‘A farce’: Bizarre and confusing Democratic caucus descends into chaos
Results in the Iowa Democratic caucuses have been delayed due to “inconsistencies” – creating widespread confusion among the campaigns.
Spokeswoman Mandy McClure said: “This is simply a reporting issue, the app did not go down and this is not a hack or an intrusion.”
Iowa Democrats packed more than 1,600 schools, community centres and other public venues on Monday to choose their preferred candidate from a field of 11 contenders.
But those contenders will have to wait to find out who emerged on top in what is the first major contest for the Democrats in the race for the White House.
In the 12th district of Alkeny, a suburb of Des Moines, I witnessed my first caucus.
It was many things – heartening, amusing, bizarre and confusing.
But the night will probably be marked in the history books for the chaos and disarray it created, with results delayed across the board as quality checks were carried out.
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It was a mess and it isn’t good for the Democratic Party or American democracy.
Arguably, the only person it does serve is Donald Trump. He won the Republican caucus in a largely symbolic victory given that he faced no significant opposition.
He tweeted: “Big WIN for us in Iowa tonight. Thank you!” He now has a chance to chide the Democratic Party for being incompetent.
But there was little sign of those problems where I was, a packed sports hall inside Faith Baptist Bible Church.
Yes, I didn’t know people played basketball at church either.
It was packed with people, many wearing retro branded t-shirts and holding bright placards for their preferred candidates.
Some though were still open to switching sides. Others still undecided.
They sat with wide smiles and eager ears on the bleachers, looking genuinely excited to be there.
A few people addressed their neighbours, passionately trying to persuade them to switch sides.
The groups looked a little tribal, but it was all good humoured – an uplifting display of raw democracy in action and without the cynicism we so often see later in the presidential race.
Pete Buttigieg’s supporters wore bright yellow t-shirts and waved their arms vigorously, Bernie Sanders’ followers often broke out into passionate monologues.
Biden’s team were far smaller in size, quieter and older.
Elizabeth Warren’s group, like Mr Buttigieg’s, grew in number through the night as people were given the chance to change their minds.
They both appeared to have cross-over appeal.
After the second alignment, where people have a chance to pick their candidate again, a handful of individuals got a chance to deliver a speech to convince people to flip.
There was a forceful case made for Mayor Pete’s centrist vision, another for Senator Warren’s detailed policy plans and Joe Biden’s extensive experience in government.
But the man who chose to speak for Amy Klobochaur sounded surprisingly lukewarm about her. He admitted he’d voted Trump in 2016 and had been undecided until the night before.
The room erupted minutes later, when he suddenly walked over to sit with Pete Buttigieg’s side. The dynamics were fascinating.
When another woman walked into the middle of the room to declare she was undecided, everyone excitedly rushed over to try and make their pitches.
It was quite something to see how good spirited the discussion was, given how coarse political discourse in America has become. These people earnestly attended multiple rallies for many different candidates before coming here.
In the end, Pete Buttigieg won this caucus – his corner of the sports hall – animated and delighted.
But as we left, it was clear, there were big problems elsewhere.
Results weren’t coming through. The Democratic Party said it had found “inconsistencies”.
I was struck at our caucus, how old fashioned it all felt – even folksy.
People were counting preferences with their hands and a pen. But it seems a new app was now being blamed for the issues in reporting numbers.
For a party which has looked adrift and is trying to decide on its identity and how to beat Donald Trump, it was not a good start.
Voters may well feel failed and frustrated.
But there was one advantage for the many contenders. In the absence of any results, the confusion allowed every candidate to claim momentum as they delivered what should have been post-results speeches.
Some of their teams resorted to tweeting images of paper results.
A very serious process had become a farce. However brief, it’s not a good look.