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Iowa muddle adds new urgency to New Hampshire, as 2020 candidates flock there

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 2/4/2020 By Janet Hook and Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times
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Video by WMUR Manchester

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Democratic presidential hopefuls arrived in New Hampshire before dawn Tuesday for a week-long primary sprint made more urgent than ever by the vote counting chaos that left the Iowa caucus results a muddle.

The lack of verified results from the Iowa Democratic Party deprived candidates who believed they had a strong showing—notably Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Ind. — of a moment to bask in victory. The confusion avoided, or at least postponed, a moment of reckoning for those who may not have fared so well, like former Vice President Joe Biden.

Amid the confusion, Iowa dashed any hope that its caucuses would help the party winnow its unwieldy field of candidates. That increased the stakes in New Hampshire, which holds its primary Feb. 11, and other states in what now seems even more likely to be a long, contentious nominating process.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren arrived in New Hampshire early Tuesday morning and told reporters that her campaign was ready for a protracted battle.

“This is an organization that is built for the long haul,” she said in the pre-dawn darkness.

Slideshow by photo services

In the absence of official results, the campaigns sought to spin the available information as best they could. Warren’s chief campaign strategist, Joe Rospars, said on Twitter their campaign believed Iowa results would show a tight race among Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg with Biden coming in a “distant fourth.”

The Sanders and Buttigieg campaigns each released partial results showing their candidates topping the field in some precincts.

Buttigieg, who held an early morning event to trumpet the backing of the mayor of Nashua, N.H., said in an interview on CBS that data compiled from his campaign’s precinct captains in Iowa showed he drew support that was both broad and deep.

“If you look at what we were able to do, what happened last night the fact that our campaign was able to gather support in urban, suburban and rural areas alike — in counties that Hillary Clinton won, counties that Donald Trump won,” he said. “We are thrilled and absolutely consider that a victory.”

The Biden campaign seized on the tallying dysfunction, and its lawyers demanded Iowa results not be released until the campaigns have a chance to review and analyze what went wrong with the vote count.

The confusion disrupted many Democrats’ expectation that the nomination fight would eventually come down to a two-person contest between the party’s progressive and moderate wings, in the persons of Sanders and Biden.

Neither wing of the party emerged from Iowa ready to coalesce behind a single candidate. The well-funded Warren campaign is staying in the fight with Sanders for progressive voters. Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who may have outperformed her polls in Iowa, are preventing Biden from consolidating the support of the party’s moderates.

The mess in Iowa spared Biden from what could have been a far more embarrassing night. The headlines blared news of glitches in reporting the results instead of focusing on how much steam Biden has lost.

Some Biden backers had hoped he could emerge from Iowa as a clear front-runner. The death of that prospect bodes poorly for him in New Hampshire, where his campaign has invested less time and resources than it did in Iowa over the last month.

Part of the Biden campaign’s response to the muddle was to release — as a “sign of strength after the Iowa caucuses” — a list of endorsements from public figures in states that vote on Super Tuesday, March 3, including California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

Biden’s supporters have said they believe he does not have to win either of the first two states to have a path to the nomination, because he is in a strong position in the next two states to vote— Nevada on Feb. 22 and South Carolina on Feb. 29 — as well as in many of the southern states that vote, along with California, on March 3.

The danger for him is that a weak showing in both Iowa and New Hampshire could prompt voters in the rest of the country who had been inclined to support him to start looking for an alternative, such as former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, whose decision to skip Iowa and New Hampshire may have gotten vindication Monday night.

Failing to come out of the gate with early wins undercuts the pillar of Biden’s campaign pitch: that he is the candidate who is best equipped to win against President Trump in the fall.

“Winners win and losers lose,” said Andrew Smith, a pollster and political scientist at the University of New Hampshire. “How do you know your candidate can win? They win.”

Some Sanders supporters fumed about the cloud hanging over what they believe was an Iowa victory. But he heads into New Hampshire, the neighbor of his home state, with an edge: Polls show him gaining there, and he has a base of support and organization left from his 2016 primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, in which he won the state in a landslide.

a man standing in front of a store: Clarke Sondermann of Philadelphia and other campaign volunteers work at the campaign headquarters of Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) Feb. 3, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Iowans will pick their choices for Democratic presidential candidate at the state caucuses this evening, the first in the primary season.

Clarke Sondermann of Philadelphia and other campaign volunteers work at the campaign headquarters of Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) Feb. 3, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Iowans will pick their choices for Democratic presidential candidate at the state caucuses this evening, the first in the primary season.
© Alex Wong/Getty Images North America/TNS

Back-to-back Sanders wins will fuel establishment anxiety that he is too far too the left to beat Trump. But their efforts to slow him down have so far been for naught.

As voting moves into New Hampshire, a wild card is the Granite State’s more-open primary rules: It allows participation by not just registered Democrats but also undeclared voters, who make up about 40% of the electorate.

That could potentially make the New Hampshire electorate more moderate than the primarily liberal group of voters who show up at Iowa’s caucuses. Still, Sanders — who is himself an independent — did very well among undeclared voters in the 2016 primary. According to exit polls, he won 72% of undeclared voters who participated in the Democratic primary last time around.

It’s not clear whether he enjoys much of a home-field advantage in New Hampshire simply because he comes from a neighboring state. But Sanders clearly benefits from having run for president before: The core of his organization in New Hampshire are people who supported his campaign in 2016. And he has a ready army of Vermont fans who can easily come across the border to be foot soldiers in the campaign of the next week.

There is room for each of the candidates to expand their support over the next week of campaigning in New Hampshire because a large share of the electorate is undecided or lightly committed to supporting a candidate. A mid-January Granite Poll found that 49% of Democratic primary voters were still trying to decide whom to support; 20% said they are leaning toward someone; 31% had definitely decided.

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©2020 Los Angeles Times

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