DES MOINES — The Iowa Democratic Party just left the rest of the country hanging.
The Iowa Democratic Party failed to report any results of the closely watched caucuses Monday night amid widespread reports of problems with precincts reporting, leading to confusion and finger-pointing as the campaigns tried to figure out what the hell was going on.
The chaos left presidential candidates flying blind, the state party doing major damage control, and President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign licking its chops over a Dems-in-disarray narrative.
The campaigns couldn’t agree on what should be done. But they were all on the same page about one thing.
“This Iowa caucus has been a total mess. It’s been a complete failure,” former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, a top surrogate for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, told reporters Monday night. “It is not reliable in the way that we need this to be reliable when we’re starting off the process for electing the most important public servant for our country and in the world.”
Iowa Democratic Party leaders attributed the delay to inconsistencies in reporting to an app and an attempt to report three different results simultaneously: the raw number of caucus goers that initially backed a candidate, the second ballot, and the final delegates received.
“We found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results,” said Mandy McClure, communications director for the Iowa Democratic Party. “In addition to the tech systems being used to tabulate the results, we are also using photos of results and a paper trail to validate that all results match and ensure that we have confidence and accuracy in the numbers we report.”
She added that the party does not believe the snafu was the result of any hack or technical failure with the state’s new caucus reporting phone app. “This is simply a reporting issue,” McClure said. “The app did not go down and this is not a hack or an intrusion. The underlying paper trail is sound and it will simply take time to report the results.”
But staffers and volunteers at multiple campaigns said they’d heard from their staff at caucus sites that wasn’t true, and that the app had failed completely.
The state party called an emergency meeting with the campaigns to explain what was happening, and in the words of one local Democratic insider, “figure out a way to unfuck the situation.” But they did not give the presidential campaigns themselves any indication of when those results will be reported. A representative for the DNC did not respond to VICE News’ request for additional comment.
The introduction of a new app to report results from roughly 1,700 caucus sites across the state raised questions of additional technical difficulties or a potential security breach. Some of those fears may have been borne out.
Mark Gitenstein, a supporter of former Vice President Joe Biden who served as a caucus chairman in Dallas Center, told VICE News as he was leaving Biden’s afterparty that he ran into trouble.
“I tried to use the app as a caucus chair and I couldn't make it work,” he said. “So I had to call it in.”
“The results are all screwed up with extraordinary consequences for whoever actually won,” Jennifer Palmieri, a former top adviser to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, told VICE News.
Biden’s campaign sent the Iowa Democratic Party a formal letter of concern about “considerable flaws” in the state’s reporting system — and pushing to delay the release of any numbers, a move that could benefit them if Biden doesn’t fare well in the final count.
“We believe that the campaigns deserve full explanations and relevant information regarding the methods of quality control you are employing, and an opportunity to respond, before any official results are released,” Biden General Counsel Dana Remus said in the letter.
“We may be witnessing the last Iowa caucus,” David Plouffe, the architect of Obama’s 2008 campaign, said on MSNBC.
Republicans were positively gleeful about the chaos.
“Democrats are stewing in a caucus mess of their own creation with the sloppiest train wreck in history. It would be natural for people to doubt the fairness of the process,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement.
In lieu of any information late Monday night, candidates attempted to shape the narrative by addressing supporters while still in the dark.
“Well folks, it looks like it’s going to be a long night,” Biden told supporters at Drake University. “But I feel good.”
The debacle comes days after the Des Moines Register pulled a key poll in the eleventh hour and the DNC changed qualifying criteria for subsequent primary debates. The dual developments sparked unfounded speculation that the party was tipping the scales against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was expected by many analysts to win in Iowa.
But the Democratic socialist sounded an upbeat tone to supporters in Des Moines on Monday night, before he headed to campaign for a New Hampshire primary in which he is similarly favored.
“Let me just begin by saying at some point the results will be announced,” Sanders said. “And when those results are announced, I have a feeling we will be doing very well in Iowa.”
Some campaign volunteers were worried about more than their candidates, such as how the delay would reflect on their party, their state, and Iowa’s unique and quirky caucus system.
“It's really frustrating as an Iowan because I really feel like this is going to lead to the Iowa caucuses at minimum not being first in the nation anymore,” Nick Johnston, student vice president of Drake University and a Klobuchar supporter, said at the afterparty for candidate Pete Buttigieg on Drake’s campus.
“I really do like the Iowa caucuses. I think there's some strong benefits to having them, but I think that this is going to be the last one.”
Cover: Supporters of Democratic U.S. presidential candidate senator Bernie Sanders gather in Des Moines, Iowa, on Feb. 3, 2020, ahead of the all-important Iowa caucuses later in the day. (Photo by Kyodo News via Getty Images)