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The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election

VICE's Live Coverage of the Iowa Caucuses

Follow along as the first primary of the 2016 presidential campaign unfolds.

by VICE Politics Staff
Feb 1 2016, 6:00pm

Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Update, 10:15 PM local time: As the final votes are tallied, the candidates head to New Hampshire, and their offices are dismantled, it seems like a good time to take stock of the winners and losers of Iowa.

No matter who ends up being the official winner in Iowa, Bernie Sanders earned a victory here—in what was essentially a tie, he proved that the media can't call him an "insurgent" candidate any more or dismiss his campaign as an effort to push the Democratic Party to the left. He's for real.

Clinton's campaign is taking the high road, reports Grace Wyler from that caucus night event—they say that they were always expecting numbers like these. Though really, with both candidates around 50 percent, no one could have expected this result. Now the campaigns will have to go to New Hampshire, where Sanders has a commanding lead. It's gonna be a long couple weeks of headlines for Clinton.

Donald Trump can expect some bad headlines too. He got 24 percent of the vote, behind Cruz's 28 percent, but he barely beat Rubio, who had been trailing him in most polls by double digits. Everyone questioned the Trump campaign's ability to organize and get its supporters out to the caucuses; everyone turned out to be right.

"Everyone here is floored Trump did this badly," writes Mike Pearl from Rubio's caucus night event, where the third-place candidate is delivering what amounts to a victory speech.

Rubio has reason to cheer—the GOP field stands to narrow drastically pretty quickly. Jeb! had a disastrous showing at 3 percent and will feel the pressure to drop out unless he can turn it around dramatically in New Hampshire. Mike Huckabee has suspended his campaign, and you have to imagine that Carly Fiorina and Rick Santorum won't be far behind. Ben Carson came in fourth but seems increasingly confused out there. John Kasich and Chris Christie can excuse their bad showings in Iowa because they were focused on New Hampshire, but neither seem like viable candidates in the long run. Neither does Rand Paul. Jim Gilmore couldn't beat out "other."

Cruz's victory in Iowa shows that he'll be in it for the long haul, but Iowa's evangelical voters made it a very friendly state for him, and the win isn't unexpected. The bigger stories will be Sanders's and Rubio's rises, and Trump's fall.

The real estate mogul, as usual, tried to put a positive spin on things. "We finished second, and let me tell you something, I'm honored, I'm just honored," he told his supporters in a speech. "We're just so happy with the way everything's worked out."

Trump's not likely to remain all sugar and spice for long—he's the one candidate who is never going to win anything staying positive. He'll have plenty of chances to taunt and goad coming up: There's a GOP debate on February 6, followed days later by the New Hampshire primary, then another debate, then primaries in South Carolina and Nevada, then, after February, there's Super Tuesday... This is just the beginning of a long road.


Update, 9:32: Huckabee is out.


Update, 9:21: From Grace Wyler:

"At Hillary Clinton's caucus night party, at Drake University in Des Moines, there is some grumbling among supporters that the campaign staff strung them along tonight, holding them outside the event for more than two hours while the 'family and friends' line was ushered in.

"'They had another separate line, one that they wouldn't let us go in, for people who had money, I guess, the fundraisers, that was let in,' Blaine Milligan, a 27-year-old volunteer from St. Louis said, calling me over to ask if he could tell me his complaint. 'And they're telling all these people who were disabled, who were freezing, they just told them to go to the other side of the building. It's ridiculous, it's what Bernie Sanders is talking about. It's class warfare.'

"'It is,' his companion, Christy Merrell, agreed. 'I was starting to feel the Bern out there.'"

Blaine and Christy. Photo by Grace Wyler

Clinton is feeling the Bern too—with over 80 percent of precincts reporting, it's basically a dead heat between her and Sanders, 50 to 49 percent.

On the Republican side, things are more muddled still: Cruz is in front with around 28 percent, but Rubio is close to catching up with Trump, 23 to 24 percent. All three will get a sizable number of delegates, but the result indicates that Rubio has a lot more juice than other Establishment candidates at this point. Given that Jeb! has under 3 percent right now, behind even Paul, there are bound to be some interesting conversations in smoke-filled rooms tonight.


