Hillary Clinton’s campaign claimed victory after the dead-heat finish with Bernie Sanders in last night’s first primary contest of the presidential campaign, after her strong showing defied Sanders’ recent surge in the state.

“As I stand here tonight breathing a big sigh of relief — — thank you, Iowa! — — I want you to know I will keep doing what I have don’t for my entire life. I will keep standing up for you. I will keep fighting for you,” Clinton told a cheering crowd last night as the Hawkeye State delegate count remained too close to call.

Still, it prevented the potential one-two punch Sanders could have dealt her campaign with a win in both Iowa and New Hampshire, where he’s expected to best the former secretary of state next week.

“It gives her momentum, including fundraising, as the campaign moves towards New Hampshire,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley.

The virtual tie marks a comeback for Clinton, who led Sanders in polling in the Hawkeye State for much of last year before falling behind him in recent weeks.

Sanders praised his Iowa supporters for the strong showing.

“When we came to this beautiful state, we had no money we had no name recognition and we were taking the most powerful political organization in the United States of America,” Sanders said.

Last night marked the first political test for Clinton amid ongoing questions about the impact of the FBI investigation into her use of a personal email server and possible mishandling of classified information, as well as questions about Clinton’s ability to excite and mobilize voters.

“There has been a lot of bed wetting and hand wringing associated with Hillary’s campaign, and what she demonstrated last night is that they are in it to win it,” said Democratic strategist Steve McMahon.

The Iowa victory likely won’t give Clinton enough momentum to win next week’s New Hampshire primary, where Sanders holds a commanding lead in polls, including the latest Franklin Pierce University-Boston Herald poll where he leads by a 57-37 percent margin.

After New Hampshire the primary calendar turns against Sanders, and the races move to southern states where the Vermont senator has struggled to gain support of minority voters.

“If Bernie can’t win in Iowa, where can he win?” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “Not South Carolina. Not Texas.”

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who failed to make the 15 percent threshold in last night’s contest, suspended his presidential campaign last night.

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(c)2016 the Boston Herald

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