WASHINGTON – A conservative firebrand survived weeks of flame-throwing over his Calgary birth to make history Monday as the Canadian-born winner of a major United States presidential nomination contest.
A dual citizen until recently, Alberta-born Ted Cruz won the first-in-the-country nomination contest, taking the Iowa Republican caucuses despite being bombarded with questions about his eligibility by Donald Trump.
The billionaire’s birtherist broadsides failed against Barack Obama four years ago and they didn’t work in Iowa, either: thanks to a superior organization-and-turnout effort, Cruz exceeded pollsters’ expectations and won by about four percentage points.
It was a humbling night for Trump. He almost fell into third place, behind a delighted Sen. Marco Rubio. As for the habitually boastful Trump, he was gracious in defeat: “I’m just honoured. I’m really honoured, and I want to congratulate Ted… Iowa, we love you… I think I might come back here and buy a farm.”
Trump expressed optimism he’ll go on to win the nomination. He made sure to mention his bigger lead in polls in New Hampshire — which votes next week, and which has a very different political makeup from Iowa with far fewer religious voters.
Cruz staked his campaign on the midwestern state’s social conservatives. He launched his bid last year at an evangelical Christian university, and religious voters appeared to reward him Monday.
He spoke to them by quoting scripture in his victory speech Monday.
“The next president of the United States will not be chosen by the media. Will not be chosen by the Washington establishment. Will not be chosen by the lobbyists,” Cruz said.
Styling himself as the staunchest right-winger among the Republican frontrunners, the first-term Texas lawmaker has gone out of his way to draw attention to his prickly relationship with his Senate colleagues — none of whom have endorsed him.
He has parried Trump’s attacks over his unpopularity with colleagues by branding himself as an outsider in tune with the insurrectionist spirit rippling through the party.
That anti-establishment mood was potent enough Monday to relegate the fat-walleted campaign of the presumed frontrunner entering the race, Jeb Bush, to an embarrassing sixth-place finish.
On the Democratic side, meanwhile, the establishment favourite was sweating. Hillary Clinton clung to a nailbiting lead of less than a percentage point over the underdog challenging her from the left — Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Among Republicans, Cruz took about 28 per cent. Trump under-performed his poll numbers to finish with 24 per cent. And Rubio finished a strong third with 23 per cent, making him an early contender for the support of the more moderate mainstream as the race shifts to New Hampshire next week, then to southern states.
On paper, Iowa results mean little.
The state has a dismal track record of predicting the Republican nominee: in contested years, it’s only picked the eventual winner two of the last seven times. Of the more than 1,200 delegates required to win the nomination at this summer’s Republican convention, Iowa confers only confers 30, to be split among the frontrunners.
But the results have mattered in other ways. Every big-party nominee of the modern era has won one of the first two contests, and Iowa has divided the field into contenders and no-hopers. Mike Huckabee, a former Iowa winner, immediately suspended his campaign Monday.
For his part, Rubio emerged as a first-tier player, which will cause nervousness among Democrats: he is perhaps the only candidate in his party to consistently beat Clinton in hypothetical head-to-head polling matchups.
The state has a far better record of picking the Democratic winner.
Clinton was seeking to cement her frontrunner status within that party. With votes still being counted early Tuesday, she was on the verge of snapping a family jinx.
She clung to a paper-thin lead of less than a percentage point, in a state that produced heartbreak for her in 2008 and dealt her husband a withering fourth-place defeat in 1992.
Both she and Sanders claimed moral victory. Neither conceded defeat. In fact, their virtual tie means they’ll actually split the state’s delegates. But it deprived Sanders of the kind of early win that propelled Obama’s 2008 campaign.
A burst out of the gates helped Obama erase a huge deficit in later-voting, less-liberal southern states like South Carolina. This time, polls show Clinton with a 40-per-cent lead in South Carolina.
Sanders, who remains the favourite in New Hampshire, can now hope at best for a split in the first two states before the race moves to tougher terrain.
An enthusiastic crowd cheered Sanders as he referred to the come-from-behind quality of a campaign that has energized young liberals, with its call for a drastic shifting of national priorities toward tougher rules on corporations and a bigger social safety net.
Clinton expressed peace of mind.
“I stand here tonight breathing a big sigh of relief,” Clinton said, suggesting she’d won without explicitly declaring victory.
“I will keep standing for you. I will keep fighting for you.”