Is the Iowa caucus dead?
The nation’s first contest in presidential elections, the Iowa caucus, has long drawn floods of campaign staff and media attention as political parties try to winnow out their primary field. But Monday’s non-result for Democrats drew questions whether the Hawkeye state should be first to vote.
“This fiasco means the end of the caucuses as a significant American political event. The rest of the country was already losing patience with Iowa anyway and this cooks Iowa’s goose. Frankly, it should,” David Yepsen, a famed and former Des Moines Register columnist told Politico.
Monday’s Democratic caucus was fraught with chaos as the Iowa Democratic Party delayed releasing official results due to widespread reporting problems amid new rules and a new app.
“We found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results,” Mandy McClure, communications director for the state party, said in the statement.
With New Hampshire’s primary and news of the president’s State of the Union address and impeachment trial all around the corner, the weight of the results may be lost and Iowa’s status as the bellwether state in question.
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“The clock’s ticking,” said Iowa strategist Jeff Link, who is unaligned with a Democratic campaign. “Everyone wants to know what happened here tonight. But soon what’s going to happen next will take over.”
Kurt Meyer, chairman of the Tri-County Democratic Party, told NBC News he was “very worried” about the future of the caucuses.
“There were already enough pea shooters out there coming for Iowa. There were 49 other states saying, ‘Why does Iowa get to do this?'” he told NBC. “And now we just poured a gallon of kerosene on what was a smoldering ember.”
‘A total mess’: Campaigns and Iowans criticize no results
The lack of results on caucus night also drew complaints from the campaigns. Candidates scrambled to take the stage and spin the non-results as victory in speeches to their supporters.
“What happened tonight made the argument for itself. Nobody can deny this is a broken way to do it. It was a total mess,” said former housing secretary Julián Castro, a surrogate for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign.
Castro also said debate thresholds, the order of states holding their contests and whether a state employs a caucus versus primary should all be evaluated.
Biden’s campaign slammed the process, too, saying the “considerable flaws” holding up election results demand a complete and speedy answer.
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“We appreciate that you plan to brief the campaigns momentarily on these issues, and we plan to participate,” Dana Remus, general counsel for the former vice president’s campaign, wrote in a letter to the party Monday as delays extended into early Tuesday morning. “However, we believe that the campaigns deserve full explanations and relevant information regarding the methods of quality control you are employing, and an opportunity to respond before any official results are released,” the letter said.
“This is a disaster,” Mathew Johnson, a 46-year-old Urbandale resident, said as he exited U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ caucus night party. “To the rest of the country, we look like idiots.”
“Our credibility is facing a test,” Link, the Iowa strategist, said. “And it’s important that we deliver accurate numbers as quickly as possible. I think it is smarter to wait and deliver credible results, because irreparably harming a candidate — which has been done in the past — is not an acceptable option.”
What happened Monday night during Iowa caucuses?
The chaos unfolded slowly on Monday as Iowans gathered to caucus.
A new smartphone app led to promises of quick results as it aimed to help precinct leaders report numbers back to the party.
But technical issues appeared to unfold. A number of precinct leaders reportedly had issues using and logging into the app. Polk County Democratic Chairman Sean Bagniewski told the Des Moines Register that reporting issues “became the norm for the evening.”
Precinct chairs were provided a PIN to test the mobile app, which was different than a login required for Caucus Day. Some might have entered the wrong login credentials Monday, creating temporary problems, said Bret Niles, chairman of the Linn County Democratic Party.
The Iowa Democratic Party, however, insisted that the app did not create delays.
Around 10:30 p.m., McClure issued the statement on finding inconsistencies in the three data sets and said results would be delayed.
McClure said the party had data so far from “around 25%” of the state’s 1,765 precincts, adding that “early data indicates turnout is on pace for 2016.”
Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price briefed reporters around 1 a.m. and said the process was taking longer “to ensure we are eventually able to report results with full confidence.”
Why is Iowa first to vote?
Iowa was not always the first state to hold a presidential contest, but it has almost always held caucuses for selecting presidents, instead of the now more common primary system.
Democrats decided after a tumultuous 1968 party convention to open up their process by lessening party leaders’ power and involving more grassroots activists.
In Iowa, some were frustrated with the caucus process which led to changes that included holding separate district and state conventions. As a result, the whole caucus process needed to start earlier.
In 1972, Iowa became the first state to hold a presidential contest. At the time, Sen. George McGovern’s campaign manager Gary Hart saw the potential benefit of an early win. Four years later, Jimmy Carter’s campaign took a similar approach to Iowa, and went on to win the presidency.
Ever since, Iowa has fought to hold its first-in-the-nation status as other states have tried to move their contests earlier to become the national litmus test.
“Iowa caucuses are first-in-the-nation mainly because the state insists on remaining first,” says Kathie Obradovich, the Des Moines Register’s opinion editor.
Iowa caucus has been delayed before
In 2012, Mitt Romney was declared the Republican winner after 1:30 a.m. Two weeks later, a recount showed Rick Santorum was the winner.
Hillary Clinton was named the Democratic winner around 2:30 a.m. in 2016 as Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Andy McGuire made the announcement. The Associated Press didn’t call the race until the next day.
What did Trump say about Iowa caucus?
President Donald Trump’s campaign quickly criticized the delay, calling it the “sloppiest train wreck in history.”
“Democrats are stewing in a caucus mess of their own creation with the sloppiest train wreck in history,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in an emailed statement, adding that there were concerns about “the fairness of the process.”
“The only person that can claim a very big victory in Iowa last night is ‘Trump,'” the president tweeted early Tuesday.
Contributing; Brianne Pfannenstiel and Clare Ulmer, Des Moines Register; Rebecca Morin, USA TODAY