Iowa Democratic caucus race too early to call, final results delayed

Seven out of the nine past winners of contested contests here went on to win the party's nomination.
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By Alex Seitz-Wald

DES MOINES, Iowa — Early entrance polls showed all four leading candidates vying for first place, but final results had still not been released.

The Iowa Democratic Party, which runs the caucuses, said quality control and technical issues delayed the count, but that there is no issue with integrity or hacking. By this time in 2016, 90 percent of the results were in.

Turnout, meanwhile, also seems to be a big surprise.

The party said turnout is "on pace for 2016," when just 172,000 Democrats turned out. That's way down from the 239,000 people who turned out in 2008, which was was the all-time-high.

The candidates began to give victory speeches before a single result had been made public.

"It looks like we are going to be here a really long time tonight," said Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the first of several Democratic presidential candidates to take the stage late last night.

As their campaigns joined a phone meeting with the state Democratic Party to gather more information on the vote-counting issues, the candidates rushed to take the stage while the maximum number of Americans were still tuned into their TVs.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke simultaneously in an highly unusual moment since candidates typically stagger their election-night speeches to make sure they get the spotlight to themselves.

"Now on to New Hampshire!" Biden declared.

With a potential mess in Iowa, the candidates may rush off to New Hampshire, whose primary is a week from Tuesday, before a winner is declared or results are even released.

The party is, for the first time ever, releasing three separate numbers from the caucuses — at the beginning of the caucus, at the end of the caucus, and how many delegates that translates too — which has added to the complexity of the process.

Support for each candidate will likely change over the course of the night inside each precinct throughout the caucus process, which is very different from traditional voting.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, NBC News projects President Donald Trump to win his party's Iowa caucuses, which are occurred simultaneously to the Democratic ones even though the president faced minimal opposition.

Candidates with less than 15 percent in any precinct are deemed unviable and their supporters are forced to "re-align" to other candidates, so candidates like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, businessman Andrew Yang, and billionaire Tom Steyer may struggle to make viability in many precincts.

Live blog: Follow the latest news and results from the Iowa caucus

Electability remains the top concern for voters, with early NBC News entrance polls showing six in 10 caucusgoers say they would rather see their party nominate a candidate who "can beat Donald Trump," while only about 4 in 10 said they prioritize one who "agrees with you on major issues."

The campaign has been unusual this cycle, with SandersWarren and Klobuchar shuttling between Iowa and Washington as their "jury duty" at Trump's impeachment trial wears on. After returning to the Capitol on Sunday, they rushed back here Monday evening to join supporters at watch parties around Des Moines.

Convention holds there are only "three tickets out of Iowa," and the state caucuses have a history of picking presidents, from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama. Seven out of the nine past winners of contested Democratic contests here went on to win the party's nomination.

The candidates spent almost a year selling themselves to Iowans, sometimes one voter at a time, but the pace of race is about to increase up to warp speed.

New Hampshire's primary comes a week from Tuesday, followed by a debate hosted by NBC News and MSNBC in Las Vegas on Feb., 19, ahead of Nevada's Feb. 22 caucuses. Next comes South Carolina's primary on Feb. 29, but it will have to compete with the dozen states that vote three days after that on the single biggest day of the primary calendar: Super Tuesday, March 3.

Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg will be waiting for whoever survives to Super Tuesday, where he has already spent around $200 million to win over voters in states that vote that day, such as California, Texas and Virginia.

Candidates who have struggled to attract support from people of color, such as Klobuchar and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, know they will face a tough road ahead as the contest moves on to more diverse states without a strong showing in Iowa to power them through.

But money is the real limiting factor for most campaigns, and momentum out of Iowa will be crucial to refill campaign coffers after all the leading candidates went on a spending spree in the run-up to Iowa. Former Vice President Joe Biden looks particularly vulnerable here, after he reported having less money in the bank than top rivals in his most recent campaign finance report.

Iowa's role has been challenged recently as a growing number of Democrats, including some former presidential candidates, argue the overwhelmingly white, rural state is not representative of the diversity of the party, and some believe this year could be the last of the Iowa caucuses as they have been known.

Either way, President Donald Trump is making the most of the head start he's been granted in the months it will likely take Democrats to pick a nominee.