Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Iowa Caucuses: Winners and Losers

Fun fact: I was out to dinner with some folks Monday evening, and mentioned the Iowa Caucuses were happening. "That's today?", they asked. "Yup," I responded. "Hell, they'll be done by the time we finish eating!"

Oh, such a sweet summer child I was.

Anyway, 86% of precincts are reporting and it seems that folks are comfortable declaring a winner: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, with 26.7% of "State Delegate Equivalents". Bernie Sanders placed second with 25.4%, followed by Elizabeth Warren (18.3%), Joe Biden (15.9%), and Amy Klobuchar (12.1%). Nobody else finished in double digits.

Of course, this being Iowa, there are many other ways to count who "won". In terms of how SDEs translate to actual national convention delegates, Buttigieg and Sanders tie (11 each), with Warren taking 5 (and zero for everyone else). In terms of original vote tallies (before supporters of non-viable candidates redistributed), Sanders came out ahead with 24.3% to Buttigieg's 21.5% and Warren's 18.7%. And following redistribution, Sanders still came out ahead in the "popular vote", with 26.1% to Buttigieg's 25.5% and Warren's 20.5%. If you're wondering how Sanders could win the popular vote but lose the SDE count, Buttigieg's support was spread out across more of the state and so more efficiently translated into SDEs.

Incidentally, as much as everyone is hating on the Iowa Caucuses for the technological catastrophe, this is my biggest beef -- why is it so hard to just say "the candidate with the most votes wins"? But nobody's asking me.

What they are asking me is -- who are the ultimate winners and losers of the Caucuses?

Winner: Pete Buttigieg. Obviously -- he won. And this is a good reminder, once again, that Twitter is not real life. On Twitter (my Twitter at least), Buttigieg is basically a joke. But in real life, lots of people really like him! It's still hard for me to believe he'll win the whole thing -- Iowa was a good state for him. But I think there was a slowly coalescing narrative that Buttigieg was fading out of the top tier, and this certainly puts a stop to that.

Winner: Bernie Sanders. Not just because he had a strong second place showing. If Biden fades, Sanders is probably the next-in-line as the "default" candidate, and I'm inclined to agree that he may well be the new front-runner at this point. The only dark cloud is that it still doesn't look like he's good at consolidating support from other candidates -- there may well be a sizable "anybody but Sanders" contingent among Democratic primary voters, and the more the field narrows the harder that is to overcome. But while Sanders may still have a low ceiling, he has a high floor, so if the field never unjumbles itself he may be able to ride his core base of support all the way to the convention.

Winner: Amy Klobuchar. While not quite a Klobu-charge (dammit, I'm going to make it happen), this was a strong showing for the Minnesota Senator -- enough to at least get people to give her a real look. That's no guarantee they'll stick with her, and she still has a lot of obstacles in her way; but it's a way better posture than the one she occupied before Iowa.

Loser: Joe Biden. It wasn't the worst-case scenario of an utter shellacking, but it was definitely an underperformance. We can talk all we want about how he was never going to win Iowa, and how his best states are ahead of him, and it's all about relative performance -- but at the end of the day, if you're the nominal front-runner placing fourth is not a good look. The chaos of the results was frankly a godsend for Biden in that it completely stepped on the story of his bad showing (and his disgraceful insinuations that the results couldn't be trusted).

Loser: Elizabeth Warren. Kind of like Biden. She certainly didn't do badly, and probably arrested any incipient narrative about a campaign freefall. But I don't think a clear third place finish -- definitely above Biden, definitely below Sanders and Buttigieg -- does much for her, or gives people confidence that she can ever quite pull out of the back.

Loser: Iowa. Florida 2000 jokes were getting kind of stale, but I think Iowa might just have stepped into those big shoes. Please, for the love of God, take away their caucuses next time (or better yet, take away their "first in the nation" status entirely -- but the caucuses have to go).

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