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A Night Of Surprises And Nail Biting In Iowa


And, Renee, I loved being at Smokey Row, this coffee shop in Des Moines, Iowa, so much yesterday, I thought I would come back this morning. And there's a good crowd here, again - a room full of people watching us here.


Well, greetings from California. And I have to say, impressive both for your being there this morning after caucusing last night and the great numbers of people who went out to caucus.

GREENE: There you go. Raise your hand if you caucused last night. Whoa, like, everyone, Renee, everyone.

MONTAGNE: Oh, fantastic.


GREENE: Yeah, that's great. So there were some surprises last night and, I guess we should say, a whole lot of nail biting. Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders so narrowly, some precincts were decided on the flip of a coin. And on the Republican side, Ted Cruz built on his support from Evangelical Christians in the state and overtook Donald Trump. It was a disappointment for Trump who had been pulling ahead of Cruz as recently as over the weekend. And my colleague NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is sitting with me, coffee in hand. And, Sue, did you sleep at all?

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: I've had a great night's sleep, but it's been over three days, so I think...


GREENE: So you've built up, like, 5 or 6 hours over three days.

DAVIS: Yeah, I've had a good eight hours over 72 hours.

GREENE: That's good, that's good. Well, the coffee will help hopefully. So you were with Republican Marco Rubio last night. He had a stronger-than-expected finish in Iowa. He came in third - almost tied Donald Trump. And let's listen to a bit of what he had to say last night.

MARCO RUBIO: And so tonight, I thank you here in Iowa. I thank you because tonight we have taken the first step but an important step towards winning this election. If I am our nominee - and I will be our nominee thanks to what you have done here in this great state.


RUBIO: When I am our nominee, we are going to unify this party and we are going to unify the conservative movement.

GREENE: Unify the party. Sue Davis, our colleague Mara Liasson elsewhere in the show said this is now a three-person race - Cruz, Trump, Rubio. Could Rubio be becoming the so-called establishment candidate here?

DAVIS: I mean, he certainly had a good night to that effect. He proved that there is more than one ticket out of Iowa. I think what Rubio did well is he set expectations exactly right for what he had to do in Iowa. Not only did he come in third, which is what he said he wanted - he never said he wanted to be in third, but his campaign allies said they would consider that a victory - and that he was in striking distance of Donald Trump, which went to the Rubio argument that the Trump support is soft, that he's going to falter in this race and that he's going to clear the lane. And, you know, as it looks like Cruz won last night, that he is maybe solidifying this outsider lane in the race. And everyone else who's in the single digits of the so-called establishment candidates - Bush, Kasich, Christie - that he has, you know, he has a good momentum going in New Hampshire. But in the next state of New Hampshire, it's sort of reversed. Rubio's in the back of the pack right now, and we'll see what an Iowa victory means in New Hampshire very soon.

GREENE: And in New Hampshire, it's Donald Trump who has a very big lead in many of the polls. Stay with me because let's hear from the Trump campaign. Our colleague national political correspondent Don Gonyea was at Trump headquarters in West Des Moines last night.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Donald Trump is not used to second-place. At campaign events in recent weeks, he'd speak of winning Iowa and running the table in the states after that. But last night, the party had barely gotten started when the bad news came via CNN on the flat-screen TVs in the ballroom.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We project Ted Cruz will win the Iowa Republican...

GONYEA: A loud groan went up. Violet Hildreth of Des Moines was among the disappointed.

VIOLET HILDRETH: I'm not surprised. We knew it was going to be close.

GONYEA: Karen Blackford said this is only a setback.

KAREN BLACKFORD: But, you know, we're the first ones and there's a lot to go. And I feel that he'll pull it out at the end.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The next president of the United States, Mr. Donald J. Trump.


DONALD TRUMP: Thank you very much. I love you people. I love you people.

GONYEA: Trump then demonstrated a trait that he's not particularly known for - graciousness.

TRUMP: We finished second, and I want to tell you something. I'm just honored. I'm really honored. And I want to congratulate Ted. And I want to congratulate all of the incredible candidates including...

GONYEA: But the Donald Trump who loves to brag about polls quickly resurfaced citing one giving him a giant lead in the next contest.

TRUMP: We have a poll - we are 28 points ahead, OK? New Hampshire - we love New Hampshire. We love South Carolina.


GONYEA: Alex Kramer was there watching.

ALEX KRAMER: I think he's very optimistic. You can hear that in his voice - very cordial to the other candidates, which I thought was a good thing.

GONYEA: But in recent days on the stump, Trump was not always cordial to Iowans, saying GOP caucus voters have a history of supporting, quote, "losers." The last winner they backed was George W. Bush. Here's Hunter Fellows of West Des Moines.

HUNTER FELLOWS: I think he has been a little short with us and a little - I don't know, too big for us maybe would be the right way to put it. And I think it may have hurt him a little bit, you know?

GONYEA: But then Fellows adds...

FELLOWS: Hopefully he's right and we still didn't pick the winner tonight.

GONYEA: Trump, meanwhile, promised to be back in Iowa presumably during the general election as the nominee. And then he added...

TRUMP: In fact, I think I might come here and buy a farm. I love it.

GONYEA: Don Gonyea, NPR News, West Des Moines.

