DES MOINES, Iowa — Texas Sen. [crscore]Ted Cruz[/crscore] won the Iowa Republican caucuses on Monday, barely edging out businessman Donald Trump and Florida Sen. [crscore]Marco Rubio[/crscore] for the first victory of the party nominating season.
Voters turned out in large numbers. At one GOP caucus at a middle school in Waukee outside Des Moines, for example, so many people showed up that officials ran out of ballots and had to give caucus-goers spare pieces of paper to use.
In recent weeks, Cruz and Trump went from friendly competitors to bitter enemies. As polls showed Trump losing steam to Cruz, the New York businessman went on the attack, criticizing Cruz for everything from his Canadian birth to loans he once took out from big banks. Cruz responded by questioning Trump’s past liberal positions, like on abortion and gay marriage.
But over the last few days, Cruz, sensing Rubio’s momentum, started reallocating resources to go after the Florida senator, hitting him for his past support of a comprehensive immigration reform package that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
“Tonight is a victory for the grassroots,” Cruz said during a speech to supporters after the results were announced. “Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa and all across this great nation. Tonight the state of Iowa has spoken.”
At Trump’s election night celebration, the crowd booed when the televisions showed CNN calling the race for Cruz.
But he was gracious in his brief election night remarks. “Iowa, we love you,” Trump said. “We thank you. You’re special. We will be back many, many times. In fact, I think I might come here and buy a farm. I love it.”
Trump congratulated Cruz and praised former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who suspended his campaign after a disappointing showing. Trump is holding an event in Arkansas next week, stoking speculation that Huckabee could endorse his campaign.
Rubio, though he came in third place, gave a campaign speech that sounded as if he had won. “So this is the moment they said would never happen…But tonight, tonight here in Iowa, the people of this great state have sent a very clear message. After seven years of Barack Obama, we are not waiting any longer to take our country back,” he said.
All three are all expected to compete in New Hampshire, which votes next week and where Trump has a solid lead in the polls.
Like Cruz, Rubio, finishing with a strong third, will likely argue he has momentum going into New Hampshire to take on Trump.
The results are particularly disappointing for several candidates who needed a strong finish in Iowa, including the last two caucus winners, including Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.