We should’ve closed the book on the Iowa caucuses on Monday night. Instead, we got a procedural meltdown followed by the comically delayed release of partial results, which showed Pete Buttigieg leading in state delegate percentage for days. Buttigieg did a victory tour through the mainstream media, and as a result his polling numbers jumped in New Hampshire.
But Pete Buttigieg did not win Iowa. Bernie Sanders won Iowa. There are many powerful people who don’t want us to say these words. But we should say them without hesitation, because they’re true.
Let’s walk through this together. There are three metrics by which we might measure victory in Iowa: the popular vote, the percentage of state delegates, and the number of pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Right now, Bernie Sanders has won the popular vote, is poised to win the highest percentage of state delegates, and is tied for the number of national delegates. Therefore, Bernie won Iowa.
Furthermore, these metrics are not of equal importance. The most meaningful is the popular vote, because it demonstrates how much excitement there is on the ground for a candidate and how successful they can be in turning out supporters. This is especially significant considering that Iowa, unlike Texas or California, sends relatively few delegates to the national convention. Iowa is above all a test of enthusiasm, a temperature check.
2020 is the first year that the Iowa caucus’s popular vote has been made known to the public, so we’re not in the practice of using it as the ultimate benchmark for determining candidates’ success or failure in the state. But we should be. In this case, there’s no convincing reason to privilege any other metric over who got the most votes — a detail typically viewed as important by those who value democracy.
Instead, the traditional metric by which the winner of Iowa is declared is actually the least meaningful: the state delegate percentage. State delegates are people elected to attend the Iowa state caucus, who in turn select the delegates to the national convention. The number of national delegates is already known to us: Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders are tied with eleven each. State delegate percentage is the percentage of the total number of people tapped to go through the motions of sending a predetermined and even smaller number of people to Milwaukee for the Democratic National Convention this summer. It is the least consequential of all three metrics, and it should not be the metric by which the winner of Iowa is declared, especially not when the popular vote is now public.
But state delegate percentage is in play whether we like it or not, so we’re forced to pay attention to it. Now, after days of interminable delays, arbitrary result drops, and stolen valor, it appears that Bernie is poised to win the state delegate percentage as well. With 97 percent of precincts reported, Buttigieg maintains a 0.1 percent state delegate lead over Sanders.
The remaining precincts are all satellite caucuses — a term for caucuses designed to facilitate the participation of nontraditional voters, like people with language barriers and people who work late. Unlike every other campaign, Bernie’s campaign intentionally organized turnout for these satellite caucuses.
For example, in Ottumwa, Iowa, fourteen late-shift workers at a meat processing plant, most of them Ethiopian immigrants, showed up to a satellite caucus to support Bernie. The only other caucusgoer present was one Elizabeth Warren field organizer. On the South side of Des Moines, 187 people showed up to a bilingual Spanish-language caucus. One hundred seventy-one of them caucused for Bernie, giving him all the delegates there, as no other candidate was viable. From mosques to union halls, the satellite caucuses were part of Bernie’s strategy and nobody else’s.
Sanders is therefore projected to win the remaining precincts and overtake Buttigieg’s state delegate lead. But before this could transpire, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) head Tom Perez called to halt the process and begin a recount, supposedly for accuracy’s sake. Thus, the DNC has denied Sanders an opportunity to declare victory, an opportunity that’s already showing diminishing returns as the days pass and the news cycles move on.
The DNC doesn’t want you to know it, but Bernie won Iowa. And his campaign won by organizing immigrants, refugees, and people who work late shifts. His campaign did it by investing heavily in satellite caucuses and canvassing people in multiple languages to turn them out. His campaign did it by assigning organizers to post up outside of factory gates as workers got off shifts in the middle of the night, and by sending volunteers to their homes to confirm their participation. His campaign did it by organizing the working class.
There is no question who won Iowa. The only remaining question is which campaign we want leading the fight against Donald Trump: the campaign that overcame intense bipartisan hostility by pounding the pavement and turning thousands of people out to caucus for the first time in their lives — or one of the other campaigns that showed no such creativity, failed to inspire nontraditional voters, and came up short?
Who has the passionate support, the level of organization, the hard-won money, the vigor, and the vision to win the general election? You already know the answer. It’s the candidate who won Iowa: Bernie Sanders.