The rules of presidential politics shifted on Feb. 1 from fun house to schoolhouse. As so often happens, the voters of Iowa imposed a tug of gravity on a campaign that long ago seemed to break its own bounds, as Ted Cruz’s traditional turnout and message discipline trumped the Trumpapalooza. And the raw political talents of Marco Rubio gave him a clear shot at the Establishment lane that the GOP has used to pick nominees. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton was able to slay her 2008 demons–barely. Iowa has never been great at picking nominees, but a state known as “the Big Sifter” separated the wheat from the chaff. Within hours of the results, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Martin O’Malley had all suspended their campaigns; the rest of the candidates are now gearing up for a lengthy fight to the finish.
–ZEKE J. MILLER AND PHILIP ELLIOTT
MECHANICS STILL MATTERS
The Texas Senator knew not just the phone number but perhaps the resting heart rate of every conservative voter in the state. His threshold for success was evangelical turnout above 60%; it reached 62%. He had 1,500 precinct captains and 12,000 volunteers making more than 25,000 calls a day in the home stretch. To accommodate out-of-staters, he offered a former college dorm to call home.
BRAVADO CAN BACKFIRE
Maybe skipping the last debate hurt after all. Trump headed into the final stretch of the campaign with a clear lead in the polls, but when caucus night arrived, he was a loser among voters who decided in the final week. Iowans are a proud tribe, and slights have consequences.
THE YOUTH VOTE HAS LIMITS
Sanders enjoyed a huge generation gap, winning 84% of voters ages 17 to 30 in entrance polls. But those voters were only 18% of the electorate, down from 22% in the big Obama win in 2008.
MONEY CAN’T BUY EVERYTHING
The onetime front runner and his super-PAC pals raised more than $155 million, but they have little to show for it. They spent about $2,800 for every vote in Iowa–18 times what Cruz did.
A WIN IS A WIN IS A WIN
A muddied victory is still not a loss. Clinton studied–and then weaponized–the Democratic Party’s rules to her fullest advantage in Iowa, in some cases shifting her supporters’ allegiances to boost Martin O’Malley, a spoiler’s move to deprive Sanders of any extra delegates. No one can deny it was a nail-biter. Her narrow victory was so close in some locations that organizers were left with the most old-school of tiebreakers: a coin toss. There’s no place like Iowa.
This appears in the February 15, 2016 issue of TIME.