DES MOINES — As the dust settles on one of the closest races in the history of the Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton appears to have an edge on Bernie Sanders in the Democratic bout.
Under the party’s arcane state delegate math, Clinton won about four more state delegate equivalents than rival Sanders, with one precinct yet to report totals. That precinct is only worth about 2.25 delegates, less than the margin between the candidates.
“The results tonight are the closest in Iowa Democratic caucus history,” Iowa Democratic Party chairman Andy McGuire said in a statement.
Clinton’s campaign has said she beat Sanders, who has not conceded.
“After thorough reporting — and analysis — of results, there is no uncertainty and Secretary Clinton has clearly won the most national and state delegates,” Matt Paul, Clinton’s Iowa state director, said in a statement, adding that there was no statistical way for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont to overcome Clinton’s advantage.
In the Democratic race, Clinton failed to get a decisive result though her aides claimed victory. With 99.94 percent of precincts reporting, she was hanging on to a narrow 49.9 percent to 49.5 percent lead over Sanders.
Though only about 1 percent of the delegates needed to win either party’s presidential nomination are awarded in the caucuses, the results render an initial verdict of the 2016 presidential campaign.
The results prompted Democrat Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor, to end his campaign.
Turnout was high, which Sanders was counting on. Long lines were reported for the Democratic caucus at a church in West Des Moines. At Iowa State University in Ames, precinct workers checking in voters ran out of registration forms and had to get more printed.
Sanders told supporters that the results were a “virtual tie” and congratulated Clinton “for waging a very vigorous campaign.”
“I think the people of Iowa have sent a very profound message to the political establishment,” he said.
During her speech to supporters in Iowa, Clinton stopped short of declaring victory. “So, as I stand here tonight — breathing a big sigh of relief — thank you Iowa. I want you to know I will keep doing what I have done my entire life, I will keep fighting for you,” Clinton said.
“We believe strongly that we won tonight,” Clinton’s national press secretary Brian Fallon told reporters aboard a press plane preparing to depart Des Moines for New Hampshire.
She was seeking vindication for her crushing third-place finish in the 2008 Iowa caucuses that set then-US Senator Barack Obama on a path to the White House. Sanders’ campaign had worked to lower expectations ahead of the results.
The race could be reset yet again in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary on Feb. 9. Sanders has held a substantial lead in polls there.
Caucus-goers were greeted by above-normal temperatures, even as a significant snowstorm was forecast for the state late Monday and Tuesday. Iowans were making their decisions after being saturated for more than a year by candidate speeches, media coverage, advertising, and telephone calls.