Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who was running in fifth place in the polls, seized the opportunity to fly out of the data fog and on to New Hampshire: Why take the chance of waiting for a count that could show her defeat? She was the first of several candidates to speak after it became clear the results were a long way off.
“We know there’s delays, but we know one thing: We are punching above our weight,” she told a cheering crowd at her Iowa headquarters. “I cannot wait. Somehow, some way I am going to get on a plane to New Hampshire. We are bringing our ticket to New Hampshire.”
Within the hour, former Vice President Joe Biden and Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren had followed suit with their own not-quite-victory speeches. Sanders and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, each released partial data their campaigns had collected across the state in a late bid to show they performed well.
As my colleague Elaine Godfrey reported yesterday, some Iowa Democrats were worried that new rules for counting and reporting results from individual caucus sites would lead to confusion and chaos. The caucus itself appeared to run smoothly enough; the trouble stemmed instead from problems with the new application that precinct chairs were asked to use for reporting the numbers. The app was intended to help caucus organizers tally results, apportion delegates, and send in final counts to the Iowa Democratic Party. Earlier in the day, Bloomberg reported that several caucus leaders across the state were unable to use the new app, and would have to send in their results via a party hotline.
Read: The Iowa caucus could go very wrong
But the backup phone system appeared to be overwhelmed as well. “The hotline has not been responsive,” Shawn Sebastian, a precinct secretary, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer at about 11 p.m., explaining that he had been on hold for more than an hour. While Sebastian was live on the air, he was taken off hold. But by the time he tried to report his results, the operator had hung up.
What began as a simple tallying delay had become something of a disaster for Iowa Democrats, who were already facing criticism that their antiquated, in-person system for choosing candidates was a poor match for a national party prioritizing diversity and greater access to the polls. Brad Parscale, President Donald Trump’s campaign manager, suggested that the results would be “rigged” in a barely veiled attempt to sow doubt among Democrats who believed that the party intervened to swing the nomination to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
By the end of the night, however, Biden’s campaign was also furious. “The integrity of the process is critical, and there were flaws in the reporting systems tonight that should raise serious concerns for voters,” tweeted Biden’s spokesperson Kate Bedingfield. The campaign’s lawyers had already sent an angry letter to the state party, saying its systems had “failed.”