Why the Iowa Caucus is one of the most important political events in the world
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The Iowa Caucus took place last night, one of the most important political events in the world. And the event was a debacle. Over 12 hours later, results from the contest remain unannounced. However, there are some clear winners and losers.
Democrats work to make sense of the situation. Their reporting app failed, forcing many to call for technical support, jamming phone lines and resulting in hours long waits. Directed to use phones and paper ballots instead, the phone lines were once again jammed. The results are taking a long time to verify.
LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - The Iowa Caucus is one of the most important political events in the world. The person who wins the most support in the Iowa Caucus has a better-than-average chance of being elected president. And the President of the United States is arguably the most powerful person in the world. So while Iowa is a small state with a small population, it has an outsize influence on the rest of the planet.
Because of this influence, the world typically pays attention to what happens every four years when Iowans gather for their caucus. A caucus is a meeting where the members of each political party gather to select their preferred nominee. The winner of the Iowa caucus typically gets a major boost in their campaign. This boost is described as "momentum," which represents the accrual of money and supporters needed to win the primary and take on the contender from the opposite political party in the general election where the president is chosen.
The caucus process in Iowa is unique. Members of the public gather in public halls, school gymnasiums, and auditoriums. In each meeting place, space is designated for the candidates. The supporters then physically move to the space for their preferred candidate. The number of people in each space is tallied. If a candidate has less than 15 percent support, then those supporters are given the option to move and support a second-choice candidate. At the end of the night, these results are reported and the state divides its delegates according to the share of votes each candidate received.
The process is a bit complicated to describe, and critics call it antiquated. With a few exceptions, all other states simply ask voters to mark ballots and turn them in. The votes are counted and the process is straightforward. People have the option of submitting a ballot by mail or to visit a polling site and marking a ballot there.
Unfortunately for Iowa, last night's caucus was a debacle. Normally, the results are reported quickly and the entire exercise is done within a couple hours. This time the Democrats attempted to use a new smartphone application that would allow their organizers to submit results in real-time to the party's headquarters. But the app failed. Some problems with the app were discovered in the days prior, but apparently the app did not work at all, forcing party officials to resort to paper ballots. These results needed to be carefully tabulated and phoned in. However, this resulted in a jam of the phone lines.
Since each site was required to improvise, the party needed a long time to validate and certify that the results of each caucus is accurate.
The results of the caucus are now expected later today.
The problem is without a clear winner, all the candidates can claim some kind of victory and move on to the next state, which is New Hampshire. The public is disgusted, and the party is embarrassed. All of the campaigns have blasted the party establishment for the collapse of the caucus process. Many party members are now calling for an end to the caucus process. The change would result in Iowa using paper ballots like all other states. But it would also result in a delay in their political process so that Iowa would no longer be the first state to vote. Iowa would lose much of its political importance.
While the results of the caucus remain unknown, there are some things that are known with enough certainty they can be shared.
Donald Trump - President Trump was able to blast the Iowa Democratic establishment as incompetent. The shoe fits.
Pete Buttigieg - The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana appears to have done remarkably well in Iowa, according to anecdotal reports. He may be in second place behind Bernie Sanders. He has been in forth place through much of the primary process so far, but now he could be catapulted to true contender status. He is young, just 38 years old, but speaks well and is charismatic. He is also a military veteran. His one liability is his sexuality; the former mayor is openly gay and lives with a male partner. This could impact his chances, especially in the more conservative southern states.
Bernie Sanders - Bernie Sanders enjoyed a surge in popularity during the last two weeks leading up to the Iowa Caucus. According to numbers released by his own campaign, he won the caucuses. The numbers were reported by campaign volunteers present at various caucus sites, but they are not official. However, chances are the reports are correct. They would be in-line with expectations.
Sanders is a self-described Democratic Socialist. Socialism is considered a dirty word in American politics. Most Americans associate socialism with the Soviet Union, Venezuela, and even Nazi Germany. These comparisons are inaccurate, since Democratic Socialism is still capitalistic. However, the word alone is enough to scare many voters. Sanders is infamous for being a liberal renegade and is not well-liked by the Democratic establishment. Normally, this would be fatal, but in 2020, it appears to be an asset.
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Sanders is also unapologetically pro-choice, which informs the votes of many Catholics.
Between Buttigieg and Sanders, the elder senator has the advantage of a larger base of enthusiastic supporters and a massive war chest of funds. Buttigieg campaigned hard in Iowa, but he is not as well organized in other states. Much will depend on how quickly his momentum builds. It may not build fast enough to sustain his strong showing in Iowa, which required months of hard work.
There are also reports that Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren did well in some areas, but they did not do as well as Buttigieg and Sanders. Both women polled well with female voters.
Joe Biden - Joe Biden finished fifth, according to a wide range of anecdotal reports. Historically, a fifth place finish in Iowa is fatal. Candidates in that position lose support quickly and their funds run out. If this is true, then Biden's strategy has failed miserably. Biden's primary strategy was to run on the claim that he was the best candidate to beat Donald Trump. He was Obama's vice president, so name recognition worked in his favor. He was the favorite of many establishment insiders. But Americans are tired of establishment politics. It seems the being an insider is more of a liability than an asset. Biden will need to put on a strong show in the next few primaries or else his campaign will be seen as futile and he will lose all support.
The Democratic Party - The Democratic party looks incompetent. There is nothing about this debacle that inspires confidence. A shakeup is certain to follow at least in Iowa, and possibly at the national level. A collapse of this magnitude cannot go unanswered.
Iowa - The state of Iowa may be compelled to do away with the caucus process and use the more conventional balloting system. This could result in Iowa losing its status as the first state to vote. The state and its people would no longer have the outsize influence they've long enjoyed on the world stage.
The next primary contest is in the state of New Hampshire on February 11. If the results in New Hampshire are similar to results in Iowa, pressure will build for all but the top candidates to drop out. For Biden in particular, this contest will be important. Of course, Biden is counting on a strong showing in states like South Carolina and on Super Tuesday on March 3 when the largest numbers of states hold primaries. However, his weakness in Iowa is hardly inspiring, it will only cost him.
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