PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:20
Ted Cruz: Judeo-Christian values built America
Bernie Sanders speaks at the MSNBC Democratic Candidates Debate at the University of New Hampshire on February 4, 2016, in Durham, New Hampshire.
Bernie Sanders speaks at the MSNBC Democratic Candidates Debate at the University of New Hampshire on February 4, 2016, in Durham, New Hampshire.
PHOTO: Justin Sullivan/Getty
Now playing
00:57
Sanders on Iowa Caucuses: Winner doesn't take all
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:30
The Democratic town hall in 90 seconds
Trump cruz tantrum dnt acosta tsr_00014617.jpg
Trump cruz tantrum dnt acosta tsr_00014617.jpg
Now playing
02:47
Donald Trump: Ted Cruz 'stole' Iowa caucuses
Now playing
02:48
Sanders, Clinton battling for Independents
Hillary Clinton: December 2014; Mitt Romney, Jan. 2015
Hillary Clinton: December 2014; Mitt Romney, Jan. 2015
PHOTO: Getty Images
Now playing
01:30
Iowa in 2012 and 2016: Two caucus cliffhangers
DES MOINES, IA - FEBRUARY 01:  Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) reaches out to supporters after winning at the caucus night gathering at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on February 1, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. Cruz beat out businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who finished just behind Trump.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - FEBRUARY 01: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) reaches out to supporters after winning at the caucus night gathering at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on February 1, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. Cruz beat out businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who finished just behind Trump. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Getty Images
Now playing
01:59
Highlights from the Iowa night speeches
iowa caucus cnn coverage recap origwx js_00013022.jpg
iowa caucus cnn coverage recap origwx js_00013022.jpg
Now playing
02:51
Five hours of CNN's Iowa caucus coverage in 3 minutes
hillary clinton iowa caucus sot_00005814.jpg
hillary clinton iowa caucus sot_00005814.jpg
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:35
Clinton: Campaign stands for what's best in America
iowa caucuses bernie sanders speech sot_00003013.jpg
iowa caucuses bernie sanders speech sot_00003013.jpg
Now playing
01:30
Bernie Sanders: We are in a virtual tie
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
00:51
Ted Cruz: The people, not the media, pick the president
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:20
Ted Cruz: Judeo-Christian values built America
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
00:46
Donald Trump after Iowa loss: Congratulations Ted
marco rubio speaks to supporters_00011420.jpg
marco rubio speaks to supporters_00011420.jpg
Now playing
03:20
Marco Rubio speaks to his supporters in Iowa
martin omalley suspend campaign sot_00002920.jpg
martin omalley suspend campaign sot_00002920.jpg
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
00:56
Martin O'Malley suspends presidential campaign
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
02:51
Donald Trump thanks Iowa, congratulates opponents
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at Green County Community Center, Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Jefferson, Iowa. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at Green County Community Center, Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Jefferson, Iowa. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
PHOTO: Chris Carlson/AP
Now playing
01:32
Iowa caucus result: Ted Cruz projected to win
Rand Paul victory Liberty movement sot_00003925.jpg
Rand Paul victory Liberty movement sot_00003925.jpg
Now playing
00:46
Rand Paul claims a victory for the Liberty Movement
iowa caucuses hillary clinton bernie sanders entrance polls chalian ac_00001726.jpg
iowa caucuses hillary clinton bernie sanders entrance polls chalian ac_00001726.jpg
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
00:48
Iowa caucuses: Why the Democratic race is so close
iowa caucus gop three man race blitzer king_00001009.jpg
iowa caucus gop three man race blitzer king_00001009.jpg
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
02:12
GOP caucus votes reveal 3-man race
JOHNSTON, IA - JANUARY 31: Democratic Presidential Candidate Martin O
JOHNSTON, IA - JANUARY 31: Democratic Presidential Candidate Martin O'Malley speaks to potential supporters at a residence on January 31, 2016 in Johnston, Iowa. O'Malley and other candidates are making their final appeals to voters ahead of the Iowa caucus February 1. (Photo by Steve Pope/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Steve Pope/Getty Images
Now playing
01:15
Sources: Martin O'Malley to suspend campaign
Now playing
01:34
Iowa caucuses: Breaking down the numbers
trump leading iowa entrance polls sot ac_00011008.jpg
trump leading iowa entrance polls sot ac_00011008.jpg
Now playing
01:56
Donald Trump speaks out at Iowa caucus site
large voter turnout democrats iowa foreman sot ac_00004310.jpg
large voter turnout democrats iowa foreman sot ac_00004310.jpg
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:11
Voter turnout higher than expected at Iowa caucus site
