Last night, the Iowa Democratic Party held its much-hyped “first in the nation” caucuses… the first event in the Democratic Party’s quadrennial nominating calendar. While for the most part the caucuses themselves ran smoothly, when the time came for the party to release results, there were none to be found… a situation that persisted through the evening and into the night.
The total lack of official results – blamed on a “coding issue” in the mobile app that was ironically conceived to speed reporting – has not surprisingly led to furious criticism of the Iowa Democratic Party and its caucus process.
The New York Times called it a “systemwide disaster,” while The Washington Post called the night “chaotic.” The results are expected to come out this afternoon, according to a press release by the Iowa Democratic Party, but the damage has already been done: this is the longest delay in the history of the Iowa caucuses.
The delay in results means it is impossible to say who has won.
Last night, the candidates reacted to this reality by making quasi-victory speeches to their supporters and leaving for New Hampshire.
What does the delay mean for the campaign and the candidates?
Joe Biden: The chaos in Iowa could actually be of benefit to Joe Biden’s campaign. Early reporting from journalists on the ground indicated that, in some precinct, he was under-performing badly and even failing to reach the 15% viability limit. The uncertain shambles produced by the delay in results allows the former vice president to move on to New Hampshire without any negative media coverage stemming from a potentially lackluster Iowa performance.
Bernie Sanders: The Sanders campaign went into the caucuses with a great deal of confidence, bolstered by encouraging polling data and research performed by campaign staff. Now, his team are undoubtedly furious – even if the official results show that Sanders won, the media is already beginning to move on as tonight’s State of the Union and the New Hampshire primary approach.
There have already been efforts by Sanders campaigners to generate positive media – they released internal research showing strong results for Sanders and poor results for Biden – but they were understandably hoping for positive coverage from the mass media stemming from a victory in the caucuses.
Elizabeth Warren: The impact of the debacle in Iowa on Elizabeth Warren’s campaign is as yet uncertain. The U.S. senator from Massachusetts went into the night with the weakest polling of the top four candidates, indicating that she may benefit from the results of the caucus being downplayed by the other candidates.
Early reporting indicated that Warren was actually outperforming expectations in many precincts. It remains to be seen if the results — when they are released — show Warren ahead of where pundits thought she’d be and whether that will bolster her campaign. Warren did secure a moral victory of sorts: her campaign generously offered volunteer-led free childcare for parents caucusing.
Pete Buttigieg: Of all the candidates, Pete Buttigieg had the most to lose in Iowa. Buttigieg’s campaign has come under increasing pressure over his lack of appeal to communities of color, which hamper his chances of success in two of the four early states, Nevada and South Carolina. In the other early state, New Hampshire, Sanders and Warren have the major advantage over Buttigieg of being from neighboring states. For former Mayor Pete, it was Iowa or bust, and the polling indicated that he would indeed do well there.
Last night’s lack of results might have doomed his campaign. In response to this threat, Buttigieg adopted a “fake it ’til you make it” approach in his closing speech of the night: “By all indications, we are going to New Hampshire victorious!” He declined to explain what indications he was using to make that conclusion. Evidently, he is hoping that projecting a sense of victory will be good enough.
Amy Klobuchar: Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar was relying on Iowa as fervently as Mayor Buttigieg – like him, she is from a nearby Midwestern state. Unlike Buttigieg, Klobuchar could have actually been helped by the lack of results.
Polling conducted before the caucuses took place indicated that she would perform poorly, and coming behind fourth place would have put serious pressure on her to end her campaign. The lack of results has meant that she can confidently move forward to the New Hampshire primary.
While none of the candidates who competed in Iowa can credibly claim victory yet, we do know who lost the Iowa Democratic caucuses… and that’s the Iowa Democratic Party. With no results to share, the Iowa Democratic Party’s relevance to the nominating process is diminishing by the hour.
Not everyone is or will be negatively affected by the IDP’s results reporting debacle, however. Here’s an overview of who could benefit from the chaos.
Donald Trump: The current occupant of the executive premises on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has gleefully taken the opportunity to mock “do-nothing Democrats” for the confusion in Iowa. Calling the night an “unmitigated disaster” on Twitter, he argued that if the Democratic candidates could not even run a caucus, they shouldn’t be allowed to run the country (apparently failing to understand that the candidates themselves do not actually run the caucus).
Trump’s campaign team also took the opportunity to spread conspiracy theories about the vote in the same way they did in 2016. Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted, “Quality control = rigged?” (The Iowa Democratic Party said that a “quality control” process was delaying the results.)
Michael Bloomberg: When the billionaire former mayor of New York launched his presidential campaign, he declined to even put his name on the ballot in the four early states. Instead, Bloomberg has used his vast personal fortune to build support through ubiquitous advertising in the states that vote on Super Tuesday (which is March 3rd, the most important date on the Democratic Party’s nominating calendar, according to FiveThirtyEight analysts).
Bloomberg’s bet has so far paid off handsomely.
None of his rivals can now lay claim to the massive surge in media coverage and fundraising that normally accompanies victory in Iowa, making his advertising binge and multi-billion dollar fortune all the more advantageous.
New Hampshire: In the short term, New Hampshire will benefit from the Iowa Democratic Party’s results reporting headaches. Asked if, after last night’s debacle, Iowa should remain the first state in the nation to vote, former chair of the state Democratic Party Gordon Fischer said, “Absolutely, no question, without a doubt!”
Nobody else seems to share his confidence. The Iowa caucuses have come under criticism before for its undemocratic, byzantine and exclusionary nature, as well as for the state’s lack of racial diversity. Last night’s confusion “is not going to help [Iowa’s] case,” according to political strategist Jess McIntosh. Pressure is mounting on Iowa from journalists and Democratic Party officials alike to abandon the caucus in favor of a state-run primary, which most other state parties are using.
The Democratic and Republican parties have long allowed New Hampshire to be the state that holds the nation’s first presidential primary every four years, and the state has even passed laws requiring their Secretary of State to schedule the state’s primary ahead of any other states.
However, the parties could choose to make New Hampshire meaningless and irrelevant if they wanted when they adopt their 2024 convention rules.
All they need to do is agree upon rules providing for a nominating calendar that allows other states to go first. If New Hampshire refused to comply with the parties’ rule changes, the parties could simply disqualify the Granite State from having any delegates, and instruct candidates not to campaign there.
That could put an end to New Hamsphire’s outsize role in the presidential nominating process in addition to Iowa’s. The other forty-eight states plus the District of Columbia and the territories have every reason to fight for nominating calendar that is fairer and more sensible in the runup to 2024.