Why Last Night's Biggest Winners May Have Lost The Iowa Caucuses

"We are in a virtual tie."

Senator Ted Cruz came away the clear winner of the Republican Iowa caucus in the first night of voting for the 2016 presidential primaries, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed a close victory for the Democrats.

With 99 percent of the vote in early Tuesday morning, Cruz led the Republican candidates with 28 percent, followed by businessman Donald Trump at 24 percent and Florida's junior senator Marco Rubio surprising many with 23 percent. In the Democratic race, Clinton's campaign announced her victory with 49.86 percent of the vote. Others felt it was too close to call — Senator Bernie Sanders trailed Clinton by only .29 percent.

"The results tonight are the closest in Iowa Democratic caucus history," Iowa party chairman Andy McGuire told CNN. "We will report that final precinct when we have confirmed those results with the chair."

As Clinton admitted having a "sigh of relief" following the apparent narrow victory, Sanders pointed to his poll numbers from nine months ago that said he trailed Clinton by 30 points. 

"Nine months ago, we came to this beautiful state, we had no political organization, we had no money, we had no name recognition and we were taking on the most powerful political organization in the United States of America," Sanders said. "And tonight, while the results are still not known, it looks like we are in a virtual tie."

Most political analysts are saying the best nights belonged to Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders, despite neither of them winning their caucus. That's because they both performed far better than some media outlets predicted, and light years better than was expected of them just months ago. Ted Cruz also took some momentum back from Donald Trump, who seemed to dominate the headlines consistently over the last six months.

So how important is it to win the Iowa caucus?

Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images.
Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images.

It depends who you ask. The last three winners of the Iowa caucus for the Democrats were Barack Obama, John Kerry and Al Gore. The last three winners for the Republicans were Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and George W. Bush. You'll notice that only two of those six candidates went on to become president, although four became their parties' nominees.

The Iowa caucus represents only one percent of the electoral college, but winning it does mean you get a lot of free publicity and typically boosts the confidence of your supporters, which means more money coming into the campaign. In other words, things are just getting started, but winning this caucus has significance.

OK, now what?

Now we move onto New Hampshire. But the campaigns will head there without former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a Republican, who both dropped out of the race after poor performances in Iowa. 

Cover photo: Christopher Furlong / Getty Images.