There were very clear winners and losers after the Iowa caucuses. Iowa didn’t mean much in terms of delegates, but it is huge for dictating where the race goes from here due to momentum. Here’s my take on how each candidate fared on each side:
Ted Cruz – 27.6% of total votes (+3.7% expected)
This was a good night for Ted Cruz, but not a great one. Ted Cruz had nothing to do with it not being a great night for him though. Cruz did what he needed to do and showed his well regarded ground game was effective. He was fighting largely on home turf though as he put all his efforts into Iowa and was appealing to a very conservative electorate.
While Cruz did what he needed to do, part of his calculus for winning is to have a diminished establishment lane with multiple candidates fighting for the spot for a long period of time. This would allow Cruz to amass both a delegate and fundraising advantage while potentially opening the door for the establishment to begrudgingly support him to eliminate Trump. This situation looks highly unlikely now due to the strong performance of Marco Rubio. Cruz will need to show that his ground game can transfer to less conservative states that are perhaps a bit more diverse.
He’s got momentum, but his best chance of winning now might be assisting Donald Trump with his implosion.
Donald Trump – 24.3% of total votes (-4.3% expected)
It’s probably impossible for a 2nd place finish to be more disappointing, but for Trump this was a horrible night. The well regarded Bloomberg poll had him up by 5 points on Cruz and 13 on Rubio only days before the primary. Only 2 weeks ago a Fox News poll had Trump up 11 points on Cruz and 22 on Rubio. In the end, Trump lost by 4 to Cruz and beat Rubio by 1. That’s a massive under-performance and leads to new questions about whether his supporters will actually turn out to vote.
Ultimately, Trump lost because of his poor ground game. Trump consistently hid his ground game from the media because frankly it didn’t exist. Ground game wins elections, period. Cruz had the best long-term field efforts in the state and it paid off while Rubio gained the nickname “Mayor of Ankeny.”
Trump’s entire narrative is that he’s a winner in a field of losers, so it’s absolutely imperative that he wins New Hampshire. If he cannot, that would put his campaign in a likely free-fall. One interesting statistic to watch though is support among very conservatives, conservatives, and moderates. Trump’s support among moderates was quite high and that will help him in future states.
Marco Rubio – 23.1% of total votes (+6.2% expected)
Wow, no one had a better night than Marco Rubio. Under a month ago both Gravis and KBUR had Rubio under 10% in Iowa. Around the same time, the media hinted Rubio was pulling most of his resources out of Iowa and pushing them into South Carolina. In the end, he finished with 23% of the vote. By utilizing new media tactics and a last minute, micro-targeted GOTV effort, Rubio was able to surge in Iowa. Considering the little amount of time he put together the surge, the result he put up was quite impressive.
Most important to Rubio, he was over 20 points ahead of his closest “establishment” competitor in a state that did not favor him. Rubio is now in a clear top tier with Trump and Cruz, which could force others to drop out sooner than expected.
Ben Carson – 9.3% of total votes (+1.6% expected)
Carson needed a 3rd place finish and didn’t get it. His campaign has been in free-fall since his staff quit and it showed in the results. I’d expect he will drop out of the race very soon.
Rand Paul – 4.5% of total votes (+0.4% expected)
Rand Paul also needed a very good showing and instead basically performed to the polls. His dad pulled in over 20% of the vote in 2012 and it looks like all that support has gone to Ted Cruz. Rand is unlikely to get a very good result in New Hampshire and may run out of money after that. With a Senate re-election campaign looming, it’s likely he doesn’t have much time left in the race either without a surprise result.
*Edit: Rand Paul dropped out shortly after writing this. As I suspected, he saw the writing on the wall after a poor performance in Iowa.
Jeb Bush – 2.8% of total votes (-1.3% expected)
Jeb wasn’t competing in Iowa, but he had a really bad night. He under-performed his already dismal poll results and is already being mocked for spending $2900 per vote. On top of that, the $30 million his Super PAC spent attacking Marco Rubio was ineffective as Rubio had a strong result. For Jeb, everything relies on placing well in New Hampshire. Another finish in 4th place or lower and he will be under immense pressure to drop from the establishment.
John Kasich and Chris Christie (-1.0% and -0.6% expected)
Both candidates fall into the same bucket at this point. Both did just as poorly as expected in Iowa. Both need at least 2nd place finishes in New Hampshire to keep their campaigns going and momentum is not on their side. The one saving grace for Kasich though is that his ground game is well regarded in New Hampshire. Both candidates and Jeb need to beat Rubio in New Hampshire or it’s likely their financial backers will stop providing assistance.
Other Republican Candidates
I’ll keep it short and sweet, you’re done. Huckabee and Santorum have already dropped out while Fiorina is sitting at 3.5% in New Hampshire.
Hillary Clinton – 49.8% total votes (+1.9% expected)
Overall, I think it was actually a better night for Hillary Clinton than people realize. The Clinton’s have never done well in Iowa and she showed that she can organize just as well as Bernie can. After New Hampshire the map looks bleak for Bernie and she seems to have slowed down his momentum. Her campaign has to come out of Iowa feeling confident as Bernie did not get the surprise he really needed.
Bernie Sanders – 49.6% of total votes (+5.7% expected)
Bernie has to come out feeling pretty good in Iowa as well, but I don’t like his chances. He showed viability and that there is a real movement. He will win New Hampshire by a lot, but he’s getting crushed in South Carolina. There hasn’t been any polling in Nevada in a long time, so he could surprise Hillary there. Martin O’Malley dropping out (good riddance) was also welcome news for Bernie as O’Malley’s supporters are unlikely to support Hillary.
The one big advantage Bernie has over the Republican candidates fighting to keep up with the leader though is his financial advantage. He raised $20 million in January and has the cash to go to the convention.
*Note: I am a prospective Delegate for Senator Marco Rubio in Maryland. I am trying to portray my views in the most unbiased form possible.