The Note: Iowa debacle serves as wake-up call for Democratic Party

Nobody won and everybody lost.

February 4, 2020, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

Nobody won and everybody lost.

Contests that were supposed to clarify have now confused the race for president -- or worse. The utter meltdown of the vote count out of the Iowa caucuses puts the race into a new state of turmoil that raises sensitive questions for an anxious party.

In this Feb. 3, 2020, file photo, a precinct secretary and other officials look over documents at a caucus in Des Moines, Iowa.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters, FILE

Among the little that’s known about the vote is that turnout was on track for 2016 levels -- which means they won’t approach the 2008 record. That’s itself a disappointment for a party that is boasting of new enthusiasm in the age of President Donald Trump.

Not knowing a prompt result means any "win" will be watered down. It also means the results may not be accepted, with former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign signaling public skepticism that an accurate result will ever be known.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters with his wife Dr. Jill Biden during his caucus night watch party on Feb. 03, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

And the whole debacle plays into Trump messaging. He gets to stir suspicion inside a party that includes voices skeptical about how the establishment is responding to fresh challenges to their order.

Eventually, someone will win Iowa. But what was lost as Democrats began their nominating process may never be recovered.

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

It is very possible we just witnessed the last Iowa caucuses ... ever.

Sure, as scary as it is to think about, reporting issues could happen to any state. Systems break and get slow. Triple checking and getting results right is better than publicly putting out anything wrong.

But we are not in any state; we are in Iowa. And after the Iowa caucuses in 2016, several campaigns, candidates and party leaders questioned whether the state should be able to keep their first-in-the-nation status. The caucuses are inherently messy; they take hours; working class voters who may have evening shifts, parents who have to find babysitters, and people with disabilities, can feel left out and completely disenfranchised.

Let alone the fact that the demographics of the state are not reflective of the nation or the Democratic Party electorate more broadly.

Still, after meetings and debate, the party decided the famed caucuses would stay, but with modest changes to the rules and processes. And the campaigns played by those rules. They invested thousands of dollars in explainer videos and trainings for volunteers. They asked supporters to request the night off work to be counted for their candidates.

Now, after a night with no results and next to no communication from the Democratic Party, it is hard to imagine how fury does not bubble over. Thank goodness the rules changed after 2016 and guaranteed a paper trail would be kept. The party said overnight it was relying on that documentation. But a backup, backup system may not be enough to convince voters and party players everywhere else that the national primary process should once again start like this.

Local residents check-in after arriving at an Iowa Democratic caucus at Hoover High School, Feb. 3, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall/AP

The TIP with Quinn Scanlan

Political reporters may be stuck in Iowa, awaiting the results of the first contest of the Democratic primary, but the candidates are already on to the next one, spinning the night in their favor ahead of jetting to New Hampshire with 0% of Iowa's precincts reporting results.

"Tonight, an improbable hope became an undeniable reality," former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg told his supporters attending at his caucus night watch party in Des Moines. "We don't know all the results, but we know by the time it's all said and done, Iowa you have shocked the nation. Because by all indications, we are going onto New Hampshire victorious."

"We are feeling so good tonight and I cannot wait," Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar told her crowd in the state's capital. "Somehow, some way I'm going to get on a plane tonight ... and we are bringing this ticket to New Hampshire."

By the time the results come out Tuesday, the candidates will be out of Iowa, where they've campaigned for months, with several gearing up for the eighth primary debate of the cycle, which ABC News is hosting at St. Anselm College in Manchester on Friday -- just days ahead of the state's Feb. 11 primary.

Even without the results in Iowa, the candidates -- and the calendar -- are moving on.

A volunteer holds a Presidential Preference Card before the start of a Democratic caucus at Hoover High School, Feb. 3, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall/AP


ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Tuesday morning’s episode features a full wrap-up of Monday night's caucus results from Iowa. Then, ABC News Legal Contributor Kate Shaw tells us what to think of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump ahead of the final vote on Wednesday.

FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast. What To Expect From The Iowa Caucuses It’s finally time for the Iowa caucuses! In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast’s "Model Talk," Nate Silver discusses the latest data and what unknowns could still lead to a surprise result.


  • Maryland holds a special primary election to fill the seat of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings in the 7th Congressional District of Maryland from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • President Donald Trump will deliver the State of the Union address at 9 p.m. on Capitol Hill.
  • Andrew Yang holds an event at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport at 4 a.m. in Manchester, New Hampshire, a town hall in New London, New Hampshire, at noon, a town hall in Laconia, New Hampshire, at 2:30 p.m. and a town hall in Lebanon, New Hampshire, at 7:30 p.m.
  • The Senate will meet at 9:30 a.m. for floor speeches on impeachment.
  • Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick visits Manchester High School at 9:30 a.m. and tours a training facility in Manchester, New Hampshire, at noon and then holds an event at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, Hew Hampshire, at 7:30 p.m.
  • Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg holds a town hall in Manchester, New Hampshire, at 9:30 a.m., an event in Hampton, New Hampshire, at noon, a town hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, at 1:30 p.m., a town hall in Laconia, New Hampshire, at 5 p.m. and a town hall in Concord, New Hampshire, at 7 p.m.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., holds a town hall in Keene, New Hampshire, at 11:15 a.m.
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., holds an event at 11:30 a.m. in Concord, New Hampshire, an event at 2:30 p.m. in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and an event at 6:30 p.m. in Nashua, New Hampshire.
  • Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg holds an organizing event in Detroit at 12:30 p.m. (CST) and a campaign rally in Philadelphia at 6 p.m.
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, holds a town hall in Nashua, New Hampshire, at 2:15 p.m. and a town hall in Litchfield, New Hampshire, at 6 p.m.
  • Tom Steyer will hold a campaign rally in Las Vegas at 5:15 p.m. (PST).
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., holds a rally in Milford, New Hampshire, at 5 p.m. and then holds an event in response to the State of the Union address at 10:30 p.m. in Manchester, New Hampshire.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden holds an event in Nashua, New Hampshire, at noon, and an event in Concord, New Hampshire, at 6:45 p.m.
  • New Hampshire Democratic Debate The first debate after the Iowa caucuses will be hosted by ABC News/WMUR-TV/Apple News on Friday. ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, "World News Tonight" Anchor and Managing Editor David Muir and ABC News Correspondent Linsey Davis will moderate the debate, which airs from 8 p.m. (EST) to 11 p.m. (EST). They will be joined in questioning by WMUR-TV Political Director Adam Sexton and WMUR-TV News Anchor Monica Hernandez. The Democratic Debate will air live nationally on the ABC Television Network and locally on WMUR-TV. ABC News will livestream the debate on ABC News Live featured on Apple News, Roku, Hulu, AppleTV, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and the ABC News site and mobile phone apps. WMUR-TV will also livestream the debate on and WMUR’s mobile app.
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