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DES MOINES, IA — Democratic presidential candidates moved on to New Hampshire early Tuesday morning without a clear winner in the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucuses. The Iowa Democratic Party, which delayed reporting results after inconsistencies, said Tuesday it was dispatching its staff across Iowa to collect paper documentation of the voting, and that results should be released by 4 p.m. local time.
Party officials said in a statement they are “using photos of results and a paper trail to validate that all results match and ensure that we have confidence and accuracy in the numbers we report. This is simply a reporting issue, the app did not go down and this is not a hack or an intrusion.”
“The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results,” the party said.
One Democrat is typically pronounced the winner after the huddling, compromising and persuading that goes on in the caucuses. But without official results, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, both gave stirring victory-like speeches before hopping planes out of Iowa.
While some candidate will eventually finish in first place, the reality is Iowa has had limited impact on determining either party’s eventual presidential nominee and even less say on who ultimately becomes president.
Consider the Iowa Caucuses the early round of a beauty pageant, when contestants are eliminated but the winner is yet to be crowned.
Voters send a list of finalists to other early primary and caucus states leading up to Super Tuesday on March 3, when 14 states and Democrats living abroad will have a much larger say in choosing the party’s likely nominee.
The quirky, early nominating contest that is the Iowa Caucuses starts promptly at 7 p.m. local time in school gymnasiums, church basements and other meeting spots across the snowy landscape. Early arrivals reported lines at voter registration tables and crowded parking lots well ahead of the starting time.
Going into the caucuses, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg have all led polls at some point, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s campaign has also showed traction.
True to form, Iowans are late deciders in what could be a record turnout, and candidates made a final push over the weekend to win them over. The political game of musical chairs the Iowa Democratic Party uses to sort out the strongest candidates encourages opinion-changing.
“You’re going to go into a room, and you know you might have to change your mind,” Ann Selzer, who directs the Iowa Poll, told The New York Times. “It encourages Democrats to keep an open mind and have more than one candidate that they might support. Perhaps with the large field this time, it’s made the decision-making process even slower.”
Adding to the pre-caucus anxiety is a rule change that could allow more than one candidate to claim victory. For the first time, three sets of numbers will be reported to the Democratic National Committee:
For all of their Norman Rockwellian charm, the caucuses lack the in-and-out efficiency of a polling booth and require Iowans to commit up to several hours on a winter night.
Iowans Rarely Pick President
Another quadrennial criticism of the Iowa Caucuses is that they give outsized influence to a rural, overwhelmingly white and graying state that awards only 41 of the 1,990 delegates needed to win the party’s nomination.
Iowa voters have a strong record of picking their party’s nominees, but they have picked the president only three times since the caucuses came to national prominence in 1972.
Of the 15 candidates who won contested Iowa Caucuses since then, only three — Democrat Jimmy Carter (technically, he finished second to “uncommitted” in 1976), Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama — have won the presidency.
But Iowa is small enough geographically for candidates to “do the full Grassley” — a nod to Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa’s senior senator, who visits each of the state’s 99 counties every year.
Democrats face a key question this year: Should they throw their support behind the candidate who best matches their views on key issues such as health care, student loan debt, the economy or immigration, or take a more pragmatic stand by backing the candidate they think has the best chance of beating President Donald Trump in November?
The issues in Iowa are similar to those around the country:
Iowans And Health Care
The Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, has been under assault since Trump took office, barely surviving at one point only with Sen. John McCain’s late-session thumbs-down.
The program has managed to survive despite key provisions being struck down by the courts and by the Trump administration, but about 27 million Americans remain uninsured, according to the most recent figures from U.S. News & World Report.
Few states have more at stake with health insurance than Iowa.
The number of uninsured in Iowa — about 151,000, according to Kaiser Health Care — exceeds the number of people covered under the Affordable Care Act, which stands at about 148,000.
That private insurance ranges in price from $467 monthly to $762 monthly.
Sanders and Warren entered the caucuses promoting a single-payer health care system, effectively doing away with premium payments, copays and deductibles.
Fearing the cost of such a program, more moderates, such as Biden, favor expanding Obamacare.
Here are the candidates’ stances on health care.
Iowans And Student Loan Debt
In the first quarter of 2019, the average student loan debt in the U.S. reached an all-time high of $1.4 trillion, according to a report by consumer credit reporting agency Experian. The figure represents an increase of 116 percent in 10 years and represents one of the country’s most widespread financial burdens, the report states.
The Sanders campaign is alone with a proposal to cancel all student debt, and Warren proposes eliminating it based on income. The issue is important in Iowa — though, with an average debt load of $29,416 last year, Iowa college students ranked near the bottom when compared with college students nationwide.
Still, that represented a 21.7 percent increase in five years and a 5.5 percent increase from the first quarter of 2018, according to the Experian report. The Iowa City metro area holds one of the highest amounts of student debt in the state at $41,727 per borrower, a 6.5 percent increase from the first quarter of 2018.
According to the Project On Student Debt, facilitated by the Institute for College Access and Success, two out of three college seniors graduated with student loan debt. Iowa is in line with national trends — 63 percent of Iowans graduated in 2018 with some student loan debt.
Here are the candidates’ stances on student loan debt.
Iowans And The Economy
Iowans as a whole are better off than the rest of the country in terms of finding jobs, with a 2.7 percent unemployment rate in December that’s well below the national average of 3.5 percent. However, the December jobless worker rate exceeded the national average in 11 of Iowa’s 99 counties, including Marshall County, where 5.6 percent of workers don’t have jobs.
Five counties had a December unemployment rate above 4 percent, and the jobless rate hovered just below that level in another five counties.
The low unemployment rate in the majority of Iowa countries has led to a worker shortage in Iowa, where there were 58,503 unfilled jobs in Iowa as of Jan. 29, said the state jobs tracking agency, Iowa Workforce Development, in a message to Patch.
Here are the candidates’ stances on the economy.
Iowans And Immigration
Worker shortages and immigration issues are closely entwined in Iowa, but candidates have largely stayed away from discussions about how providing a legal path to citizenship for more immigrants could address worker shortages, especially in an agricultural economy dependent on immigrant workers.
Nationally, 74 percent of Americans think immigration policy is important or very important, according to a Gallup poll. In Iowa, 87 percent of likely caucusgoers said in a mid-January Iowa Poll that immigration policy is important or extremely important.
If it weren’t for immigrants, Iowa would have seen only negligible population growth over the past three decades.
Drawn to Iowa for jobs and refugee resettlement programs, minorities now make up 25 percent of Iowa’s population. Though still predominantly white, Iowa is 6.2 percent Latino, 4 percent African American and 2.8 percent Asian or Pacific Islander.
Here are the candidate stances on immigration reform.
Patch National Editor Todd Richissin and national staff writers Gus Saltonstall and Megan VerHelst contributed reporting.