This will likely be the last time Iowa goes first.
The disgraceful shambles of reporting results from this first primary of 2020 feeds immense cynicism about how American democracy functions. It is a boon to President Trump, who is lording over the mess of his opponents. And the whole world has been watching a debacle that taints the Democratic presidential race. Iowa should never be entrusted again with leading the selection of the Democrats’ presidential nominee.
The partial results released shortly after 12 noon AEDT Wednesday are important but have less punch than if normality had prevailed. The incomplete results mean the boon to the putative winners is diminished, and the taint of the very poor results, especially for Joe Biden, is slightly cushioned. Most importantly, Iowa was to serve as a political grim reaper, narrowing the unwieldy field. That process will now begin next week in New Hampshire.
- Pete Buttigieg: The former Mayor of South Bend Indiana looks set to win Iowa by winning the key metric of most delegates awarded, or at the very least, by significantly outperforming expectations and placing second. His investment of time and organising power, plus his refreshing presence for Iowa audiences, has paid off big time. At this moment, he is the Jimmy Carter of the race. In 1976, Carter, a small cleanskin anti-Richard Nixon governor from a small state came out of nowhere to win Iowa and - on the back of that momentum - the presidency.
- Bernie Sanders: A solid performance, including leading in the popular vote, where he appears on top – a reflection of his supporter’s loyalty to Sanders four years after the Clinton wars. He also delivered a solid margin over his compatriot on the left, Elizabeth Warren.
- Joe Biden: An exceptionally disappointing performance, falling to fourth place. Biden could not carry areas where Obama was strong in 2008 and 2012 and where Trump did well in 2016. Buttigieg re-took that territory – a signal of potential strength in November if he is the nominee. This is a big fall for the former vice president, and will make it tougher to raise money and show sustaining strength in the long road from New Hampshire, through Nevada and to South Carolina at the end of February.
- Elizabeth Warren: The superstar performer through the summer of 2019, but lacking momentum later in the year because of push back especially on health care – the core issue this year for Democrats. There is room for only one champion of the left in the final stages of this fight and Bernie ceded no ground while Warren could not match the fervour of his base.
- Amy Klobuchar: She had everyone’s respect for her courage and common-sense presence, but she simply could not crack into the top tier – sharing the fate of Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. Klobuchar's campaign will likely be unable to continue after New Hampshire.
Looking Ahead to New Hampshire
If Buttigieg can capitalise on this apparent victory in Iowa and win or come very close to Sanders next week, he would assume the mantle of leader of the centrist, moderate wing of the party. A win in New Hampshire is critical for Sanders, and a win or very close second is essential for Warren to be this year’s comeback kid. Another fourth place for Biden could place his campaign in the gravest danger.
The Hidden Winner
Michael Bloomberg has bypassed these first contests. He is rising in the polls. With a quarter of a billion dollars spent and hundreds of millions more to come on advertising and organisation-building for Super Tuesday (14 primaries on March 3) he suddenly looks extremely intelligent, cunning, and can-do.