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)

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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