Donald Trump cruised to victory in the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses, with Ron DeSantis finishing a distant second in a contest that established the former president as the party’s clear frontrunner. 

News organizations including the Associated Press, CNN and CBS News called the contest for Trump sooner than expected, about 30 minutes after caucuses opened at 7 p.m. Central time. Some caucus sites hadn’t even begun voting. 

AP said it was able to call the race quickly based on survey data from voters who planned to caucus and an analysis of early returns, both of which showed Trump with an insurmountable lead over his rivals. The former U.S. president’s margin of victory was more than double the previous record for the caucus. 

DeSantis beat polling forecasts that showed him losing his long-held status as the projected runner-up in the first-in-the-nation caucus. The AP called his second place finish after 10 p.m. local time. 

Trump was aiming for a resounding victory in the caucuses to further his pivot to a potential November general election rematch with President Joe Biden. Trump had a 51 per cent share of caucusgoers’ votes as of 11:36 p.m Central time in a contest that was gripped by sub-zero temperatures that weighed on voter turnout. 

“It really is an honor that, minutes after, they’ve announced I’ve won—against very credibly competition—great competition, actually,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News Digital. “I am greatly honored by such an early call.”

Allies and adversaries around the world are closely watching the 2024 U.S. presidential contest where Trump and Biden are offering starkly different visions for America’s global role.

A December Morning Consult/Bloomberg News poll showed Trump leading Biden in the seven swing states that will likely decide the outcome of the election.  

Investors and industries are bracing for shifts in economic and tax policy following the election as well as the US security posture toward Russia and China. Trump’s first term was marked by a tit-for-tat trade war with China and his renegotiating of trade agreements with U.S. neighbors Mexico and Canada.

Election years typically portend strong performances in equity markets, Citigroup Inc. director Alex Saunders wrote in a Jan. 4 report, with the dollar performing stronger if a Republican candidate prevails. 

Looking ahead to a second term, Trump’s so far floated the idea of encircling U.S. industry with a 10 per cent tariff, potentially disrupting supply chains. He plans to make permanent the 2017 individual tax cuts that he enacted as president while keeping corporate tax levels unchanged. He’s also vowed a more stringent border policy that would include mass deportations.  

In Iowa, voters were most animated by the economy and an immigration crisis at the US Southern border. Trump supporters still hold nostalgia for his time in office.

“I like what he did in his four years of office,” Chris Cory, 85, of Waukee said.

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy dropped out of the race earlier in the evening and endorsed Trump.

Nicole Schlinger, an Iowa Republican strategist, said caucusgoers fulfilled their role in winnowing the field, while rewarding Trump, DeSantis and Haley for their local organizing operations.

“There are three tickets punched out of Iowa. Our job is to winnow the field. Despite a record blizzard and subzero temperatures, Republicans showed up and did our job,” she said. 

Trump’s super political action committee, the main outside group backing his campaign, seized on the early race call to demand his rivals drop their challenges. 

DeSantis retains momentum heading into the next primary in New Hampshire on Jan. 23 and sends a signal to donors who still want an alternative to the former president at the top of the ticket. For Haley, who has bet heavily on using the caucuses as a launchpad to New Hampshire where she has polled better and later to her home state of South Carolina, the second-place finish was a disappointment. 

The Florida governor’s campaign strategy is to outlast the other contenders in order to turn the primary into a two-person race between he and Trump. He was once considered the heir apparent to Trump and the former presidents chief rival for the nomination. 

“They threw everything but the kitchen sink at us,” DeSantis said Monday. “The media was against us. They were writing our obituary months ago. They even called the election before people even got a chance to vote.

Kyle Yencer, 51, of West Des Moines, caucused for DeSantis with his 24-year-old and 20-year-old sons, both first-time caucus goers. 

He said that he voted for Trump twice and will vote for him again if he’s the nominee. Yencer said he didn’t expect DeSantis to beat Trump, but considered DeSantis’s second place finish over Haley as a win for the Florida governor. 

But Trump’s blowout victory charts the course for the next phase of the nominating race. 

“He’s the overwhelming frontrunner now. There’s no question.” David Kochel, an Iowa Republican political strategist, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.