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The Iowa caucuses, both Republican and Democrat, took place on Monday, February 3, 2020.

They truly were a tale of two parties.

The Iowa caucus is the first presidential candidate — and delegate — selection during a general election year in the US.

On the eve of the Nevada caucus on Saturday, February 22, it’s worth revisiting.

Republican caucus

Not all of the Republican Iowa caucuses have gone smoothly in recent years.

This year’s did, and so did 2008‘s.

However, 2012‘s was very tight between Rick Santorum who finished narrowly in first place with 24.6% of the vote and Mitt Romney, in second with a nail-biting 24.5%.

In 2016, Ted Cruz was still at the top of his game, finishing first with 27.6%, and Donald Trump in second on 24.3%. Yet, that was the year that Cruz’s campaign workers spread false rumours to Ben Carson’s supporters that the good doctor had dropped out of the race. A lie! However, Carson’s paltry 9.7% ensured that he did drop out soon afterwards. Terrible!

That was how Donald Trump was able to attach the word ‘Lying’ to ‘Ted’ in a tweet with photos of both their wives. The Telegraph has more on the story.

Trump never let up on Cruz, either. Cruz folded in tears a couple of months later. Marco Rubio dropped out a day or two later, leaving candidate Trump the last man standing.

This year, Trump, the incumbent, had two minor rivals and ‘other’. William ‘Bill’ Weld, a former Massachusetts governor, garnered 1.3% of the vote and one delegate. Joe Walsh, a former Congressman for Illinois, came in third place with 1.1% of the vote and no delegates.

President Trump received 31,464 votes and 39 delegates.

There was a record turnout for an incumbent president, breaking Obama’s record of 25,000:

It was like a mini-rally in places:

Democrat caucus

The Democrat caucus resulted in confusion, much like 2016’s.

The 2016 caucus was held on February 1 that year. The Des Moines Register asked, ‘Iowa’s nightmare revisited: Was correct winner called?’

‘Nightmare revisited’ refers to the Republican result in 2012. As the newspaper reported in 2016:

This time it’s the Democrats, not the Republicans.

Four years ago, the top Democrat candidates were Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders (emphases mine):

Even as Hillary Clinton trumpeted her Iowa win in New Hampshire on Tuesday, aides for Bernie Sanders said the eyelash-thin margin raised questions and called for a review. The chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party rejected that notion, saying the results are final

At 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Andy McGuire announced that Clinton had eked out a slim victory, based on results from 1,682 of 1,683 precincts.

Voters from the final missing Democratic precinct tracked down party officials Tuesday morning to report their results. Sanders won that precinct, Des Moines precinct No. 42, by two delegate equivalents over Clinton.

The Iowa Democratic Party said the updated final tally of delegate equivalents for all the precincts statewide was:

Clinton: 700.59

Sanders: 696.82.

That’s a 3.77-count margin between Clinton, the powerful establishment favorite who early on in the Democratic race was expected to win in a virtual coronation, and Sanders, a democratic socialist who few in Iowa knew much about a year ago.

Incredible.

In 2020, the result was also contested. Bernie Sanders came in a very close second to Pete Buttigieg:

– Bernie won the popular vote: 45,831 to 43,273, or 26.5% to 25.1%;

State delegate equivalents were as close as they were four years previously. Mayor Pete ended up with 563.2 and Bernie with 563.1.

Good grief.

Turnout was also low:

So, why, then, was it so difficult for the media to get the results?

This is what happened at CNN:

Bernie, understandably, was not best pleased as Buttigieg announced victory:

Two theories abound as to what happened this year.

One blames the fiasco on a new app that the Democrats were using. Another pins it on incompetence.

Here is a good summary of both:

The new app

Those who blame it on the new app point out that some high-profile people working on the campaign of Mayor Pete — dubbed Mayor Cheat after the caucus — knew the developers:

Questions also arose over ACRONYM:

Here’s more on that:

Shadow’s app looks as if it is/was set to be used in Nevada, too:

One hopes the bugs get ironed out by tomorrow, the 22nd, otherwise, it could look like another case of:

Incompetence

A week later, Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi wrote an excellent article about what he saw: ‘The Iowa Caucus Was Waterloo for Democrats’.

