By John Whitesides and Amanda Becker
DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) – Republican Senator Ted Cruz beat billionaire Donald Trump in Iowa on Monday while Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders remained deadlocked in the first presidential nominating contests of the 2016 White House race.
Cruz, a conservative lawmaker from Texas, won with 28 percent of the vote compared to 24 percent for businessman Trump in the Republican contest. Marco Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida, came in third with 23 percent, easily making him the leader among establishment Republican candidates.
Clinton, a former secretary of state, and Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist U.S. senator from Vermont, both came in at roughly 50 percent with 95 percent of the state’s precincts reporting results. Sanders declared the results a tie.
Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who had trouble gaining any traction in the Democratic race, suspended his campaign. He took third place with less than one percent.
Cruz’s win and Rubio’s strong showing could dent the momentum for Trump, whose candidacy has alarmed the Republican establishment and been marked by controversies such as his calls for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States.
“Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa and all across this great nation,” Cruz, 45, said during a victory speech that lasted more than 30 minutes. Buoyed by evangelical voters, Cruz thanked God. He said the results showed that the nominee would not be chosen by the media, the Washington establishment or lobbyists.
Trump, 69, congratulated Cruz and said he still expected to win the Republican nomination for the Nov. 8 election.
“I’m just honored, I’m really honored,” Trump told supporters. He said he looked forward to the next contest next week in New Hampshire, where polls show him ahead.
Clinton, 68, said she was breathing a “big sigh of relief” after the results. She lost to then-Senator Barack Obama in 2008. The former first lady congratulated Sanders and did not declare victory in her remarks.
“It is rare that we have the opportunity we do now to have a real contest of ideas,” she said.
Sanders, 74, said he and Clinton were in a “virtual tie” and said he was overwhelmed.
“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,” he said.
The results could shift momentum in both races. Clinton hoped for a strong finish against Sanders to vanquish his insurgent candidacy. Sanders is leading in opinion polls in New Hampshire.
Rubio’s third-place finish established him as the Republican mainstream alternative to Trump and Cruz.
“I am grateful to you, Iowa. You believed in me when others didn’t think it was possible,” Rubio, 44, said.
The results could have ramifications going forward.
“There is now blood in the water for Donald Trump,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. “Ted Cruz proved he could successfully beat back Trump attacks because he had a great ground game and identified well with evangelical voters.”
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said he was suspending his campaign for the Republican party nomination. Huckabee won the Iowa caucus in 2008.
Iowa has held the first nominating contests, called caucuses, since the early 1970s, giving it extra weight in the U.S. electoral process that can translate into momentum for winning candidates. The caucuses are voter gatherings that take place in 1,100 schools, churches and other public locations across the Midwestern state.
The 2016 election is shaping up to be the year of angry voters as disgruntled Americans worry about issues such as immigration, terrorism, income inequality and healthcare, fueling the campaigns of Trump, Sanders and Cruz.
Market reaction in Asia to the results was muted, with U.S. stock futures <SPc1> down around half a percent.
“Financial markets might be more comfortable with Hillary (Clinton) than Bernie (Sanders),” said Sean Callow, a strategist at Westpac Bank in Australia.
“There would have to be at least some jitters over the guy who plans to break up the big banks. But it’s probably too early to expect the U.S. presidential race to have an impact on the U.S. stock market.”
(Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici, Dustin Volz, Steve Holland, Ginger Gibson, Amy Tennery, Megan Cassella, Alana Wise, James Oliphant, and Jonathan Allen, and Vidya Ranganathan in Singapore; Writing by Jeff Mason; Editing by Howard Goller)
Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks, with his wife Heidi Cruz by his side, after winning at his Iowa caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, February 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young