Evangelicals propel Cruz to victory in Iowa
Campaign 2016 | Tight contest shows Cruz, Trump, and Rubio in a three-man race, while Clinton-Sanders still too close to call
by Jamie Dean
Posted 2/02/16, 09:10 am
Evangelical voters in Iowa helped propel Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to victory over business mogul Donald Trump in the Iowa caucuses last night, as Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., finished a strong third, officially breaking into the top ranks of a crowded field for the GOP nomination for president.
Record turnout brought 185,000 Iowans to caucus meetings across the state ahead of a forecast blizzard. Voters preached, pleaded, and persuaded in their attempts to gain votes for their candidate of choice.
From the beginning, entrance polls showed Cruz won about a third of Iowa’s substantial evangelical vote, defying Trump’s predictions he could tap deeply into the well of Iowa churchgoers, who he once told, “I am a great Christian.”
Trump even deployed Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. to stump for him in Iowa after Falwell’s controversial endorsement of Trump last week. But evangelicals— likely aware of Trump’s sordid past and his professions that he’s never asked God for forgiveness—apparently weren’t swayed.
For Cruz, another factor loomed large in his victory: He did the legwork.
The senator from Texas built a highly organized get-out-the-vote effort in the Midwestern state, and he endured a brutal pace of dozens of visits to far-flung Pizza Ranches and church parking lots across Iowa’s 99 counties.
Trump bet on a strategy of mass rallies and national television appearances, largely defying the retail politics Iowans typically have rewarded. Entrance polls suggested his refusal to attend the final televised debate ahead of the caucuses (because of his self-made feud with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly) cost him votes as well.
The caucus results offered an important answer to a question that election observers had been asking for months: Would Trump’s mass rallies translate into mass votes? In Iowa, at least, the answer was no.
In a low-energy concession speech after last night’s results, Trump vowed to keep moving forward but sounded weary. “I love you people, I love you people,” he told a stunned crowd.
Meanwhile, an electrified Cruz greeted a jubilant audience celebrating his first-place showing. “To God be the glory,” Cruz told a roaring crowd of supporters. “Tonight is a victory for the grass roots.”
It was also a major victory for another candidate: Marco Rubio.
Indeed, the degree of Trump’s poor showing hinged less on his second-place finish to Cruz and more on how closely Rubio finished behind him: Trump took 24.3 percent of the vote, while Rubio grabbed 23.1 percent. (Cruz received 27.6 percent.)
Rubio’s unexpectedly strong finish seemed to vindicate a strategy his campaign had been touting for months: Don’t peak too early; sprint to the end. In the final month before the caucuses, that sprint in Iowa meant 36 events in four weeks for the senator from Florida.
Election night surveys offered another significant stat for Rubio’s campaign: The senator won 40 percent of GOP voters who said picking a candidate who could win in the general election was their top concern. Cruz and Trump were named by about a quarter of those polled.
It’s a sign that Rubio’s strategy of appealing to a broader swath of voters is working, and it’s a signal that one of Cruz’s biggest tasks will be expanding his appeal beyond a base of socially conservative voters in the dozens of primary contests ahead.
Meanwhile, the night brought a sobering reality check to the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. By Tuesday morning it appeared she had finished in a virtual tie with the socialist candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. (The only other Democratic candidate, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley dropped out of the race after a dismal showing last night.)
Sanders has shown the ability to attract Trump-sized crowds to his own campaign events, but in Iowa he was able to translate those crowds into votes. It was a stinging result for Clinton, once considered the inevitable nominee of the party.
The tied contest came after a week of continued questions about Clinton’s use of private email to conduct State Department business while she was secretary of state. Government officials confirmed last week that Clinton’s private server contained at least 22 emails with top-secret information, raising major questions about national security issues.
Meanwhile, the Iowa caucuses ended with a thud for other Republican candidates: The nearest finisher behind Rubio was retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who garnered a distant 9.3 percent of the vote.
By the end of the evening, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, had dropped out of the race after garnering less than 2 percent of the vote. In his self-deprecating style, Huckabee quipped: “Voters are sick of me.”
The candidates now turn their attention to New Hampshire and next Tuesday’s primary, where Trump and Sanders have commanding leads in the polls.