Iowa Caucuses Crash

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By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

DES MOINES (DTN) -- Democratic Party officials plan to release at least half of all Iowa's presidential caucus results at 4 p.m. CST on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported late Tuesday morning. The final results of the Democratic Party caucus were delayed after problems reporting the numbers out of the roughly 1,725 precincts across the state.

Troy Price, chairman of the state Democratic Party, held a brief conference call after 1 a.m. (CT) to say the results would be released later on Tuesday. Price read a statement and did not answer any questions about the situation, though he maintained it did not have to do with any kind of hack or interference in the process.

In a statement, the party stated there were "inconsistencies" in the data from precincts, which included votes from the first round of candidate support, and numbers from the final rounds. The results were delayed even though in many parts of the state, the delegate counting would have taken under 90 minutes and been wrapped by 8:30 p.m.

The stakes are high with so many Democratic candidates challenging for the nomination, and counting on that boost from Iowa to carry them into New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, the next upcoming primaries and caucuses.

The delegate-totaling boondoggle will only add to questions over whether Iowa should host the first presidential voting event of the year. Iowa has repeatedly had to defend its first-in-the-nation status in Democratic circles against claims the state is too white and too rural to lead off the nation in the presidential nomination.

"What happened tonight made the argument for itself. Nobody can deny this is a broken way to do it. It was a total mess," said Julian Castro, a former candidate and now a surrogate for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's campaign, to the Des Moines Register.

A similar problem happened in Iowa in 2016 between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders when the race was too close to call early the day after the caucuses.

Democratic candidates were largely on their way to New Hampshire late Monday and early Tuesday to prepare for the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 11.

Under the caucuses, a candidate in a precinct had to reach a certain percentage of supporters in a precinct to qualify for a delegate in the first round of candidate "alignment." Those supporters whose candidates did not have enough support for delegates then decide to support a second candidate or remain undecided in a second round of head counts. Then delegates are awarded based on the percentage of people aligned with a candidate. The difference of one or two people in a head count can mean the difference between a candidates receiving delegates or not.

Late into the evening, party officials in Des Moines still had no data from roughly 25% of the state's precincts, or more than 400 caucus sites around the state. The Des Moines Register reported early Tuesday that "a number of precinct leaders reportedly had issues using a new reporting app." The app was set up for precinct captains to report their totals to party officials. But party officials maintained the app was not the problem.

The delegate total comes after Iowa Democrats had taken over much of the Iowa Events Center in downtown Des Moines, blocking off the center for exclusive credentialed access, and setting up a large area where party officials and national media could watch the delegate results throughout the evening.

On the Republican side, President Donald Trump received 97.1% of the vote and all 38 delegates awarded for the GOP in the Iowa caucuses. Only about 32,000 Iowans participated in the GOP caucuses given that it was considered a non-competitive race for the president.

The president crowed about the Democratic Party failure on Monday night in an early Tuesday tweet.

"The Democrat Caucus is an unmitigated disaster. Nothing works, just like they ran the Country. Remember the 5 Billion Dollar Obamacare Website, that should have cost 2% of that. The only person that can claim a very big victory in Iowa last night is "Trump," the president tweeted.

National media also came down harshly on Iowa party officials for appearing to fail so epically in the spotlight.

"What Iowa provided on Monday night was a baffling spectacle resistant to any quick, definitive verdict," wrote Frank Bruni, a New York Times columnist, adding "Thanks Iowa ... Way to get the ball rolling."

Early Monday, a group of rural Iowa Democratic operatives and supporters held an event "Focus on Rural" to highlight how much time candidates had invested in the state to win the support of rural residents and farmers. Jeff Link, a political operative, somewhat joked at that time that "We hope to have the results to you before 1 a.m."

At that event, Tom Vilsack, former Iowa governor and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, said Democratic candidates had learned from 2016 that they cannot ignore rural residents and hope to win in the general election. For the first time in a long time, candidates have spent a good deal of time in rural communities and small towns, and they have spent a great deal of time at agricultural facilities such as ethanol plants, he noted.

"The trade issues and more specifically the situation with ethanol plants and waivers have created a situation where farmers are willing to listen to Democratic candidates," Vilsack said. "These candidates, most of them, have come up with some very comprehensive efforts to revitalize the rural economy, which I think will be helpful when we come back to the general election with a single candidate."

Vilsack added, "You are seeing a very concerted effort to speak to and about rural voters that we have not seen in the past."

Aaron Lehman, president of the Iowa Farmers Union, said afterward that candidates are still trying to learn from recent campaign mistakes.

"In Iowa, in our two most recent statewide campaigns, frankly we did not see a large emphasis in reaching out to all voters," Lehman said. "We saw campaigns concentrate on voter-rich parts of the state. Obviously, the results reflected that narrower approach. I think this time they have made an effort to reach out to rural areas and connect with rural residents and farmers."

Iowa Farmers Union held a couple of forums and candidates invested more time visiting both farms and ethanol plants.

Lehman said candidates also did more than just put out a few talking points on rural issues. "They put a great deal of effort in talking with farmers and rural folks before they put together much more comprehensive policy statements. So they have really made an improved effort to reach out."

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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02/04/2020
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