Column: Iowa caucus proved no frontrunner is guaranteed a win

After Trump’s loss and Sanders’ near victory on Monday, there’s no telling how the next competition will end.

On Monday night, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton breathed “a big sigh of relief.” So did I, but for a different reason.

Clinton expressed both relief and gratitude in a speech to her supporters around 10:45 p.m., when the Iowa Democratic caucus results were 95 percent counted. Her lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) was, in his words later that night, “a virtual tie.” Her ultimate win, 49.8 over 49.6 percent, was not officially declared until noon Tuesday, 17 hours after voting began and over 13 hours after her speech.

She’s lucky she won, or that sigh of relief – a backhanded declaration of victory – would have been a heck of an embarrassment. Even at midnight on Tuesday, not all the votes had been counted, and it was still too early to call the caucus.

I breathed my own sigh of relief over an hour before Clinton did, when Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, won the Republican caucus at 9:30 p.m. My relief came not from his win, but from Donald Trump’s loss. The bigoted businessman only secured 24 percent of the vote, while Cruz won with 28 percent. However, as the results poured in throughout the night, I watched both men’s percentages fall from above 30 as the apparent two-man Republican race became three. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, shocked America by nearly knocking Trump out of second place, climbing from an initial 18 to a final 23 percent.

Now with two rivals instead of one, Trump’s capability of becoming the Republican presidential nominee suddenly looks much less likely. However, it’s still too early to call, something Trump has never seemed to comprehend. He’s claimed for months that “people love (him),” and he has touted his approval ratings in pre-caucus polls, which have set him above his opponents. Trump’s tendency toward self-inflating exaggeration aside, his underperformance in Iowa had much to do with his decision to skip the seventh Republican debate less than a week prior, a move that may have done Rubio a favor.

Rubio went into Iowa with deliberately low expectations. His surprisingly strong finish was undoubtedly a personal victory, but his post-caucus speech to his supporters went further than triumphant. He bashed Democrats from Clinton to Sanders to the current president of the United States, claiming that Iowans had “sent a very clear message that after seven years of Barack Obama, we are not waiting any longer to take our country back.”

Slow down a bit, Rubio. You’ve got two more Republicans and a Democrat to beat before your party can take power back.

Trump isn’t out of the running for the nomination yet. He significantly leads Cruz in support from Republicans in New Hampshire, the next state to cast its votes for party nominees. However, experts predicted that Trump would win in Iowa. My sigh of relief at Trump’s loss faded away as the gap tightened between Clinton and Sanders on Monday night. Sanders is favored to win in New Hampshire, but after his near victory on Monday, when Clinton was the favorite, there’s no telling how the next competition will end. The New Hampshire race is, again, too early to call.

I said last week that this election year would be dramatic, but I did not anticipate that statement to already be accurate. The Iowa caucus proved that with these two Democratic and three Republican frontrunners, all the future caucuses and primaries are – say it with me – too early to call.

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