February 2, 2016
Usually coin flips are only important in football. A couple weeks ago, a miraculous Aaron Rodgers comeback was undone by a coin. First it wouldn’t flip. Then it did. In favor of the Arizona Cardinals. They got the overtime kickoff, then drove for the winning touchdown. Rodgers was left to watch from the bench.
Hillary Clinton won 701 state delegate equivalents. Bernie Sanders won 697. When you see the final percentage tally:
This is what they are referring to. It is not the raw total of voters who chose each candidate at each precinct. The Sanders campaign is asking for the release of the actual supporter totals, which they believe will show they actually had more people line up for them last night.
Having more voters would be a nice moral victory, but Hillary is the officially certified winner. The final result was even closer than she is letting on. In six precincts, there was an exact tie. If there were 280 participants, 140 for Hillary, 140 for Bernie. What to do? Flip a coin. Like the NFL, it’s in the caucus rulebook.
Six precincts. Six coins. Six flips. Six Hillary victories. It didn’t cost Bernie 6 full delegates. It cost him a fractional total six times. Still, when you lose by 4, and actually had more voters on your side, it’s particularly galling. More evidence of the fates and DNC conspiring to extinguish the Bern.
In reality it was a tie. A tie decided in favor of Clinton, the official winner. Make no mistake, if Bernie won this narrowly, the narrative would be different. We have two things to look at. What happened, and what does it mean?
I made the prediction of a lifetime. Can’t discuss anything else before gloating (please disregard my GOP prediction). I missed Hillary’s percentage by 0.1%. The total margin was off by 0.6%. Even managed to mention a decent probability of Bernie getting more votes, but Hillary winning more delegate equivalents, thus becoming the winner.
Turnout was somewhere in between the record numbers of 2008 and the comparatively modest numbers of 2004. Too high for Hillary to win, too low for Bernie. The Sanders volunteers did great work. More numerous and serious than Howard Dean’s crew from ’04, they stood and delivered.
He lacked the dominating organization of Barack Obama, who combined the best of what Sanders and Ted Cruz did yesterday. In 2008, Hillary was overwhelmed by Obama, affected by John Edwards, and generally unprepared for intense ground combat.
By any measure, the Clinton infrastructure stepped up yesterday. Absent a much greater focus on Iowa than ’08, she would have lost. She’s also very lucky there was no Biden.
Both candidates closed well. Polling showed a tight race as early as 3 to 4 weeks out. Hillary gave up little if any further ground. She came up with a message “a progressive who gets things done,” that works with the type of voters who consistently turn out in primaries and caucuses.
Bernie hung in. His final town hall performance was strong. His ad campaign was strong. His energy was high. Most 47-year-olds can’t handle his schedule, never mind someone at 74.
According to entrance interviews, Sanders won the majority of first-time caucusers. A large amount of first-timers showed up. That’s good for him. On the other hand, Hillary held the majority of her voters from 2008, along with converting plenty of Obama voters. If the average Obama caucuser had chosen Bernie, he would have won easily.
The college students of 2008 supported Bernie. But the older Obama supporters favored Hillary. Bernie’s domination of voters under 30 was unprecedented. We need to wait for Nevada to see how Sanders can do with non-white voters, but the chronological gap is bigger than any gender or racial one.
What it Means:
Game on. Bernie took Hillary’s best shot and remained on his feet. Hillary went into her house of horrors and came out alive.
Hillary has plenty of money in her bank and her super PAC’s. Bernie apparently raised $20 million just in January and will grab another 20 mil before you can blink. Neither candidate is going to run short of funds anytime soon.
The close finish and Trump loss will put more focus on the Democratic contest. The GOP will get more than 50% of the media oxygen, but Bernie is going to start getting more national exposure. Hillary is doing the circuit of non-Fox media to make her case.
Bernie absolutely has to win New Hampshire. He needs to win by a noticeable amount. Entering the week with a 20 point lead, anything in single-digits will seem like a loss, especially with his home-field advantage.
Nevada takes on incredibly large meaning. South Carolina is still assumed safely behind the Clinton firewall. Only three consecutive Sanders wins could have knocked it down. That’s now impossible. At best, he’ll enter the Palmetto State with two wins and a tie.
Iowa means the Clinton ground organization is as good as they thought it was. In South Carolina, she has the support of the entire political establishment, just as she did in Iowa. Though I think Bernie will eventually successfully pivot to speak more directly to African-American voters, it won’t be in time to make a big dent this month.
The Silver State is his opportunity. Berners are fired up to make a difference on the ground, important everywhere, but especially in a caucus state with traditionally very low turnout. Both candidates are doubling down on their closing messages from Iowa. We won’t know until Nevada which is more persuasive.
Remember, Hillary has a structural advantage. One or two endorsements don’t matter. Five hundred do. Bernie’s volunteers are showing great potential, but they don’t have the experience of her field operatives. As the race goes on, their skills will improve. The narrow official loss in Iowa will motivate them.
After March 1, things get much easier for Bernie. If he can win Nevada and enough delegates on 3/1, the contest moves to states where he has more opportunity. After March 15, smaller caucus states and more liberal primary states take over the schedule. Bernie will have more time between contests too.
In order to have any chance on 3/1, he needs Nevada. In order to win Nevada, he needs a double-digit New Hampshire win. That’s his mission. Yesterday brought the one outcome that wouldn’t noticeably change the nomination odds. Hillary is still the definite favorite, Bernie still has a shot.