With the Iowa Democratic Party unable to collect and release results after the Iowa caucuses on Monday, the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders took it upon itself to release the numbers it collected from nearly 40 percent of precincts, tabulated by its campaign organizers.
The Sanders campaign reported that it received 29.7 percent of the vote, closely followed by former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 24.6 percent. Sen. Elizabeth Warren came in at 21.2 percent, and former Vice President Joe Biden was fourth at 12.4 percent. Sanders put those numbers out shortly after Buttigieg finished a seemingly triumphant speech in Iowa. The party said it would release the official results on Tuesday.
Jeff Weaver, Sanders’s campaign adviser, explained the decision to release the numbers in a statement. “We recognize that this does not replace the full data from the Iowa Democratic Party, but we believe firmly that our supporters worked too hard for too long to have that work delayed,” he said.
Buttigieg’s campaign also claimed a lead based on internal numbers, telling CNBC that “data provided by 77% of the campaign’s precinct captains showed Buttigieg in the lead. The campaign aide said that internal projections prior to the caucus suggested that the race would be a tie, but that the internal numbers so far showed Buttigieg performing 8 percentage points better than expected, enough to win first place.”
The Sanders campaign’s decision to release its internal results came after hours of frustration with the Iowa Democratic Party, whose app contributed to delays in the reporting of precinct results. The Iowa Democratic Party had kept the identity of the firm that created its app under wraps, claiming that divulging details would make the app vulnerable to hacking. As HuffPost first reported, the app was built by Shadow, a tech company owned by Acronym, a Democratic digital nonprofit launched in the wake of the 2016 election, which pitched itself as a progressive answer to Republican dominance of the digital field. The company put out a statement early Tuesday morning saying that it didn’t provide technology to the state or national party, or to any campaigns, but only “invested” in Shadow, despite a proud boast from Acronym’s founder last year:
I’m so excited to announce @anotheracronym has acquired Groundbase, the best CRM + SMS tool on the political market, along with their incredible team led by @gjniemira + are launching Shadow, a new tech company to build smarter infrastructure for campaigns https://t.co/rGQQCORzvt— Tara McGowan (@taraemcg) January 17, 2019
The possible win represents a turnaround for a campaign that was left for dead in the fall, as Sanders foundered in the polls and lay in a Las Vegas hospital, recovering from a heart attack, while Warren was riding high. But the lack of official results from the Iowa Democratic Party threatens to overshadow any momentum or decline for any individual candidate.
Heading into the caucus, the Sanders campaign’s strategy hinged on high voter turnout and, in particular, converting nonvoters into voters and expanding the electorate. (At a rally in Queens, New York, this fall, Sanders said, “On caucus night, turn on the TV early, and if the moderator tells you there’s a large voter turnout, we win. If they tell you there’s a low voter turnout, we lose. It’s really as simple as that.”) Iowa is the first test for that strategy; the state was expected to see record turnout. But while no official numbers have yet been reported, party officials in Iowa said that turnout was lower than it was in 2016. Sanders’s internal figures — again, which they said reported nearly 40 percent of precincts — showed 87,396 voters for the first count of voters and 79,162 for the final count.
Buttigieg’s presumed rise in the Iowa caucus — and Biden’s fall — follow weeks of volatility in polling. Last week, as Sanders surged, Buttigieg dropped in a number of polls, falling 8 points since December in an Emerson’s Iowa poll and losing 2 points in its national poll. He stayed level at 7 percent in a Fox poll, but fell behind not only Sanders, Warren, and Biden, but also former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. While each of the candidates gave a speech Monday night as caucus results were delayed, Buttigieg stood out for touting his own victory — even as zero percent of precinct results had yet to come in. “By all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious,” Buttigieg declared.
And Biden — whose drop from presumed nominee over the past year to a reported 12.4 percent by the Sanders campaign — had recently suffered a series of bad press days over his record of wanting to cut Social Security benefits in order to balance the budget. Despite enjoying frontrunner status for nearly a year, Biden’s campaign sputtered in recent months, losing 2 points in both Emerson’s national and Iowa polls since December, and recently losing traction among older voters.
Warren’s relatively high showing came after a few weeks of bad press following a public dispute with Sanders, after CNN reported that Sanders had confided to Warren during a private dinner in 2018 that he did not believe a woman could defeat President Donald Trump. Over the following days, the campaigns exchanged jabs at one another, and the candidates themselves sparred at a Democratic debate, fueling near-constant media coverage, though surrogates from both campaigns later downplayed its significance. Afterward, Warren’s approval ratings in Iowa sank from a high of 28 percent last October to hovering around 15.5 percent going into the caucus.
In Iowa, the Warren campaign touted her core message on economic populist ideas, including her signature wealth tax, as well as policies tailored for the struggles of small farmers. Warren promised an antitrust campaign focused on breaking up the increasing consolidation with agribusiness industry, as well as the right for small farmers to repair their own equipment. Warren’s focus on inequality earned her the Des Moines Register endorsement, which praised her as “a thinker, a policy wonk and a hard worker.”
Early reports poured in on Twitter from individual satellite caucuses, many of which are focused around particular constituencies like union members and Muslim Americans. Sanders appeared to do well among these groups, including at the Muslim Community Organization in Des Moines, where Sanders won 99 percent of caucus-goers, turning out 115 people to one or two people for other candidates. At a Latino caucus site, Sanders won 94 percent, according to one report. At the first satellite caucus, at a union hall in Ottumwa, Sanders won the backing of 14 out of 15 caucus-goers, many of them of Ethiopian origin or descent.
Update: February 4, 2020, 8:48 a.m.
This piece has been updated with the Buttigieg campaign’s statement to CNBC about its own internal numbers.