Buttigieg hangs on to narrow lead as caucus count continues

Sanders is 1 percentage point behind as counting continues

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg gestures during a rally at Lincoln HIgh School, Des Moines, on Feb. 2, 2020, the day before the Iowa caucuses. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Pete Buttigieg clung to his narrow lead in Iowa’s 2020 Democratic presidential caucuses late Wednesday, with 92% of the precincts counted.

The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, claimed 26.5% of state delegates equivalents, placing him just ahead of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont who garnered 25.6%.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren remained in third place at 18.3%, former Vice President Joe Biden was in fourth at 15.9% and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar stayed in fifth place with 12.1%.

Candidate vote totals in the Iowa caucuses are measured in state delegate equivalents, which are derived from the individual votes at caucus sites. They indicate the number of pledged delegates each candidate receives, and with 92% of 1,765 precincts counted, they stacked up this way:

  • Pete Buttigieg: 532
  • Bernie Sanders: 513
  • Elizabeth Warren: 366
  • Joe Biden: 319
  • Amy Klobuchar: 243

Part of Buttigieg’s success in Iowa appears to stem from strong support in rural Iowa where there are more delegates awarded per caucusgoer than in urban areas.

Buttigieg may have benefitted not only from the manner in which delegates are awarded, but from the state’s system of conducting two rounds of caucus-site voting, which allows Iowans to switch their allegiance to another candidate if their preferred candidate doesn’t garner enough support to be viable.

Buttigieg appeared to be many voters’ “second choice,” enabling him to gain more votes than his opponents between the two rounds, giving him an edge in the final assignment of state delegates.

The delayed announcement of the caucus results may be denying Buttigieg some valuable momentum and press attention leading into next week’s New Hampshire primary, but his opponents have also been displeased with the glacial pace at which the results are being tabulated.

Speaking to supporters in Concord, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, Biden said, “Twenty-four hours later, they’re still trying to figure out what the heck happened in Iowa. At this rate, New Hampshire might get the first vote after all.”

On Wednesday morning, an exasperated Sanders spoke to supporters in Derry, New Hampshire, telling them, “I assume that one of these years that vote count will be completed.”

The Iowa Democratic Party was the target of even more criticism Wednesday after acknowledging it had mistakenly reported that former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick won 21 state delegate equivalents and that 1,677 Iowans supported him on the first alignment, and 1,768 people in the second and final alignment. The party later corrected the results to show Patrick had earned zero delegate equivalents.