News

Capitol ideas: Recount brings Iowa caucuses closure ... maybe

Supporters of Amy Klobuchar raise their hands for a first count during the Mount Vernon caucus on Feb. 3 at the Cornell
Supporters of Amy Klobuchar raise their hands for a first count during the Mount Vernon caucus on Feb. 3 at the Cornell College Small Sports Complex in Mount Vernon. Statewide, the U.S. senator from Minnesota received 18 percent of the votes in the Iowa Democratic caucuses. According to final results released last week, Pete Buttigieg won the tally of state delegate equivalents, and Sen. Bernie Sanders won the popular vote. (Amir Prellberg/Freelance)

And on the 24th day, the 2020 Iowa Democratic Party rested.

The final results of the Iowa Democratic caucuses — held Feb. 3 — were reported Thursday night by the Iowa Democratic Party. The state party’s Central Committee voted Saturday to certify the results and send them along to the Democratic National Committee.

Those finally final results came after a caucus-night delay caused by a technological malfunction, then recanvass and recount requests by two of the presidential campaigns.

So here we are nearly a month and three other early voting states later, and we finally have the Democratic caucus results.

And nothing changed.

Former South Bend., Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg appears to have won by a historic and cartoonishly small margin. Buttigieg earned 26.17 percent of the state delegate equivalents, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., earned 26.13 percent. Put another way, Buttigieg won by a fraction of a single state delegate equivalent. It’s an almost unfathomable margin of victory.

Sanders can claim a victory of sorts of his own. While state delegate equivalents historically have been the measuring stick for caucus success — and the means by which the all-important national delegates are awarded — the 2020 caucuses featured the first-ever reporting of the first preference totals. Sanders won that count by more than 6,000 votes over Buttigieg.

Buttigieg, who announced Sunday that he was dropping his campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, won the delegate race — in addition to earning the most state delegate equivalents, he ended up with 14 national delegates to Sanders’ 12. Sanders won the popular vote.

Regardless of how you measure it, both campaigns were successful in Iowa, and were clearly the cream of the 2020 Iowa caucuses crop, as Elizabeth Warren (18 percent of state delegate equivalents), Joe Biden (16 percent) and Amy Klobuchar (12 percent) finished comfortably behind the top two.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

While the results are final, they are not undisputed. The campaigns flagged some precincts’ results for the recanvass and recount, and media organizations and other caucus observers flagged questionable results in other precincts. Those will not be reviewed because only presidential campaigns can make such a request.

Between the ridiculously close final outcome and the outstanding disputed results, the Associated Press opted to not declare a winner of the Democratic caucuses.

But it doesn’t really matter. Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses never have been about the exact results as much as they have been about what the results do for the campaigns as they move into the other early voting states. From that perspective, the caucuses still performed their function.

Buttigieg and Sanders sustained their success and momentum in New Hampshire, where they once again finished No. 1 and No. 2 in a close race. This time Sanders won with 25.7 percent of the vote to Buttigieg’s 24.4 percent. And Klobuchar, who surged late in Iowa, kept that momentum into New Hampshire, too, finishing third at 19.8 percent.

So even for all the kerfuffle over the results reporting, Iowa’s Democratic caucuses still, essentially, performed the same function they always have: whittling the field and propelling some candidates forward.

And Democrats made more caucus history. Buttigieg’s win — narrow, unclear and contested though it may be — was the first by an openly gay candidate. That follows the first win by a woman (Hillary Clinton in 2016) and first by a black candidate (Barack Obama in 2008).

That doesn’t mean national leaders and others will see things the same way.

Iowa Democrats will have a tougher time than ever defending their first-in-the-nation status over the coming months and years.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. Comments: erin.murphy@lee.net; @ErinDMurphy on Twitter.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.