Last week, Democrats in Iowa went to vote for who they wanted to be their nominee facing off against Donald Trump in the presidential election in November. The fallout from the caucus was chaotic, with the event being beset by technical problems and days of delays in reporting results. The Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price told a news conference on Tuesday evening the fiasco had been ‘simply unacceptable’ and that he ‘apologises deeply’ for the mistake. What happened? Who had the best night? Here are the five key takeaways from the debacle.
Mayor Pete did very well
Relatively unknown a year ago, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend in Indiana had a strong night, picking up 26.2 per cent of the vote share, narrowly edging Bernie Sanders in the delegate count and comfortably beating out Joe Biden. Although it is true that his campaign had focused time and money into the area and was a state they heavily targeted, it is impressive that he managed to exceed his expected poll numbers and end up finishing at the top of the pile. Speaking in New Hampshire, Mr Buttigieg, the first openly gay mayor to run for president, stated: ‘A campaign that started a year ago with four staff members, no name recognition, no money … has taken its place at the front of this race to replace the current president with a better vision for the future’. However, Buttigieg may struggle to kick on from here due to the fact that his voter demographics tends to be made up of predominately white college educated voters. An Economist/YouGov survey last year put him at 2 per cent among black Democrats, and although this may improve given the fact that he performed well in Iowa, it is uncertain how diverse his coalition of support is.
The voting debacle plays into Trump’s hands
Whether you like it or not, the Iowa Democratic Party did no favours with their chaotic handling of the caucus last Monday night. Results were expected to start coming in by midnight, but by noon on Thursday, all of the precincts still haven’t reported their results due to the fact that technology issues with an app the party was using meant the process had to be delayed and investigated, creating a whirlwind of unhelpful conspiracy theories and speculation. As well as being almost unprecedented in US political history, this also paints the Democratic Party as incompetent. The president tweeted that it was an ‘unmitigated disaster’ and that ‘the only person that can claim a very big victory in Iowa last night is Trump’. The post has 160,000 retweets. The whole debacle is certainly not painting the Democratic Party in a good light — a party that are desperate to win in November and remove Trump from office, not through impeachment anymore, but by the ballot box.
Sanders is quietly building a diverse coalition
Iowa is perceived to be a state in which the citizens of the state do not represent the country as a whole — predominately white and very politically engaged. Despite this, Iowa does have pockets of racial diversity, particularly around the largest cities such as Cedar Rapids and the capital Des Moines. The largest minority groups are Hispanics and African-Americans, and Bernie Sanders did well among this group in Tuesday’s contest, at least doubling his main rivals in many of the most diverse neighbourhoods. Among the 9 per cent of Iowa caucus-goers that were non-white, Mr Sanders took 38 per cent of the vote, more than double any other candidate in the race as well as winning the support of the majority of female voters. Bernie is often criticised as having a narrow, predominately young white base of support, but these results shows that potentially he can be a candidate that all people, regardless of race or gender, can get behind.
Joe Biden blew it
Whichever way you look at the numbers, Joe Biden had a very poor night in Iowa. The former VP with the most name recognition going into the contest ended up in fourth place, with 15.8 per cent of the vote share and a grand total of zero delegates. In a speech on the campaign trail, he admitted it was a set-back, stating that it was a ‘gut-punch’ but wasn’t ‘the first time in my life I’ve been knocked down’. He also took a swipe at his rival moderate Buttigieg, saying that it would be a risk to nominate someone who’s ‘never held an office higher than mayor of a town of 100,000 people’. It could even potentially get worse for Biden from here though. New Hampshire polls suggest that Sanders should comfortably win the next contest, and if his base of support in South Carolina doesn’t hold up, it could be curtains for his campaign. No contender has won the party nomination whilst losing either Iowa and New Hampshire since Bill Clinton in 1992, and Biden desperately needs a win to put his campaign back on track.
New Hampshire just became much more important
The New Hampshire primary, which takes place on February 11th, has become much more important in figuring out who will become the Democratic Party nominee. Firstly, it is a primary, meaning it is essentially a straightforward ballot compared to Iowa which uses the more complex caucus. It is similar to Iowa in the sense that it is not responsible for a large amount of the Democratic Party delegates, but due to the fact that the Iowa results were muddled and different campaigns were able to create their own narrative, New Hampshire, if it all runs smoothly, will hopefully paint a clearer picture of the race. A Sanders win may mean that he is perceived as the frontrunner and get a few more key endorsements, whereas a Buttigieg or Warren surge might mean they grow and get more media coverage and that may be enough to establish a foothold in the race, separating themselves from the rest of the chasing pack.