DES MOINES, Iowa - The Iowa Democratic Party said Monday night that results from the state’s first-in-the-nation caucus were indefinitely delayed due to “quality checks” and “inconsistencies” in some reporting, an embarrassing complication that added a new layer of doubt to an already uncertain presidential primary season.
The party said the problem was not a result of a “hack or an intrusion.”
The statement followed a year of anticipation, and after tens of thousands of Iowa voters packed caucus sites across the state Monday night as at least four leading candidates battled to win the opening contest of the 2020 campaign, and ultimately, the opportunity to take on President Donald Trump this fall.
The confusion allowed every candidate to claim momentum, though no results were announced by the state party as Monday night became Tuesday morning.
“It looks like it’s going to be a long night, but we’re feeling good," former Vice President Joe Biden said, suggesting the final results would “be close.” “We’re in this for the long haul.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said he had “a good feeling we're going to be doing very, very well here in Iowa” once results were posted. “Today marks the beginning of the end for Donald Trump," he predicted.
"Listen, it’s too close to call," Warren told hundreds of supporters who cheered and chanted her name at a results watch party in downtown Des Moines. She echoed Biden's optimism: "The road won’t be easy. But we are built for the long haul."
And Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was most certain.
“So we don’t know all the results, but we know by the time it’s all said and done, Iowa, you have shocked the nation,” he said. "By all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.”
Democrats had hoped that Iowa's caucuses would provide some clarity for what has been a muddled nomination fight for much of the past year. Instead, with no results in sight several hours after caucusgoers cast their votes, they faced the possibility that whatever numbers they ultimately released would be questioned. And beyond 2020, critics began wondering aloud whether Iowa's decadeslong tradition of hosting the first presidential primary election was in jeopardy.
Party officials held a call with campaigns as concerns were growing. They noted that turnout was not any higher than it was four years earlier.
Spokeswoman Mandy McClure said the party “found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results."
“In addition to the tech systems being used to tabulate results, we are also using photos of results and a paper trail to validate that all results match and ensure that we have confidence and accuracy in the numbers we report,” she said. “This is simply a reporting issue, the app did not go down and this is not a hack or an intrusion. The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results.”
Des Moines County Democratic Chair Tom Courtney blamed technology issues in his county, relaying precinct reports that the app created for caucus organizers to report results was “a mess.” As a result, Courtney said precinct leaders were phoning in results to the state party headquarters, which was too busy to answer their calls in some cases.
Earlier in the night, Iowa voters across the state cast their votes balancing a strong preference for fundamental change with an overwhelming desire to defeat Trump. They were sorting through nearly a dozen candidates in a contest that offered the opening test of who and what the party stands for in the turbulent age of Trump.
It's just the first in a primary season that will span all 50 states and several U.S. territories, ending only at the party’s national convention in mid-July.
For Democrats, the moment was thick with promise for a party that has seized major gains in states since Trump won the White House in 2016. But instead of clear optimism, a growing cloud of uncertainty and intraparty resentment hung over the election as the prospect of an unclear result raised fears of a long and divisive primary fight in the months ahead.
One unsurprising development: Trump won the Republican caucus, a largely symbolic victory given that he faced no significant opposition.
The president's campaign eagerly seized on the Democrats' problems.
“Democrats are stewing in a caucus mess of their own creation with the sloppiest train wreck in history," Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said. “It would be natural for people to doubt the fairness of the process. And these are the people who want to run our entire health care system?”
Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg hold up placards at a town hall event in Coralville, Iowa on Feb. 2, 2020. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
Pre-caucus polls suggested that Sanders entered the night with a narrow lead, but any of the top four candidates — Sanders, Biden, Warren and Buttigieg — was positioned to score a victory. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who represents neighboring Minnesota, was also claiming momentum, while outsider candidates including entrepreneur Andrew Yang, billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard could be factors.
"We know one thing: We are punching above our weight,” Klobuchar said late Monday, promising to keep fighting in next-up New Hampshire.
New voters played a significant role in shaping Iowa's election.
About one quarter of all voters reported that they were caucusing for the first time, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of voters who said they planned to take part in Monday’s Democratic caucuses. The first-timers were slightly more likely to support Sanders, Warren or Buttigieg, compared with other candidates.
At the same time, VoteCast found that roughly two-thirds of caucusgoers said supporting a candidate who would fundamentally change how the system in Washington works was important to their vote. That compared to about a third of caucusgoers who said it was more important to support a candidate who would restore the political system to how it was before Trump’s election in 2016.
Not surprisingly, nearly every Iowa Democrat said the ability to beat Trump was an important quality for a presidential nominee. VoteCast found that measure outranked others as the most important quality for a nominee.
Iowa offers just a tiny percentage of the delegates needed to win the nomination but typically plays an outsize role in culling primary fields. A poor showing in Iowa could cause a front-runner’s fundraising to slow and support in later states to dwindle, while a strong result can give a candidate much needed momentum.
The past several Democrats who won the Iowa caucuses went on to clinch the party's nomination.
The 2020 fight has already played out over myriad distractions, particularly congressional Democrats' push to impeach Trump, which has often overshadowed the primary and effectively pinned several leading candidates to Washington at the pinnacle of the early campaign season.
Meanwhile, ultrabillionaire Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is running a parallel campaign that ignores Iowa as he prepares to pounce on any perceived weaknesses in the field come March.
The amalgam of oddities, including new rules for reporting the already complicated caucus results, was building toward what could be a murky Iowa finale before the race pivots quickly to New Hampshire, which votes just eight days later.
For the first time, the Iowa Democratic Party planned to report three sets of results: a tally of caucus-goers’ initial candidate preference; vote totals from the “final alignment” after supporters of lower-ranking candidates were able to make a second choice; and the total number of State Delegate Equivalents each candidate receives.
There is no guarantee that all three will show the same winner when they're ultimately released.
The Associated Press will declare a winner based on the number of state delegates each candidate wins, which has been the traditional standard.