First Iowa results show Buttigieg, Sanders ahead

DES MOINES, Iowa — Early and incomplete results from Iowa’s Democratic caucuses showed former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg narrowly leading Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a triumphant edge for two outsider candidates that was overshadowed by technical errors that delayed the vote count for almost a day.

The first batch of results, which accounted for 62 percent of the approximately 1,700 precincts across the state, showed Buttigieg leading with 26.9 percent of the delegates who will eventually be elected to the national convention. Sanders was running second, with 25 percent of the so-called delegate shares.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) had taken 18 percent of the vote, while former Vice President Joe Biden lagged in fourth place with just under 16 percent.

With so many precincts left to count, the race remained too close to call. Both Sanders and Buttigieg claimed victory on Tuesday, long before the actual results came in.

But what should have meant a massive boost for Sanders and Buttigieg was instead overshadowed by the reporting errors that bedeviled an app meant to speed the results. By the time the first results came out, Sanders and Buttigieg were already in New Hampshire, which holds its primary on Tuesday.

The Iowa Democratic Party’s flub was so catastrophic that it gave an opening to one candidate who did not even compete for Iowa votes: former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg, who is bypassing early states to focus on delegate-rich Super Tuesday contests, took advantage of the chaos and confusion of the delayed results to double his television buys.

The delay has also robbed Iowa voters of their traditional role winnowing the Democratic field. The early results showed Biden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) — two moderate candidates who had spent both their time and money making Iowa a priority — mired well behind the three front-runners. 

Swift losses on Monday night might have forced either or both from the race, but by the time results came out they were going ahead with planned events in New Hampshire.

Both Sanders and Buttigieg demonstrated an ability to build broad coalitions across Iowa. They finished first and second among both men and women — Sanders won men by 5 points, Buttigieg won women by 4. Sanders dominated among younger voters, taking 48 percent among those under the age of 30, while Buttigieg led among middle-aged voters and held his own across age groups.

The two front-runners led the rest of the field among voters who said health care was the most important issue to them, a potential preview of a clash to come between Sanders’s “Medicare for All” plan and what Buttigieg calls his “Medicare for all who want it” plan.

“He makes me feel hopeful that we could actually get things moving toward the right people,” said Elsie Rankin, a chemist who caucused for Sanders at her precinct at Edmunds Elementary School in Des Moines. “He just makes me feel like I could trust him to impact my life.”

Sanders led the field by a wide margin among the 37 percent of voters who said they would rathe nominate a candidate who agrees with them on most issues, while Buttigieg edged Biden among the 61 percent who said they preferred a candidate who could beat President Trump, a potentially embarrassing result for a candidate like Biden who staked his entire campaign on the ability to beat the sitting president.

“When I looked at President Obama, he was someone who was an outsider. I see Pete as an outsider as well,” said James Stevens, who works in financial services and who caucused for Buttigieg at the same precinct. “I think having someone that’s younger, that has a different outlook, I think that’s what we need, and it just takes me back to Obama. He was younger, he had a different perspective, a different way of looking at things, a different way of bringing people together. And I think that’s what we could get from Mayor Pete.”

Frustrations continued mounting Tuesday, even after the state party told campaigns it would release the first batch of data late in the day.

“I think we should all be disappointed in the inability of the party to come up with timely results, but we are not casting aspersions on the votes that are being counted,” Sanders told reporters Tuesday. “There’s no excuse for not having results last night, but that doesn’t mean to say the votes, that the totals, will be inaccurate. That’s unfair.”

Biden’s campaign sent a sharply worded letter to the Iowa Democratic Party on Monday, saying it was concerned about “considerable flaws” in the counting process — a sign that the former vice president might seek to discredit the results.

Warren told reporters in New Hampshire that she believed the Iowa Democratic Party should release complete results all at once.

Adding to the angst, the first round of released results showed that Buttigieg had won more delegate shares, even though more people aligned with Sanders on the first ballot.

Sanders won more than 28,220 supporters, while Buttigieg took 27,030. But a combination of geographic distribution and a realignment process that gives someone who supports a nonviable candidate a second chance to influence the process meant Buttigieg won a higher share of the delegate vote released so far.

Iowa political leaders are acutely aware of the pressure they will now be under to either drastically reform their quadrennial caucuses or lose their place at the head of the presidential nominating process altogether. Instead of taking a shot at his rival, Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann offered support for the state Democratic Party.

“I stand with the IDP in ensuring #IACaucus results are correct rather than quick. Accuracy doesn’t run on deadlines,” Kaufmann wrote. 

As the results came in, it became clear that the old fashioned organizing that has dominated Iowa caucuses in the past is still the strongest path to victory today.

Sanders had been building a strong organization almost nonstop since he announced his first presidential campaign in 2015. While other candidates rose and fell in Iowa polls, Sanders steadily gained ground, training thousands of supporters and volunteers to do the hard work of organizing in neighborhoods and at precinct caucuses.

His campaign organized in unique ways, too, putting together groups of supporters at Casey’s General Store, an Iowa gas chain, and at CVS convenience stores, said Misty Rebik, his Iowa campaign director.

Buttigieg’s campaign said it had trained more than 5,000 organizers in Iowa, and the candidate himself held dozens of town halls in the final weeks. 

Warren, stuck in Washington for the impeachment trial, dispatched surrogates — including her dog Bailey, a star in his own right — in her stead. When she could get to Iowa, she answered dozens of questions from voters over the race’s final days, snapping selfies with children.

This story was corrected at 7:36 to reflect Buttigieg’s percentage of state delegates with 62 percent of the vote counted.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden Michael Bloomberg Pete Buttigieg

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