The debacle surrounding the gathering of vote tallies for this year’s Democratic caucuses in Iowa stole the headlines from the actual voting results. And the painfully slow process of getting those results out reduced the impact of the vote as candidates hurried to New Hampshire for the next challenge.
Still, there are a couple of things worth mentioning.
Pete Buttigieg, the little-known 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, came from obscurity to first place (though by a very narrow margin).
“If there is a lesson in that it is what we’ve been trying to tell the candidates,” says Patty Judge, former Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and former Lt. Governor who has helped head a group called Focus on Rural. “Pete spent a lot of time and did a lot of organizing in rural Iowa.”
Having well-trained and well-known volunteers in the precinct caucuses makes a difference because of the nature of the event. Buttigieg won in rural Monroe County, Judge says.
The actual numbers in Iowa, especially the number of delegates, means little in itself, explains Dennis Goldford, a professor of political science at Drake University in Des Moines. But the state does narrow the field and it does tend to give momentum to those who exceed expectations.
It also rewards those who generate excitement because the very nature of a caucus means the vote is by relatively knowledgeable activists, Goldford said. In 2008, Barack Obama used a victory in Iowa as a springboard.
Of course, Donald Trump came in second in Iowa to Ted Cruz four years ago but still won the Republican nomination. This year Trump easily won the Republican caucus on Feb. 3.
On the Democratic side there was a well-publicized mess regarding the state party’s vote tallying, but Buttigieg edged out Bernie Sanders in the vote with 26.2% to Sanders’ 26.1%. Elizabeth Warren was a somewhat distant third at 18% and Joe Biden was fourth at 15.8%. Amy Klobuchar was fifth. No other candidate garnered more than about 1% of the vote.
That brings up another lesson learned, Goldford says. It wasn’t a great night for Warren, but it was a terrible night for Biden, who simply hasn’t generated a lot of excitement. Klobuchar didn’t get a big lift from the vote, but she did do enough to continue her campaign and offer herself as a moderate alternative to Biden and Buttigieg, he says.
One other item Goldford says might concern Democrats is that turnout was similar to four years ago and didn’t approach the record turnout of 2008. About 172,000 people participated in this year’s Democratic caucuses.