Campaigns tout internal numbers in Iowa’s Democratic caucus in the absence of an official victor

Hunter Walker and Brittany Shepherd
·4 min read

DES MOINES, Iowa — The campaigns of both Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg touted unverified, internal numbers in Iowa’s Democratic caucuses early Tuesday morning, after technical issues delayed the official results.

A Buttigieg campaign source texted Yahoo News shortly after midnight on Tuesday morning and said the campaign had results from 77 percent of its precinct captains. Based on those numbers, the source said, the outcome was clear.

“The results show that Pete is going to New Hampshire victorious,” the Buttigieg source said.

The campaign did not provide details on its projection for the final results, or any purported margin of victory in the caucuses.

Sanders’s campaign issued a press release shortly afterward, saying it was releasing internal numbers “due to the failure of the Iowa Democratic Party to release results tonight and in the interest of full transparency.” The Sanders campaign said its data only included “nearly 40 percent of precincts in Iowa,” far less than the number for which Buttigieg’s team claimed it had information.

“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 the results of that work delayed,” Jeff Weaver, a senior Sanders campaign adviser, said in a statement accompanying the results.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., with his wife Jane O'Meara Sanders, speaks to supporters at a caucus night campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, with his wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders, in Des Moines on Monday, Feb. 3. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

According to the partial, internal results released by the Sanders campaign, Buttigieg came in second, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in third place, former Vice President Joe Biden in fourth, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., in fifth.

Of course, these internal numbers from the candidates’ own teams are questionable and incomplete.

“If you assume that self-reported results have a bias analogous to when campaigns release internal polls —which I don't know is the correct assumption but I can't think of a better one? — this would imply a tossup between Sanders and Buttiegieg,” polling guru Nate Silver wrote on Twitter.

The issues with the official results came when a smartphone app meant to report the numbers crashed early Monday evening. Mandy McClure, communications director for the Iowa Democratic Party, said in a statement that the integrity of the figures was not in jeopardy, even though the results would not be released in the hours immediately following the caucus.

Winning first or second place would be a major boost for Buttigieg, who was little known nationally before he started getting some real traction in the primary field. Buttigieg had been averaging third place in Iowa polls, behind Sanders and Biden. A third- or fourth-place finish would be disastrous for Biden, who has centered his campaign around his electability and the notion that he is the most likely candidate to defeat President Trump in the general election.

In a terse letter to the Iowa Democratic Party chairman, Troy Price, the Biden campaign said that all the candidates “deserve full explanations and relevant information regarding the methods of quality control you are employing, and an opportunity to respond, before any official results are released.”

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s campaign manager, Justin Buoen, claimed on Twitter that both internal campaign and public polls put their team neck and neck with, or even ahead of Biden, a surprising result for the former vice president.

Democratic presidential candidate former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks to supporters at a caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., addresses a caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Feb. 3. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

The delay in the official results makes it less likely that the Democratic field will be winnowed down before New Hampshire holds its primary on Feb. 11.

In their speeches Monday night, Buttigieg and Sanders both acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding the caucus.

“I imagine — have a strong feeling — that, at some point, the results will be out,” Sanders said. “And when those results are out, I have a good feeling we’re going to be doing very, very well here in Iowa.”

Buttigieg offered an assessment of the evening that seemed inarguably true.

“We don’t know all the results,” Buttigieg said. “But we know, Iowa, you have shocked the nation!”

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