Democratic Nomination: Who Really Won the Iowa Caucus?
Last Monday’s Iowa caucus kicked off the primary season, and on the Democratic side former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won an extremely narrow victory over Senator Bernie Sanders. The two won 49.9 percent and 49.6 percent of the vote, respectively. Unsurprisingly, former Governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley garnered only 0.6 percent of the vote and subsequently suspended his campaign.
It is true that this caucus is not very significant in terms of the number of state delegates that each candidate can potentially win for the national primary. However, is important for candidates to start off strong in the first state primary in order to set a positive tone and energize their respective campaigns. In this regard, Sanders has accomplished much more than Clinton. Clinton’s razor thin win pales in comparison to Sanders’ overall gains.
According to the New York Times, “the close vote means that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders are likely to split Iowa’s share of delegates to the Democratic convention, and Mr. Sanders will be able to argue that the Iowa result was a virtual tie.” Both candidates won essentially the same number of delegates to help them in the national primary. In terms of the election as a whole, however, the Iowa caucus was a resounding victory for Sanders and a troublesome setback for Clinton. What’s really at stake here isn’t the Iowa delegates; it’s the momentum that is building for each candidate.
For most of this election, Clinton was presumed to be the inevitable candidate, and the numbers reflected that. Just in December, Clinton held 20 percentage points nationally over Sanders in a national poll. Sanders, however, has been gaining her. In Iowa, he closed her 55 to 5 percent lead in Jan. 2015 to 42 to 40 percent on January 2016. On the day of the actual caucus, he closed her lead even more, resulting in only a 0.3 percent gap between them. Sanders’ substantial gains demonstrate that he is a force to be reckoned with. Clinton, meanwhile, failed to maintain the substantial lead that she started with. She began this campaign with a huge advantage in Iowa and, in the end, was left with about only two delegates more than Sanders.
Clinton still has some significant advantages over Sanders, especially because many still presume that she will be the eventual Democratic candidate. However, if Sanders continues to gain momentum at this rate, that assumption is going to be crushed by the end of the national primary.
Three days after the Iowa caucus, Sanders and Clinton head off in a contentious debate. Commentators were split on who won the debate, which, like the virtual tie of the Iowa caucus, demonstrates that the democratic primary is really heating up. Again, this is good news for Sanders. For a long time, he was largely discredited as a fringe candidate. Now, however, he has a real chance of winning. This puts Clinton in a position to defend the assertion that she is the most qualified democratic candidate for the white house, a claim that used to be taken as given.
Today is the second state primary is being held in New Hampshire. According to a recent poll, Sanders leads Clinton by 20 points. Further, a Quinnipiac University poll found that Sanders and Clinton are statistically tied for the national primary. At this point, it seems like Sanders could have a real shot at winning the nomination.
While Sanders’ campaign is gaining substantial momentum, and the poll numbers look hopeful for the democratic socialist, his biggest obstacle will likely be the superdelegates. Superdelegates are party leaders who are delegates to the party convention. They can vote for whomever they want. It’s no secret that the Democratic party establishment favors Clinton. Indeed, part of Sanders’ appeal is his blatant condemnation of establishment politics. If the national primary is anywhere near as close as the Iowa caucus, the nomination could come down to the superdelegates. Thus, either Sanders needs to continue his meteor rise in the election and win by a significant margin or somehow win over enough superdelegates to compensate for Clinton’s advantage with the party establishment. The former result seems much more likely, and whether it will come to fruition will depend on whether or not Sanders can continue to convince more voters to #feelthebern.
Yes, Hillary won this caucus. But Sanders attained a result that puts in him a position to attain even more gains in the future. And that is the greater victory. As for what will happen in the future over the course of this race, we will have to wait and see.