It was a big night in Iowa Monday for anti-establishment candidates — just not always the one who expected it.

A Republican race that seemed to be heading toward a romp to the nomination by billionaire businessman Donald Trump suddenly has turned into a fierce and more extended battle: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the opening contest of the 2016 campaign, and Trump only narrowly managed to finish ahead of FloridaSen. Marco Rubio.

In the Democratic race, a hairs-breadth divided former secretary of State Hillary Clinton and challenger Bernie Sanders, a stronger showing by the Vermont senator than seemed possible just a few weeks ago. While Clinton did better than her humiliating third-place showing here in 2008, it means that she once again heads to the New Hampshire primary with something to prove.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton celebrates with her husband, former president Bill Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea Clinton, after she was projected the winner over Bernie Sanders during the Iowa caucus.  Bryon Houlgrave, The Des Moines Register

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton celebrates with her husband, former president Bill Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea Clinton, after she was projected the winner over Bernie Sanders during the Iowa caucus. Bryon Houlgrave, The Des Moines Register

In speeches to supporters as the results came in, Clinton declared that she was “breathing a big sigh of relief” but acknowledged that she now faced “really getting into the debate” with Sanders about the country’s best course forward. Sanders said to cheers that he had taken on “the most powerful political organization in America” and fought them to “a virtual tie.” Trump, speaking with unusual brevity, insisted that he “loved” Iowa and might be back one day to buy a farm.

Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders speaks to a crowd of supporters during the Iowa Caucus.   Kelsey Kremer, The Des Moines Register

Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders speaks to a crowd of supporters during the Iowa Caucus. Kelsey Kremer, The Des Moines Register

And Cruz, like Trump a candidate viewed with suspicion by the Republican establishment, declared to cheers, “God bless the great state of Iowa.”

The polls were proven wrong: Trump had led in the last dozen statewide surveys.

Trump’s unexpected defeat poses a test for the political neophyte, who routinely ridicules “losers,” and guarantees a long contest for the nomination.

Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz speaks in Des Moines after winning the Iowa caucus.  Brian Powers, The Des Moines Register Fullscreen Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz speaks in Des Moines

Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz speaks in Des Moines after winning the Iowa caucus. Brian Powers, The Des Moines Register

Cruz won with a superior organization and more conventional political strategy than Trump. The Texas senator succeeded with appeals to Iowa’s evangelical Christians and attacks on Trump as something other than a reliable conservative. And Trump’s decision to skip the final Republican debate, complaining about being ill-treated by the Fox News sponsors, may have cost him among Iowans who thought he should have showed up.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters in West Des Moines after Ted Cruz won the GOP Iowa Caucus.  John Taggart, EPA

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters in West Des Moines after Ted Cruz won the GOP Iowa Caucus. John Taggart, EPA

“Trump’s showing raises questions about how he will handle defeat and whether he can broaden his appeal in a party where ideology is more important that personal charisma,” says Stu Rothenberg of the non-partisan Rothenberg-Gonzales Political Report. “Cruz’s victory should give him momentum, establishing him as the conservative alternative to Trump.”

The results fueled Rubio’s hopes of emerging as the mainstream alternative to Trump and Cruz. “If you don’t want Ted Cruz or Donald Trump as the nominee, you better get on board with Marco Rubio,” spokesman Alex Conant said on MSNBC as returns came in.

Marco Rubio

Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio greets supporters as he leaves the stage with his family at his campaign party in the Iowa Ballroom at the Marriott in downtown Des Moines. Rachel Mummey, The Des Moines Register

That could be sobering news for such rivals as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Bush, who started the race with the field’s most famous name and deepest pockets, finished sixth in Iowa at just 3%.

Just about everybody now heads to New Hampshire, which holds the first-in-the-nation primary next week. Sanders and Trump have double-digit leads in statewide polls there, although history teaches there can be major upheavals in the wake of the Iowa outcome.

Everybody except, perhaps, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a Republican, and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat. Both suspended their long-shot campaigns last night after drawing negligible support in the caucuses.

To be sure, the Iowa caucuses are only the start of the presidential season, not the end. Even a decisive win doesn’t settle the race. The last two Republican winners, Huckabee in 2008 and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum in 2012, didn’t end up as the nominee.

But Cruz is in a better position to capitalize on his momentum from Iowa than either Huckabee or Santorum were. Cruz’s campaign on Monday reported having almost $19 million in the bank, and he has organized extensively not only in the opening states but also in the Southern primaries that follow in March.

Those future contests could be a challenge for Sanders.

“The question now is can Bernie Sanders use his victory in Iowa to expand his support beyond white progressives,” said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, who ranHoward Dean’s presidential campaign in 2004. “South Carolina is the next real test.”

By SUSAN PAGE Feb. 2, 2016 on USA Today.

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