Update, 9:03: No word on the state of his clothes, but former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley is officially out of the race. (Correction: Not quite official yet, but there doesn't seem to be any doubt.) He had been polling in the low single digits for a long time and had less than 1 percent of the Iowa vote tonight, so this isn't exactly a surprise. The Democratic campaign is officially a two-person race.


Update, 8:54: Wait, but couldn't he just do laundry on the road? Or buy a set of new outfits with his neurosurgery and shady nutritional supplement money?


Update, 8:42: Earlier tonight, Ben Carson announced that he was going back home to Florida instead of heading to New Hampshire like the rest of the candidates presumably will:

Carson's campaign has been a mess lately, his poll numbers have declined, and his last debate performance culminated in him saying, "Putin is a one-horse country: oil, and energy," so many assumed that he was dropping out of the race. Not so, says his campaign:

When you issue a press release that says 1) You aren't quitting even though everyone thinks you probably should and 2) You have been wearing dirty clothes, things aren't going very well for you.


Update, 8:25: It's still early in the night, but so far nothing too unexpected has happened—beyond a huge influx of first-time caucus-goers, that is. On the GOP side, Cruz is beating Trump 30 to 27, with Rubio at 18, Carson around 10, Paul at 4, and no one else worth mentioning. For the Democrats, Clinton has a slim 51–48 lead over Sanders.

Fewer than 50 percent of precincts for either side have reported, however, and the larger caucuses always take longer to count, meaning they come in later in the evening. Some of them are moving particularly slowly: Where Grace Wyler is, they haven't gotten past the speechmaking portion of the evening.

"A guy with a beard braid is reciting O'Malley's resume," she reports.

Photo by Grace Wyler


Update, 8:04: "Every speech was fairly timid and by the numbers at first," writes Mike Pearl. "A man named Wayne Wiley said of Santorum, 'The Iran sanctions bill was written by Rick Santorum, and was just lifted by our president.' C.D. Davidsmeyer, speaking on behalf of Rubio, said he 'will reverse Obama's disastrous legacy' and 'destroy our enemies,' then touted Rubio's 'unmatched ability to inspire Americans.' Nancy Boyd said of Bush that he's 'not a teardown leader but a builder,' and liked that he 'described himself as a leader with a servant's heart.' Scott Tindall spoke for Cruz, calling him 'courageous, that [he] had to stand against party leadership many times.'

"There didn't seem to be any more speeches, then Sally Lubavs, a woman in her 70s, stood up in the back and went on an absolute tear about Trump.

"She'd been through World War II, she said, and she knew the danger of foreign powers. Some of them, she said, 'seem like they might be scared of him.' Trump, she pointed out, was head and shoulders above those members of Congress who were running who—she couldn't remember exactly who—had said they were too busy running to vote. 'As an educator, if I didn't show up to do my job, I wouldn't get paid. So think about it,' she said. The room erupted in applause."

Sally Lubavs. Photo by Mike Pearl

The final tally at that precinct was:
73 for Trump
61 for Cruz
52 for Rubio
21 for Carson
12 for Paul
11 for Jeb!

It's a small sample size but that's about what was expected: strong showings for Trump and Cruz, with Rubio trailing by a bit.


Update, 7:12: From VICE Politics Editor Grace Wyler:

"I'm at Roosevelt High School, where three Democratic precincts (and one Republican) are meeting. It's packed, and the precincts are separated into three rooms: the auditorium, the library, and the cafeteria. Anecdotally, the Bernie vs. Hillary split seems about even; they're having a lot of fun in the library. The Bernie side just erupted into cheers and now they're heckling their friends on the Hillary side.

"They've run out of registration forms. Brian Jennings, the caucus chair for this precinct, said that he just got off the phone with the Democratic Party and the Secretary of State is allowing people to register on plain white sheets of paper. A volunteer just walked in with stacks of printer paper."

And from Mike Pearl, at a Republican caucus in Urbandale:

"According to caucus chief Lisa Fox, they've unexpectedly run out of registration forms too, and they're delaying the start of speeches. She called it 'a good problem to have.' This could bode well for Trump, who is thought to be relying on first-time caucus-goers."


