DES MOINES, Iowa – New rules meant to boost transparency in how the Iowa caucus results are reported could end up leading to multiple -- and contradictory -- claims of victory in Monday night’s kick-off contest for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Former Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairwoman and Fox News contributor Donna Brazile says there’s “no question” that more than one candidate could interpret the results as a win.
“There’s this old saying that there’s three tickets out of Iowa. I think tonight we may see four, perhaps five,” said Brazile, who ran then-Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.
Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price acknowledged that “candidates are going to do what candidates do” but he stressed that “we don’t declare a winner at the Iowa Democratic Party. We just report the results.”
For the first time, the state party will not only report the percentages of the number of state delegates won by each candidate – which has been done for decades – but also the raw vote totals at the beginning of the caucuses and at the end of the evening.
The new rules were put in place after Sen. Bernie Sanders' supporters complained that eventual 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton’s narrow victory over Sanders in the Iowa caucuses didn’t reflect the raw number of votes Sanders won in the first round of voting – known as a realignment.
Price explained to Fox News that “this year the DNC mandated that we needed to put that first alignment number out. We decided to also release that final alignment number.”
He argued that “it’s going to create more information, more transparency in the process and it’s going to be able to give folks a greater sense of which candidates are building consensus on that second round, which candidates are getting more support and how people are moving around during the course of the evening.”
Here's how the caucus process works: Supporters of candidates who don't reach the 15 percent viability threshold after the first round of voting at the nearly 1,700 caucus precincts across the state can realign during a second round of voting and back a candidate who does cross that threshold.
The revisions were designed to make the caucus reporting more transparent -- and to make sure that even the candidates who don’t reach the 15 percent mark and don’t win delegates to July’s Democratic National Convention get credit for all the votes they received in the first round of caucus voting.
The Sanders campaign has highlighted the importance of the first round raw vote totals, which according to Politico has raised concerns among some rival campaigns that such a move could sway the final results from the second realignment. An aide from a rival campaign also expressed those concerns to Fox News and pointed to the final delegate count percentages as the real results.
That’s what Price is highlighting – noting that “at the end of the day this is still a contest for delegates, it’s still about who’s going to get the 1,991 delegates in Milwaukee [at the Democratic National Convention] and that’s still the best measure which is state delegate equivalents.”
An aide from another rival campaign echoed those comments, telling Fox News “there’s only one measure of who won per the Iowa Democratic Party and news organizations, and it’s delegates.”
The aide, who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely, argued that “Sanders folks trying to say it’s something else is like ignoring the final score and saying you won because you had more yards than the other team.”
Turnout will be crucial in a race that polls indicate could be close.
An average of the final public opinion polls in Iowa’s Democratic presidential caucuses compiled by RealClearPolitics indicates Sanders with a slight edge over former Vice President Joe Biden, with former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts a few percentage points back, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of neighboring Minnesota hovering just below double digits.
In 2008, 239,872 Democrats turned out to caucus in Iowa — which was nearly 40 percent of registered Democrats in the state. Then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois won that contest – on his way to the White House. But turnout dropped in the 2016 Democratic caucuses to just 171,109 — less than 30 percent of Iowa’s registered Democrats.
“I’m looking at turnout. Will it exceed 2008?” Brazile asked. She also highlighted that she’s “looking at how the supporters of non-viable candidates realign after the first alignment.”
Sanders, the populist senator from Vermont, spotlighted turnout in his closing campaign event before the caucuses.
Speaking Sunday at what was billed as a Super Bowl watch party at a sports pub in Des Moines, Sanders repeated his prediction that “if the turnout tomorrow night is low, we’re going to lose. If the turnout is high, we’re going win. Our job together is to create the highest turnout in the history of the Iowa caucus.”
Sanders, along with Warren, have the two largest and strongest teams in the state – with Buttigieg and Biden also sporting formidable operations.
The campaigns’ ground games appear to be paying off as the candidates saw their largest crowds to date over the weekend. More than 3,000 filled an arena in Cedar Rapids to see Sanders, with Buttigieg, Warren, Biden, Klobuchar, and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang also drawing a large number of voters to their events in the closing days before the caucuses.
While campaigning in the larger metropolitan areas, both Buttigieg and Yang have also stumped in more rural areas to attract swing voters.
“We've been in a lot of the counties that famously switched from President Obama to Trump,” Buttigieg told Fox News’ Ed Henry on Monday morning. “And we're seeing folks come out of the woodwork, not just diehard Democrats, but some more independent-minded folks, disaffected Republicans, looking for a change.”
Brazile emphasized that “it’s about organization. That’s why campaigns have been on the ground for a year, that’s why their supporters are out there even at this late date trying to find undecided voters to make they can get to the caucus precinct sites.”
One of those undecided voters is Jason Parks of Ames, Iowa.
Speaking with Fox News on Sunday at a Warren town hall at Iowa State University, Parks said, “I’m definitely looking at it from a pragmatic standpoint – who can beat Trump is important to me.”
He shared that he’s leaning toward Warren and Biden.
Jordan Richardson of Des Moines was also at the campaign event. He remains undecided and shared that he’s “leaning towards Senator Warren” but is also thinking about Buttigieg “kind of for their leadership and charisma elements.”
With just hours until the caucuses, Richardson admitted that “I think it might end up being a gut decision.”