Des Moines—From the beginning of their campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders and his “Feel the Bern” backers have upset expectations by democratizing democracy. They have renewed the traditional of mass rallies, filling halls usually reserved for rock stars and sports teams. They have upset the tired punditry that says young people can’t get excited about politics anymore. They have upset the cynicism that claims the presidential campaigns of our times will be funded mainly by millionaires and billionaires. They have upset the historic “certainty” that a democratic socialist could not be a viable contender for the nomination of a major American political party.
On Monday, they upset the Iowa caucuses.
They caused traffic jams. They formed lines that went out the doors of precincts. They slowed things down by showing up as independents ready to re-register as Democrats, as immigrants embracing their citizenship, as high-school students casting their first votes. Forms had to be filled out. Directions were needed. It took time to get things sorted. The precincts where Sanders ran best were slow to report. At the start of the night, the “inevitable” contender for the nomination, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, held a comfortable lead. But as the night wore on—and as Sanders supporters raised the “I-believe-that-we-will-win” chants of the burgeoning mass movements from which they stepped into American politics—the margin began to narrow. From across Iowa came the results from all those precincts where the Sanders supporters had slowed the process down with all that democratization of democracy. It was 52-48 for Clinton. It was 51-49 for Clinton. It was 50-49 for Clinton. It was 50-50.
As Monday turned to Tuesday, Clinton and Sanders stayed so closely matched that—with 99 percent of Iowa’s 1,681 caucuses reporting—The Des Moines Register headline read: “Sanders, Clinton locked in a virtual tie.”
Iowa Democratic Party chair Andy McGuire said that the results were the closest in caucus history. “Hillary Clinton has been awarded 699.57 state delegate equivalents, Bernie Sanders has been awarded 695.49 state delegate equivalents, [former Maryland governor] Martin O’Malley has been awarded 7.68 state delegate equivalents and uncommitted has been awarded .46 state delegate equivalents.”
Iowa caucus voters choose delegate equivalents, beginning a process that will eventually select delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
At least one precinct, with 2.28 state delegate equivalents, remained uncounted at that point, and the Clinton camp claimed a win on a night that The Washington Post reported drew 171,000 Iowans to the caucuses. The Sanders camp said there were still plenty of numbers to be reviewed, and Tuesday morning newspaper headlines reported “Dems in Dead Heat.”