DES MOINES — President Donald Trump branded the Democratic Party’s chaotic effort in Iowa to begin choosing an election challenger as an “unmitigated disaster” on Tuesday after results in the state caucus were delayed indefinitely.
Hours after voters made their choices at 1,600 schools and other public locations, Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price told reporters to expect results sometime on Tuesday in the state, the first to hold a nominating contest.
The party said it had to make “quality checks” after finding “inconsistencies” in the reporting of the data from caucus sites, sparking frustration among Democrats and criticism from Republicans.
It was unclear when any results would be released.
Iowa voters met to render judgment on a field of 11 Democratic contenders led by front-runner Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and his rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Party officials voiced confidence in their ability to ensure accurate results, citing a paper trail to validate the votes.
Trump called the Democratic caucus an “unmitigated disaster” in a tweet. “Nothing works, just like they ran the Country.”
But Republicans in Iowa have their own history of chaos. On the night of the party’s 2012 caucuses, Mitt Romney was declared to have won by eight votes. But the party said two weeks later that Rick Santorum had won by a 34-vote margin. Romney went on to be the nominee.
DISMAY IN THE RANKS
Long lines and big crowds were reported in some locations on Monday, but more than ten hours after the doors closed there was no word on the outcome.
“Every second that passes undermines the process a little bit,” said Warren’s campaign manager Roger Lau.
A source in Buttigieg’s campaign said the delay would “delegitimize” the win and dampen the immediate benefits of a strong night. Biden’s general counsel, Dana Remus, told state party officials in a letter there were widespread failures in the party’s system of reporting results.
Mostly white, rural Iowa is the first test in the state-by-state battle to pick a Democratic nominee to face Trump in the Nov. 3 election. After more than a year of campaigning and more than $800 million in spending, the results in Iowa were expected to begin to provide answers for a party desperately trying to figure out how to beat the businessman-turned-president.
Voters are pondering whether to back someone with appeal to independents and disaffected Republicans, like moderates Biden, Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar of neighboring Minnesota, or someone who energizes the party’s liberal base and brings out new voters, like progressives Sanders and Warren.
With no results to celebrate or mourn, the candidates spun their own upbeat view of the outcome. The Sanders campaign released what it said were its internal numbers collected at 40% of precincts, showing him in first, ahead of Buttigieg, Warren and Biden in fourth place.
“I have a strong feeling that at some point the results will be announced, and when those results are announced I have a good feeling we’re going to be doing very, very well here in Iowa,” Sanders told cheering supporters.
Buttigieg told his supporters in Iowa that “we don’t know the results” but was looking ahead to the next contest on Feb. 11 in New Hampshire.
“By all indications, we are going to New Hampshire victorious,” he said.
Several of the candidates, including Biden, Klobuchar and Warren, headed to New Hampshire immediately after the caucuses. Sanders planned to fly there on Tuesday morning.
“Of course we don’t know the results yet – minor problem – but we know we did incredibly well,” Klobuchar told supporters at the Manchester, New Hampshire, airport.
At the caucus sites in Iowa, voters had gathered in groups by candidate preference in a public display of support. If a candidate did not attract 15% of voters, the total needed to be considered viable, that candidates’ supporters were released to back another contender, leading to a further round of persuasion.
Even if one candidate eventually wins by a commanding margin in Iowa, Democrats may still lack clear answers as the race moves on to the other three early voting states of New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina later in February.
Whoever remains in the race by Super Tuesday on March 3, when 15 states and territories vote, will also confront billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is skipping the early states in favor of focusing on states rich in delegates to the Democratic National Convention in July.
Sanders has surged in many Iowa polls to move just ahead of Biden.
Beating Trump was the prime consideration for voters as they entered the caucus, according to a poll of 1,512 Iowa Democrats conducted by the National Election Pool, with 62% saying they want someone who can beat Trump and 36% wanting a nominee who agrees with them on major issues.
Republicans also held Iowa caucuses on Monday, with Trump, who has around 90 percent support in his party, declared the projected winner by media outlets.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Joseph Ax, Tim Reid, Simon Lewis, Jarrett Renshaw and Ginger Gibson; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Howard Goller)