2020年1月29日 星期三

On Politics: Everyone’s a Winner in Iowa

O.K., maybe there will be a clear winner on Monday night. But let me explain what else might happen.
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By Lisa Lerer

Politics Newsletter Writer

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.

Our colleague Tanner Curtis found this helpful shirt at every reporter’s favorite Des Moines T-shirt store, RAYGUN.

AMES, Iowa — Driving through the snowy cornfields of Iowa today, I couldn’t stop dreaming about next Tuesday, the day after the Iowa caucuses. After more than a year of campaign entrances and exits, debates and dance moves, we’ll finally get some real clarity about this crowded Democratic primary race.

People will have voted! There will be winners! And losers!

Or not.

Dear readers, it’s time for a talk.

I know we’ve spent an awful lot of time discussing the Iowa caucuses. But like a mom explaining how, exactly, your little sister got here, I might have been glossing over some of the details.

Like, there could be multiple winners.

I know, I know. Presidential campaigns aren’t peewee soccer. There are no participation trophies.

But when it comes to this year’s Iowa caucuses, there might as well be. That’s because changes in the caucus rules intended to increase transparency will give us a lot more information — and there will be more opportunities for candidates to declare victory.

Under the new rules, the Iowa Democratic Party will report more than one set of results.

  • For the first time, we’ll see the vote totals from the first round of voting at the caucuses, when everyone shows up.
  • We’ll also see the final vote totals after “realignment,” when supporters of the weaker candidates may be forced to switch sides and back stronger ones. (Here’s an explanation of how that works and why second choices are so important.)
  • And we’ll see an estimate of the total delegates each candidate won to the state convention.

This is a significant change. In past years, the state party reported one number, the delegate total.


The Associated Press, the media barometer for campaign race calling, said this month that it would call a winner based on that last measure — the “state delegate equivalents” — because delegates are used to decide the eventual winner of the nomination.

But for the campaigns, the delegate totals aren’t really the point when it comes to Iowa. The state awards only 41 of the 3,979 pledged delegates to the national convention. (California, by comparison, awards 415.)

But Iowa can give a candidate something more important than delegates.

Here’s how Pete Buttigieg put it, as he tried to persuade a group of voters in Jefferson to come out and caucus for him on Monday night.


“What happens on Monday will set the tone for the entire rest of the election,” he told voters gathered in the back of a furniture store. “What happens on Monday will reverberate throughout the country.”

The name of the game is beating expectations, creating the kind of momentum that can propel a candidate into New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and beyond with a burst of enthusiasm.

For Amy Klobuchar, who’s been languishing in fifth place in the Iowa polls, that might mean placing third in delegates. For Elizabeth Warren, who’s been sliding behind Bernie Sanders in recent polls, it might mean besting her liberal rival in raw votes.

So, now imagine this scenario, one strategists say is not an impossibility, given how close recent polls have shown the race to be: Mr. Sanders wins the raw vote total, Joe Biden wins the delegate count and Mr. Buttigieg wins the rural counties.

Aides are already signaling that all three would come out of Iowa declaring victory.

Mr. Sanders could argue he has the most support, at least when it comes to sheer numbers of voters. Mr. Buttigieg might say he can win the kinds of swing counties that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and flipped back to Democrats two years later, making him the strongest general election contender. And Mr. Biden could argue he won on the metric that will eventually decide the nomination.


We know that many Democratic voters are desperate to find their standard-bearer so they can turn their attention to beating Mr. Trump. But that kind of mixed result in Iowa would leave them with no more clarity than they have right now.

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Our Buttigieg story hits a nerve

Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

It’s well established by now that the most disliked Democratic candidate among the other presidential campaigns is Pete Buttigieg.

So it was no surprise that there was some schadenfreude among Mr. Buttigieg’s rivals over an article we published Tuesday that explored grievances held by staff members of color at the Buttigieg campaign headquarters.

It found a receptive audience in Sawyer Hackett, an aide to Julián Castro, the former housing secretary who dropped out of the race and is now a full-time surrogate for Elizabeth Warren.

“If you’re an Iowan who cares about our nominee’s ability to beat Trump, ask yourself: If a candidate not only turns off Black and Brown voters (our most loyal voters), but also their own staff, can they beat Trump?” Mr. Hackett wrote in a tweet, one of a few he posted about the article.

The article also zipped around text groups of rival campaign staff members, particularly among people of color, according to other campaign aides.

Inside the Buttigieg campaign headquarters, a bunker mentality took hold. There was a morning staff call Tuesday in which the article was discussed, but Mr. Buttigieg didn’t call in. Asked in Ottumwa, Iowa, if he had addressed the issues with his staff, Mr. Buttigieg dodged the question.

Rodericka Applewhaite, who works on Mr. Buttigieg’s rapid response team, posted a heartfelt Twitter thread about race and the campaign.

“We will continue to approach fostering inclusion with the ongoing deliberation it deserves,” she wrote. “We will continue to live by our Rules of the Road of Belonging, Respect, Responsibility, and Truth.”

But by Wednesday, the questions for Mr. Buttigieg from reporters at his campaign stop in Ames had moved on to Middle East policy. Five days from now, Iowa’s caucusgoers will render their judgment.

… Seriously

This is the closest we’ve ever seen the surface of the sun.

No, seriously: Each one of these cell-like structures is about the size of Texas.


In Monday’s newsletter, we misstated the name of a woman who traveled from Virginia to Iowa to volunteer for Joe Biden’s campaign. She is Amanda Linton, not Litman.

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Thanks for reading. On Politics is your guide to the political news cycle, delivering clarity from the chaos.

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

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