In Iowa Caucuses, Victory Extends Beyond First Place

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 12.26.00 PMMAGGIE HABERMAN

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Good Tuesday morning, a bright day for Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who won on the Republican side by more than 3,000 votes. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is in a virtual tie with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, meaning the thrill of victory holds more than a fair share of agony as well.

So that was interesting.

Mr. Sanders fought Mrs. Clinton to a tie, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida shined his bronze medal and turned a would-be concession speech into a victory lap, Mr. Cruz marched to victory, and Donald J. Trump was faced with a loss he had to explain in the Iowa caucuses on Monday night.

Let’s start with the most unanticipated result. Mrs. Clinton had seemed a clear winner in the last Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics, and her team felt confident of victory heading into the night. But Mr. Sanders’s vote share was surprising to say the least and created the thing Mrs. Clinton least enjoys in her races — the element of surprise. Mrs. Clinton, who is behind in New Hampshire, now needs to fare well in the Nevada caucuses this month. And Mr. Sanders, who has already raised tens of millions of dollars with his populist message, seems newly energized and ready for a long fight.

As for the Republicans, Mr. Cruz’s victory validated his campaign’s internal predictions. Mr. Rubio outperformed his poll numbers and heads into New Hampshire with a potential bounce. He shrewdly gave his speech before either Mr. Cruz or Mr. Trump, and offered essentially a version of the “comeback kid” speech from Bill Clinton’s second-place finish in New Hampshire in 1992.

Mr. Cruz emerges as the strong favorite for anti-establishment voters and conservatives. Mr. Rubio potentially overtakes Mr. Trump and becomes the establishment’s best chance to stop Mr. Cruz, who now heads into New Hampshire having defied late predictions that he would lose in Iowa. But Mr. Trump’s deeply negative attacks on Mr. Cruz, raising questions about his citizenship, appear to have backfired.

Mr. Trump handled his second-place finish stoically, thanking Iowans and insisting he loved the state. But though the polls were wrong to show him winning, he couldn’t shake his reliance on public surveys, noting that one in New Hampshire shows him up by 28 points. But that was conducted before the caucuses. There are several candidates vying for support in New Hampshire who are strong fits for the state, and Mr. Trump will face fresh pressure to show he can compete.

What might save Mr. Trump, ironically, is the mess on the Democratic side. Instead of wall-to-wall coverage about his loss, the focus will largely be on Mr. Sanders’s strong showing, giving Mr. Trump additional time to adjust. And then there’s the ever-present question of whether Mr. Trump does something dramatic to regain the attention.