Buttigieg and Sanders vie for first place in Iowa caucuses after another results mishap

Key Points
  • Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders are vying for first place in the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses with more than half of precincts reporting.
  • The Iowa Democratic Party has released data from 97% of precincts.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren trails Sanders, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Preliminary Iowa results in: Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren in tight race

Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders lead the pack in the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses as a chaotic counting results counting process nears a close.

Caucus data from the Iowa Democratic Party continued to trickle in Wednesday, as the presidential primary field turned its attention to New Hampshire two days after the first-in-the-nation nominating contest. The state party released results from 97% of precincts by early Thursday.

A New York Times analysis of the data, however, said that the results released Wednesday were "riddled with inconsistencies." The paper said Thursday over 100 precincts reported numbers "that were internally inconsistent, that were missing data or that were not possible under the complex rules of the Iowa caucuses."

According to the data released by the Iowa Democratic Party, Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, has 26.2% of state delegate equivalents, narrowly topping the Vermont senator at 26%, according to the data. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., follows at 18.2%, ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden with 15.8%, according to the data. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has 12.2% of support.

Technical glitches in an app used to report caucus data delayed results typically released the night of the Iowa presidential caucuses, which took place Monday. Candidates started to move on to New Hampshire on Tuesday ahead of its Feb. 11 primary, but not before they put positive spin on the Hawkeye State outcome in the absence of official numbers.

Video shows Iowa caucus voter pulling support for Pete Buttigieg after learning he's married to a man

Iowa Democratic Party spokeswoman Mandy McClure said this week that the party would "continue to release the results as we are able to." The first set of data from more than half of the precincts came at about 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday, followed by more results just before midnight ET. New chunks of numbers came throughout the day Wednesday.

Adding to confusion and frustration, Iowa Democrats had to update one batch of data Wednesday after acknowledging they needed to make a "minor correction." The figures the party initially released showed Buttigieg jumping barely ahead of Sanders in one of its three data sets, reallocated preference. But Sanders once again had an edge in that category when the numbers were reissued.

Iowa Democrats tweet

Just before the party released its first batch of data Tuesday, its chairman, Troy Price, apologized for the botched reporting process. He called it "unacceptable." Price said Iowa Democrats would undertake a "thorough, transparent and independent examination of what occurred."

Price said the party faced "multiple reporting challenges" including a "coding error" in the app used at caucus sites. He noted that Iowa Democrats have taken their time out of an "abundance of caution" to make sure the data is accurate. Price said the party has a paper trail to verify electronically reported data.

Chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party Troy Price exits the stage after speaking about the technical issues that delayed the Iowa Democratic caucuses results during a news conference at the Iowa Events Center on February 4, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Joshua Lott | AFP | Getty Images

The party has stressed that a cyberattack or intrusion did not cause the technological issues.

Multiple Democratic campaigns criticized the delay in releasing results. The chaos fueled more calls from observers to do away with caucuses or Iowa's first-in-the-nation status.

In the absence of results, campaigns announced internal tallies — which can skew toward their candidates. The data suggested some combination of Sanders, Buttigieg and Warren were competing at the top of the caucus field.

Buttigieg declared victory early Tuesday morning — the only candidate to do so before the state party released any data. Speaking in New Hampshire after Iowa Democrats released results, he said a campaign that "some said should have no business even making this attempt has taken its place at the front of this race."

Speaking before results were released Tuesday, Sanders said "we're not declaring victory."

After the Iowa results started to come out, he said to reporters in New Hampshire, "I'm very proud to tell you that last night in Iowa we received more votes on the first and second round than any other candidate."

"For some reason in Iowa, they're having a little bit of trouble counting votes," he continued. "But I am confident that here in New Hampshire I know you'll be able to count those votes on election night."

Iowa caucus results delayed after officials find inconsistencies in returns

Sanders had the highest share of support when caucus voters chose their first preference and second alignments in the precincts shared by the state party. But he trailed in state delegate equivalents.

Warren responded to her third-place position in the initial data, tweeting that "we are in a strong position heading into New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Super Tuesday."

Elizabeth Warren tweet

Biden's campaign was particularly critical of the state party. A Biden campaign lawyer sent a letter to the state party on Monday saying "we believe that the campaigns deserve full explanations and relevant information regarding the methods of quality control you are employing, and an opportunity to respond, before any official results are released," NBC News reported.

The Biden campaign aimed to persuade donors Tuesday that the former vice president could win the third and fourth nominating contests in Nevada and South Carolina, respectively, after early indications suggested he could trail his top rivals in Iowa.

Biden said Wednesday that "we took a gut punch" in Iowa. But he told supporters in New Hampshire that "we're going to come back."

US Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden gestures as he addresses supporters and curious voters at the IBEW Local 490 in Concord, New Hampshire on February 4, 2020.
Joseph Prezioso | AFP | Getty Images

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UPDATE: An earlier version of this story cited Iowa Democratic Party figures that the organization later corrected.