While Ted Cruz won a five-point victory in what really turned into a three-way race in the GOP’s Iowa Caucus, the Democratic Party’s side of the caucus turned into a real nailbiter. Hillary Clinton clung to a lead of less than a percentage point by the end of the night, with both she and Bernie Sanders claiming victory at the end. At the moment, CNN’s election tracker still shows a 50/50 tie, although Hillary has 24 delegates assigned to Bernie’s 21, thanks to the arcane and opaque process by which Democrats operate their caucuses.
Speaking of which, Bernie may want a recount. NBC’s Kasie Hunt caught up with the challenger after he deplaned in New Hampshire, and while he’s looking forward, he might still want one careful look back too:
BERNIE SANDERS — is capable of running and winning any state of this country. We look forward to doing well here in New Hampshire. And after that, we’re off to Nevada and then South Carolina, where I think we’re going to surprise a whole lot of people, just as we did in Iowa.
KASIE HUNT: Do you anticipate contesting this vote count at all?
SANDERS: Honestly, we just got off the plane and I — we don’t know enough to say anything about it.
How does one recount a caucus? Even on the Republican side that would be difficult, as was discovered in 2012 in the razor-thin outcome between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. On the Democratic side, it would be all but impossible, thanks to the multiple-round system employed. In each precinct, voting takes place initially to figure out where the candidates stand; candidates are then eliminated if they cannot get to 15% and another round of voting takes place to see where those freed-up votes will go. Even though Martin O’Malley was in most precincts easily eliminated, the existence of multiple votes would still foul a recount process.
This, by the way, is one of the better arguments for eliminating caucuses and sticking to normal ballot procedures in primaries.
Politico’s Glenn Thrush and Annie Karni conclude that Hillary 2016 looks a lot like Hillary 2008:
Iowa wasn’t just supposed to be a tentative first step in Clinton’s inevitable march to the Democratic nomination, it was meant to be the cornerstone of a rebuilt political persona – and her national team was built from Iowa outward, with a foundational goal of winning here, and winning big.
But nothing is ever easy with Hillary Clinton – especially not here — and her inability to ride a first-class ground organization to triumph underscores the candidate’s weakness and the lack of a message that resonates with primary voters. For months, the Republican side of the aisle has been filled with drama and uncertainty – yet in the end it was a 74-year-old, wild-haired Democratic socialist who has muddied a contest that was supposed to be predictable. …
In 2008, Clinton’s ambivalence about Iowa resulted in a muddled strategy and a flawed field operation. This time she had the best operation money could buy and experience could muster: The 100-plus staffer operation was built by Clinton’s 35-year-old campaign manager Robby Mook, Clinton’s best field organizer eight years ago, and he devoted the bulk of the candidate’s time and the campaign’s resources to the first four voting states, with an extreme focus on Iowa over other states where the campaign’s presence was bare-bones.
But Clinton suffered from the same structural disadvantage here that hurt her in 2008. Her appeal was limited, mostly, to older frequent caucus goers – with a goal of maximizing turnout and pulling from a poll of about 20,000 Democratic voters who never participate in the labor-intensive caucus process. Sanders, who attracted big crowds on college campuses and high schools, had a much larger reservoir of young people to draw from – and he apparently did just that on caucus night, according to initial estimates.
Yes, but in 2008 Hillary finished in third place, not tied for first. Sanders had begun to overtake her in some polls over the past month, so Bernie wasn’t entirely the underdog last night. Sanders probably needed a clear win to rattle Hillary’s supporters. A 50/50 split might not have been Hillary’s dream come true, but with a beating approaching in New Hampshire, it’s enough of a winning narrative to sustain her campaign until South Carolina. Sanders has to prove he can beat Hillary somewhere other than his backyard in New Hampshire and in the prairie-populist states in the Midwest. And he hasn’t quite proven the latter — yet, anyway.