how does a caucus work iowa 2016 origwx al_00005123.jpg
how does a caucus work iowa 2016 origwx al_00005123.jpg
Now playing
01:54
Why do we care so much about the Iowa caucuses?
huckabee santorum view art and reflect iowa caucus 2016 origwx allee_00004824.jpg
huckabee santorum view art and reflect iowa caucus 2016 origwx allee_00004824.jpg
Now playing
01:46
Past Iowa winners struggle in new era
iowa ground game in the age of tump origwx GR_00000000.jpg
iowa ground game in the age of tump origwx GR_00000000.jpg
Now playing
03:11
Does the Iowa ground game matter in the age of Trump?
Vampire Weekend at Bernies
Vampire Weekend at Bernies
PHOTO: Jeremy Moorhead / CNN
Now playing
03:14
Josh Hutcherson, Vampire Weekend party for Bernie
clint howard ted cruz origwx al_00015901.jpg
clint howard ted cruz origwx al_00015901.jpg
Now playing
03:03
What Clint Howard thinks of the 2016 race
Bremer County Tuchman Pkg AC _00003221.jpg
Bremer County Tuchman Pkg AC _00003221.jpg
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
03:08
Meet the soothsayers of American politics
iowa state profile craig robinson origwx js_00000926.jpg
iowa state profile craig robinson origwx js_00000926.jpg
Now playing
05:05
The five political regions of Iowa, explained
des moines social club Where the cool kids caucus iowa 2016 origwx allee_00000306.jpg
des moines social club Where the cool kids caucus iowa 2016 origwx allee_00000306.jpg
Now playing
01:01
Where the cool kids caucus
PHOTO: SAUL LOEB/ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
01:53
Iowa's Evangelicals debate Trump vs. Cruz
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) is greeted on stage by fellow Republican candidate Ted Cruz before speaking at a rally organized by the Tea Party Patriots against the Iran nuclear deal in front of the Capitol in Washington, DC, on September 9, 2015.
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) is greeted on stage by fellow Republican candidate Ted Cruz before speaking at a rally organized by the Tea Party Patriots against the Iran nuclear deal in front of the Capitol in Washington, DC, on September 9, 2015.
PHOTO: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
03:55
Cruz warns: If Trump wins Iowa he might be 'unstoppable'
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks to guests at a town hall syle meeting on January 29, 2016 in Dubuque, Iowa.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks to guests at a town hall syle meeting on January 29, 2016 in Dubuque, Iowa.
PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Now playing
01:28
Marco Rubio's Iowa strategy
Donald Trump (R) speaks as Rick Santorm (C) as Mike Huckabee (L) look on during a Trump campaign rally raising funds for US military veterans at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa on January 28, 2016.
Donald Trump (R) speaks as Rick Santorm (C) as Mike Huckabee (L) look on during a Trump campaign rally raising funds for US military veterans at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa on January 28, 2016.
PHOTO: WILLIAM EDWARDS/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
03:18
Inside Trump's one of a kind debate counter-programming
Now playing
01:56
The Democratic town hall in under two minutes
iowa caucus super volunteer origwx allee_00004803.jpg
iowa caucus super volunteer origwx allee_00004803.jpg
Now playing
01:57
Meet Joni Scotter, Jeb Bush's Iowa superfan
PHOTO: Jeremy Moorhead / CNN
Now playing
02:20
Here's what Trump supporters had to say about Cruz
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
00:51
Trump's Iowa turnout target
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) is greeted on stage by fellow Republican candidate Ted Cruz before speaking at a rally organized by the Tea Party Patriots against the Iran nuclear deal in front of the Capitol in Washington, DC, on September 9, 2015.
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) is greeted on stage by fellow Republican candidate Ted Cruz before speaking at a rally organized by the Tea Party Patriots against the Iran nuclear deal in front of the Capitol in Washington, DC, on September 9, 2015.
PHOTO: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
04:16
Trump, Cruz go to war with one week until Iowa
Iowa: Why it
Iowa: Why it's a big deal, and why it's not_00002025.jpg
Now playing
02:17
Iowa: Why it's a big deal, and why it's not
edgy iowa tshirts raygun maeve west origwx GR_00001711.jpg
edgy iowa tshirts raygun maeve west origwx GR_00001711.jpg
Now playing
02:24
See the T-shirts that are edgy...for Iowa
Singer Katy Perry rallies supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton outside the Iowa Events Center before the start of the Jefferson-Jackson dinner on October 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Singer Katy Perry rallies supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton outside the Iowa Events Center before the start of the Jefferson-Jackson dinner on October 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa.
PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Now playing
02:50
Clinton, Sanders and Katy Perry converge in Iowa
iowa state fair being moody origwx ar_00005625.jpg
iowa state fair being moody origwx ar_00005625.jpg
Now playing
02:19
How to not embarrass yourself at the Iowa state fair

