February 5, 2020 at 2:14 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Buttigieg clings to victory after fiasco in Iowa
Pete Buttigieg addresses a crowd in Iowa (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

DES MOINES, Iowa — It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

In the aftermath of the Iowa caucuses, Pete Buttigieg wanted to be able to declare he was the first openly gay person to win a state primary contest for a major party nomination — or at least definitively declare he did well.

Instead, amid reports of technical difficulties during the Iowa caucuses — including reports of precinct captains not following the rules for counting votes, an iPhone app that failed in its job to collect votes from those who couldn’t attend the caucuses and assurances from the Iowa Democratic Party the delay was the result of a “quality check” — Buttigieg is left clinging to a dubious victory based on an estimated 71 percent of results that keep trickling in.

Although precisely no results of the Democratic Iowa caucuses were known on Monday night, that didn’t stop the former South Bend mayor from declaring victory in his speech that night.

“So, we don’t know all the results, but we know by the time it’s all said and done, Iowa, you have shocked the nation because by all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious,” Buttigieg said.

Ignoring the fiasco, Buttigieg proceeded with an uplifting speech that energized his supporters cheering him on and maintained the upcoming election is a battle for the soul of America.

“We have a belief that in the face of exhaustion and cynicism and division, in spite of every trampled norm and every poisonous tweet, that a rising majority of Americans is hungry for action and ready for doing,” Buttigieg said.

Annise Parker, CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which has endorsed Buttigieg, echoed the sense that Buttigieg pulled off a victory in the caucuses despite issues in recording the votes.

“The messy Iowa reporting process should not distract anyone from the historic moment that played out last night,” Parker said. “Pete – running against 10 opponents including some of the best-known names in American politics – overcame the obstacles and the odds to land in one of the top spots, if not the top spot, in the Iowa caucuses. It is an incredible achievement for an openly gay candidate and speaks to his ability to build a broad coalition among voters in cities, suburbs and rural areas. It forever changes how the media, pundits and voters view the electability of openly LGBTQ candidates.”

Parker also expressed disappointment the results took away from Buttigieg’s speech on Tuesday night, which she called “the most powerful speech I’ve heard during this campaign season.”

“It was a speech that would have captured the minds of Americans and secured days of headlines, but instead we are talking apps and ‘quality control,’” Parker said. “Fortunately, the results will come, Pete will get the post-Iowa bump he deserves, and he will head into New Hampshire a favorite. There is now no question we are on a journey to elect the first openly gay president of the United States – and that is astounding.”

But the nature of the Monday speech was arguably tone-deaf amid anger over the botched Iowa caucuses. Buttigieg also faced a backlash on Twitter for declaring victory when none of the results were known, prompting #MayorCheat to trend on Twitter.

Here’s what we know as of Wednesday afternoon based on the limited numbers the Iowa Democratic Party has provided so far two days after the caucuses.

With more than 70 percent of precincts reporting, Buttigieg has won a plurality of 26.8 percent of the delegates, followed by 25.2 percent for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), 18.4 percent for Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), 15.4 percent for former Vice President Joseph Biden and 12.6 percent for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

The popular vote in the Iowa thus far tells slightly a different story. Iowa recorded the sheer vote tallies among caucus-goers at precincts both at the start of the caucuses, then after realignment. In both cases, Sanders has a slight lead, with 24.4 percent for the initial vote an 26.2 percent for the vote after realignment. The next down is Buttigieg, then Warren and Biden.

In a later speech in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Buttigieg was visibly choked up as the results came pouring in and showed an openly gay candidate had won the plurality of delegates.

“It validates for a kid somewhere in a community wondering if he belongs or she belongs or they belong in their own family, that if you believe in yourself and your country, there is a lot backing up the belief,” Buttigieg said.

A win in Iowa for Buttigieg was all but necessary for him to go forward in pursuing the Democratic nomination. After all, if Buttigieg couldn’t pull off a win in the Midwest near his home state of Indiana, making the case for his nomination would be a lot harder in the rest of the country.

Spencer Kimball, a professor in political and sports communication at the Boston-based Emerson College, told the Blade before the initial results, “if Pete goes on to a top-two finish it might make him the alternative to Bernie.”

“But if Joe drops to fifth that keeps Elizabeth and Amy in the race,” Kimball added. “If Amy falls behind Joe that would be a problem for her. However, because of the issues with the caucus I think all five are still in for New Hampshire which will make the debate a decisive event like it did in 2016 in the GOP nomination.”

Asked whether a Buttigieg victory in Iowa would even be seen as legitimate given the fiasco in reporting the results, Kimball replied, “Not by everyone.”

The full results for the Iowa caucuses remain to be seen. Despite assurances all votes cast in Iowa will be counted, it’s possible many of the outstanding 29 percent votes not yet counted will never be recorded.

Other lingering questions are whether the Iowa delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee will be fully seated and the fate of Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Prices, who was charged with overseeing the Iowa caucuses.

Although the Iowa caucuses have traditionally been the first gateway in the nation selecting its presidential nominees, it seems highly likely change is forthcoming, such as the abolition of the Iowa caucuses altogether, or at least allowing another state to go first in the process.

Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, said in a statement Wednesday “what happened last night should never happen again.”

“We have staff working around the clock to assist the Iowa Democratic Party to ensure that all votes are counted,” Perez said. “It is clear that the app in question did not function adequately. It will not be used in Nevada or anywhere else during the primary election process. The technology vendor must provide absolute transparent accounting of what went wrong.”

The Washington Blade has a placed a request with the Democratic National Committee seeking comment about any additional fallout after the Iowa caucus, including whether it will allow the Iowa caucuses to go first during the nomination process in future years.

For his part, Buttigieg during his victory night speech told his supporters he’ll take the fight “to New Hampshire, which has a way of making up its own mind, to Nevada, to South Carolina and beyond.”

“And as we do, we will be building a movement that not only will win the election against Donald Trump, but win the era for our shared values,” Buttigieg said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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