Iowans write first chapter of 2016 election

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DES MOINES, IA - JANUARY 28: Republican presidential candidates (L-R) Jeb Bush, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie after the Fox News - Google GOP Debate January 28, 2016 at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa. Residents of Iowa will vote for the Republican nominee at the caucuses on February 1. Donald Trump, who is leading most polls in the state, decided not to participate in the debate. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

DES MOINES, Iowa  (AP) — Iowa voters passed judgment Monday on a wide-open Republican presidential race dominated for months by Donald Trump, and a Democratic matchup pitting the first woman with a strong shot at the White House against an avowed socialist who’s put up more of a fight than anyone expected.

The Iowa caucuses, a tradition-steeped exercise in untraditional times, opened voting in the slog to November as people filed into schools, churches and veterans’ halls with a looming snowstorm appearing to hold off long enough not to mess up voting night.

In both parties, mainstream politics competed with the politics of disaffection.

Trump and Ted Cruz most effectively tapped the anger of outsiders while a quartet of Republican rivals more closely associated with the establishment competed to break through on their own — an outcome that might tamp down the insurgency so worrying GOP leaders. Among those four, Marco Rubio, a senator from Florida, appeared to make late progress in creeping up on the front-runners.

Hillary Clinton, again the presumed favorite for the Democratic nomination, fought to avoid a repeat of her 2008 failures, when Barack Obama won Iowa on his way to the presidency. Her foil this time: Bernie Sanders, who never tired of saying he started out at 3 percent in the polls only to head into the caucuses in an apparent dead heat.

But all of that positioning came before the verdict was handed off to voters. The question of the night was whose supporters would show up in the greatest numbers after all the big rallies, coffee-shop handshakes, ads, debates, endorsements and polls in a small, mostly white farm state that writes the first chapter in the 2016 election.

THE DEMOCRATS

The bracing Sanders-Clinton contest came down to a struggle between practicality and passion, with both candidates from the left but Sanders farther to the left.

Clinton, plenty ambitious in her own policy goals, went hard after Sanders for “magic wand” ideas, like substituting government-paid health care for the hard-won and landmark health law everyone knows as Obamacare.

She called herself a “progressive who wants to make progress and actually produce real results in people’s lives.”

Said Sanders, “You don’t make progress unless you have the courage to look reality in the eye.”

THE REPUBLICANS

Trump has so far defied predictions — and the hand-wringing hopes of many in his party — of a flameout. Through one provocative comment after another, he was the man to beat in Iowa, just as he will be in New Hampshire next week. He flouted convention at every turn and capped his iconoclastic ways by blowing off the final Iowa debate in a snit with Fox News.

The New York billionaire also proved to be the most polarizing figure in the race, with polls finding him with more support than other candidate but also a disapproval rating higher than those of his major rivals.

“This is the day we take our country back,” Trump said at his final Iowa rally, in Cedar Falls. He also warned people to watch for flying tomatoes, having been tipped by security that protesters might make mischief.

Cruz, a Texas senator who campaigned and organized exhaustively in Iowa, put into motion what was expected to be a strong ground game to get Iowans to the caucuses. The breadth of Trump’s precinct-by-precinct organization was more in doubt.

IOWA VOTERS SAY…

“I had an easy choice of who to pick. I don’t want another Bush, I don’t want another Clinton. And the truth is I don’t want a politician. It’s going to take somebody who can handle big money. He can. … I’m just fascinated by him.” — Steve Hoffman, 66, of Denver, Iowa, on why he’s caucusing for the first time and backing Donald Trump.

“I look for real. I look for transparent. I look for a statesman, not a politician. I look for a heart.” — Jane Gaines, 66, of Churdan, Iowa, at a pre-caucus Ted Cruz rally, with a pile of his pamphlets and a children’s Cruz-themed activity book next to her seat. She was going to the caucus undecided, leaning to Ben Carson.

“He truly is not a standard politician and that’s important to me.” — Joshua Eike, 42, an entrepreneur from Yale, Iowa, who settled on Trump after considering Cruz.

A DROP IN THE DELEGATE BUCKET

At stake Monday: 44 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, out of 2,382 to win the party’s nomination; 30 delegates to the Republican convention, out of 1,237 needed for the GOP nomination.

WHAT HAPPENS

Democrats were meeting at about 1,100 spots and Republicans at nearly 900.

Democrats broke into groups to declare their support for a candidate. If the number of people in any group was under 15 percent of the total, they could either choose not to participate or join another candidate group.

The GOP process was simpler: Supporters of each candidate got a chance to give a brief speech, then people privately marked ballots.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

The Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have already decamped to New Hampshire, where they figure they’ll do better.

Also ahead: Some likely winnowing of the field as trailing contenders decide whether to pack it in.

 

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