NEWBURY, N.H. (AP) – Next up: New Hampshire.
Presidential contenders on Tuesday turned their airplanes and their hopes to the next arena in the fight for the nominations, a state that will test Ted Cruz’s broader appeal and give Hillary Clinton a chance to reinvigorate her battered campaign in the Granite State.
Clinton eked out a win over rival Bernie Sanders in Monday’s Iowa caucuses. But the razor-thin margin suggested the Democratic contest is headed toward a protracted wrestling match between its progressive and pragmatic wings.
On the Republican side, Cruz’s win provided a twist worthy of the topsy-turvy race. Winning 27.7 percent support, the Texas senator proved to be beloved by evangelicals, even if maligned by many others in his party, and adept at mounting a powerful grass-roots operation. Donald Trump’s second-place finish at 24.3 percent was a humbling blow to the boastful mogul who had dominated the polls for weeks. Coming in at a close third with 23.1 percent, Marco Rubio was catapulted to the top of heap of establishment candidates vying to be the party’s preferred alternative to Trump or Cruz.
With all precincts reporting, Clinton bested Sanders by less than three-tenths of 1 percent. Although the Iowa Democratic Party declared the contest “the closest in Iowa Democratic caucus history,” officials said Tuesday afternoon that they would not conduct a recount and Sanders’ campaign said it would not challenge the results.
“There’s no plan to look backwards,” said Sanders strategist Tad Devine.
Clinton’s victory means she will collect 23 delegates and Sanders will win 21.
With her advantage in superdelegates – the party officials who can support the candidate of their choice – Clinton now has a total of 385 delegates. Sanders has 29.
It takes 2,382 delegates to win the Democratic nomination for president.
After coming in third in Iowa eight years ago, Clinton said Tuesday she was “so proud” of coming out on top.
“I’ve won and I’ve lost there and it’s a lot better to win,” she told supporters in Nashua.
Still, it was clear the results were too close for comfort for the Clinton campaign. Tapping into youthful enthusiasm and the party’s Clinton-fatigue, Sanders was able to hinder the former secretary of state’s coast to the nomination. New Hampshire presents a formidable challenge for Clinton, who now faces an electorate that has been receptive to Sander’s anti-establishment, anti-Wall Street message.
Clinton on Tuesday urged voters to get practical and ask themselves “does this just sound good on paper or does this get done? And who is mostly likely going to be able to deliver?”
Sanders said Tuesday he considered the results a “giant step” toward proving his long-term viability.
“We’re in this for the long haul,” he told reporters abroad his flight to New Hampshire early Tuesday. The senator didn’t waste any time. Upon landing at dawn, he immediately addressed a hardy group of supporters in Bow, New Hampshire who anxiously awaited his arrival.
For Republicans, the pivot to New Hampshire meant the still-crowded cast of the candidates turned toward a less religious and mostly undecided electorate.
New Hampshire has historically favored more moderate candidates than Iowa, and more than 40 percent of the state’s electorate are not registered in any political party, giving them the power to choose which parties’ primary to vote in on Feb. 9. Polls show well over half of GOP voters have yet to make up their minds.
That may be good news for Cruz, who is hoping to avoid the conservatives’ Iowa curse. Unlike past conservatives who found love in Iowa but fizzled fast, Cruz argued Tuesday that his campaign has staying power, resources and broad appeal.
“This is the power of the conservative grassroots and there is a silent majority in this country,” Cruz told CNN. “This is center right country. This is a country built on Judeo-Christian values. And the heart of my campaign is based on common-sense principles.”
But as his campaign kept one eye on New Hampshire, the other was on South Carolina, where his fiery conservatism is expected to resonate better than in northern New England. Cruz was slated to hold an evening rally in Greenville, S.C. evening rally, before returning to New Hampshire immediately afterward.
Rubio, too, was looking ahead. His campaign announced the endorsement of South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only African American Republican in the Senate.
His advisors cast the race as a three-person contest – an attempt box out the other contenders vying for mainstream Republicans.
That won’t be easy. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday stormed into New Hampshire with packed campaign schedules. Christie had five events scheduled on Tuesday; while Bush was holding four and Kasich had three town hall meetings planned.
And then there is Trump, who may be the candidate most in need of a comeback after Iowa. Despite stealing the spotlight and driving the debate for months, Trump appears to have been out-organized by Cruz in Iowa.
Of the 36 percent of Iowa caucus-goers who said they were contacted by someone asking them to come out to support their candidate, Cruz had a 31 percent to 23 percent advantage over Trump, according to entrance polls conducted for the Associated Press and television networks.
On Tuesday, Trump blamed the media for dismissing his “longshot great finish.”
“Because I was told I could not do well in Iowa, I spent very little there – a fraction of Cruz & Rubio. Came in a strong second. Great honor,” Trump tweeted.
The fate of another erstwhile Iowa darling was unclear on Tuesday. Ben Carson flew home to Florida after coming in fourth Monday night. Although his campaign said he was still in the race, Cruz’s campaign was circling – looking to scoop up some of Carson’s evangelical supporters.
“Where is Ben Carson?” Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler pointedly asked as the campaign planes landed at a Manchester airport.
Associated Press writers Ken Thomas, Lisa Lerer, Steve Peoples in New Hampshire, and Bill Barrow in South Carolina contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)