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Hillary Clinton clings to slim lead in Iowa as Sanders cheers ‘virtual tie’

It's a real nail-biter.


Patrick Howell O'Neill


Posted on Feb 2, 2016   Updated on May 27, 2021, 6:59 am CDT

Hillary Clinton fell just short of declaring victory in the Democratic Iowa caucus on Monday night—but the votes are still coming in.

With more than 97 percent of districts reporting, former Secretary of State Clinton holds 49.9 percent of support compared to Sen. Bernie Sanders‘ 49.6 percent—a difference of just 3 “votes,” as of midnight local time on Tuesday morning. 

Just over 100 districts out of 1,681 have not yet reported their results. However the scale tips, both Sanders and Clinton will have roughly half of Iowa’s delegates at the Democratic national convention in July.

In an impassioned speech before supporters, Clinton said she “breathed a sigh of relief” at Monday night’s results and vowed to fight for a list of Democratic issues including climate change, LGBT rights, and workers’ rights.

“I am excited about really getting into the debate with Sen. Sanders about the best way forward to fight for us and American,” Clinton said. She described the Democratic race so far as “one of the most important, substantive conversations the Democratic party could have.”

“We have to be united against a Republican vision and candidates who would drive us apart and divide us,” Clinton said.

Moments after Clinton’s speech, Sanders addressed a crowd of supporters chanting “Feel the Bern! Feel the Bern!” and declared that he and Clinton were “in a virtual tie.”

Sanders, delivering a powerful speech, invigorated the crowd further by decrying income inequality and establishment systems, which he characterized as working against average Americans.

“I think the people of Iowa have sent a very profound message to the political establishment,” said Sanders, “to the financial establishment and, by the way, to the media establishment.”

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley suspended his campaign after receiving 0.5 percent support in Iowa.

Clinton’s strong showing in Iowa may add an additional challenge to the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), once considered a long-shot candidate who has made startling gains on Clinton in recent months. An Iowa victory by Sanders was assumed to be a crucial first step for any chance of a primary victory.

However, Sanders’ strong showing in Iowa stands to earn the independent Vermont senator an influx of campaign donations and a firmer position from which to compete against Clinton. The fact that Clinton, who led Sanders by an average of 4 points heading into Iowa, did not trounce Sanders shows the strength of the progressive candidate.

In the last month, Clinton’s lead in Iowa shrank considerably in recent weeks from a 30-point lead in August to three points today. Still, she remained the odds on favorite to take the state. She traded leads in the polls with Sanders, whose appeal is based in large part on his outsider status and democratic socialist policies, which he starkly contrasted with Clinton’s large role in the establishment and more centrist policy positions.

Many Democrats credit Clinton’s strong showing in Iowa to, among other factors, her superior “ground game”—the organization she has in each county of Iowa pushing to draw Sanders into a statistical tie. Clinton’s team knocked on doors and made phone calls around the state in what appeared to be numbers that overwhelmed her rival’s campaign. Among Democrats in Iowa, her victory was no surprise, according to a recent Politico poll.  

Republicans who were polled thought Sanders would win the race. Considering the counterintuitive, outsider-friendly Republican 2016 race, it’s no surprise they thought Sanders might be able to carry nominally similar momentum in the Democratic race.

In Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, she lost in Iowa thanks to a record number of voters (more than 239,000, double the number from 2004) showing up to vote for then-Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who finished in second place.

That campaign remained competitive long after Iowa. Lucky for Sanders, the next big primary comes on Feb. 9 in New Hampshire, where he’s had a growing lead in the polls for over a month. Sanders is expected to make his best showing in this state, which neighbors his own home state of Vermont.

“What Iowa has begun tonight,” Sanders said, “is a political revolution.” 

Before that, the Democratic contenders will debate this Thursday Feb. 4 at 9pm ET in New Hampshire. The debate will be aired on MSNBC. On Feb. 11, they’ll take the stage to debate once more in Wisconsin.

Update 11:13pm CT, Feb. 1: Added additional quotes from Sanders and contextual details about Monday night’s caucus.

Update: 11:30pm CT, Feb. 1: Updated incoming results.

Update: 12am CT, Feb. 2: The Sanders campaign is claiming that 90 precincts were not staffed correctly by the Democratic National Committee. Sanders officials are asking both the Clinton campaign and the DNC to recreate the results for an accurate count, one that doesn’t rely on the counts of each Democratic campaign. The demand is likely to further delay the final results.

Update 1:30pm CT, Feb. 2: The Iowa Democratic Party has officially declared Hillary Clinton the winner of the Iowa caucus.

“The results tonight are the closest in Iowa Democratic caucus history,” IDP Chair Dr. Andy McGuire said in a statement. “Hillary Clinton has been awarded  700.59  state delegate equivalents, Bernie Sanders has been awarded 696.82 state delegate equivalents, Martin O’Malley has been awarded 7.61 state delegate equivalents and uncommitted has been awarded .46 state delegate equivalents.”

Photo via Marc Nozell/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

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*First Published: Feb 2, 2016, 1:58 am CST