HOLLIS, N.H. — A week after his win in the Iowa caucuses, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was clinging to a slim lead over Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for third place in the New Hampshire primary late Tuesday night, finding himself among a tight pack of also-rans swamped by real estate magnate Donald Trump. Ohio Gov. John Kasich was running second, well behind Trump.
“The votes are still being counted, and the exact results are unknown, but right now it appears that we are effectively tied for third,” Cruz told supporters. He did his best to paint the showing as a victory, saying his campaign exceeded expectations and “has left the Washington cartel utterly terrified.”
The finish said relatively little about the state of Cruz’s campaign — there were are few delegates to be won here, and Cruz never invested much time or energy. Instead, he appeared to be displacing other candidates who did bet their futures on the Granite State, a possible death blow to at least one or two campaign rivals.
New Hampshire is a moderate state, not a traditionally receptive place for Cruz’s evangelical political style. But the junior Texas senator was able to capitalize on a glut of establishment-minded candidates by consolidating enough of the far right, libertarian-minded conservative voters to complete a substantive finish.
The Democratic results also have implications for the state of Texas. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders handily defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who narrowly won Iowa’s caucuses last week.
Clinton’s loss means she needs to run up the score in Texas and other Southern states on March 1 to turn the momentum in her favor. Even before the New Hampshire primary was over, Clinton sent a top aide to campaign last Saturday to San Antonio.
After Tuesday’s vote, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook circulated a memo looking to the road ahead for his candidate.
He cited Texas, along with Georgia, Alabama, Illinois and Florida, as “an opportunity to build a coalition of support that’s as diverse as the Democratic Party,” pointing to Hispanic and African American demographics.
But first, Clinton will turn to the Feb. 27 primary in South Carolina. Cruz, too, will begin the South Carolina campaign Wednesday morning.
The Republican primary there will take place on Feb. 20, and the stakes for Cruz will be much higher. He’s spent much time cultivating the state’s evangelical vote.
With a packed slate of candidates on the GOP side jostling for attention across the state, New Hampshire’s primary day carried a circus-like atmosphere, especially in downtown Manchester. Voters packed polling sites, and with open primaries in both parties, turnout was expected to surge from 2012 figures.
Cruz himself made an appearance early Tuesday as voting took place at the Red Arrow diner, a traditional campaign stop for presidential contenders.
But the retail politicking only went so far. Ad spending engulfed airwaves in New Hampshire, a state with only one broadcast affiliate.
Republican campaigns and super PACs spent $30 million on negative intra-party advertising, according to a New York Times/Kantar Media CMAG analysis.
Cruz served as more of a peripheral figure in the ad wars. While somewhat of a target, his supporters — libertarians and the sparse New Hampshire evangelical population — were not easily transferrable to more establishment candidates.
Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s weak finish after some had predicted a bounce from his Iowa showing throws a new wrench into the fight for Texas GOP donors.
Some of the big-money state Republicans were all but ready to cut their loyalties to Bush in favor of Rubio, based on bullish expectations for the Florida senator. But his stumbles Saturday night at the most recent GOP debate and New Hampshire showing might change that.
“The results have to be disappointing for the Rubio campaign,” said former Dallas County GOP Chairman Jonathan Neerman, a Rubio backer, watching partial returns. “Trump wining was no surprise, and Kasich has camped out in the state. But Marco finishing behind both Cruz and Bush is disappointing. South Carolina becomes even more important for the campaign.”