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Delayed caucus results send ripple effects far beyond Iowa

Almost 24 hours after Iowans headed to caucus locations around the state, the performance of the Democratic presidential candidates is only just becoming known. Although their campaigns have already shifted focus to New Hampshire, 2020 Democrats have also sought to define the Iowa narrative in the absence of complete results. John Yang and Iowa PBS’ David Yepsen join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nearly 24 hours after the Iowa caucuses started, the state's Democratic Party released its first wave of results.

    The delay came after what's being described as a coding error with a phone app used by more than 1,700 caucus sites to report results. With 62 percent of precincts reporting, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg — or, I should say, current Mayor Pete Buttigieg — holds a narrow lead in the delegate count over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, 26.9 percent to 25.1.

    They're followed by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren with about 18 percent, former Vice President Joe Biden with about 15 percent, and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar with about 12 percent.

    No other candidate has double-digit support.

    John Yang reports on the reason for the delay and how the candidates responded.

  • John Yang:

    The Democratic presidential campaign shifted to New Hampshire early this morning, even as the results of the Iowa caucuses remained a mystery.

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.:

    When I left Iowa, they said it was still too close to call, and it still is, but I feel good.

  • Andrew Yang:

    We had ourselves a night in Iowa. No one knows the results still.

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.:

    Of course, we don't know the results yet.

    (LAUGHTER)

    Minor problem.

  • John Yang:

    Iowa party officials blamed the lengthy delay on a coding issue with the app-based system intended to speed up results reporting. They insisted the issue didn't impact the ability to report data accurately.

  • Troy Price:

    We have been working day and night to make sure that these results are accurate.

    The one thing I will say is that the underlying data, the raw data, is secure. It was always secure. This was a coding error in one of the pieces on the back end, but the raw data, the data that has come in, is secure. And I can assure Iowans of that.

  • John Yang:

    In the absence of official numbers last night, campaigns sought to define their performances on their own. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders:

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.:

    When those results are announced, I have a good feeling we're going to be doing very, very well here in Iowa.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • John Yang:

    Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg:

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    We don't know all the results, but we know, by the time it's all said and done, Iowa, you have shocked the nation!

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    Because, by all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • John Yang:

    Former Vice President Joe Biden:

  • Joe Biden:

    From our indications, it's going to be close. We're going to walk out of here with our share of delegates. We don't know exactly what it is yet, but we feel good about where we are.

  • John Yang:

    The Sanders and Buttigieg campaigns released their own vote counts. And the Biden campaign slammed what it called considerable flaws and acute failures in the Iowa party system.

    President Trump, who won Iowa's Republican caucus last night, called the Democratic contest an unmitigated disaster. The foul-up renewed questions about whether the Iowa caucuses should remain first in the nation.

    Des Moines business owner Amos Cooper caucused last night for Biden.

  • Amos Cooper:

    The nation is not going to continue to sit and accept a state that doesn't represent America, and they can't even count the vote.

  • John Yang:

    Others at this local coffee shop defended the state's role in the presidential nominating process.

  • Ann Ginther:

    Iowans are very knowledgeable about politics and follow candidates and are — even though we may not be a cross-section of every state, certainly, we still have well-educated people who are very interested in doing the best for the country.

  • John Yang:

    In New Hampshire, the race goes on. Today, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren remained focused on beating President Trump.

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren:

    The way I'm going to win is, I'm going to unite our party, because we have to have a united party. We can't have a repeat of 2016.

  • John Yang:

    And Sanders is to hold an event tonight to respond to President Trump's State of the Union address.

    But former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is keeping to his strategy of bypassing the early contests. Today, he was in Michigan, where the March primary is one week after the delegate-rich Super Tuesday.

    When Nevada Democrats caucus in about three weeks, they were planning to use the same app that Iowa used last night, but, today, they thought better of that and said they're changing vendors — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What a wild night and day, John Yang.

    John, tell us, what are the candidates today saying about all this?

  • John Yang:

    Well, as these numbers came out, both Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders declared victory, looking at different sets of numbers.

    Sanders ballyhooed the fact that he had more people who went to the caucuses and stood up for him, but Buttigieg pointed out that he was leading in what matters in caucuses, the number of delegates he was assigned.

