iowa into the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9, where he currently leads by 17.5 points, as reported by RealClearPolitics. If he wins the Granite State, which he likely will, questions will be asked about whether or not this is 2008 all over again for Clinton.

The biggest winner of the Iowa caucuses was Marco Rubio. Though he finished behind Cruz and Trump in third place, he was barely expected to crack double digits going into the night. Instead, he emerged as the clear frontrunner of the establishment candidates. Considering how the Republican establishment has been itching to coalesce support around an establishment alternative to Trump and Cruz, money will flow to Rubio’s campaign in the next several weeks, strengthening his chances in New Hampshire and South Carolina. While Cruz is the obvious choice for biggest winner of the Iowa caucus, seeing how he was the only candidate of either party to win unequivocally, Iowa Republicans are a different breed and don’t generally represent the sentiment of the national GOP electorate. While the win certainly helps Cruz’s viability moving forward, it was not altogether unexpected.

CAMPAIGN OBITUARIES: Iowa is a last-ditch effort for campaigns struggling to find traction in the presidential race. It’s either exceed expectations in Iowa or go home. This year was no different. Before all of the votes had been cast, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Huckabee announced that they would suspend their campaigns. Expect other campaigns to fold after the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9.

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