Story highlights

Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucuses, outpacing Donald Trump and Marco Rubio

He laid the groundwork early, as far back as 2013

(CNN) —  

In the waning days before the Iowa caucuses, Ted Cruz, almost always the unflappable performer, began to grow wistful.

“The wild rollercoaster ride we’ve had for the last year is going to be over,” the Texas senator told one crowd.

“It has been a bit of a circus,” he added.

Faced with the Donald Trump Show, Cruz went with an old-school Iowa strategy: Visit early. Invest in retail. Organize pastors. Tend to homeschoolers. Win the two big nods. Get outside of Des Moines.

Despite Trump’s unconventional campaign, and attacks from the billionaire that included questioning Cruz’s eligibility to be president due to his being born in Canada, unaligned operatives until the last moments here remained certain that the core of Iowa caucus politics had not changed, despite Trump’s unconventional campaign.

Find your presidential match with the 2016 Candidate Matchmaker

“Iowa has sent notice,” Cruz said Monday night, “that the Republican nominee of the next president of the United States will not be chosen by the media, will not be chosen by the Washington establishment, will not be chosen by the lobbyists but will be chosen by the most incredible powerful force, where all sovereignty resides in our nation, by we the people, the American people.”

Cruz’s team, basking in victory, projected more confidence than ever before that a strong showing in New Hampshire was within reach. Spokesman Rick Tyler pointed to Cruz’s cash on hand, lapping the field by a considerable margin, and said it would put Cruz in a far better position than Marco Rubio and others in the Granite State – even as they conceded Rubio now entered with momentum.

Courted Iowa political, religious establishment

It was a victory set into motion two and a half years ago, when Cruz first touched down at the Des Moines Marriott – only six months after he had been sworn into the Senate.

Cruz was known at the time for ideological purity – not evangelical fervor – but over the next few years, he would add to his Christian image, citing Scripture repeatedly in barns and convenience stores as he became more and more tailor-made for Iowa Republicans.

On that first trip here in August 2013, he met with a network of influential Iowa pastors, the same group he returned to last Monday, just a week before clergymen like them would help decide his fate. And he built his own network of evangelical pastors, recruiting one chief in each county and integrating them into a state leadership team that dwarfed other candidates’ in size.

For much of 2015, Cruz visited Iowa consistently, but not overwhelmingly. He thumbed his nose at GOP rivals who essentially moved to the state in search of lightning strike. But he invested in face time, lingering late on a baseball diamond the day of the gay marriage decision in June and at a high-profile evangelical forum in November on one particularly long Iowa day.

And he deliberately and conscientiously identified, courted and landed the two major conservative endorsements behind past Iowa winners, Rep. Steve King and Family Leader president Bob Vander Plaats, who together have been a road show for Cruz during his visits here over the past two months.

Their endorsements coincided with Cruz’s first major surge in Iowa surveys, culminating with Cruz taking the lead in a Des Moines Register poll in mid-December. With King, he had a provocative spokesperson and a validator in the intense boxing match with the ethanol lobby. With Vander Plaats, he had a networker who could stick around to win over the weary (“It’s not that we dislike Santorum,” he told one voter on the way out the door Saturday.)