GREENE: Buying a farm in Iowa - Donald Trump. That brought a laugh from our crowd here at Smokey Row coffeehouse. Sue Davis, congressional correspondent for NPR, still with me. Let's turn to the Democrats now. Sue, Bernie Sanders so, so close. Is this a win for him in some ways?

DAVIS: I mean, it was a good night for Bernie. I think that there was an expectation that he was maybe going to overtake Clinton, so the fact that she won in the end - and they're going into New Hampshire where Bernie has, again, has an incredibly strong lead in New Hampshire. It's a neighboring state. He's incredibly well-known in New Hampshire. They like him there. But New Hampshire's been very good to Hillary Clinton. In 2008, it's where it revived her campaign. And initially, it kept her in the race for five more months. Hillary Clinton is still the front-runner for this nomination because this is more complex than just a majority vote. She has the delegate advantage, and she still has the delegate advantage.

GREENE: All right, well, let's hear from Bernie Sanders' campaign. NPR's Sam Sanders was with Sanders last night.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Here's the scene - a ballroom at the Des Moines Airport Holiday Inn. People are there for a Bernie Sanders caucus celebration. But at the start of the night, no one really knows what to expect, especially Tad Guy and Ryan Koening.

Eight forty-six p.m. - early results beginning to trickle in. The Bernie party has not started yet. How y'all feeling?

TAD GUY: Good. Bernie lost in both of our precincts but...

S. SANDERS: Wait, what?

GUY: (Laughter) Yeah.

S. SANDERS: How bad did he lose?

GUY: But we're still positive - like, 30 people. Well, like, 20 in mine.

RYAN KOENING: In my precinct, Hillary had three delegates and Bernie had two. So it's going to be close.

S. SANDERS: Guy and Koening are students at Luther College, 20 and 18 years old. And this was their first time caucusing. But they weren't celebrating just yet. And at first, the whole Bernie party was like that - lots of the people standing around but not really having fun, like a house party where no one really knows each other. But later in the night, it picked up. It's 10:18 p.m. It's looking like it's too close to call. How are you guys feeling?

GUY: Nervous (laughter). Really excited, though. We're so excited to see what the results are.

KOENING: Yeah, it just keeps getting closer and closer - really excited to see what happens.

S. SANDERS: The night wore on and the race did get closer. The room lit up, the music got louder, there was even dancing. People began to chant feel the burn.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Feel the burn. Feel the burn. Feel the burn.

S. SANDERS: It was becoming a victory party. It all reached a fever pitch when Hillary Clinton's caucus night speech was broadcast in the hall. She got booed. Things were getting rowdy. Just after Clinton spoke, Bernie Sanders took the stage.


S. SANDERS: He congratulated Clinton and Martin O'Malley, but said, basically, this thing has just begun.

B. SANDERS: What Iowa has begun tonight is a political revolution.


S. SANDERS: I caught up with Tad Guy and Ryan Koening afterwards about 11:06 p.m. central time.

Describe this night in three words - last question.

GUY: Absolutely, incredibly amazing (laughter).

KOENING: Exciting, anxious, Bernie.


S. SANDERS: Thank you guys.

Hours later, the Iowa Democratic Party declared Clinton the winner but only by the tiniest of margins - reason enough for this longshot campaign to keep the party going. Sam Sanders, no relation, NPR News, Des Moines.

GREENE: (Laughter) I love that. You know, voters here in Iowa, they take their first-in-the-nation status very seriously. And to see how that played out last night, we went to a Democratic Party caucus at the Community Center in Waukee, Iowa. That's just outside Des Moines. And that's where we met up with Melanie Choose and her family.

MELANIE CHOOSE: Hi, how are you?

GREENE: Nice to see you again.

M. CHOOSE: You too. This is my husband, Brandon.

GREENE: Hi, Brandon - David.

BRANDON CHOOSE: David, really good to meet you.

GREENE: Very nice to meet you.

Melanie was solidly in the Clinton camp, but Brandon was looking very hard at Bernie Sanders.

What's something he said that really grabbed you and made you sort of think about leaving Hillary Clinton?

B. CHOOSE: I think he really just has some good ideas about the middle class and raising it up. But, again, I think also Clinton does as well. I'm going to hear from my neighbors, and we'll see what happens.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Welcome, everybody.





GREENE: Now, there's no secret ballot in the Democratic caucuses here in Iowa. Everyone breaks into groups for the candidate of their choice.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: After Hillary gets set back down, we're going to send O'Malley into that room. Everybody with Hillary sit back down. Sorry, didn't really think that out right.

GREENE: It's a long, sometimes messy process, and the scene is playing out all over the state.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Thank you guys for being patient. I do apologize.

GREENE: Now, Brandon at this point, who was undecided, is drifting to the back of the Sanders crowd, casting a longing glance at them, looking over at his wife in the Clinton group. And he makes his choice.

Brandon, did you go with Hillary?

B. CHOOSE: I did.

GREENE: You looked agonizing over there a little bit.

B. CHOOSE: Absolutely, absolutely. I looked at it as a choice between my heart and my brain.

GREENE: My heart was with Bernie, he told me, but my brain is with Hillary Clinton. That was last night at a Democratic caucus here in Iowa. Sue Davis, thank you for coming in and joining us this morning

DAVIS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
Sam Sanders
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
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