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Does Iowa's botched vote reporting really matter?

Posted February 5, 2020 10:29 a.m. EST

— Does it really matter that Iowa botched its vote reporting?

After an embarrassing delay, results are emerging from the first Democratic presidential nominating race. Sure, it's only one state among 50, Iowa represents less than 2% of the total delegates needed to win the nomination and it could be months before the whole race wraps up. But this is more than a storm in a teacup.

Cold and white, this Midwestern state plays a unique role in the mystique of presidential campaigns. First-in-the-nation Iowa gifts its winner momentum, media buzz and a fundraising bounce. It also begins the work of uniting the party around the eventual nominee. This time, it may do none of that, thanks to Iowa's vote-reporting snafu, caused partly by a malfunctioning app.

A victory speech after a swift, decisive count would have made the winner the dominant political story in the race right now. Instead, each candidate spun their own best story and got out of town. By the time the count is final, it'll be a job to make sure that voters notice who really won.

Here's what we know so far -- and what it means.

Mayor Pete's head start? Better late than never. With a large part of the vote counted, Pete Buttigieg is basking in his big night in Iowa, though he's already moved 1,200 miles to the east in New Hampshire. A confirmed first place could supercharge the Indianan's centrist campaign and make him a top threat to the leftist rivals Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But to make the best of a good start, Buttigieg would need to broaden his coalition to diverse voters.

Sanders edges ahead in the battle for the left. The Vermont independent, who can count on a formidable grassroots movement, appears to be drawing ahead of Massachusetts' Warren in Iowa. That puts big pressure on her to hop ahead in New Hampshire. Sanders has the infrastructure and cash to last the entire campaign -- he did it against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Biden wobbles. Joe Biden must be thanking his lucky stars that the vote reporting debacle is what most people will remember about Iowa. No one thought this state was Biden country in the first place, and the former vice president has a lock on the most crucial Democratic constituency: African American voters, who will weigh in big in South Carolina later this month. Nevertheless, coming in weak will dent his electability narrative and his already limp fundraising.

Trump for the win. Chaos in the first Democratic contest could not be better for US President Donald Trump. The confusion allowed the President's side to spin a new web of conspiracy theories and disinformation claiming that Democrats were cooking the results to hurt the anti-establishment Sanders — a toxic narrative that could harm Democratic unity and the party's chance of taking the White House.

'Checking again'

In a very relatable vignette of email hell, CNN's Donie O'Sullivan reports that one Democratic senator's aide tried multiple times in January to check on the glitchy app that would ultimately mar the Iowa caucuses. The aide's emails were never answered.

"Bob, Where can we find out more information about this app that they're going to use for the Iowa caucuses?" the aide wrote on Jan. 4 to Bob Lord, the Democratic National Committee's chief security officer. "In particular, we'd like to find out if anyone has audited it."

On Jan. 17, the aide attempted a reminder: "Checking again."

The final email was sent on Jan. 21: "Bob, If there is someone else I should be reaching out to, please let me know."

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