Great expectations

Cruz, who had worked hard to tamper expectations, had inadvertently raised them.

“You see the poll?” Jeff King, the congressman’s son, who leads the Cruz super PAC operation here in Iowa, remembers saying to another group official then. “We’re going to have to do well in Iowa.”

Cruz’s wager on Iowa stood in contrast to his closest rivals: Trump and Rubio, both of whom are expected to do better in New Hampshire than the Texas senator.

“When he started this thing, he was nowhere,” said GOP pollster Frank Luntz, standing on a chair as an overflow Cruz crowd surrounded him in Ames. “I would use this campaign to teach others how to run a race.”

Monday morning, the Texan’s campaign bus ambled to a basketball court in this Greene County town along the Raccoon River to pay heed to Iowa’s most revered custom: the “Full Grassley,” or the pledge to visit all 99 counties, named for Sen. Chuck Grassley.

“Whatever campaign techniques were used by the campaign that has won, maybe this was the year for that,” said Jeff Kaufmann, the state’s GOP chair. “But I don’t think retail politics, building a political machine and doing all 99 counties is every going to be out of date in this state.”

Trump spent a total of two nights in Iowa hotels, jetting in and out on a private plane for a rally every few days. Rubio blanketed the state in television ads, seeing campaign events as not as efficient a use of time as a Fox News hit or a super PAC media buy. Cruz aides stress that they layered a serious data and paid media campaign onto the infrastructure, but the bedrock of Cruz’s bid here was a strategy that was more timeworn than innovative.

Visiting every corner of Iowa doesn’t guarantee anything, however. Mick Huckabee and Rick Santorum, who won the 2008 and 2012 GOP caucuses, respectively, barnstormed the state and came away at the bottom of the pack. Huckabee dropped out before the night was over.

“It will say as much about the process as it does about the outcome,” said Joseph McReynolds, a Cruz fundraiser and activist, as he observed his candidate work a tiny town two days before voting.

Up to the final hours in Iowa, Cruz’s team maintained a sense of serenity, believing that the outcome’s fate was largely out of their hands. Their voters would turn out. The big question that would decide the race was whether Trump’s would – and that was not in the Cruz campaign’s control.

Worries in late days

There was considerable worry among Cruz allies and donors that their candidate made the same mistake that bedeviled previous Iowa losers: that he peaked too early.

Cruz began a slow rise in Iowa polls in mid-October, but by the time he topped them in early January, he had invited the scorn of as many as seven outside groups, and nearly every candidate, including Trump, who was raising scornful questions about Cruz’s eligibility to be president.

In addition to Trump’s intense trolling and prodding in television interviews, Twitter and other free media, Cruz’s campaign estimates that the senator was pummeled by $8 million in attack ads last month.

And some allies and donors concede that those weeks – rather than days – on defense took its toll, including concerns pushed by the state’s ethanol lobby, who led voters to badger Cruz at nearly every town hall in the homestretch of the Iowa campaign. Supporters differ on the number of points shaved by the ethanol offensive, but they admit it broke through.

Some friends, in retrospect, say the campaign could have been more aggressive toward Trump and earlier. Yet most argue that avoiding Trump’s scorn was the closest thing the campaign had to a masterstroke – nearly every candidate who attacked Trump, of course, crashed.

It was a calculation they never thought they’d have to make. Cruz’s win involved a fair amount of luck: Many of the candidates once likely to be top rivals here – whether it was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker or Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky – fizzled entirely. When asked in June about the candidate competing with him most prominently in the evangelical lane, Cruz pointed to a candidate who ended up flirting with invisibility and dropped out Monday night: Mike Huckabee.

In the final moments, an old threat reappeared: Rubio. Trump had pulled away in some early polls, and Rubio began to inch up in some public polls. Cruz’s super PACs, both weary Rubio’s rise but also seeing his supporters as soft, began to target him aggressively. The campaign reassigned all of its advertising in the final days to hold off Rubio, once a vanquished opponent, instead.

John Thompson, an unaligned Iowa GOP central committee member, said Cruz undoubtedly faded in the final weeks here. But the fundamentals of Cruz’s bid, he said, charted a new Iowa path.

“He took the best out of every textbook that’s ever been written,” Thompson said, “and I think he made a new game.”