Ted Cruz has won the first vote of the US 2016 presidential election in the Iowa Republican caucuses.
The Texas senator declared as he railed against Washington, lobbyists and the media: “Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives.”
Ted Cruz, 45, took 28% of the Republican vote, beating his rivals Donald Trump (24%) and Marco Rubio (23%).
Votes in the Democratic race are still being counted, and some media outlets have declared it a dead heat.
With 95% of results confirmed, Hillary Clinton clung to the narrowest of leads over Bernie Sanders and told supporters she was “breathing a sigh of relief”.
No such ambiguity from Republican victor Ted Cruz, whose triumph was reward for the months he spent criss-crossing the state to woo its influential conservative and evangelical leaders.
As country music blared across the loud speaker at his Des Moines rally, Ted Cruz, who has been a thorn in the side of his party, relished his victory.
“Iowa has sent notice that the Republican nominee and the next president of the United States will not be chosen by the media, will not be chosen by the Washington establishment,” he said.
“Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa and all across this great nation.”
Donald Trump congratulated the Texas senator and said he was “honored” by the second-place finish.
Marco Rubio, who has struggled to gain support in recent months, has performed far better than expected, and finished in third place – just one percentage point behind Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, two candidates are bowing out.
Democrat Martin O’Malley, former Maryland governor, will suspend his campaign – narrowing the field to two competitive candidates.
On the Republican side, Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee tweeted that he too would suspend his campaign.
Iowa has an unusual election system based on caucuses, which involve people gathering at private homes, schools and other public buildings across the state.
Democratic voters divide themselves into groups based on their preferred candidate, but the Republican caucus process is more like a traditional ballot.
Over the coming months, the other 49 states as well as US territories will vote for the party nominees.
Each states’ delegates will be tallied and a nominee will become apparent towards the middle of the year.
In November, the US will pick who its next president will be.
The new president will assume office in January 2017.