, DES MOINES, United States, Feb 3 – The US presidential race looked suddenly wide open Tuesday after frontrunners Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton suffered chastening evenings in Iowa, the first step on the long road to the White House.
It was a particularly humbling experience for Trump, who cut a forlorn figure after Republican arch-rival Ted Cruz streaked to victory in the Iowa caucuses, staking his claim as the new standard bearer for the conservative camp going on to New Hampshire.
And if she was in any doubt before Iowa, former secretary of state Clinton now knows that she has a real fight on her hands in the shape of Bernie Sanders, after she saw off the self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist by the thinnest of margins.
The months-long presidential contest now kicks into high gear, with Democratic and Republican debates this week building up to next Tuesday’s New Hampshire primaries.
Trump, the billionaire real-estate mogul and reality television star whose populist campaign turned conventional politics – and wisdom – on its head, also now faces a second genuine threat: from Marco Rubio, who chalked up more than 23 percent to Trump’s 24 percent in the Iowa caucuses.
Surging past expectations, Cruz claimed victory with 27.7 percent of the vote, having invested heavily in campaigning in the deeply conservative state to out-maneuver his many rivals.
The showman Trump, 69, built his personal brand on the concept of winning and will need to prove he can turn a commanding lead in the New Hampshire polls into votes after failing to do so in Iowa.
Trump struggled to hide his disappointment Monday night, saying he was “honored” to finish second after being given no chance to win Iowa at the outset – before he began dominating the air waves, thanks partly to a series of controversial remarks on Muslims and immigration.
A second hiccup in New Hampshire could spell political disaster for the man who has never held elected office and has always maintained that being second was tantamount to being nowhere.
David Redlawsk, a professor at Rutgers University who was in Iowa for the caucuses, told AFP Trump was “the big loser” on the night.
That was in stark contrast to Cruz, whose campaign rolls into New Hampshire with renewed vigor.
Once reviled by fellow Republicans as a “wacko bird” eager to shut down the US government, Cruz proved with his Iowa win that his arch-conservatism may yet propel him into the White House.
Cruz, who has fought hard to maintain a prominent place for faith in American life, sees himself in a battle for the very soul of the United States.
“To God be the glory!” exclaimed Cruz, after Iowans flocked to churches, school gymnasiums and libraries to be the first voices officially heard in the boisterous, tortuous nominating process that leads to Election Day on November 8.
“Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa and all across this great nation.”