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Tales from the Trails: In the Dark on Caucus Night

Want to know what the NBC News Embeds saw? Follow their daily journey to the inside of the 2016 presidential campaign here:

In the Dark on Caucus Night

FROM 30,000 FEET – When the Clinton press charter took off from Des Moines, Iowa after midnight Monday, the campaign was declaring total victory.

But for the two-dozen journalists aboard the flight, the race was simply too close to call.

After top Clinton aides told reporters they felt their candidate had secured 22 delegates to Bernie Sanders’ 21, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell called into MSNBC to deliver the breaking news from the tarmac.

Clinton staffers left Iowa feeling confident that Clinton had won, but hesitancy left everyone wanting to monitor the extremely tight race from the air. Only one big problem: the flight had no Wi-Fi (a journalist’s nightmare).

Two and a half hours later – after weary staffers and reporters had cracked a few beers – the plane landed to cheers and applause from Clinton aides who had opened their phones to several outlets calling the race for their candidate.

Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon even got on the loud speaker to announce that the Iowa Democratic Party had declared the former secretary of state the winner, joking that “we will open the door to the plane” when all news organizations call the race for Clinton.

Several charters landed in Manchester around 4 A.M., making for an amusing gathering of bleary-eyed colleagues and candidates from both parties.

And as the Clinton press bus pulled away, a grinning Sen. Ted Cruz emerged from the terminal, holding his sleeping daughter in his arms.

-- Monica Alba covering the Clinton campaign

Inside the Caucus That Spilled Into the Parking Lot 5:16

Sanders' Final Speech in Iowa Sounded Like His First

DES MOINES, Iowa — When Senator Bernie Sanders finally took the stage at his caucus night party, the festive and anxious crowd roared with applause, hardly letting the candidate finish a sentence.

“Tonight, while the results are still not known, it looks like we are in a virtual tie,” Sanders said before being drowned out by an ecstatic audience in the Airport Holiday Inn.

It was four hours after the event--around 3:40 A.M. Tuesday morning-- that the Iowa Democratic Party and NBC News declared Clinton the apparent winner of the caucuses. Clinton edged out Sanders in the closest Iowa Democratic caucus contest in history.

But Sanders was not there to chart a new course, declare victory, or dwell on the battle he’d just finished waging. Instead, he kept to his well-known stump, preaching economic inequality and campaign finance reform.

The crowd ate it up.

Read the full recap here.

-- Danny Freeman covering the Iowa caucuses