    But these are still preliminary numbers, and the final numbers won't be out for some time — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, John, what does that mean, when you say some time, because this is, what, 62 percent of the precincts?

  • John Yang:

    And 62 percent, it's also hard to figure out where the outstanding vote is. And there has been no indication from the party about when the rest of the vote will come out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right.

    John Yang, staying in Des Moines, thank you very much.

    And to tell us more about what happened and what these results mean, we're joined by David Yepsen. He's also in Des Moines. He's covered politics in Iowa for years. He's the host of "Iowa Press" on Iowa PBS.

    So, John (sic) Yepsen, as a veteran covering politics in the state, what can you tell us about what went wrong inside the Iowa Democratic Party?

  • David Yepsen:

    Well, it was an embarrassment, is what occurred.

    And what went wrong is that the system that they had was too big and too complicated to work well. If you think about it, they're collecting three pieces of data from 160,000 people in 2,000 different places, and trying to assign it to 99 counties and — statewide — and make some sense out of it, and it just imploded.

    And it's sad, because, on a day when Iowa Democrats could be celebrating their elevation of an openly gay president — presidential candidate, they're bogged down in defending this process, which has been criticized for years.

    And what we saw yesterday may very well be the end of the process as we know it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, I want to ask you about that and about Pete Buttigieg.

    But why was it so complicated? Who is at fault or what's at fault here?

  • David Yepsen:

    Well, I think it's a combination.

    I think complexity of it. As we understand, it might have been some of it was untested. They're going back and doing postmortems and stuff.

    But that's it — it just doesn't look good. Somebody said, if this were a Third World country, we'd be calling for U.N. observers to look at our elections. You don't know where votes come from. You don't know how long it takes before they're reported.

    We live in an era when the public is skeptical of elections, fake news, and conspiracy theories abound. And the party simply failed to have a good, clean, quick count that was unimpeachable.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, you mentioned the victory, in so many words, of Pete Buttigieg.

    Is that how you read this? Because he is ahead in the so-called delegate equivalent count, but, in terms of the raw numbers, I guess Bernie Sanders was ahead.

  • David Yepsen:

    Yes.

    Both of them get bragging rights. And so I think that's fine. So far, they can claim a victory. I think — as I said, I think, for what Pete Buttigieg has accomplished here, in a state that has been criticized for not being diverse, for being lily-white, too old, rural, all of a sudden, a plurality of people — of delegates appear to have supported the first openly gay candidate for the American presidency.

    That ought to be a big deal. Instead, they're sitting there mired in this mess over these counts.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do these results — and, again, we have only got 62 percent of the precincts in, David Yepsen. Do these results square with what you have seen around the state leading up to the caucuses? Did you see this kind of a result building?

  • David Yepsen:

    Certainly, it was possible.

    Buttigieg had very good crowds. So did Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders had big crowds in a lot of certain areas, like college towns. And this is why, four years ago, he wanted this body count taken, this initial preference, because he knew — he thought he had more people than Hillary Clinton did.

    The same thing is happening here. But, like the Electoral College, you have got to get votes in lots of different places in order to win delegates or electors.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Anything you want to add about how Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden did?

  • David Yepsen:

    Yes, Biden — this is bad news for Biden.

    And it explains why his campaign is complaining the loudest about the delegate count today. Fourth place, there's never been four tickets out of Iowa. This is not a good showing. Now, maybe it will change. And this is all tentative, as you noted, the 62 percent. Maybe he does better in rural areas.

    But it's not very good news for Biden. This doesn't give him the momentum that he needs to raise desperately needed money to stay in this race.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Elizabeth Warren?

  • David Yepsen:

    I think this halts her slide.

    She had peaked at one point, and then took some hits in debates. And so her campaign was really trying to get some momentum again. So, third place, she lives to take the argument on to New Hampshire.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just in a few seconds, you — I heard you say you do think this may be the end of the caucuses in Iowa?

  • David Yepsen:

    Yes.

    I think the criticism all over the country is, this is not a good way to do this. They should go to a primary system. I expect there to be a big discussion nationally in the Democratic National Committee, and I think there will be a discussion in Iowa as well about whether this state shouldn't, in fact, go to a primary like most states.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Yepsen, thank you very much.

  • David Yepsen:

    Thank you.

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