Counter-intuitively, the fact that Sanders and Buttigieg both emerge from Iowa as declared victors may prove beneficial to the formerby Ross James Gildea / February 10, 2020 / Leave a comment
Amid the confusion of Iowa, it is difficult to imagine a more inauspicious start to the presidential primaries for the Democratic Party. The Iowa caucuses is as much an exercise in campaign optics as a contest for pledged delegates. The state is modest in size and its primarily white population is unrepresentative of the United States as a whole.
For the Democratic candidates, Iowa is an opportunity to position themselves favourably for future, more decisive skirmishes. Both early claimants to victory in Iowa, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, can be reasonably frustrated at having a valuable political moment marred by the chaotic and error-strewn release of results. However, despite the disarray, there are good reasons to believe that the results worked out extraordinarily well for the Sanders campaign.
Although it is almost certain Sanders won the popular vote and will likely share the lead for pledged delegates, one of the most consequential outcomes for his candidacy was the poor performance of his main rival for the Democratic nomination, Joe Biden. The former vice president is on track to finish fourth, comfortably behind Elizabeth Warren. His failure to secure viability in many precincts indicates a comparatively weak organization on the ground.
Worryingly for Biden, doubts remain over his fundraising capacity and a fourth-place finish in Iowa may undermine his campaign narrative, which is heavily framed around electability. It is true that Biden commands significant support among African American voters, an undoubted advantage in more diverse primary contests—but poor results like Iowa will help other candidates to chip away at his support in those states.
Another plus for Sanders is that, because Buttigieg and Warren finished ahead of Biden, and fifth-place Amy Klobuchar had an encouraging showing, it is probable that none of the major candidates will drop out of a large field. With the addition of former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, several figures associated with the “moderate” wing of the party will be on future state ballots. This means that moderate support will continue to be split and fail to consolidate around a single candidate.
Moreover, by securing a healthy lead over Warren in Iowa, Sanders solidified himself as the most viable progressive…