Republicans and Democrats in the US state of Iowa have begun voting in the state's caucus. The poll is the first test to determine the 2016 presidential candidates.
After months of televised debates and mudslinging between candidates, the US election got underway in earnest on Monday evening as Iowa Democrats and Republicans took to the polls to select who they would like to see represent their party in the 2016 presidential campaign. The Iowa Caucus, the first presidential primary, could bring coveted momentum to the selected hopefuls as they battle their way across the next 49 states.
On the Democratic side, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was looking to defend her status as the favorite and put to rest the memories of losing the Iowa Caucus to Barack Obama in 2008.
"I know how to do this and I'm ready," Clinton told CNN on Monday.
However, while surveys had her just out in front of farther left-of-center rival Senator Bernie Sanders, according to data released by Facebook, it was Sanders who was getting the most buzz on the social media platform. The 74-year-old self-described democratic socialist has managed to cement his popularity among young voters with plans to combat rising wealth inequality and reduce the drag of student debt.
"If the turnout is high, I think we've got a real shot to win this," said Sanders, also speaking with CNN ahead of the vote.
The third Democratic candidate, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, who has campaigned in Clinton's and Sanders' shadows as a centrist, was trailing the two in polls going into the caucus.
Republican race up for grabs
The Republican field was even more uncertain. With 12 hopefuls vying for the party's candidacy, the field was wide open for everyone from controversial frontrunner, Donald Trump, to long-shot former CEO of the HP tech giant, Carly Fiorina.
The top three Republicans ahead of the poll were real estate mogul Trump, with 31 percent, followed by Texas Senator Ted Cruz with 24 percent, and then Florida Senator Marco Rubio at 17 percent. While Trump has consistently grabbed the headlines with his inflammatory rhetoric, Iowa is famous for sudden political upsets and could see far-right Cruz or rising star Rubio snatch the lead away from Trump.
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es/jr (Reuters, AFP, AP)