NEWTON, Iowa—Inside the caucus at the Fore Seasons Practice Center, a golf bar 40 miles east of Des Moines, Biden precinct chairman George Simpson came ready to court his neighbors.
While the other candidate tables were scattered with buttons and stickers bearing their candidate’s name, Simpson’s had cookies, soft drinks, coffee, and water.
Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg took home the biggest payload with two delegates, but former Vice President Joe Biden—along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and businessman Andrew Yang—secured one delegate.
“I’m surprised the way it went, I’m happy about the way it went,” he said.
Such was the way the night went for Biden, the once clear, now former, Democratic presidential frontrunner. What seemed destined to be a somber night for his campaign ended up salvaged in the most absurd of ways. The inability of the state Democratic Party to count ballots using a new, untested app led to mass confusion and simmering anger among the campaigns. In that milieu, Biden’s bleak showing morphed into something else: a second chance.
By night’s end, Biden headquarters had become a boisterous rally filled with happy, hopeful, and mostly relieved supporters.
Instead of a speech of willful defiance in the face of an electoral setback, Biden in a light blue shirt and blue suit bounded on stage with his wife, Jill, and gave an upbeat rallying speech to the crowd at the Olmsted Center at Drake University in Des Moines.
“I promise you we’re going to get this done,” Biden said. “And God willing, God willing, we’ll do it together.”
He then departed the stage, shaking hands with several supporters in the front row before leaving the venue.
Mike Grady, a Biden supporter and former councilman from the Seattle area, said the chaos was ultimately good for Biden.
“People are going to start on the East Coast,” he said. “And so that gives them some time, you know, because the next cycle they’re off to New Hampshire.”
In a statement posted on Twitter at 1:30 a.m. ET, Biden’s campaign manager, Greg Schultz, said the campaign was “thrilled with our performance across the state.”
“Tonight was a great night for us,” Schultz tweeted. “… We believe we will emerge with the delegates we need to continue on our path to make Joe Biden the Democratic nominee.”
But what is good for Biden may not be necessarily good for the party whose nomination he is seeking. While his candidacy was given a second chance at life, other candidates found it all maddening. Internal data released by several campaigns—while incomplete—had Biden finishing fourth, or even fifth, in Iowa. Meanwhile, Buttigieg simply declared victory during his speech, even with the vast majority of the votes not officially counted.
Buttigieg’s campaign told reporters that according to results reported from more than three-quarters of its precinct captains across the state, “Pete is going to New Hampshire victorious.”
“In the 1,301 precincts our captains have reported in, Pete reached viability in 1,064 (83 percent),” the campaign official said, adding that the campaign found that support for the former mayor in rural parts of the state was “5 percent better than we expected.”
And then there was Sen. Bernie Sanders.
At the Vermont senator’s would-be victory rally at the airport Holiday Inn, supporters appeared to still be riding the wave of popular enthusiasm for Sanders’ platform of radical change that had been palpable in the closing days of the Iowa campaign. They raucously raided the cash bar located helpfully next to the ballroom where Sanders had announced that once the results did come in, he expected to do “very well.”
But between the backslapping and camaraderie of volunteers, caucus-goers, and organizers who felt confident that Sanders would pull off a victory in the end was also a sense of deep frustration with the state Democratic Party.
“This to me is emblematic of the DNC,” said Daniel Lee, a 30-year-old precinct captain who worked to hustle caucus-goers in support of Sanders at Precinct 223, in the upscale western Des Moines suburbs. “This could be easily done over the phone. We had technology to do this 100 years ago—why are we building an app that they won’t tell us where it came from?”
Lee, who lives in Toronto but is a U.S. citizen, was incredulous at the state party’s claims that there were no problems with the application that was built to facilitate sharing precinct information—because he had issues using it himself.
“There were absolutely problems with the app. I was using it as a precinct captain, and even if that thing had worked, there were problems with the interface.”
— Daniel Lee, Sanders precinct captain
“There were absolutely problems with the app,” Lee said. “I was using it as a precinct captain, and even if that thing had worked, there were problems with the interface.”
Cal Soto, a 32-year-old Sanders volunteer from Los Angeles, said he was still excited by the enthusiasm he’d seen for the Vermont senator in the closing days of the Iowa campaign but added that the lack of clarity about the results “feels like a rain delay.”
“There’s a bit of disappointment,” Soto said, double-fisting two draft beers (one of which, he emphasized, was for his brother). “Some people are saying that this kinda cuts into maybe what would have been a big sort of victory speech—instead, it was a speech that sort of rallied the troops but was mostly for a limited audience.”
Soto had attended a raucous caucus at Drake University earlier in the evening, where non-viable supporters of Yang, Klobuchar and Biden dramatically united to give a delegate to Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who is no longer in the race.
“I thought they were chanting ‘WAR-REN,’ and it was ‘CO-RY’—I did not understand what was happening,” Soto said. “That was a little disappointing for me to see, but it was cool to see that people are really engaging in the process.”
Both Soto and Lee told The Daily Beast that the groundswell of enthusiasm they had seen in support of Sanders in the campaign’s closing days was enough to keep the wind in their sails—though perhaps not as much as a clear-cut victory would have.
“At the end of the day, it’s 1 percent of the delegates,” Lee said. “The popular support of the various candidates will be borne out over the next couple of weeks… so I’m not particularly concerned about it.”
Soto said he still plans on continuing to canvassing for Sanders first thing on Tuesday morning, when he returns home to Los Angeles ahead of Super Tuesday.
“We’re pretty fired up about how the operation was here in Iowa,” Soto said. “And I think we want to go to New Hampshire and see what happens next.”