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Chaos in Iowa: Caucus Results Delayed, But Bernie Sanders’ Internal Data Shows He May Have Won

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The Iowa Democratic Party delayed releasing results from Monday’s caucuses after uncovering inconsistencies in the reporting of data. Caucuses were held in 1,600 precincts across the state on Monday, but many precincts had trouble reporting the delegate totals to the state Democratic Party. Part of the blame was placed on a new smartphone app designed to help precinct chairs tabulate and report the vote. Early Tuesday morning, Bernie Sanders’s campaign released internal caucus numbers from 40% of the precincts in Iowa showing the Vermont senator was in first place with nearly 30% of the final count vote. According to the data released by the Sanders campaign, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg placed second with about 24.5% of the vote, followed by Senator Elizabeth Warren with 21%. Former Vice President Joe Biden placed a distant fourth with 12%, just beating Senator Amy Klobuchar. For more on the chaos in Iowa, we speak with John Nichols, national affairs correspondent for The Nation and host of the podcast “Next Left.” He’s been reporting on the ground in Iowa and just wrote the piece “How to Figure Out Who 'Won' the Iowa Caucuses.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Chaos in Iowa. The Iowa Democratic Party has delayed releasing results from Monday’s caucus after uncovering inconsistencies in the reporting of data. Caucuses were held in 1,600 precincts across the state on Monday, but many precincts had trouble reporting the delegate totals to the state Democratic Party. Part of the blame was placed on a new smartphone app which was designed to help precinct chairs tabulate and report the vote. The app was built by a D.C.-based company called Shadow, which is connected to veterans of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.

AMY GOODMAN: Early this morning, the campaign of Bernie Sanders released internal caucus numbers from 40% of the precincts in Iowa showing the Vermont senator is in first place with nearly 30% of the final count vote. According to the data released by the Sanders campaign, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg placed second with about 24.5% of the vote, followed by Senator Elizabeth Warren with 21%. Former Vice President Joe Biden placed a distant fourth with 12%, just slightly beating Senator Amy Klobuchar. Before flying to New Hampshire, Senator Sanders addressed supporters in Iowa.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Let me begin by stating that I imagine, have a strong feeling, that at some point the results will be announced. And when those results are announced, I have a good feeling we’re going to be doing very, very well here in Iowa. And the message that Iowa has sent to the nation — it’s a message shared by the American people — is that we want a government that represents all of us, not just wealthy campaign contributors and the 1%.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg claimed victory in Iowa, even though no official results had been released.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: By all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious! … We have exactly one shot to defeat Donald Trump. And we’re not going to do it by overreaching. We’re not going to do it by division. We’re not going to do it by saying, “It’s my way or the highway.” This is our shot, our only shot, to galvanize an American majority to win. And make no mistake: Ours is the campaign that will defeat this president.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Elizabeth Warren also addressed supporters in Iowa in a late-night speech.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: We don’t know all the results tonight, but tonight has already showed that Americans have a deep hunger for big structural change to make our economy and our democracy work for everyone. Tonight showed that our path to victory is to fight hard for the changes Americans are demanding, changes that Democrats, independents and Republicans are demanding. Tonight showed that our agenda isn’t just a progressive agenda, it isn’t just a Democratic agenda, it’s in American agenda.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by John Nichols of The Nation magazine, its national affairs correspondent and host of the podcast Next Left. He’s been reporting on the ground in Iowa, just wrote the piece “How to Figure Out Who 'Won' the Iowa Caucuses.” He was in Dubuque, Iowa, covering the caucus last night and joins us now from Madison, Wisconsin.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, John. Well, can you explain what happened last night — the chaos, the confusion, the breakdown of the counting system?

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, I can try, although it’s a mess that’s going to be talked about for a long time and will impact, I think, the future of the Iowa caucuses. I’ll start at the bottom. I went to a caucus last night in Dubuque, in Precinct 9A. And as in cases across the state, in 1,600 precincts, grassroots volunteers ran the caucus very, very well. It was complicated. They have a lot of complicated rules. But in about an hour and a half, they had everything done, dealing with more than 200 people that showed up and lots of campaigns. And this happened all over the state. And so, it looked like a night that was working.

And then, as the chairs of these caucuses tried to communicate the results to the state party, everything fell apart. Now, there was an app, which you mentioned in the intro, that had been distributed to the chairs, the people who run these caucuses. And again, these are volunteers. And they had trouble getting — apparently, getting into it. They had trouble using it. There were all sorts of concerns. And we can detail them more, if you like, in a moment. But the interesting thing is that then they were told there’s a hotline you can call if the app doesn’t work. And so all of these chairs around the state started calling the hotline. And there were reports that people were on — waiting on hold on the hotline for an hour, even two hours. And sometimes when they finally got through, it hung up. And so, the thing just wasn’t working.

