The Iowa Democratic caucus (1972-2020) will be the last of its kind.
Iowa doesn’t deserve what was allowed to happen on February 3;
it is a good place (full disclosure: I went to graduate school there),
but its role in first-in-the-nation presidential voting is over.
It has been a source of controversy for several cycles, most
notably in 2016 when the Bernie Sanders campaign alleged that
the Iowa Democratic Party establishment helped Hillary Clinton
narrowly defeat Sanders in that year’s caucus using the very
complicated Iowa procedures.
It was to make those procedures transparent that caused Iowa
Democrats to seek a method that would report each phase of the
caucus, but apparently the method was not tested prior to the
event, resulting in a disastrous delay for any returns, frustrating
the candidates who had put so much time and effort campaigning
in the state, the media which had assembled to report and analyze
the vote, and of course the local and national public eager to know
who had won or lost.
As of this writing, 100% of the returns have not yet been officially
reported, but what we do have is almost complete (albeit not yet
error-free). Bernie Sanders had the largest turnout, followed closely
by Pete Buttigieg. Also relatively close to the top, in third, was
Elizabeth Warren. These three met the 15% minimum, and will
receive most delegates. In fourth, just below 15% was Joe Biden,
followed by Amy Klobuchar. No one else of the eleven active
presidential candidates had more than a limited turnout.
If there were any mild surprises, it was that Mr. Buttigieg did
somewhat better than expected, Mr. Biden somewhat worse, and
that Mrs. Klobuchar (from neighboring Minnesota) failed to rise
above fifth place, despite a big effort of time and money.
All five will now go on to New Hampshire and Super Tuesday with
the other six candidates. Mr. Biden particularly hopes to revive his
frontrunner status with wins in Nevada and South Carolina. Michael
Bloomberg, who skipped competing in states before Super Tuesday
in March hopes his strategy and heavy spending will put him near
top. Mr. Buttigieg hopes his Iowa showing can be repeated in later
contests. Mr. Sanders hopes to win New Hampshire, and create
a momentum taking him to clinch the nomination before the July
But hopes and dreams are fragile in presidential politics, and there
are now many obstacles in the way of avoiding a contested party
convention in Milwaukee. A serious “Stop Bernie” campaign is
underway led by the Democratic Party establishment (including
reportedly former President Obama). Joe Biden still inspires support
from all-important black voters in large states. Mike Bloomberg’s
unprecedented costly ad campaign has already elevated him in the
polls. Andrew Yang has a following, and could do better than expected
in primaries ahead. Elizabeth Warren might revive her prospects ---
although she needs to do well in New Hampshire, her neighboring
With the Trump impeachment failing in the U.S. senate, a rallying
State of the Union speech, rising poll numbers, and the Iowa
Democratic caucus debacle, the president’s re-election prospects
are now brighter than ever, but those prospects for an election day
about eight months away could change quickly if the currently
soaring economy should suddenly sputter or international
Right now, however, most attention is aimed at the Democratic
nomination contest. If the 2020 Iowa experience, aside from the
numbers, reveals anything, it is that the party challenging the
president and seeking to keep control of the U.S. house needs to
get its act together.
Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.