If you enjoy politics, you’ll want to read about his experience and about the Democrats he met on and before February 3.

Taibbi discounts the app as having been a factor in the caucus vote meltdown. He adopts the British philosophy of ‘cock-up before conspiracy’.

Excerpts follow.

There were problems with unauthorised precinct captains. The night before the caucus:

a 36-year-old Minnesotan named Chris Storey called a number he’d been given, for a woman who was chair of the Waukee 4 district. Thanks to a new rule allowing out-of-state volunteers to be precinct captains, he was set to represent the Sanders campaign there.

“We got along, it was great,” he recalls. “She told me she was looking forward to seeing me the next day.”

The next day, caucus day, Storey showed up at Shuler Elementary School in Clive, Iowa. The same official he’d spoken with the night before met him at the door. “It was like two different people,” he recalls. “I was told there was a written directive from the county chair that nonresidents could not be precinct captains.”

Sanders had to get a last-minute replacement captain in Waukee 4, someone not formally aligned with the campaign. He fell short of viability there by five votes. County chair Bryce Smith, who made the decision, said he was responding to a late directive from the Iowa Democratic Party that said they would allow one nonresident captain per campaign, per precinct, but “the discretion of the chair is what goes,” i.e., this ultimately was a judgment call for county chairs. Smith said he didn’t like the change to the long-standing rule — “What’s stopping a campaign from hiring professional persuaders and high-profile people?” he asked — and decided to bar nonresident captains. The IDP has not yet commented.

As a result, some would-be captains from multiple different campaigns in Dallas County were pulled off the job (Smith said he got “five, six, eight” calls to complain). Meanwhile, in other districts, nonresident captains were common

There were other issues:

Caucus participants later in the week would offer an eyebrow-raising number of other issues: bad head counts, misreported results, misreads of rules, wrong numbers, telecommunications errors, and other problems.

Taibbi says this should have been a straightforward caucus:

The basics of the caucus aren’t hard. You enter a building that is poorly ventilated, too small, and surrounded by mud puddles — usually a school gym. You join other people who plan on voting your way, gathering around the “precinct captain” for your candidate. If your pile of people comprises 15% of the room or more on the first count, your candidate is deemed “viable” and you must stay in that group. If your group doesn’t reach 15%, you must move to a new group or declare yourself undecided. There is a second count, and it should be done.

The caucus results, such as they were, continued to cause confusion the rest of the week:

What happened over the five days after the caucus was a mind-boggling display of fecklessness and ineptitude. Delay after inexplicable delay halted the process, to the point where it began to feel like the caucus had not really taken place. Results were released in chunks, turning what should have been a single news story into many, often with Buttigieg “in the lead.”

He explains that, although it looked as if Sanders actually won on paper, there was cause to call the win for Buttigieg:

Though Sanders won the popular vote by a fair margin, both in terms of initial preference (6,000 votes) and final preference (2,000), for most of the week Mayor Pete’s lead with “state delegate equivalents” — the number used to calculate how many national delegates are sent to the Democratic convention — made him the technical winner in the eyes of most. By the end of the week, however, Sanders had regained so much ground, to within 1.5 state delegate equivalents, that news organizations like the AP were despairing at calling a winner. 

This wasn’t necessarily incorrect. The awarding of delegates in a state like Iowa is inherently somewhat random. If there’s a tie in votes in a district awarding five delegates, a preposterous system of coin flips is used to break the odd number. The geographical calculation for state delegate equivalents is also uneven, weighted toward the rural. A wide popular-vote winner can surely lose.

Returning to the aforementioned Chris Storey from Minnesota, who was ultimately turned down as precinct chairman:

Is it incompetence or corruption? That’s the big question,” asked Storey. “I’m not sure it matters. It could be both.”

Conclusion

Whatever went wrong with the Democrat caucus, President Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale had this to say:

Democrats should hope for a more carefully conducted caucus in Nevada on Saturday.

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