DES MOINES — Hillary Clinton claimed victory in the Iowa caucuses early on Tuesday by an ever-so thin margin over Bernie Sanders.
Clinton had 49.9% of the delegates and Sanders had 49.6%, with 99.9% of the precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press. The state Democratic party called the race the closest in state party caucus history.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s maverick campaign for president hit a bump, when he finished behind Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. The real estate magnate and reality show star, who has belittled “losers” for months during his campaign, struggled to remain in second place, just ahead of Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
With virtually all of the caucuses in Iowa reporting on a night of record-high turnout, Cruz received 28% of the GOP support, to 24% for Trump and 23% for Rubio.
If Clinton holds on for a fractional victory, she will avoid the painful outcome that she endured in the state in 2008 when, after being an early frontrunner, she finished third behind eventual nominee Barack Obama and behind former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. Clinton fought back over a prolonged primary season in 2008, but never entirely recovered, as Obama went on to the presidency.
The one-time senator and former secretary of state stopped short of declaring victory in a speech to her supporters on Tuesday evening, but Sanders, an independent who has called himself a Democratic socialist, has surprised many of her supporters with his laser focus on income inequality.
“As I stand here, breathing a big sigh of relief, thank you,” Clinton told the crowd in Des Moines, her husband, former President Bill Clinton, standing behind her. She said that she is ready for a “real contest of ideas.”
Among those who came to Iowa from Los Angeles were CAA’s Michael Kives, investor Sim Farar and his wife Debbie, Marketshare CEO and co-founder Jon Vein and political finance consultant David Wolf. All have been raising money for Clinton.
“It was a nail-biter, but we won, and that is the end result, so hopefully the discussion will be about Trump not winning Iowa versus how close our race was,” said Lena Evans, of Rancho Santa Fe, who founded a philanthropic support organization and has been raising money for Clinton.
“Once we get through New Hampshire, I think you are going to see the country galvanize around Hillary,” Vein said. “I think everyone in this room, if you asked them, they would say that they are happy that Bernie has raised the issues that he has. But Hillary should be the next president.” Earlier in the evening, former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin had declared that, while narrow, Clinton’s margin held. “A win is a win,” he said.
Andy Spahn, president of Gonring, Spahn & Associaties, which advises clients such as Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg, said that Clinton “withstood the challenge of Iowa showing real grit and determination. Let’s what happens when the rest of the country starts to weigh in on Super Tuesday.”
At her campaign event at Drake University, a meeting room was energetic with supporters, but it cleared quickly after she made her remarks.
A short time later, Sanders addressed his supporters and said the outcome was too close to be decided and that he would emerge from Iowa with about half of the state’s delegates. He called the race a “virtual tie.”
“What Iowa has begun tonight is a political revolution,” Sanders said.
Political pundits predicted that the razor thin margin would bolster Sanders’ already potent fundraising among small donors. Giving an average of just $27 each, those contributors have been able to keep him competitive with Clinton, powered by much bigger donations and the aid of a Super PAC that has drawn seven-figure contributions from Katzenberg, Spielberg, Haim Saban and Thomas Tull.
Clinton is scheduled to return for Los Angeles for fundraising on Feb. 22, while the Red Hot Chili Peppers are holding a concert for his campaign on Friday.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley failed to reach the minimum voting threshold in most districts in Iowa and finished with just 1% of the caucus total. CNN reported that the long-shot candidate planned to drop out of the Democratic race, which would winnow the field to just Sanders and Clinton, the former Secretary of State and First Lady.
The results on the Republican side were immediately depicted as a setback for Trump and a boost for Rubio, who exceeded expectations and was said to be in a good position heading into next week’s primary in New Hampshire. With the final results barely in, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won in the Iowa caucuses in 2008, declared that he was also dropping out of the 2016 contest.
Trump was gracious in accepting his loss to Cruz, telling his supporters in brief remarks, “Iowa, we love you. We thank you.”
“I think I may come back here and buy a farm,” he said.
Rubio took the stage just after 9:30 pm local time Monday and said his strong finish defied the predictions of the experts and would propel him on to more victories in the primary season.
At the Clinton campaign party at Drake University, there was surprise that Trump fell short and appeared to be struggling to hold on to second place. “I was shocked” at Trump’s loss, said Bree Bowen, a public relations executive from St. Louis, Mo. who has been volunteering for Clinton in Iowa. “I think that in some ways it is a good thing because it shows people aren’t listening to the hateful rhetoric. It will be interesting to see what his reaction will be, in my opinion.”
Bowen said she fears Rubio the most as a potential rival to Clinton, ‘because he comes across as more moderate, but I think we are going to win either way.”
The media presence in Des Moines was at times overwhelming. At a caucus precinct in the East Village neighborhood, a trendy area nestled between the state capitol and the Des Moines River, a caucus chairman struggled to count votes in a packed room where media members and observers nearly equalled those of caucusgoers.
There was a good reason for this: the precinct at the Iowa State Historical Building is one of the closest to downtown, convenient to the hotels where many national and international media are based.
The precinct got a bit raucous at times, as Sanders supporters shouted “Come this way to feel the Bern” in an effort to win over two undecideds after the initial tally. It showed Sanders with 80 votes, Clinton with 78 and O’Malley with 8.
The caucuses are said to cull the field of candidates and occasionally lend momentum to candidates, but offer nothing close to a definitive judgment in the presidential nominating process. The last four times a Democratic incumbent was not in the White House — in 2000, 2004 and 2008 — the winner of the caucuses on the Democratic side went on to win the party’s nomination.
Vice President Al Gore won Iowa in 2000; Sen. John Kerry prevailed in 2004 and Sen. Barack Obama took the top spot, ahead of Clinton and Sen. John Edwards, in 2008. In 1988, Rep. Dick Gephardt and, in 1992, Iowa favorite son, Harkin, took Iowa but were overwhelmed in later primaries and did not make the fall general election.
The Iowa contest has been even less predictive of final nominating results on the Republican side. In 2012, former Sen. Rick Santorum edged out eventually nominee Mitt Romney in Iowa. In 2008, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee took the top spot in the Hawkeye State, but was overwhelmed by Sen. John McCain in the following New Hampshire primary. McCain went on to the GOP nomination and defeat at the hands of Barack Obama in the general election.
The Iowa caucus was a better predictor for Republicans in 1996 and in 2000. Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas won Iowa in 1996 and went on to the nomination. Four years later, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas won Iowa and used the momentum to push all the way to the GOP nomination and an election victory over Gore.