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5 ways Iowa changes everything we thought we knew about this race

BY   February 2, 2016 at 10:34 AM EDT
Supporters watch returns come in at U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa February 1, 2016.      Photo by REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Supporters watch returns come in at U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa February 1, 2016. Photo by REUTERS/Brian Snyder

It could have been predictable. It might not have showed anything new. But in the glow of fascinating results, the 2016 Iowa caucuses read like battles for the ages. Five juggernaut campaigns in two parties shattered voter numbers for Republicans and for Democrats, showing organization with some passion can edge out passion with some organization. Here are five things that the Iowa caucuses just changed.

1. Democrats: you can tie in politics.

Did Hillary Clinton win? In one sense it doesn’t matter. Both Clinton and Bernie Sanders will walk away from Iowa with nearly (or perhaps exactly) the same amount of delegates for the national convention in July. Sure, the momentum of being declared a winner does matter. But after years of the media and politicians obsession with who won Iowa, perhaps 2016 has changed things so we can be more honest about the end game. And we can finally just say, “It was a tie.”

2. GOP: This is what a three-man race looks like.

Twenty-four hours ago, before any votes were cast, 12 Republican candidates were all technically tied at zero. But Iowa voters gave us results that look clearly like a three-man race. Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio each won big chunks of the voter pie – 23 to 30 percent each. And they virtually tied in the number of delegates they won – Cruz snagging eight and Trump and Rubio winning seven a piece. It is not just a three-man race, but suddenly an incredibly close three-man race. Cruz won Iowa, but entrance polls showed Republican caucus-goers were overwhelmingly a Cruz type: very or somewhat conservative. New Hampshire may not be as Cruz friendly and even closer.

3. Clinton v. Rubio? Trump v. Sanders?

Forget the caucuses. Yes, it was a day ago. But remember that Iowa is a general election swing state. We can say it loud: a purple state. And looking at the top three Republicans and the remaining two Democrats, we know A LOT more about potential general election match-ups.

Clinton v Rubio? Entrance polls in Iowa showed voters – by significant amounts – think Clinton and Rubio are the candidates most likely to win the nomination. They also show that voters think they are the best candidates to handle the economy and jobs. And they have another overlap – both lead with college graduates. Clinton versus Rubio looks to be an economic fight (with a possible national security battle) with both needing lot appeal to less-educated, blue-collar voters.

Trump v. Sanders? Trump won with one political group: moderates. Sanders won with one political group: very liberal. Both excelled with voters who wanted an outsider. A Trump v. Sanders battle would be an potentially explosive fight over philosophy, consistency and who can knock down the current system better.

Cruz v. Clinton or Cruz v. Sanders? Cruz soared with a few groups of voters: conservative, especially very conservative, those with no college degree and those who are looking for someone who “shares their values.” Taking on either Sanders or Clinton, Cruz may have to find ways to appeal to more moderate and independent voters, or to find new large groups of conservative voters who don’t go to the polls regularly. Cruz v Clinton could also be a class-centric battle, with Clinton needing more low-income voters and Cruz needing more high-income.

4. The Smartphone election

You are not imagining things. The results came in quickly last night. This is thanks to a smartphone app developed by Microsoft that allowed caucus organizers in all 1,681 Iowa precincts to enter results on their phone, in real time. It feels like a major change in how caucuses, and down the road, how all elections can run. (Fingerprint technology on phones – we have it.)

5. Republicans are excited and interested

The platoon of candidates? The anti-Washington, anti-Obama sentiment in their party? The Donald? One or all of these factors led to not just record turnout for Republicans in Iowa but record-smashing turnout. The previous GOP caucus record was just over 121,000, in 2012. Last night, more than 180,000 Iowans voted in the Republican caucus. It was a hard-to-fathom 50 percent jump from the previous record.

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