GLENWOOD, Iowa, (DTN) --- Despite an aggressive campaign against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz by Iowa ethanol supporters, Cruz still generated strong support in rural Iowa counties as he won the Iowa Republican caucus on Monday night.
In the GOP race, Cruz won 27.7% while billionaire Donald Trump carried 24.3% and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio carried 23.1% of the vote in unofficial results. With a record turnout, Cruz had 51,649 votes statewide, and defeated Trump by 6,233 votes.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton still held a narrow lead early Tuesday, carrying 49.9% of the Democratic delegates to more than 49.6% of the delegates for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Those numbers were with 99% of the precincts reporting statewide.
Cruz, 45, aggressively campaigned across Iowa, hitting all 99 counties at least once. He sought to tap into Iowa's strong social conservative base, but was criticized heavily by the Iowa biofuels industry because Cruz did not support the Renewable Fuels Standard. A group called America's Renewable Future, led by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's son, stalked the Cruz campaign and challenged his stance. Just two weeks ago, Gov. Branstad also said a Cruz win would hurt Iowa.
Cruz is an unabashed opponent of federal spending programs and subsidies. He drew criticism for switching a vote to support protecting crop-insurance subsidies after earlier supporting cuts to the program.
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Despite the attacks, Cruz defeated Trump, the largest personality in the race and the candidate that led in most GOP polls in Iowa. With 99% of the vote tallied, Cruz carried more than half of Iowa's counties. Cruz split much of the rural vote with Trump, but also defeated Trump in some of the largest population counties in the state such as Polk County (Des Moines) and Linn County (Cedar Rapids).
Cruz, Trump and Rubio collectively left the rest of the GOP field in the dust. Ben Carson polled at 9.3% for the night. The results will likely cull the GOP field that included 11 total candidates going into the night. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee announced he would suspend his campaign after a poor showing.
In the tight Democratic race, Sanders still declared a victory by making it clear that he has been able to nearly match Clinton in a state where few people knew anything about Sanders just a year ago. Clinton, 68, won carrying some of the biggest counties in the state, such as Polk County where Clinton won roughly 8% more delegates than the 74-year-old Sanders.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley failed to carry a county in the Democratic caucus. Given the disappointing showing, O'Malley announced late Monday he was suspending his campaign.
A big winner in the GOP field was Rubio, a 44-year-old first-term senator from Florida who rose above a crowded field. Rubio hit 23.1% of the vote and carried a handful of counties in Iowa. Rubio won the college towns, carrying Story County where Iowa State University is located, and Johnson County where the University of Iowa is based.
Yet other GOP candidates who were once considered potential frontrunners such as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (4.5%) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (2.8%) were not able to generate grassroots support in Iowa.
The New Hampshire primary is the next event on the presidential calendar. It will be held Feb. 9. Following that will be the South Carolina primary and Nevada caucuses, but the big presidential showdown will be March 1 when 12 states from across the country will hold primaries or caucuses. A slugfest for the party nominees could drag on until the primaries are scheduled to end on June 7.
Iowa is considered a "purple" state, in that its allegiance in the general elections often changes. Iowans supported President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, but also supported former President George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. The state's partisan split is somewhat regional as eastern Iowa leans Democratic while western Iowa is more heavily Republican.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com.
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