The epic failure of the Iowa Democratic party to release vote totals last night, or even reliably to count votes, constitutes a huge embarrassment. But to say, as I heard commentators opine last night, that this failure largely negates the impact of the Iowa caucuses is incorrect, in my view. The failure might have wrecked these commentators’ Monday night, but the results, once released, will have an impact.
If Joe Biden finishes in fourth place with only around 15 percent of the vote, this will be a meaningful setback. At a minimum, it will hurt his ability to raise funds, which is already a problem. Biden probably needs strong fundraising to compete effectively in the wave of primaries ahead.
If Elizabeth Warren wins or finishes a respectable second, the results will breathe new life into her seemingly stalled campaign. If Bernie Sanders wins, he will have a good shot at an Iowa-New Hampshire double. That would give him, if not “Big Mo,” than at least some momentum going forward. Indeed, it might very well make him the new frontrunner.
If Pete Buttigieg cracks the top two or finishes a close third, his campaign will gain credibility. He will then have a shot at replacing Biden as the leader of the “Stop Bernie” movement if Biden continues to falter.
Those who suggested that last night’s foul-up substantially diminishes Iowa’s impact cited the 2012 Republican caucuses. In 2012, Mitt Romney was declared the victor but Rick Santorum was later determined to have won. The mistake prevented Santorum from gaining anything like the normal benefit of winning Iowa.
But Santorum’s problem was that someone else (Romney) was declared the winner when the cameras were rolling and the focus was on Iowa. No one was declared the winner last night.
Soon, someone will be. His or her gratification has been delayed, but won’t be substantially diminished in the end.