Update, 6:45 PM: Writer Mike Pearl is at New Hope Assembly of God, a megachurch-ish congregation in Urbandale. One of the pastors at the church—who refused to give me his name—stormed out as Mike entered and loudly—and jokingly—announced that he was a "compassionate conservative" and would not be caucusing for "evil Trump."

Mike asked Alyson Simmons, the data recorder for this caucus how tonight's final tabulation of voters would be sent to the Polk County Republicans of Iowa. She walked over to her phone, and showed Mike the app that delivers that information up the food chain to the state Republican party. It's a 21st-century element of what at times can feel like a 19th-century process.

Photo by Mike Pearl


Update, 5:45 PM: With just a couple of hours to go, Rand Paul's campaign office is buzzing, reports Politics Editor Grace Wyler. Tables are filled with young, mostly male, volunteers making last-minute calls. Every minute or so, one of them gets up and rings an American-flag print cowbell, informing the room that they've gotten confirmation from another voter who's planning to caucus for Rand Paul tonight. At random intervals, the whole room bursts in to cheers.

The excitement may seem overblown, given that Paul is still trailing in the polls, and had 5 percent support in the most recent Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll. But his campaign is hopeful that they can turn out the so-called Liberty Caucus—the libertarian-leaning Republican voters who came out in surprising numbers to support Ron Paul in 2012. Ron Paul himself was in Iowa this weekend, ginning up the faithful at a rally at the University of Iowa Sunday night.

"We're hopeful and confident Rand will have a top-tier finish," Doug Stafford, Paul's chief strategist told me. Although, he added, "We're not sure what that looks like yet."

The Rand Paul phone bank. Photo by Grace Wyler


Update, 5:25 PM: When VICE writer Mike Pearl showed up at Ted Cruz's headquarters in an an anonymous office park on the edge of Des Moines, the excitement was palpable: Cruz's personal bus had just showed up!

Photo by Mike Pearl

But though Cruz's father, Rafael, was spotted roaming around, the candidate did not make an appearance. Then a campaign official told Mike and his camera to leave, because the office was being taken down and "the place isn't photogenic anymore."

Outside, Mike talked to Chuck Rockwell, an insurance claims adjuster who works in the same office park. He came over when he heard the rumors that Cruz was about to step out of the Cruzmobile. All he saw, however, was a bunch of staffers moving decorations out of the office and into the storage compartment underneath the bus.

Chuck Rockwell in front of the Cruz bus. Photo by Mike Pearl

"I don't mind all the bustle at all because I'm a Cruz supporter," he told VICE, before slipping in a dig at Trump. "I think tonight [Cruz has] got a chance, because his supporters actually show up to place their ballots, instead of just being a bunch of hype."


Update, 5:08 PM: So, wait, what actually is a "caucus"? We explained this in our VICE Guide to the Iowa Caucuses, but here's the gist:

Republicans get together in one of 1,681 precinct caucus events; attendees who are hyped about one candidate in particular speak on his or her behalf. Then everyone votes by writing a name on a piece of paper, then the votes are counted in the room and reported by app to party officials; delegates are awarded proportionately.

Democrats have their own weird system: They gather in a different set of 1,681 rooms, they speak up on behalf of their candidates, then they physically form groups in different parts of the room to indicate who they're supporting. Then, after the initial groups are counted, the supporters of any candidate with less than 15 percent support must find a new group. This won't take long this year, since there are only two viable candidates, but Martin O'Malley supporters will likely have to pick between Sanders and Clinton—and that could decide the outcome. Then the votes are tallied and reported, and delegates are awarded.


Update, 4:45 PM: A few hours before the caucuses commence, it's worth thinking about an outcome that just a couple months ago seemed unthinkable: What if Bernie Sanders wins Iowa? The self-described democratic socialist already holds a solid lead in New Hampshire, and if he won both early primary states it would give him a heck of a lot of momentum.

Hillary Clinton supporters have emphasized how organized her campaign is, with former Iowa senator Tom Harkin, a Clinton backer, telling the Washington Post, "We have 1,681 precincts in Iowa, and Hillary has a precinct captain in each one. Obama only had about 1,200 of them covered [in 2008, when he beat Clinton]... Yes, Sanders has a strong message and a strong persona, so the tide maybe went to him early on. But the tide has come back our way."

