MANCHESTER, N.H. — New Hampshire Democratic voters are singularly focused on finding a presidential candidate who can defeat President Trump, and maybe hoped Iowans on Monday would give them a clue on who that might be. But now they have to figure it out on their own.
Instead of a clear winner being named on Monday night, after technology mishaps, the Iowa Democratic Party now says they will offer partial results on Tuesday afternoon, nearly 24 hours later. The party told campaigns they don’t know when they will be able to declare a winner. And that has left strategists and candidates struggling to make sense of what it means.
“The Iowa results, to say the least, are flawed and they are coming so late they aren’t going to give a bump to anyone,” said Nick Baldick, a national Democratic strategist who ran New Hampshire for Al Gore in 2000. “New Hampshire is now much more important. It is, de facto, the first event.”
In a way, the lack of Iowa results has recalculated the expectations game in New Hampshire: when the eventual winners are named they will be less of a winner, experts said, and the losers will feel less of a sting.
Since 1976, with only one exception, the Iowa Caucuses have framed the final sprint of the New Hampshire Democratic primary. The storylines of who had momentum, or which candidate needed to be stopped after the Iowa results were announced set the table in the Granite State.
The only historical precedent to the current situation might be in 2012, when Mitt Romney was named the winner on caucus night, but 17 days later the Iowa Republican Party said that former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum actually had won. But that was long after New Hampshire Republican voters thought they had reaffirmed Iowa’s choice and Romney was basically unstoppable.
On Tuesday, advisers for Bernie Sanders were particularly incensed at the chaos in Iowa. Their campaign released internal numbers from every precinct showing they were the winners of the Iowa Caucuses. They believe they were robbed of the chance for Sanders to declare victory and head into New Hampshire will full momentum, where he was already leading.
When the Iowa Democratic Party held a conference call with campaigns to update them that 50 percent of results would be released on Tuesday afternoon, CNN reported Sanders senior adviser Jeff Weaver suggested that some campaigns “are just trying to delay the returns of this because of their relative position in the results last night.”
Reflecting this sentiment was Sanders himself, who told reporters on board a charter plane from Des Moines to Manchester that, "This is not a good night for democracy.”
Jim Demers, who guided Barack Obama and Cory Booker’s campaigns in New Hampshire, said the results have left former mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind. and former vice president Joe Biden stuck because neither could use the Iowa results to wear the mantle of the moderate alternative to the more progressive Sanders.
“Buttigieg, by all appearances, was having a good night and Biden was not,” said Demers. “But because there are no results, Buttigieg isn’t on fire and Biden isn’t dead. And now voters and the press have moved on to New Hampshire.”
Michael Ceraso, who initially directed Pete Buttigieg’s New Hampshire campaign, agreed that Buttigieg may have been “written out of the narrative” with the debacle in Iowa, but that some candidates will get a second chance.
“The beauty of New Hampshire is that voting isn’t complicated, the process is clean,” said Ceraso. “And now candidates like Deval Patrick, who skipped Iowa, will get to point at the Iowa mess and be glad they never participated in it and know they just got a new lease on campaign life.”