Democratic Presidential

Slim win for Clinton sign of lengthy nomination process

"Iowans like a contest, not a coronation"

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton leads a campaign rally at Nashua Community College, in Nashua, Ne
REUTERS
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton leads a campaign rally at Nashua Community College, in Nashua, New Hampshire February 2, 2016. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Dianne Bystrom doesn’t know why anyone is surprised by the neck-and-neck finish of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in Monday night’s Democratic caucuses.

Polls leading up to the first-in-the-nation presidential nominating contest showed Sanders narrowing the gap, and campaign events for both candidates in the days before the caucuses were attended by thousands.

“The polls were all over the place and the predictions were that the race was tightening up,” said Bystrom, director of the Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University, who did not caucus Monday. “I’m not that surprised by the results.”

The closeness of the race — a slight edge for Clinton — raised questions about just how well the 1,683 meetings across the state had been run, highlighted confusion that some worry could reflect poorly on Iowa and signal that a lengthy battle for the Democratic nomination is about to ensue.

The Iowa Democratic Party declared Clinton the winner at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday with all but one of the 1,683 precincts reporting. When that last precinct from Polk County turned in its numbers, Clinton had 49.8 percent of state delegate equivalents and Sanders had 49.6 percent, with 171,109 Democrats participating.

Precinct-by-precinct results

This map shows how each candidate fared in each county across Iowa. The shade of the precinct represents the winner. The darker the shade, the larger the margin of victiory. You can zoom and drag the map.

“The Iowa Democratic Party is declaring Hillary a winner and that is a victory for her,” said Chris Larimer, University of Northern Iowa associate political science professor, who did not caucus Monday. “It was important for her, given 2008 and what is expected to happen in New Hampshire.”

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Clinton came in third in the 2008 Iowa caucuses behind now-President Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. Clinton and Sanders will again face each other in the Feb. 9 primary in New Hampshire, where Sanders has a substantial lead in the polls.

Sanders, for his part, leaves Iowa with momentum, said Tim Hagle, a University of Iowa associate political science professor who was a precinct chair for a Republican caucus Monday.

That Sanders came so close, Hagle said, shows how “beating expectations can make you a winner, too.”

Sanders, who says he would pay for free college with more taxes on the rich, won Johnson, Black Hawk and Story counties — where Iowa’s three public universities are located.

While Clinton had more support in central Iowa, Sanders claimed other metro counties, including Linn, Scott and Woodbury.

In Linn County, 70 of 86 precincts went to Sanders. In Johnson County, 48 of 57 precincts leaned toward the Vermont senator.

In the two counties, Clinton and Sanders tied in 54 precincts, nearly 38 percent of all 143 of the precincts.

Several precincts in the state had to allocate county delegates with a coin toss when some participants left their caucuses early. The additional delegates are for the party’s county convention, not statewide delegate equivalents, so they carry less weight.

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A Polk County precinct relying on a last-minute volunteer chair didn’t file its results until Tuesday morning.

Rania Batrice, a Sanders spokeswoman in Iowa, said the campaign has concerns about such last-minute chairs who weren’t trained properly, or precincts where there were chairs who did not show up and untrained people filled in. In addition, there were reports of disputes in some parts of the state about whether accurate counts were taken of participants in individual caucuses.

A spokesman for the Iowa Democratic Party, Sam Lau, said all precinct chairs are elected by the caucus, and that the campaigns were represented at the party’s tabulation center and could, and did, bring up concerns. In the end, he said, the results were verified and now final.

The Sanders’ camp told the Associated Press it won’t challenge the results, which Hagle thinks is a good idea.

“If you spend your effort on legal battles, you’re not campaigning,” Hagle said. “It’s better to move on.”

Hagle, Bystrom and Larimer agreed the big take-away from the Democratic caucuses is that the Democratic nomination is not a foregone conclusion.

On stage with former President Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, the former secretary of state once thought to be a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination acknowledged the debate would continue — and she said she relished it.

“I am excited about really getting into the debate with Sen. Sanders about the best way forward to fight for us and America,” Clinton said Monday night.

Iowans seem to agree, said Bystrom: “Iowans like a contest, not a coronation.”

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Erin Murphy of The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau and Ed Tibbetts of the Quad City Times contributed to this report.

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