NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, February 4th, 2020

We don’t know who won the Iowa Democratic caucuses yet, but we know who lost: *Iowa*

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?

Both Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar have set their hopes on success in Iowa

Both Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar have set their hopes on suc­cess in Iowa (Pho­to: Phil Roed­er, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

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.

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