For Donald Trump this was his first test before voters anywhere.

For months, he's barnstormed through the presidential election campaign, ripping up the rule book, changing conventional wisdom.

He said he could win Iowa. And a respected poll, published by a respected local newspaper just days before the state's caucus, predicted a win.

But after the voters were counted in Iowa on Monday, he fell short.

His momentum, his showmanship and all the free publicity that brought in weren't enough to overcome Texas Senator Ted Cruz's expensive and methodical get-out-the vote operation.

Yet this shouldn't be considered a big loss for Trump. Certainly the claim of being the "winningest" president ever has been punctured but it's not devastating.

Difficult game to play

If anything Trump is guilty of raising expectations, always a difficult game to play in politics.

But then Trump isn't known for being modest and understated.

The reality is with most of the Republican voters in Iowa describing themselves as evangelical or born-again Christian, this was a hard place to play for Trump.

His past positions on abortion, on universal healthcare and the fact he's been married three times would all have been obstacles to overcome. He will play better in the south of the US with working-class voters.


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Cruz looked as if he's peaked too early, heading the polls at the turn of the year and then dropping.

But his campaign remained confident Iowa was within their grasp. And it was.

He now needs a good finish in New Hampshire, but will be looking further forward to 'Super Tuesday' on March 1.

That's when many southern states including Texas and Kentucky hold primary and caucuses, and it's where he has spent a lot of time and energy.

Night's big winner

The big winner on the night was Marco Rubio. He spent the weekend telling everyone who'd listen he was doing well.

He talked a big game and he delivered.

The Florida senator surged through the field, winning most of the votes of those deciding who to back on the day and came within 1.4 percent of snatching second place.

It makes him the stronger candidate going into New Hampshire.

Nominating contests often develop into a battle between "outsiders" and "establishment". Cruz and Trump are seen as the insurgents, railing against the Washington political class and disliked by many in their own party.

And in Iowa they took more than 50 percent of the vote.

Face of the establishment

Rubio is, for the moment, the face of the establishment.

A good performance in New Hampshire will increase pressure on the three governors still in the race - Jeb Bush, ex-governor of Florida; Chris Christie of New Jersey; and Ohio's John Kasich - to step aside and throw their support and financial muscle behind Rubio.

All three virtually ignored Iowa, believing they had a better chance in New Hampshire, and all three are polling well there. And all three say they have plans for South Carolina and beyond.

That helps the insurgents. While the establishment remains fragmented, Trump and Cruz will continue to pick up states and more importantly delegates.

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Republican candidates need 1,237 delegates to win the nomination and they are awarded in most states by proportional representation.

The field will winnow.

Mike Huckabee, a former Iowa caucus winner who once served as Arkansas governor, has already dropped out.

At the time of writing, it's inconceivable that Carly Fiorina and Rick Santorum won't follow soon.

A win in Iowa and a follow-up victory in new Hampshire would have made Trump almost unassailable.

He continues to command big leads in New Hampshire and South Carolina, the next two states to hold nominating contests.

He must look to convert his fans into actual supporters, people who will do more than post their backing online or turn up to catch a glimpse at events.

That's what has fuelled his rise in the polls.

But Iowa proved the polls can be misleading. Now he needs them to get out and vote.

Source: Al Jazeera