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What the #$@! happened?  Out of all the predictions about the Iowa caucuses only one stands out today– this campaign year is turning out to be very strange –so don’t believe the predictions.

Ted Cruz ‘s win over Donald Trump was a surprise, but just as surprising was the fact that third-place finisher Marco Rubio came very close to passing Donald Trump and finishing second.

On the Democratic side most people predicted a Hillary Clinton win, a close one, but a win. No one except for some in the Bernard Sanders  camp believed it would be this close. As I write this it looks like Clinton has “won” by a hair’s breath 49.9% vs 49.5% with only one precinct left.

With the exception of the Emerson University Poll released on caucus morning most polls predicted anywhere from a 4-7% win for Trump over Cruz with Rubio third capturing around 15% of the vote, not the Cruz 28%, Trump 24%, Rubio 23%, result after the votes were tallied. Emerson was pretty close predicting a 1% Trump win over Cruz and Rubio third at 22%. The same Emerson poll was way off on the Democratic Party side, the predicted Hillary would beat Sanders by 8%.

Most predicted that a huge turnout would be good for Trump, that didn’t turn out to be true. The 2016 Iowa caucus had the largest Republican turnout ever, over 180,000 people.

There were four possible reasons for yesterday’s GOP results; Ted Cruz’s excellent ground game organization, Donald Trump’s lousy ground game organization, Trump skipping the final debate, and “Marcomentum.”

The key to an Iowa caucus victory on the Republican side has always been ground game, and the Evangelical Christians, and that was big part of last night’s results, but not in the way one might think.

Iowa is Evangelical Christian territory. This year’s caucuses showed a higher than expected evangelical vote. Entrance polls reported that over 60% of the GOP voters were Evangelical Christians. But surprisingly Cruz did not dominate the evangelical vote. According to the Fox entrance poll, Cruz got 26 % of the vote, Trump 24%, and Rubio a very surprising 21%.

The Texas Senator may have picked up some extra evangelical voters via a bit of a dirty victory.  Just before the caucuses began, Cruz’s national chairman Rep. Steve King heard that Dr. Ben Carson wasn’t going to New Hampshire immediately, he was going home for a day to refresh (Carson also has a strong evangelical following). With that news King tweeted that Carson may be dropping out, possibly hurting the Doctor’s turnout and helping Cruz.

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That’s not to take away from the rest of the Cruz effort. He built his Iowa victory in a very traditional way, he built the strongest ground game team.  On the Trump side, it was the exact opposite but very Trump. The campaign’s bragging about their wonderful ground game turned out to be nothing but bloviating, something many suspected because when pressed by reporters to divulge any detail they refused– tap danced. The Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski never identified supporters, never set up substantial phone banks, never followed and tracked their followers, etc., never did what was needed to guarantee a victory. In short the ground game was amateurish at best, and that can’t be blamed on Trump, that is the job of the campaign manager.

Trump’s absence from the Fox debate hurt him.  It is not known if voters switched away from Trump because he skipped the televised match but because his absence allowed Rubio to shine in the debate.

During last week’s Fox debate, Rubio consciously reached out to the evangelicals and based on the results, it worked.   When he was asked about being on a Time Magazine cover with the caption “The Republican’s Savior,” on debate night Rubio answered:

Well, let me be clear about one thing, there’s only one savior and it’s not me. It’s Jesus Christ who came down to earth and died for our sins.

And later he said:

Because in the end, my goal is not simply to live on this earth for 80 years, but to live an eternity with my creator. And I will always allow my faith to influence everything I do.

Rubio’s overall debate performance was deemed the strongest, and perhaps because of that late deciders went to the Florida Senator. Twenty-eight percent of late deciders went to Rubio, 20% to Cruz, and 14% to Trump.

The bottom line is Ted Cruz did what he had to, Iowa was the state he was most likely to win and he put in the work and time to win it.  Rubio got into Iowa late because he was worried about peaking early, he caught up but might have “peaked” a few days too late. Trump thought he could win Iowa with big rallies and speeches, but his failure at retail politics and his campaign’s failure to build a strong ground game, and skipping the debate allowing Marco Rubio to shine all contributed to his loss.

All that is well and good but New Hampshire is next week and the Granite State is not Iowa. While ground game is always important, it is not as crucial in New Hampshire as it was in Iowa. The next Republican debate is being held in New Hampshire in four days (Saturday night on ABC), I guarantee “The Donald” will be there. And although Cruz is supposed to be there he may still be giving what, at 11:30pm eastern, seemed to be an endless victory speech.

No Republican candidate has ever one both Iowa and New Hampshire and chances are that tradition will hold next week. While Iowa was expected to be close, as of now Trump has a Huuuuuuge (22% lead), expect that lead to shrink over the next few days.

Huckabee is out and he will endorse Trump possibly tomorrow.

With the possible exception of Rick Santorum, don’t expect any of the other candidates who generated less than 3% of the Iowa vote to drop out before New Hampshire (Bush, Christie, Fiorina, Gilmore, and Kasich). Kasich, Bush and Christie are polling better in NH than they did in Iowa so in their minds there is no reason to drop out. Fiorina probably should drop out as she hasn’t shown a surge, but as a non-traditional candidate that probably won’t happen.

What will happen is Marco Rubio will get a large infusion of”establishment donor cash.  The Florida Senator who was elected because of his Tea Party credentials will now be seen as the best candidate by the “establishment” Republican donors. In this last seven days before New Hampshire, Marco Rubio will flood the airways possibly helping him to steal votes from Bush,  Christie, and Kasich. Rubio has alway’s said his strategy was 3rd in Iowa, 2nd in New Hampshire, and first in South Carolina. For his campaign to maintain the Iowa momentum he needs a second place in the Granite State (he is now polling 5th but there’s plenty of time).

As for Cruz, New Hampshire is not as important as South Carolina. He will do his due diligence up north but his real objective is South Carolina in three weeks where Trump also has a big (17%) lead. Three weeks during the early primary season is a life time and the SC results will react in part by NH.

As for Trump, New Hampshire has become crucial.  Iowa put a little dent in his armor, proving he can be beat. A New Hampshire loss may make him seem almost beatable, making some his supporters in future states rethink their position, and almost important motivating the media to move away from their Trump-centric coverage—reducing the billionaire’s free media time.

One thing is sure, the race for the 2016 Republican nomination is officially a three-person race–at the very least that’s how it looks. It’s important to keep in mind what I stated a the top of this post – the 2016 campaign year is turning out to be very strange, so expect the unexpected.

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