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Clinton ekes out the narrowest win in Iowa history, but the battle with Sanders goes on

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DES MOINES, Iowa — If Hillary Clinton was hoping to land a knockout punch against her Democratic rival Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses Monday night, then she didn’t get what she was hoping for.

And if Sanders arrived in Des Moines hoping to “pull an Obama” — to unseat the presumptive frontrunner with an upset victory that would immediately reset the narrative of the campaign, as Barack Obama did in 2008 — then his dream didn’t come true, either.

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Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders greets supporters at his caucus-night party, after a close race in the Iowa caucuses Monday in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo: Khue Bui for Yahoo News)

In the end, Clinton won this year’s Democratic contest by the narrowest margin in state history, capturing 700.59 state delegate equivalents to 696.82 for Sanders. But the final result wasn’t announced until Tuesday afternoon, long after the next day’s headlines had been written. The delay blunted any momentum Clinton might have carried into next week’s New Hampshire primary and allowed Sanders to declare a “virtual tie.”

Clinton, of course, has reason to feel good about Monday’s outcome — but so does Sanders. In 2008, Clinton, long considered “inevitable,” didn’t just lose to Obama. She also lost to former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. It was a shocking, sobering defeat that her campaign never really recovered from. Monday’s win suggests that she has learned from her mistakes.

SLIDESHOW – Iowa caucuses – Winners and waiters >>>

Sanders, meanwhile, was largely dismissed as a sideshow when he announced his candidacy nine months ago. Now he has fought an even-more-inevitable Clinton to a near-draw in a state where she was leading by 25 percentage points as recently as November — meaning that his sturdy lead in New Hampshire is unlikely to crumble, and that the war over delegates will probably extend well into the spring.

“Tonight, while the results are still not known, it looks like we are in a virtual tie,” Sanders said to raucous cheers at his caucus-night party in a Holiday Inn ballroom in Des Moines. “I think the people of Iowa have sent a very profound message to the political establishment, to the economic establishment — and, by the way, to the media establishment.”

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and daughter, Chelsea, at a caucus-night party on Monday at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo: Patrick Semansk/AP)

Sanders supporters, who are among the most zealous of this election cycle, spent the night celebrating as if their man had won. Earlier in the evening, when Hillary Clinton appeared on giant TV screens in the ballroom, dozens of Bernie-ites hissed and booed.

“I am a progressive,” Clinton said at one point.

“No you are not!” one Sanders fan shouted.

“She’s a liar,” the crowd later chanted.

Sanders campaigned hard in the Hawkeye State, drawing more than 70,000 people to star-studded rallies, many of them in college towns. He promised an economic “revolution” that would include free college tuition, universal health care, a minimum-wage hike and paid maternity leave and sick leave. His blunt and relentless crusade against widening income inequality attracted strong support from young voters and blue-collar Iowans. Still, Clinton’s camp had more local precinct captains and a more robust get-out-the-vote operation.

In the final days of campaigning here, Sanders took direct aim at his rival, releasing an ad that criticized her for accepting speaking fees from Goldman Sachs and saying (after dismissing it earlier as a distraction) that using a private email address while she was secretary of state was a “very serious” issue. His surrogates slammed Clinton for arguing that universal, single-payer health care was “never” going to happen.

SLIDESHOW – On the trail and down to the wire in Iowa>>>

Kurt Schlegel, a Sanders volunteer who traveled from Virginia to knock on hundreds of doors last weekend, told Yahoo News he was happy with the result, whoever ultimately wins.

“Nobody thought [Sanders] would be here,” Schlegel said. “It proves he could do it.”

In her speech Monday night at Drake University in Des Moines, Clinton also declared that she was happy with the preliminary Iowa results.

“As I stand here tonight breathing a big sigh of relief — thank you, Iowa! — I want you to know I will be doing what I’ve done my entire life: I will be standing up for you,” Clinton said. “I will keep fighting for you. I will always work to achieve the America that I believe in, where the promise of that dream that we hold out to our children and our grandchildren never fades and inspires generations to come. Join me! Let’s go win the nomination!”

Still, despite Clinton’s upbeat words, her event didn’t quite live up to its “victory party” billing. The former secretary of state left immediately after she finished her speech — without shaking hands or posing for photos along the rope line.

A few minutes later, the room was half empty. A pair of Drake students, Victoria Johnson and Marissa Ashenfarb, waited near the stage.

“They said she might come out,” Ashenfarb told Yahoo News. “Apparently, like, at all the other events, she came out and shook hands.”

Johnson acknowledged that it was too early to tell whether Clinton had won Iowa. But she took heart in the post-New Hampshire primary calendar, which looks far less friendly to Sanders — at the same time suggesting that the Democratic Party may now be in for another long primary slog.

“There are 49 other states,” Johnson said. “And a lot of them will pull for Hillary.”

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