And for a long time, there were no results. And so, thousands of people at all these campaign rallies and events at the end of the night, the senators, the former vice president, everybody waiting for results, and then people all over the country, all over the world, waiting for results. And there was not clarity. And then the party says, “Well, we’ve got some quality control problems.” Now, that sends up alarm bells immediately. Then they say, “Well, there’s inconsistencies.” And then, in a series of statements, they try to defend it and say, “Well, ultimately, we’re going to get this right.” And they may. But it was just a fiasco, by any measure.

And you ended up in a situation where three candidates, or at least several candidates, essentially, claimed victory and where you have this situation with the Sanders camp releasing partial results. But the truth of the matter is, while I do think it looks like Bernie Sanders had a very good night, we don’t know, even now, the next morning, and it’s created — I can’t even begin to describe the frustration on the part not just of campaigns and people around the country, but of Iowans, who themselves devoted tremendous amounts of energy to making these caucuses work at the grassroots.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, John, what is most surprising, as you mentioned, is that even if there were some precincts that had trouble reporting, there must have been a good number of precincts that actually got their results in and for which there may not —there were probably not any questions. But the fact that they’re not releasing any results, it makes me think back to when Mexico several years ago in a presidential election stopped the vote counting, and then, the next day, somebody else had won. This whole issue of not releasing any results is especially problematic, but I think — I’m wondering if you could comment on that. But also, there seems to be little doubt that the big news of the night is that Joe Biden did not have anywhere near the support that most of the polls were indicating beforehand that he had. Even though his numbers were already slipping, it looks like it’s even worse than that.

JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah. You’ve asked two important — or, raised two important issues here, so let me try and address them both. The first thing you’re talking about, releasing the results, that’s complicated. And when you have a little bit in and if you do actually see inconsistencies, you want to be a little careful with that. But one of the problems in Iowa is, this is the third cycle in a row that they’ve had kind of big problems and some controversies about how things were handled. In 2012, there were initial reports that, I believe, Romney won the Republican caucuses, and it turned out it was Rick Santorum. But Santorum was denied the boost, the bump, of having been declared the winner. In 2016, there was an incredibly close result, and they didn’t release the raw totals of how people who showed up for the caucuses lined up on the Democratic side. That caused a lot of concern and controversy. And now you have this. And so, the Iowa Democratic Party should have practiced maximum transparency from the first moment and done its very best to get information out about the problem and, if they could, release partial results to get that out, as well. So that’s the answer to one of those questions.

Now, on the second one, yeah, I went to a caucus myself, and it was in Dubuque. And Dubuque is a historic union town, a pretty Democratic town, but also a place where, presumably, Joe Biden would have done quite well. I actually expected him to do pretty well in Dubuque. It’s one of the reasons I went there. When they did the initial breakup just in my caucus, Joe Biden was barely running — he was essentially running about as well as Andrew Yang. And as the night went on, Biden attracted some Klobuchar supporters and got to baseline viability. But in Dubuque, again, a town where I thought he would have been doing significantly better, he was a weak fourth. And I heard from across Iowa, anecdotally from precincts all over, that his numbers were falling way short of what was expected.

And that’s significant, because, you know, the Iowa caucuses produce many winners and some losers. You can finish second in Iowa and claim a better-than-expected run. You can even finish like down the line, like, say, an Andrew Yang, and still point to a lot of people who showed up and were enthusiastic about your candidacy. And so, not having those numbers creates a lack of clarity. It makes it hard for people who have done well to capitalize on their show of strength. But it also makes it hard for people trying to analyze the race and get a sense of who’s got things going on. And that’s where the Biden factor comes up, because if indeed Biden, the former vice president of the United States, running as the presumed front-runner for most of this race, even in Iowa, and certainly still talked about as a front-runner nationally, finished a weak fourth, that’s significant. And it’s, frankly, the kind of thing that should have been a part of the discussion last night and this morning.

And, in fact, could I add one final thing on the complexity of all this? You know, we’re on a State of the Union day, right? And so, the timelines of news cycles become important. And if you don’t get the results of the Iowa caucuses clear and well presented, pretty quickly, today, we’re going to be into watching Donald Trump give his State of the Union address, and, in effect, the ability of a Democratic winner in Iowa to communicate about that win is truncated. It’s limited. And if it was a really close race, that would be, you know, something you understood. But if it’s just a foul-up by the people that are supposed to be getting the results in, they’re affecting a national race for president of the United States, one that they claim to want to be the — they said they wanted to be the first. They wanted to get this started. And if they mess it up this badly, it really raises questions about whether they should be doing it.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is not the only reason. I mean, you have so much focus last night on the Iowa caucuses, and cameras took — on the networks, took you into all these caucuses, you know, overwhelmingly white. Iowa is, well, well over 90% white, when the Democratic Party, it’s like half people of color. And this is the first election contest, and that determines so much. So you have that on top of the crisis that took place last night.