"We will win tonight if the voter turnout is high... We will struggle tonight is the voter turnout is low. So what our job is today is to make sure we have the highest voter turnout possible. That happens, we win. Let's go get 'em."
—Bernie Sanders

In the end, it will all likely come down to turnout. Sanders's biggest lead is among the 18-to-44 crowd, with a new Quinnipiac poll showing him with a 74 to 23 percent lead over Clinton among that group. The problem is, though young people generate a lot of online enthusiasm, it's notoriously hard to get them out to the ballot box. There are a lot of challenges Sanders will face on the way to becoming president, but getting out the youth vote is a big one. A victory in Iowa wouldn't just show he is a viable candidate, it would demonstrate that he has a chance to be the long-awaited figure who can turn kids into voters—the political equivalent of turning lead into gold.

Sanders understands the importance of this. "We will win tonight if the voter turnout is high," the candidate said at his headquarters earlier today, as reported by VICE News. "We will struggle tonight is the voter turnout is low. So what our job is today is to make sure we have the highest voter turnout possible. That happens, we win. Let's go get 'em."


Update, 4:10 PM: Politics Editor Grace Wyler just showed up at the Des Moines Sanders campaign HQ. Things are "chaotic" in advance of the caucuses, she says.

Also, Jesus Christ look at this thing:


Update, 3:30 PM: Kid Rock, the multiplatinum recording artist whose songs are mostly him yelling his own name over guitar riffs, said in a Rolling Stone interview published Monday that he supported Trump. "I'm digging Trump," the singer, who supported the Republicans in 2012, said. "I feel like a lot of people, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, feel like if you get Hillary or Bernie, or you get Rubio or Cruz or whoever, there's going to be the same shit."

"I'm not an expert at political science or anything," added Kid Rock.

The candidate with the most support in the famous musician demographic is unquestionably Sanders, who's been endorsed by Killer Mike, sang onstage with members of the Dirty Projectors and Vampire Weekend, and is being supported by a benefit at the Ace Hotel in LA headlined by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But Trump is racking up an impressive lineup of celebrity supporters, including, um, for instance:


Update, 3:10 PM: Judging by the polls, Marco Rubio is destined to finish third on the Republican side, and his campaign has been working to make sure everyone knows that's exactly where he wants to be. As the New York Times Magazine reports:

"No one has worked harder to keep expectations lower than the high-energy Rubio. Going into today's caucus, as one member of Rubio's team put it: 'The best Cruz can do is what everybody expected him to do. The worst we're going to do is a strong third, and that looks like a big success for us.' Rubio's aides perversely relish the fact that, as one of them told me, 'Marco is every voter's second choice.'"

This is a narrative that's been getting pushed all over the media: Rubio is a young, likable Cuban-American who looks good on stage and has views that are conservative and hawkish but not as out-there as, say, Trump's. So why isn't he winning? Trick question, he is winning, secretly, by coming in third. He's polling about 10 percent nationally, and is behind even John Kasich and Jeb! Bush in New Hampshire. For his strategy to work, he needs to convince donors and GOP party elders that he's the Establishment candidate who can take on Trump and Cruz, but he also needs to transform from a politician with a lot of natural gifts to someone the party's base actually wants to vote for.

His supporters seem to buy into the idea that he's a handsome prince on the verge of turning into a president. His campaign HQ, which sits next to a vape shop in Ankeny, a few miles north of Des Moines, is full of young, upbeat volunteers.

Rubio campaign HQ. Photo by Mike Pearl

When VICE's Mike Pearl asked a volunteer named Barbara Forney how she was feeling, the whole office broke out into cheers and slogans as if to demonstrate how amped they were. Forney, a self-described "homeschool mom" currently in the middle of a Plato unit with her kids, was absolutely on fire for Rubio, Christianity, and America in general.

"Here's a candidate who—you look at someone in this country like a hotel maid, and think, 'their kid could be president?' That's the American dream!" Forney said.


