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Republican Cruz beats Trump in Iowa presidential race

Cruz won with 28% of the vote compared to Donald Trump's 24% and Marco Rubio's 23%.

Republican Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz conducts a Caucus Day Rally Monday 1 February, 2016 in Jefferson, Iowa. Picture: AFP.

DES MOINES, Iowa - US Senator Ted Cruz beat billionaire Donald Trump in Iowa's Republican presidential nominating contest on Monday, upsetting the national front-runner in the race to be their party's White House nominee.

Cruz, a conservative lawmaker from Texas, won with 28 percent of the vote compared to 24 percent for businessman Trump. Marco Rubio, a US senator from Florida, came in third place with 23 percent, making him easily the leader among establishment Republican candidates.

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in a virtual tie with rival Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist U.S. senator from Vermont. With 88 percent of the precincts reporting Clinton led with 49.9 percent to Sanders' 49.4 percent.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, who had trouble gaining any traction in the Democratic race, planned to suspend his campaign. He won 0.6 percent.

Cruz's win and Rubio's strong showing could dent the momentum for Trump, whose candidacy has alarmed the Republican establishment and been marked by controversies such as his calls for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Rubio said, "They told me I needed to wait my turn, that I needed to wait in line. But tonight here in Iowa the people of this great state have sent a very clear message."

The results could have ramifications in upcoming races.

"There is now blood in the water for Donald Trump," said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. "Ted Cruz proved he could successfully beat back Trump attacks because he had a great ground game and identified well with evangelical voters."

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said he was suspending his campaign for the Republican party nomination. Huckabee won the Iowa caucus in 2008.

For the Democrats, Clinton needs a win in Iowa to prevent a potential two-state opening losing streak that would raise fresh questions about a candidate who was considered the clear front-runner just two months ago. Sanders is leading in polls in New Hampshire, the next state to hold a nominating contest.

Clinton began her day at her campaign's south Des Moines field office, where she served roughly 60 volunteers donuts and coffee. An extensive ground operation, much like Obama's as a candidate, has been cited as one of her advantages.

A former US senator and first lady, Clinton often touts her years of experience in politics, and says she will defend much of Obama's legacy. Sanders has attacked from the left and promised to do more than Clinton to help American workers.

Clinton, who lost Iowa in 2008 and went on to lose a protracted primary battle to Obama, told ABC's Good Morning America programme that it would be different this time, adding, "I think I'm a better candidate."

Sanders said he was pleased with his performance.

"We're very proud of the campaign we ran," he told CNN.

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