Update, 9:30 EST: With about half the returns in, Clinton holds the lead over Sanders, 51 to 48 percent. As expected, O’Malley is sputtering out with less than 1 percent. There are, however, reports that he’s getting past the viability threshold in some caucuses.
It doesn’t look like Sanders’ hoped-for surge of first-time voters hungry for a “revolution” is showing up in the numbers he wanted. The Associated Press did some entry polling and found six in ten Democrats in Iowa were looking for a continuation of Obama’s policies. 4 in 10 said they were first-time caucus attendees, which is roughly comparable to 2008.
If these numbers hold, Sanders can say he gave Clinton a far tighter race than anyone would have predicted a year ago, and he’s still in good shape in New Hampshire.
Update, 9:45 PM EST: With 65 percent reporting, it’s tightened to a two-point race, with Clinton leading Sanders 51 to 49 percent.
Update, 10:00 PM EST: Sources are saying Martin O’Malley will suspend his campaign in a speech tonight.
Update, 10:05 PM EST: With 75 percent reporting, Clinton’s lead is down to less than 2 percent, so maybe Sanders will pull out a win after all. They have both secured the same number of delegates at this point. O’Malley did not register a single delegate in the caucuses.
Update, 10:30 PM EST: At 85 percent reporting, Clinton’s lead is down to less than one percent. Clinton and Sanders are currently tied with 19 delegates each.
Update, 11:15 PM EST: While we wait for the photo finish to get sorted out, it looks like both Clinton and Sanders might claim victory in Iowa. (Clinton’s camp is explicitly doing so before the votes are counted, which makes her look weak, and will enrage Sanders supporters; if he manages to pull ahead and is declared the winner, Clinton’s early claim of victory will turn a horrible night for her into a full-on dumpster fire.)
Even if Clinton scratches out a 1-percent-or-less victory, there is no way for her to spin tonight as anything less than catastrophic. She blew a sixty point lead over Sanders, and turned it into a squeaker. Tomorrow will bring panic to Clintonworld, and they’ll probably over-compensate for it with bluster.
Sanders, already looking good in New Hampshire, could have lived with the 3- or 4-point loss Clinton appeared to be handing him earlier in the evening. A razor-thin loss, tie, or narrow victory in Iowa will be huge for him, especially because it’s not just about him; it’s about those nagging Clinton doubts eating away at the Democrat voter’s gut. Conventional wisdom says her firewalls will hold, and end the Sanders insurgency in a few weeks… but then, conventional wisdom said there was no way she could lose such a gigantic lead in Iowa.
Update, 11:45 PM EST: With 93 percent reporting, it’s Clinton 49.9 percent, Sanders 49.6 percent.
Clinton nevertheless gave a victory speech, bizarrely declaring it an “unbelievable night” and a “great campaign,” even though she just handed Bernie Sanders one of the most amazing come-from-behind victories in political history… a narrative unlikely to change if she ends up claiming a 0.3 percent “win.”
But that’s what she has to do, in order to keep her voters motivated. This speech seems like an effort to keep her nervous voters from bolting in the primaries after New Hampshire, mixed with a demand for Sanders supporters to give up their little insurgency and rally behind her. The crowd at Sanders’ rally was reportedly very unhappy when they saw Clinton giving this speech.
Breitbart News coverage of the Iowa Democrat primary begins with a little pre-game talk from the candidates:
Bernie Sanders says he’s counting on heavy turnout and new voters to push him over the top. “I’m cautiously optimistic, as they say,” he told the Huffington Post.
“It’s a tie ballgame, that’s where we are,” Sanders declared in a speech to campaign volunteers in Des Moines on Monday morning, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. “We will win tonight if the turnout is high. We will struggle tonight if the turnout is low. That’s a fact.”
Sanders went on to predict turnout would be high, because his “political revolution” is producing “a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy” in Iowa.
Noting that he was 40 or 50 points behind Clinton in the polls not long ago, Sanders said his campaign has “made a lot of progress in the last eight months.”
For her part, Hillary Clinton has been trying to “channel the economic indignation” of Sanders, as the Associated Press puts it:
Making her closing argument to Iowa caucus-goers, Clinton now cloaks her detailed policy plans in Sanders’ outraged rhetoric. Pharmaceutical pricing “burns” her up. Companies that take advantage of the tax loopholes get her “pretty riled up.” And she promises to “rail away” at any industry that flouts the law.
“I’m going after all of them” she declared in Davenport, her tone escalating to a shout. “When I talk about going after those companies, those businesses, those special interests, I have a much broader target list than my opponents.”
As for Martin O’Malley, Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post made a game effort to keep the horse race interesting by arguing that O’Malley is “the most important person in the Democrat race.”
What Cillizza actually means is that O’Malley’s supporters could be a tipping factor in Iowa, because the Democrat caucuses have a “viability threshold” rule that basically means low-performing candidates are eliminated in real-time, and their supporters are invited to caucus with one of the viable candidates. The threshold is 15 percent, while O’Malley is currently polling at four percent or less.
“Has the governor made clear to his key organizers whom he would prefer his support to go to?” Cillizza asks. “And if not, what do his people decide to do: Choose Clinton or Sanders or simply walk away?”
Clues to all three of those possibilities could be found in the Huffington Post’s dismal report from O’Malley HQ on Sunday, where not even burgers, cookies, and a bubbling crock pot could lure more than a hundred people to watch O’Malley stand on a chair and talk about whatever.
Many of those hundred people identified themselves as either Sanders or Clinton supporters, looking at O’Malley as a second choice because they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for whichever of the Democrat front-runners they found unsuitable.
For what it’s worth, the Clinton voters seemed reasonably affectionate toward Sanders, but doubted he could possibly win the general election, while Sanders voters seemed to actively dislike Hillary and/or Bill Clinton.
O’Malley isn’t ready to throw in the towel. “If you guys can lift me above viability in your precinct, we could change the dynamic of this race. I’m going to give this 1,000 percent. We are taking this shot as if the future of the Republic depends on it — and you know what, it just might,” he told his campaign team, as reported by NBC News.