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It Doesn’t Matter Who Technically Wins Iowa: Both Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg Did

4 minute read

It may be awhile before we know who technically won the Iowa caucuses, but it doesn’t really matter. In a contest that was always more about narrative than popular votes or delegates, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg are the two candidates who came out on top.

With official results still pending four days after the vote, both candidates have declared victory in Iowa and are now looking ahead to capitalize on that edge as they head into the Feb. 11 New Hampshire primary. With 97% of precincts reported, it was clear on Thursday that Sanders delivered on his promises to drive a progressive coalition to the polls and solidified his status as the progressive frontrunner, while Buttigieg outperformed expectations and successfully dislodged Joe Biden as the leading moderate in the race — for now.

“What I want to do today, three days late, is to thank the people of Iowa for the very strong victory they gave us at the Iowa caucuses on Monday night,” said Sanders at a press conference on Thursday in New Hampshire, pointing to the fact that either he or Buttigieg will ultimately end up with a “tiny fraction of an advantage” in state delegate equivalents. By Thursday afternoon, Sanders had an approximate 6,000 person lead in the initial popular vote, and about 2,500 in second-alignment preference.

“No matter who inches ahead in the end is meaningless because we are both likely to receive the same number of national delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee,” Sanders said.

Buttigieg had claimed an early victory in a major speech in Iowa on Monday, before results had even started trickling in. By Thursday, he was pushing a narrative that his performance in Iowa had proved his electability. “It’s momentum,” he said on The View. “It brings us into the next contest in New Hampshire with just a tremendous amount of momentum, because we were able to show, not just in the fact that we reached this position, but how we did it, that we’re putting together a kind of politics that’s about addition. It’s about welcoming people in.”

On Thursday, the Sanders campaign announced major moves about how it would position itself beyond Iowa. The campaign said that it had a massive $25 million in fundraising in January, that it would increase staffing in Super Tuesday states, and that it would spend $5.5 million in television and digital ad buys in 10 states.

The Buttigieg campaign has been less forthcoming about any changes to its strategy and has not announced how much it raised in January, but it is counting on building off of the Iowa momentum. And in one release, the campaign touts that it is taking steps to organize online, boasting at least 150 digital captains across all Super Tuesday states.

While the contest between the frontrunners remains too close to call, there is more clarity further down the list of candidates: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren finished in solid third, trailed by former Vice President Joe Biden, who is on track to finish in a disappointing fourth place.

Meanwhile, after days of dysfunction, Democratic party chair Tom Perez called for an Iowa recanvass. “Enough is enough. In light of the problems that have emerged in the implementation of the delegate selection plan and in order to assure public confidence in the results, I am calling on the Iowa Democratic Party to immediately begin a recanvass,” Perez tweeted.

The Iowa Democratic Party responded in kind by stating that should “any presidential campaign in compliance with the Iowa Delegate Selection Plan request a recanvass, the IDP is prepared. In such a circumstance, the IDP will audit the paper records of report, as provided by the precinct chairs and signed by representatives of presidential campaigns.”

The deadline to call for a recanvass is Friday, but no campaign has done so yet. Nor is the first official count done anyway. While there’s a mess left behind in Iowa, the 2020 field has moved on.

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Write to Charlotte Alter at charlotte.alter@time.com and Lissandra Villa at lissandra.villa@time.com