Update, 2:20 PM: VICE Politics Editor Grace Wyler is at the Des Moines Clinton field office, a set of nondescript office suites on a commercial strip just off I-80. The mood is tense, as you'd expect with the caucuses just hours away. A handful of volunteers sat stoically in one room, making final calls to Hillary supporters to be certain that they actually turn up to the caucuses tonight.

The white sign in the center is a Bernie Sanders quote about how his campaign has more "energy" than Clinton's. Photo by Grace Wyler.

Volunteers said they are hopeful of Clinton's chances, but the race is going to be tight, particularly in the precincts in and around Des Moines. Although polls going into Monday's contest show Clinton in the lead in the Democratic race, Sanders has been surging in recent weeks, and the Clinton campaign is clearly nervous he might be able to pull off an upset. "It's going to be competitive," said Stacie Bendixen, a volunteer phone bank captain from Des Moines. (All of the volunteers on the phone bank were women.) Sanders's success wasn't a surprise, exactly, she said, "because he's generating a lot of excitement."

"But it's not true that there's not excitement for Hillary," she added quickly. "People are really excited."

Photo by Grace Wyler

Clearly, this is a point of contention among the Clinton camp—people aren't just ready for Hillary, they're ecstatic for her. Benedixen points to a handwritten piece of paper hanging above one of the phone bank desks in the room. It's a quote from Sanders that reads, "What this campaign is about, and I'm seeing it everyday, is an excitement and energy that does not exist and will not exist in the Clinton campaign." The equivalent of a "nobody believed in us" slogan on a sports team's whiteboard, it's clearly there to push volunteers to prove the Vermont senator—and, by extension, all of the Clinton haters out there—wrong

"We're convincing people here when we talk about the pragmatic arguments for Hillary," Benedixon said, explaining that the campaign's main argument in recent weeks has been to point out Clinton's advantages over Sanders in a general election. "Even if you have concerns about her, it's a greater risk to vote for Bernie because he's not going to win."

Photo by Grace Wyler


Update, 1 PM: VICE News is on the ground in Iowa as well, and its latest documentary is about the immigration debate, which has become one of the most important issues of the campaign. "The number of Latinos in Iowa has doubled in the last decade, but they're not just flocking to Des Moines and other urban centers," VICE News reports. "Immigration has radically transformed the state's rural heartland, which was once lily-white. Fueled by the meatpacking industry's demand for cheap labor, small towns like Storm Lake now have schools with student bodies that are 82 percent non-white."

To get insight into how this is affecting the political scene and the state as a whole, VICE News followed young undocumented activist Kenia Calderon and took a trip to the most diverse school in Iowa. Watch the full documentary below:


Update, 12:30 PM local time: Adding to the apocalyptic winter-is-coming vibe of this presidential campaign, a winter storm is set to sweep across Iowa just after the caucuses. It's not clear whether this will affect the vote at all—common sense would say that if you're one of the few partisans devoted enough to spend a Monday night casting a ballot in some church basement or school gym, the possibility of having to drive through some snow on the way home won't deter you.

Photo by Mike Pearl

It's sunny right now, however. At Trump HQ, based out of a desolate West Des Moines strip mall, VICE's Mike Pearl found staffers and volunteers enjoying the weather. He caught Ryan Keller (above) on the phone, thanking someone for going to the polls, and reminding them how to register to caucus tonight. "You'll have to re-register," he explained. Everyone on Team Trump was keeping their head down and giving Mike one-word answers, but Keller let slip that he was "feeling good."

He should feel good: The general consensus right now is that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will probably carry the Republican and Democratic contests, respectively, with Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders close behind them. Already, Clinton's campaign is reportedly preparing a plan for attacking Trump if he starts winning primaries. This will not be hard: As one Democrat told Politico, "He's a landlord. Everybody f---ing hates their landlord."


It's Caucus day in Iowa!

Those are the most exciting and sometimes horrifying five words in the English language for presidential candidates, campaign workers, and to some degree, yeah, the people of Iowa. VICE is here to witness Iowa's first-in-the-nation primary process, and we'll be watching the campaigns gear up, and talking to caucus-goers as they take part in a strange and beautiful local custom that holds disproportional importance in deciding the leader of the free world. Check back for updates all day and into the night.