Texas Senator Ted Cruz has been declared the winner of the Republican caucus in Iowa. The Democratic race is still too close to call with Clinton and Sanders both surpassing 49 percent.
Iowa caucus-goers upset the Democratic and Republican campaigns on Monday, showing voters in both parties are deeply divided as the process to nominate each party's presidential candidate kicks off.
With 27.7 percent of voting Republicans siding with Cruz, the conservative Texas senator managed to beat nationwide frontrunner Donald Trump, who finished at a little over 24 percent. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who was earlier thought to have presented a possible upset to his far-right competitor Cruz, came in third with nearly 23 percent of the vote.
Cruz inched out a lead with the support of Evangelical voters, who came out in droves to support the firebrand conservative who has irked many Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.
"Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa and all across this great nation," Cruz told supporters, thanking God.
Trump told supporters he was honored to finish second and vowed to fight on, adding he was certain of victory next week in New Hampshire. But after building on a message of success and victory, the results in Iowa are likely to hurt Trump's image going forward even as he maintains a lead nationwide among Republicans.
Cruz's victory means he will get eight delegates for the Republican National Convention in July. Trump and Rubio will each get seven delegates, followed by neurosurgeon Ben Carson with three and Senator Rand Paul and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush with one delegate each.
After months of being considered a long shot, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee announced on Twitter that he was suspending his White House bid after winning less than 2 percent of the vote.
Clinton and Sanders in dead-heat
In the Democratic race, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders were running neck and neck. With over 95 percent of the vote counted, Clinton had a thin lead of 49.9 percent against Sanders' 49.6 percent, meaning delegates for the Democratic Convention are likely to be split evenly between the two candidates.
A self-styled Democratic Socialist, Sanders told supporters the "virtual tie" signaled his campaign was gaining momentum ahead of a key primary in New Hampshire next week.
"The reason that we have done so well here in Iowa, the reason I believe we're going to do so well in New Hampshire, and in the other states that follow, the reason is, the American people are saying, no to a rigged economy," Sanders told the crowd.
"We do not represent the interests of the billionaire class, Wall Street or corporate America," said Sanders, who after trailing for months has in recent weeks caught up with Clinton, whom he described as part of the "the most powerful political organization in the United States of America."
Clinton was looking to win Iowa after losing the key state in 2008 to President Barack Obama and ahead of the New Hampshire primary, where Sanders is polling ahead.
"It is rare that we have the opportunity we do now, to have a real contest of ideas -- to really think hard about what the Democratic Party stands for and what we want the future of our country to look like," she said.
As expected, Sanders gained support from younger voters, while Clinton did well among older voters. According to entrance poll interviews, 8 out of 10 caucus voters under the age of 30 said they supported Sanders, as did 6 out of 10 between 30 and 44.
However, in the 45 to 64 age bracket Clinton got nearly 6 out of 10 votes, while 7 out of 10 caucus-goers over 65 backed Clinton.
The third Democratic candidate, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, announced he was suspending his campaign in the wake of the news that he had garnered less than one percentage point.
While Iowa is considered the first stepping stone to gather momentum on the campaign trail, a win does not ensure the party's nomination. There are still 49 more primaries to go before the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in July.
es,cw/kms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)