Reading the Tea Leaves in the Iowa Disaster

Ideas and Issues

New Orleans      The best thing to come out of the Iowa caucus disaster is the delay, which continues even now, because it prevents preemptive determination of a winner until the full totals are known, rather than allowing the headlines to anoint someone who seems to have won, giving them unearned momentum, when later it turns out that another candidate won more delegates.  The latest with 97% of the caucus results supposed tallied is a virtual tie between small-town mayor Pete Buttigieg and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.  At this writing there’s less than a one-tenth of a point difference between the two with Mayor Pete ahead by a nose.  Their delegate counts are identical.  Who is the winner?  In reality, no one.  Looking more closely though, there are a lot of losers.

The map makes it clear that Minnesota’s Senator Amy Klobuchar is toast.  Her Amy from the middle of the road next door didn’t survive the caucuses as a serious alternative.  Unless I’m off the mark, she may have only won one county.  She is likely history after New Hampshire, and is only still hanging by a thread there, because Iowa was so late out of the blocks.  The winnowing is also likely to count billionaire, hedge fund veteran Tom Steyer with 1% and Andrew Yang who has gotten farther than any might have figured but was nowhere here.

Looking at the numbers, Sanders seems like the winner, if this had been a vote, rather than a caucus.  From the numbers reported by the Democratic party and shown in the Washington Post, Sanders won 42,672 of the first choices to Buttigieg’s 36,718.  In a caucus, the second and other choices are able to then combine later, but if this had been a ballot, Sanders was the winner by a large margin.  Dear ol’ Iowa still thinks it’s horseshoes, not a horse race.

The question of appeal also should disturb the political pros in all the campaigns.  Polk County, where Des Moines is located, is about the only place in this corn-fed, white state that can even pretend to be somewhat diverse, and there it was a push between the two candidates at the end.  The rest of the map makes it look like the appeal for Mayor Pete was rural and whiter and for Sanders slightly more urban in the counties he “won” outright.  The Democrats are an urban party, not a rural one.  They have a chance of beating Trump on the streets, but not in the sticks.

Senator Elizabeth Warren who reportedly had the strongest organization going into the caucuses did depressingly poorly in a situation where organization usually rules.  Former VP Biden who was expected to do poorly with a weak organization, delivered solidly on those expectations.   There’s trouble a plenty for both campaigns.

Here’s one other takeaway that should give any of us hoping to beat Trump nightmares.  Turnout was about the same as 2016 in Iowa and far, far below the 240,000 that came out for Obama back in the day.  The notion that the resistance and the time to make it all right again is going to move voters to the polls was decidedly not in evidence in Iowa.  These candidates have not set the rank-and-file, grassroots on fire. There’s nothing but trouble on the horizon unless something sorts out better soon.