JOHN NICHOLS: And, Amy, if I could add one other thing, too. The caucuses are long. You have to get there around 7:00 or before, really, to get in. Then you take an hour or even an hour and a half, in some cases longer than that. And for working-class folks, folks who work nights, that can be really tough. There were a few efforts to try and set up satellite caucuses and other systems. But, basically, these caucuses have very low turnout as compared to primaries. And as I was sitting there last night watching the caucus I was at play out, you had people walking back and forth across the room, and counts and recounts. And it had a theater to it. It was interesting. But at the end of the night, you had to ask yourself: Wouldn’t it be easier if you just let these people vote?

AMY GOODMAN: You also have the information about the company that developed the app. And I was wondering what more you know. Washington Examiner is saying Federal Election Commission filings reveal Buttigieg’s campaign gave tens of thousands of dollars to Shadow on July 23rd last year for software rights and subscriptions.

JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah, look, this is — I’m seeing the same reports you’re seeing and that you’ve reported on well here. I don’t know much beyond that. But what I will say is, this is a moment in which this company, which I believe, if I’m hearing reports correctly, has also created an app or has an app that might be used in the Nevada caucuses — this company needs to go to maximum transparency right now. We need to know everything about who their working with, who’s involved with it, not to be — you know, not to try and spout conspiracies or whatever, but to get to the bottom of it, to know what is real.

And so, we have two areas here now where we really want to get a lot more clarity. We want the Iowa Democratic Party to kind of just go to maximum clarity, go to maximum transparency, let us know what went wrong, why, who they were working with, why they were doing it, and also, as much as we can, about the results. Let’s get it — let’s get it right. And then also with this company, yeah, we need to know the full story. And we need it quickly. I mean, this is not something where it ought to drag out, because, remember, for better or worse, we have set up a nominating process in this country, in the Democratic Party, where you go very quickly from the caucuses in Iowa to the primary in New Hampshire to — you know, you go on to South Carolina and Nevada. And if you’ve got sort of lingering problems like this, it really does raise concerns.

And it undermines confidence, frankly. And I have to tell you, I was at these — at the caucus I went to, there was a massive number of young people who were caucusing for the first time. You know, they are entering the political process, and they are coming with a lot of hope, a lot of idealism, a lot of belief that they can have an impact. And then to have it glitching and messing up and to have controversies, that’s just exactly wrong. It’s exactly —

AMY GOODMAN: I would think —

JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: John, I just wanted to ask you if you could briefly switch gears for a second and talk about —

JOHN NICHOLS: Sure.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — a story that’s been largely eclipsed now with the mess in Iowa. House impeachment managers and President Trump’s defense team presented their closing arguments in the impeachment trial on Monday, as the Republican-controlled Senate is poised to acquit Trump in a final vote on the two articles of impeachment on Wednesday. This is lead impeachment manager, California Congressmember Adam Schiff.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: He has betrayed our national security, and he will do so again. He has compromised our elections, and he will do so again. You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is. Truth matters little to him. What’s right matters even less. And decency matters not at all.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: John, you’re the author of the book The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism. Could you talk about, give us briefly your take on, what’s going on with the impeachment?

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, it doesn’t look like we’re curing royalism all that well. Look, impeachment is supposed to work in a certain way. It’s supposed to have the House impeachment, then you move to the Senate for a serious trial. The fact of the matter is that under Mitch McConnell’s management, this hasn’t been a serious trial. It’s been a mess, without witnesses, with a lot of bad theatrics and, frankly, a lot of terrible constitutional theory put forward by Trump’s defense team. Now we’re going to move to speeches by the senators. Those are very important. I want to hear those speeches. I want to hear what they say. They’re already beginning. And I think that’s really important. And yet it’s all being — it’s playing out on this rushed schedule, built around the State of the Union, in the middle of it.

And, you know, look, at the end of the day, Mitch McConnell is arguably a defining figure in America, far beyond just Senate majority leader. And he has managed this thing on behalf of Donald Trump in ways that are just incredibly offensive. This should be going slower. We should have time for a discourse. If they needed to put it on hold a couple days, let the Iowa caucuses play, let the State of the Union occur, and then spend the rest of the week having the closing arguments and the senators’ speeches and then the vote that is inevitable, that would have been so much better. But here, I fear that this important final moment is kind of getting lost in a cacophony. I’m dramatically disappointed. And believe me, for me to be more disappointed than I had been before in Mitch McConnell is shocking, because I thought I had reached maximum disappointment. But the way he’s handling this right now is really just like a manager for Donald Trump, and it’s just wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it will be very interesting to hear President Trump’s State of the Union address as he’s about to be acquitted. In fact, he — if in fact he is tomorrow, and coming out of the chaos of Iowa. I’m sure he’ll have a lot to say about Democratic failures.

JOHN NICHOLS: Yes, I suspect he will.

AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols, I want to thank you for being with us, The Nation's national affairs correspondent, host of the podcast Next Left, reporting on the ground in Iowa, just wrote the piece “How to Figure Out Who ’Won' the Iowa Caucuses.” His forthcoming book, The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party: The Enduring Legacy of Henry Wallace’s Antifascist, Antiracist Politics. Stay with us.

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