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Sanders claims 'very strong victory' in Iowa

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks What's behind the divisions over Biden's secretary of Labor? Young voters set turnout record, aiding Biden win MORE (I-Vt.) declared a “very strong victory” in the Iowa caucuses on Thursday, even as the Democratic National Committee called for a recanvass of votes in the state amid concerns about inconsistencies in the tally.

Speaking at a press conference in New Hampshire, Sanders pointed to the initial “alignment” of caucusgoers that showed him leading in the raw count by about 6,000 votes.

“What I want to do today, three days late, is to thank the people of Iowa for the very strong victory they gave us at the Iowa caucuses on Monday night,” Sanders said.

“Even though the vote tabulations have been extremely slow, we are now at a point with some 97 percent of the precincts reporting where our campaign is winning the popular initial vote by some 6,000 votes,” he added. “And when 6,000 more people come out for you in an election than your nearest opponent, we here in northern New England call that a victory.”

The Iowa caucuses, a quadrennial tradition that kicks off presidential nominating contests, was marred this week by technical difficulties and inconsistencies that have delayed the full results for days and thrown the final outcome of vote into chaos.

With 97 percent of precincts now reporting, the results show South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegButtigieg: Denying Biden intelligence briefings is about protecting Trump's 'ego' Biden's win is not a policy mandate — he should govern accordingly Pavlich: Hollow calls for unity MORE leading Sanders by a scant tenth of a percentage point among State Delegate Equivalents (SDEs) in Iowa.

But it’s unclear when the rest of the results will be released and reports of inconsistencies and errors in the tallies have raised questions about the accuracy of the results.

DNC Chair Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE called on Thursday for a recanvass of worksheets from each caucus site “in order to ensure public confidence in the results.”

Buttigieg has also declared victory for his campaign in Iowa. But Sanders downplayed the importance of Buttigieg’s slight lead in State Delegate Equivalents in Iowa, noting that they are not the same as the delegates that will ultimately choose the Democratic nominee at the party’s convention this summer.

“Because of changes to Democratic Party rules that were widely supported during the Democratic Unity Reform Commission, these State Delegate Equivalents have greatly diminished in importance from past caucuses – and they should,” Sanders said.

“Given the remaining precincts outstanding and mathematical errors that we are discovering in the data, we could end up with more SDEs,” He added. “But whoever inches ahead in the end is meaningless.”

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Iowa Democrats this year issued a series of reforms to its vote process under pressure from Sanders supporters and the DNC after previous caucuses were marred by controversy.

In 2016, eventual Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden to name longtime aide Blinken as secretary of State: report Understanding mixed results in Pennsylvania key to future elections What's behind the divisions over Biden's secretary of Labor? MORE held off a stronger-than-expected challenge from Sanders to win the Iowa caucuses by just two-tenths of a percentage point in a process marked by slow counts and several precincts that awarded her delegates after ties were broken by coin flip.

The reforms unveiled for this year included measures to create a paper trail that would record voter preferences for the first time, releasing results from voters’ initial preferences, their second preferences after unviable candidates dropped away and the delegate equivalents that will eventually lead to a winner being declared.

The Associated Press and other media organizations will declare the winner in Iowa based on the number of State Delegate Equivalents received by each candidate.

Sanders acknowledged on Thursday that he and the former Indiana mayor would likely win the same number of delegates from the Iowa nominating contest. However, when asked why voters should believe his claims of victory over those of Buttigieg, Sanders responded: “Because I got 6,000 more votes and where I’m from, when you get 6,000 more votes that’s generally regarded as being the winner.”

In his remarks, Sanders tore into the caucus process, saying that the Iowa Democratic Party was “unprepared” for the vote and “put forth such a complicated process” that “relied on untested technology.” Asked whether Iowa should hold onto its status as the first-in-the-nation caucus state, Sanders said it should be conditioned on how the state handles the vote going forward.

“I think it depends on how you do it, but the Iowa caucus is just much, much, much too complicated,” he said.

Sanders remarks came days before New Hampshire holds its Democratic presidential primary. Recent polls show him leading the pack in the Granite State and, by declaring victory in Iowa, he may be looking to cement his frontrunner status ahead of the primary.

“I’m confident that we’re going to do really well here in New Hampshire having won Iowa,” Sanders said.

Sanders and Buttigieg are among the seven candidates who will take the stage on Friday night for a debate in New Hampshire. The Vermont senator’s claim of a win in Iowa may set the stage for a clash with Buttigieg.

-- Updated at 2:22 p.m.