Sanders defiantly declares victory in disputed Iowa contest, amid caucus confusion

MANCHESTER, N.H. – Three days after the Iowa caucuses, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont declared victory over rival Pete Buttigieg by pointing to his lead in raw votes, although the results so far indicate Buttigieg has won more delegates.

The race has not yet been called in Iowa, as some precinct results still have not been released by the state party. But speaking to reporters Thursday at a news conference at his campaign headquarters in New Hampshire, Sanders thanked Iowans “for the very strong victory they gave us at the Iowa caucuses on Monday night.”

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“Even though the vote tabulations have been extremely slow, we are now at a point with some 97 percent of the precincts reporting, where our campaign is winning the popular initial vote by some 6,000 votes," Sanders said.

"In other words, some 6,000 more Iowans came out on caucus night to support our candidacy than the candidacy of anyone else. And when 6,000 more people come out for you in an election than your nearest opponent, we here in northern New England call that victory," he added.

Hammering home his point, the populist senator who is making his second straight bid for the White House said that “in an election with voter turnout of approximately 180,000 people, and with eight strong candidates competing, a victory margin of some 6,000 votes is pretty decisive.”

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Sanders also touted that in the realignment vote -- where supporters of candidates who didn’t reach 15 percent at an individual caucus precinct can change their allegiance and back to a candidate who did reach that viability -- he is also ahead by more than 2,500 votes.

Sanders’ declaration of victory comes three nights after Buttigieg also declared victory, pointing to his lead in delegates won through the caucuses.

“We don't know the results. But we know, by the time it's all said and done, you have shocked the nation,” the former South Bend, Ind., mayor told his supporters Monday night in Iowa. “Because, by all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.”

Hours later, on the ground in New Hampshire, Buttigieg highlighted that “we quieted those voices who said we shouldn’t be there in the first place. Now it’s up to famously independent New Hampshire.”

Buttigieg has pointed to his lead in state delegate equivalents (SDE), which are the traditional way the Iowa caucus results have been reported for half a century.

But after Sanders narrowly lost to eventual nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democrat caucuses, he and his supporters complained to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and urged that the popular raw vote totals also be released. The DNC mandated that Iowa increase its reporting. The state party went even further, not only reporting the first round of raw vote totals but also the second round, after the realignment.

Sanders took aim at the SDEs, saying “because of changes to Democratic Party rules that were widely supported during the Democratic Unity Reform Commission, these state delegate equivalents have greatly diminished importance from past caucuses.”

“To the best of my knowledge, either I or Mr. Buttigieg will end with a tiny fraction of an advantage in the SDEs,” Sanders explained. “But this difference, 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.”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont speaks to reporters in Manchester, NH on Feb. 6, 2020

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont speaks to reporters in Manchester, NH on Feb. 6, 2020

And, pointing to the media, he argued that “you guys have been putting too much emphasis on the SDEs.”

Asked why he should be considered the winner instead of Buttigieg, the senator said “because I got 6,000 more votes.”

Soon after the news conference, the Sanders campaign reached out to supporters across the country with a fundraising text saying: “Bernie Sanders WON IOWA with 6,000 more votes. Now let’s win in NH.”

Minutes before Sanders came before cameras and microphones, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez called on the Iowa Democratic Party to “immediately begin a recanvass” in the state, adding that “enough is enough.”

But Sanders said a recanvas wouldn’t change the results.

“What is not going to change is that we won a very significant victory in the popular vote, we won a very signification victory in the realignment vote,” Sanders said. “The person who gets the most votes wins. We got the most votes.”

Sanders took aim at the Iowa Democratic Party, spotlighting that “what has happened with the Iowa Democratic Party is an outrage [...] That they were that unprepared, that they put forth such a complicated process and relied on untested technology."

Sanders also said Iowa’s caucus process is “far too complicated” but wouldn’t say if the state should lose its treasured status as the first state to hold a contest in the presidential nominating calendar.

The independent senator and progressive champion spoke one day after another top rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, took aim at Sanders.

At a campaign event in Somersworth, N.H., Biden unloaded on Sanders, warning that “if Senator Sanders is the nominee for the party, every Democrat in America up and down the ballot -- blue states, red states, purple states, easy district competitive ones -- every Democrat will have to carry the label that Senator Sanders has chosen for himself.”

He then stressed that Sanders “calls himself a Democratic socialist."

The former vice president then emphasized that President Trump is champing at the bit to label Democrats as socialists. And he pointed to his own efforts in the 2018 midterms in helping the Democrats win back the majority of the House of Representatives.

“When Sanders attacks me for having baggage, I have to tell you the 60-plus candidates that I campaigned for, the toughest districts in the country just two years ago, don’t see me as baggage and they wanted me in their districts," he said.

And Biden said he doubted such candidates would want “Bernie Sanders to come in and campaign” for them.

Responding on Thursday, Sanders said: “Let me tell my good friend Joe that when we’re dealing with somebody like Donald Trump who lies all the time, he’ll pin any label that he wants on any candidate, it doesn’t really matter.”

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Sanders also took aim at the DNC’s decision to alter the qualifying criteria for candidates to make the stage at upcoming presidential nomination debates. The move opens the door for former New York City mayor and multi-billionaire business and media mogul Mike Bloomberg to qualify for the Nov. 19 debate in Nevada.

“I think it is an outrage. Rules are rules,” Sanders said.

Bloomberg  -- after declaring his candidacy just two and a half months ago -- is skipping the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina and instead is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars to build up a campaign organization and run TV ads in the delegate-rich states that vote on Super Tuesday on March 3 and beyond.

Sanders said that “now suddenly, a guy comes in who does not campaign one bit in Iowa, New Hampshire. He’s not on the ballot I guess in Nevada or South Carolina. But he’s worth $55 billion and I guess if you’re worth $55 billion, you can get the rules changed for a debate.”