NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Monday, February 1, 2016, 10:49 PM
Donald Trump greets voters as he arrives at the Republican caucus in Clive, Iowa.
Ahead of the pivotal Iowa caucuses Monday, Donald Trump said he was nervous — and, as it turned out, he had good reason to be.
Amid high voter-turnout in the first-in-the-nation voting contest, surging Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was declared the Hawkeye State winner, getting 27.7% support with more than 85% of Iowa precincts reporting.
Trump, who most polls ahead of the contest had shown in the lead, trailed with 24.4% support.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, meanwhile, had the support 23.0% of caucus-goers, pitting the three Republican 2016 candidates in a near three-way tie.
With results still pouring in late Monday, no other candidate had yet surpassed 10% support in the state, with Ben Carson, the next closest competitor after the three-man race, getting 9.3%.
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Hours before caucus sites opened, Trump, perhaps anticipating a potential loss, uncharacteristically admitted he was anxious heading into his first election day as a candidate.
Cruz was declared the winner in Iowa with 27.7% support with more than 85% of precincts reporting.
“You have to be a little bit nervous, and you know I like to win,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “This is actually my first election night. I’ve gone through many election nights, but it was always for somebody else.”
“This is a little bit different for me,” he added.
Cruz’s anticipated victory represents a surprising and rare defeat for Trump, who, heading in the caucuses, had actually widened his lead in polls.
Despite his late ambivalence over his prospects, Trump had nevertheless predicted victory Monday after media reports suggested high voter turnout — a prospect that had been thought to favor the mogul.
“We’re going to have a tremendous victory,” the bombastic billionaire said during a rally in Cedar Rapids, his last event in a flurry of furious last-minute stumping before Hawkeye State residents began caucusing.
Caucusing began across the state at 7:00 p.m. CST, with turnout reportedly so high in certain precincts that state officials didn’t have enough voter registration forms to accommodate the droves of caucus-goers taking advantage of same-day registration, which is legal in the state.
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The high turnout across the state had been thought to be an encouraging sign for Trump, who had employed a risky strategy in Iowa that relied heavily on turning out thousands of first-time caucus-goers.
Dan Arthur, who owns an energy conservation business, said he was one of them.
“I’m going to go for the full adventure. I’ll probably vote for Trump just to add some spice to the full bouillabaisse of politics here,” he said.
Cruz, however, was undeterred by naysayers, as he made his final stop of a 99-county tour of the state and promised residents he was the race’s “true conservative.”
And the Texas senator, unlike Trump, appeared to play down expectations for his performance in the caucuses, saying he was simply happy to be in the running for a first-place finish.
“If you had told me a year ago that two days out from the Iowa caucuses we would be neck and neck, effectively tied for first place in the state of Iowa, I would have been thrilled,” said Cruz, who also ramped up his attacks on Rubio over the weekend as part of an effort to ensure that that the Florida senator doesn’t inch into a second-place finish.
Rubio, who in recent weeks quietly received endorsements from the Des Moines Register, the largest newspaper in the state, and several sitting and former lawmakers, confidently dismissed the criticism from Cruz on Monday as “politics as usual.”
In the last poll released before the caucuses, Trump remained the race’s front-runner, having widening his lead over Ted Cruz. The Quinnipiac University poll, released Monday morning, showed the outspoken mogul with 31% support among Iowa Republicans likely to caucus, compared with 24% for the Texas senator. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio trailed in third place with 17% support.
The previous poll released, a Des Moines Register / Bloomberg Politics survey with a strong track record in predicting the results of past caucuses, showed Trump leading Cruz 28% to 23%.
Despite Trump’s growing support in the polls, it remained to be seen whether he would be able to turn his legions of fans into votes.
Cruz, on the other hand, modeled his campaign after past Iowa winners, with a strong on-the-ground operation that can likely turn out thousands of voters to the caucuses physically — even by driving them, if necessary.
Meanwhile, following a disappointing showing, Mike Huckabee said he was ending his longshot 2016 bid.
After getting just 1.8% support in caucuses, the former Arkansas governor said he was “officially suspending” his campaign.
The campaign of Ben Carson, for its part, said the retired neurosurgeon would fly back to Florida Monday night “to go home and get a fresh set of clothes” but was not suspending his campaign.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich all finished with less than 3% support. The trio of governors is banking on strong showings in New Hampshire’s Feb. 9 primary to jumpstart their White House bids.
With Jennifer Fermino in Des Moines, Iowa, and News Wire Services