Former President Donald Trump won the Iowa caucuses Jan. 15 with 51% of the vote, according to multiple projections, marking his first electoral victory in a contest he has led in polling.

Those projections also showed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis -- the remaining Catholic candidate in the race -- with 21.2% of the vote eke out a second-place win over former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley at 19.1%.

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy came in a distant fourth. He ended his bid for the White House the same evening and endorsed Trump.

The 2024 Iowa caucuses came in the midst of a blizzard in the state that stymied travel plans and events for some candidates in the closing stretch of the race. The blizzard was so severe that Bishop William M. Joensen granted a general dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation to the faithful of the Diocese of Des Moines for the Jan. 13-14 weekend.

The race was called for Trump before caucus meetings had concluded in some precincts, drawing objections from the DeSantis camp.

States may hold either primaries or caucuses in the presidential nomination process, with the latter type of contest often requiring voters to attend caucus meetings, rather than simply voting. To secure the Republican nomination, a candidate needs to win 1,215 delegates.

"More than anything, Donald Trump's victory in Iowa demonstrates how much he and his political organization have learned since 2016," Robert Schmuhl, professor emeritus of American studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, who critically observes the modern American presidency, told OSV News.

"This time they emphasized a get-out-to-caucus ground game that certainly paid off," Schmuhl said. "Planning and execution are critical to caucus success, and Trump's campaign demonstrated much greater sophistication in both areas than eight years ago. In 2024, they're playing for keeps."

The Iowa caucuses are a key contest in the process not for its number of delegates -- its 40 delegates represent less than 2% of the party's total delegates -- but for its status as the first contest in the nomination process, similar to New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary.

Winning the Iowa caucuses does not guarantee an eventual presidential nomination, but a victory there -- or exceeding expectations there -- can give candidates momentum heading into early primary contests in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

However, as Trump dominates polling in the contest, his allies in the party are expected to push to declare him the presumptive nominee early, so he can shift focus to the general election.

Trump's critics in the party argue he is ill-situated to defeat Biden, having previously lost to him in 2020, and point to his legal woes, including felony charges, as well as his baseless claims of systemic election fraud in 2020, as a hindrance in the general election.

However, his allies argue voters concerned about Biden's age and his handling of the economy will boost Trump into the presidency.

Should Haley win New Hampshire, Schmuhl said, "more voters will consider her more seriously for the nomination," though it's difficult to see her overcoming Trump's lead, he added.

John White, a professor of politics at The Catholic University of America in Washington, told OSV News that DeSantis' second-place finish in Iowa "allows him to fight another day."

However, White said he did not see a path for DeSantis to win, and that the race was still likely to conclude in a Trump victory.

Schmuhl noted that a potential Trump-Biden rematch election in 2024 would have significant historical significance: the ages of the candidates would be without parallel. No president who was previously vice president has completed two full terms since Thomas Jefferson, he noted in a recent Notre Dame Magazine article.

Meanwhile, only Grover Cleveland was elected to the White House for nonconsecutive terms. Unlike Trump, Cleveland won the popular vote in each of the 1884, 1888, and 1892 elections. Trump was elected in 2016 after winning the Electoral College but not the popular vote. He lost both the Electoral College and the popular vote in 2020.