Iowa debacle deepens division between Sanders, national party

MANCHESTER, N.H. — The vote-counting debacle around the Iowa caucuses has furthered distrust and hardened anger between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and the national Democratic Party. 

There is deep frustration among Sanders’s supporters and allies over the historic meltdown of the first-in-the-nation caucuses. 

The early reported results found former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg with a small lead over Sanders — a dynamic that has been reflected in the news media for several days.

The race is too close to call, but the late results trickling in appeared to be breaking in Sanders’s direction and there’s still a chance he could win both the popular vote and a plurality of delegates.

Sanders’s allies believe he was deprived of valuable momentum he should have had coming out of Iowa.

And progressives are livid, viewing the fiasco as endemic of a party that’s been run by establishment figures whose unchecked power has bred incompetence and laziness.

Adding to the frustration is the fact that a handful of former Hillary Clinton aides are involved with the company that developed the failed app being blamed for the reporting irregularities that led to the slow and confusing release of results. 

“What this whole episode shows is what a hollowed-out core the Democratic political establishment is,” said Neil Sroka, a strategist for the progressive group Democracy for America, which is not endorsing in the primary but is supportive of both Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

“The conspiracy theories are obviously wrong. This can be explained by rank incompetence,” Sroka continued. “But progressives are winning despite one hand often being tied behind our back. When they can’t even run a caucus properly, the calls for change could never be more obviously needed.”

Sanders’s supporters are also fuming at Buttigieg, who has been on a victory tour to tout his top finish in the caucuses.

With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Sanders led the raw vote total by about 6,000 on the first alignment, although the vagaries of the caucus system likely mean that he and Buttigieg will end up splitting a plurality of the delegates.

Buttigieg far exceeded expectations in Iowa, and in the days since the caucuses he’s popped in the polls of New Hampshire.

“It’s clear that in the first and second round, more people voted for Sen. Sanders than any other candidate,” said Terry Tucker, a Democratic National Committee (DNC) member from Colorado who backs Sanders. “The partial release of data and the app fiasco that led Mayor Pete to declare an early victory cannot change the ultimate result or the facts.”

Adding fuel to the fire: The Buttigieg campaign raised concerns with the state party about how delegates are being allocated from satellite caucuses in Iowa.

Sanders has been outperforming all of his rivals at the satellite locations.

DNC Chairman Tom Perez has called for a complete recanvassing after the state party recalled some results due to reporting errors.

“It is curious that DNC Chair Perez is calling for a ‘recanvassing’ when it appears that Sen. Sanders is winning the Iowa caucuses,” said Jeri Shepherd, a DNC member from Colorado who supports Sanders. “The cynic in me wonders if ‘recanvassing’ would be called for if another candidate were in the lead … again, we are having to respond to DNC happenings we learn about through Twitter or other social media.”

Other Sanders allies are going further, demanding that Perez step down.

“The debacle in Iowa should bring about the swift resignation of Tom Perez,” said Jonathan Tasini, a progressive strategist and Sanders ally. “He can’t fulfill the most basic operational task of ensuring the presidential nomination process is fair and sound, which only feeds the lingering feeling among many of us that, at best, the party leaders are deeply incompetent and, at worst, some are maneuvering to eventually undercut the will of the voters.”

The DNC did not respond to a request for comment. 

It has said the debacle in Iowa is unacceptable and that it will not use the failed app to report any further results.

Perez vented frustration with the state party on Thursday as he called for a recanvass, saying “enough is enough.”

In a speech in Manchester, Sanders vowed to overhaul the process if he wins the White House and his allies take control of the national party. 

“That will not happen again if I have anything to say about it,” Sanders said.

Sanders has had a fraught relationship with the DNC since the party’s handling of the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.

The previous DNC regime, led by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), sought to limit debates between Sanders and Clinton, who was the prohibitive front-runner before Sanders’s astonishing rise. Hacked emails later revealed that DNC officials openly supported Clinton and opposed Sanders.

The current DNC regime had nothing to do with that and has made broad structural reforms to ensure a level playing field.

But the Iowa disaster gives further fuel to Sanders’s supporters, who are energized by his promise to tear down what they view as calcification and stagnation within the national party. 

“Obviously making the DNC out to be the bogeyman is good politics for him,” said one former DNC official. “But I never thought I’d see the day where Bernie and Biden were in lockstep about the horrible workings of a state party. Their complaints are legit, but this time around it’s not about favoritism, it’s about stupidity.”

Tags 2020 Democrats Bernie Sanders Debbie Wasserman Schultz Democratic National Committee Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Iowa Iowa caucus Pete Buttigieg Sanders campaign Tom Perez
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