The Aftermath of Iowa

Update 411 — The Aftermath of Iowa:
Results to Debate ahead of New Hampshire 

Mayor Pete Buttigieg raised eyebrows, taking the lead in Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses thus far. Despite the data debacle bedeviling the process, the caucus is providing meaningful information on what participants care about. 

Domestic economic policy weighed heavily on Iowa voters’ minds. A CNN entrance poll showed two in five caucus-goers chose healthcare as their number one voting issue; one in five cited income inequality. More below…

Best,

Dana

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As of noon today, only 71 percent of precincts are reporting final results in Monday evening’s Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses:

Source: NYT

Even with incomplete data, it is clear that Senator Bernie Sanders met high expectations, Mayor Pete Buttigieg overperformed and possibly won the most delegates, Senator Elizabeth Warren avoided a disaster by placing third, and Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign may be on life support. 

Senator Sanders – 32,772 votes, 26.2 percent

Senator Sanders performed as expected at the Iowa caucuses; polls preceding the caucuses showed Sanders neck-and-neck with Vice President Joe Biden. As of early Wednesday, Sanders leads in the final vote totals. Sanders campaigned in Iowa on a progressive economic platform that emphasizes the immorality of wealth and income inequality. His signature economic proposals like Medicare for All have appealed to many voters eager for dramatic political change. 

A clear front-runner, Sen. Sanders is sure to be a major target during Friday’s debate. Sanders is polling even better in New Hampshire than he was in Iowa and won the state by a large margin in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary against Hillary Clinton. He will likely direct energy to convincing voters that his progressive voice is better to lead the country than the more moderate voice of the newly ascendant Mayor Buttigieg. Sanders needs to assure voters that his policy goals are not only right but feasible and that more moderate proposals will be insufficient to fix the broken health care system and lift up the poor. 

Mayor Buttigieg — 31,458 votes, 25.2 percent

By all accounts, Mayor Buttigieg outperformed expectations. As of noon today, Buttigieg trails Sanders in the popular vote but leads the pack with 419 state equivalent delegates to Sanders’ 394, Warren’s 287, and Biden’s 241. Buttigieg had certain advantages in the run-up to Iowa. The former South Bend mayor could relate culturally to his fellow midwesterners. The demographics of Iowa caucus-goers (older and whiter) also map onto Buttigieg’s constituency of supporters. No doubt his strong showing on Monday will give Buttigieg much-needed momentum, but he will have to redouble efforts to win over nonwhite and younger primary voters in other states if he hopes to build off his (self-proclaimed) victory. 

Mayor Buttigieg has positioned himself in contrast to his more progressive rivals, Sens. Sanders and Warren. He is running ads against Medicare for All and attacked Warren’s wealth tax proposal as “extreme.” Buttigieg’s stock rises as other moderates, such as Vice President Biden and Sen. Klobuchar, slip in the polls. Worth noting is the $5.7 trillion in new federal spending proposed by Buttigieg — not a moderate price tag. Buttigieg has called for higher taxes on capital gains and repealing some of the Trump tax cuts, though detail is scant. In Friday’s debate in Manchester, New Hampshire, Buttigieg will likely try to monopolize the moderate center lane of the field, while continuing to draw bright lines between himself and progressives. 

Senator Warren — 25,816 votes, 20.6 percent

Senator Warren’s message of “big structural change” resonated enough with Iowa voters to earn her a solid third place, ahead of Vice President Biden. Many are crediting Warren’s strong grassroots volunteer network for helping her outperform the polls, where she stood in fourth place before Monday. In the days leading up to the caucuses, Warren argued that she’s the candidate who is best prepared to take on the corruption in our government and economy. She demonstrated this by continuing to roll out new policy proposals in January including a bankruptcy reform plan that would make it easier for middle-class families to declare bankruptcy. This plan draws a contrast with Biden who championed harsher consumer bankruptcy rules in 2005 when he served in the Senate.

While Sen. Warren beat expectations in Iowa, she needs a stronger performance in New Hampshire to be seen as the viable progressive choice. Iowa showed that many Democratic voters are looking for candidates who put forward bold policies like Medicare for All, with nearly half of Iowa’s caucus-goers casting their final votes for Sens. Warren and Sanders. In Friday’s debate, Warren must set herself apart from Sanders and make the case that she is the most qualified candidate to enact progressive change.

Vice President Biden — 16,545 votes, 13.2 percent 

Vice President Biden took a big loss in Iowa. Heading into the caucuses, polls predicted a close contest between the former Vice President and Sen. Sanders. Biden finished in fourth place and received nearly half of the votes that each Buttigieg and Sanders received a shock to the presumptive favorite. Biden was also the only candidate in the top four to lose votes between the first and second rounds of voting. With about 30 percent of precincts unreported, this margin may shrink slightly, but these results should serve as a wake-up call to the Biden camp. His platform combining the Obama legacy with a strong, pro-worker agenda designed to reach blue-collar and middle-class voters simply did not resonate with Iowa voters.

For months, Vice President Biden has been at or near the top of polls in a historically crowded field. In New Hampshire and South Carolina, it is imperative that Biden finds a way to regain momentum. The Iowa results may look bleak for Biden, but he is still the favorite in South Carolina. First up though is New Hampshire. In Friday’s debate, he will presumably lean on his decades of experience to show that he is the candidate with the strongest record of “getting things done in Washington.” If he can’t find a way to right the ship in the coming weeks, Biden could see Buttigieg continue to siphon support in the moderate camp. 

Others — Sen. Klobuchar, Yang, Steyer

Iowa caucus rules stipulate that for most precincts, a candidate must receive at least 15 percent support during the first round of voting. This ‘viability threshold’ effectively culls the lower tier, and supporters of nonviable candidates can either leave or support another candidate. Outside of the top four vote-earners, Senator Klobuchar nearly matched Vice President Biden, with 15,598 final votes (12.5 percent). From there, the numbers drop off significantly. Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer received 1,301 final votes (1 percent) and 275 final votes (0.2 percent), respectively. All have qualified for Friday’s debate. 

In past years, the Iowa Caucus narrowed the field of candidates — not so this time around.  Friday’s debate will be a crucial opportunity for the top four: will Buttigieg capitalize on his strong showing? Can Biden rebound? And will progressives remain split on Sanders v. Warren? 

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