Iowa's reporting chaos helped two candidates — and it hurt two others

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Biden and Klobuchar
Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar.AP; Getty Images

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Ben Kamisar

DES MOINES, Iowa — What if you built it, but they — the results — never actually came?

That’s what happened last night in Iowa, where after a year of campaigning, $68 million spent on ads in the state, and all of the hype, we still don’t have any results — 12 hours and counting after caucus sites closed.

And although we’re supposed to get results later today, the reporting and technological mess from the state party has resulted in a total wash.

It's like Iowa never happened, especially with tonight’s State of the Union address, tomorrow’s final impeachment trial vote and the campaigning in New Hampshire already taking place.

The wash is — for now — a big break for Joe Biden, who seemed headed for a disappointing finish, according to the entrance polls and viability process at many caucus sites. (More on Biden below.)

It also allowed someone like Amy Klobuchar to declare success and move on to New Hampshire when it was unclear if she’d get a ticket out of Iowa when the night began.

But it hurt Pete Buttigieg, who really seemed poised for big night from those same entrance polls and the viability/realignment process. Imagine what last night could have looked for him if there WAS neutral data to back up his big speech from Iowa.

It might go down as one of the biggest “what if” moments in politics.

For a similar reason, it hurt Bernie Sanders, whose path to the nomination relies on big moments out of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and elsewhere. (That said, it will be interesting to see Sanders’ final numbers when they eventually come out. Is his army only young voters?)

And more importantly, the entire situation was a disaster for the Democratic Party. Just check out President Trump’s tweet from this morning:

The Iowa caucuses have two essential jobs in the nominating process since it goes first: 1) to winnow the field, and 2) to help determine the presidential frontrunners — and that’s plural.

Last night’s reporting disaster resulted in a failure on both fronts.

And now we head to New Hampshire, with the same field of candidates and uncertainty at the top of the pack.

New Hampshire, Democratic voters’ weary eyes turn to you.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … $68.4 million

$68.4 million

That’s the amount Democrats spent on television and radio ads in Iowa, according to Advertising Analytics, looking for the campaign-defining victory that would propel them forward into the presidential nominating calendar.

Joe Biden’s moment of reckoning

The good news for Joe Biden: The political world is focused on last night’s reporting mess out of Iowa.

The bad news: We are eventually going to get numbers.

And if they show him in third or fourth place, that’s a rough situation for a campaign that’s already low on cash (compared with his top rivals), that put so much effort into the Iowa caucuses, and that knows Michael Bloomberg is waiting in the wings. (In fact, Bloomberg today holds a rally in the city where the Biden camp has its headquarters — Philadelphia.)

We stand by what we wrote on Monday morning about Biden: A first-place finish in the Iowa caucuses here could put him the driver’s seat to win the Democratic nomination; a fourth-place finish could end his political career.

The reporting snafu buys Biden more time; he dodged a bullet.

But all of the questions about his candidacy still remain.

RIP, Iowa caucuses?

One of the ironies of the entire Iowa mess is that the more transparent the Iowa process became — the different reporting numbers, the televised realignments, the coin flips to determine delegates — the worse the caucuses look.

For years, Iowa benefited from how opaque the process was: You got numbers, you got winners and losers, and that was that.

But when you take a good look under the hood of the Iowa caucuses — the mathematical formulas, the voices that don’t matter if their candidate doesn’t reach the viability threshold, and the folks who don’t get to participate (because of their jobs or child care) — they’re no way to hold an actual election.

At least in this transparent and social-media age.

Even longtime Iowa political dean David Yepsen put it this way: “… RIP caucuses. And after the GOP fiasco of 2012, Iowa probably shouldn’t even try. #iacaucus.”

In the last three cycles, we’ve seen three controversies out of Iowa – 2012, 2016 and now.

Three strikes and you’re out?

2020 Vision: Granite State of Mind

On the campaign trail today: New Hampshire now becomes the center of the political universe: Pete Buttigieg stumps in Nashua, Manchester, Brentwood, Hampton, Portsmouth, Rochester Laconia and Concord… Bernie Sanders holds a rally in Milford and then delivers a State of the Union response to Trump in Manchester… Elizabeth Warren hits Keene… Joe Biden holds events in Nashua and Concord… Amy Klobuchar is in Concord, Portsmouth and Nashua… And Andrew Yang, Deval Patrick, Tulsi Gabbard also stump in the Granite State… Elsewhere, Michael Bloomberg campaigns in Detroit and Philadelphia… And Tom Steyer is in Las Vegas.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds: NBC’s Priscilla Thompson reports from Pete Buttigieg’s campaign rally last night: “’What a night,’ he said taking the stage. ‘Tonight an improbable hope became an undeniable reality.’ Buttigieg acknowledged that all the results are not yet in, but seemed to declare victory anyway. ‘Iowa you have shocked the nation,’ he told the crowd. Adding, ‘By all indications we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.’”

Bernie Sanders rallied his supporters saying, “When those results are announced, I have a good feeling we're gonna be doing very, very well here in Iowa. And the message that Iowa has sent to the nation - it's a message shared by the American people is that we want a government that represents all of us, not just wealthy campaign contributors and the 1 percent.”

And before Joe Biden headed to New Hampshire, well, his adventure included talking about the general election – not the Iowa caucuses: “This isn't just another election this is well beyond our party,” Biden said. “This is about ending of well ending an era god willing of a president. We cannot we cannot allow Donald Trump to be reelected to the United States Presidency again.”

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

It’s the morning after the Iowa caucuses and we still don’t have a single result from the party.

Trump cleaned up at the Iowa GOP’s caucus.

The Centers for Disease Control is calling for “aggressive actions” to shield America from the “explosive” outbreak of coronavirus.

House impeachment managers assailed Trump in closing statements as they called on the Senate to impeach him.

President Trump appears in a new social media video to be gesturing and pretending to conduct the national anthem at a Super Bowl party.