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The Epic Breakdown of ‘Iowa First’

Right now there is no winner. The Russians couldn't have been more effective.

Mackenzie Mcilmail watches tv as she waits for the results during the Sen. Bernie Sanders Caucus Night Celebration, February 3, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

You probably weren’t the only one to go to bed last night, perhaps around midnight, to think like Christmas, there would be a big present with a tap on your keyboard or phone when you awoke—the winner of the Iowa Caucuses finally revealed.

Instead there were headlines like this: ‘It’s a total meltdown’: Confusion seizes Iowa as officials struggle to report results. This was Politico. They even followed it with a sidebar story entitled, “The Death of Iowa.”

This may not be mere hyperbole. It is a likely probability that last night’s epic fail to name a winner, due to still unknown “quality control” issues and “inconsistencies” in the reporting (as of this writing at 6 a.m. EST, they were still reports about the system’s “app” breaking down and not correctly tabulating the caucus votes), marks the end of the state’s “first in the country” status when it comes to the presidential nominating process every four years.

As you have probably been reminded by now, Iowa actually called the caucus in favor of Mitt Romney in 2012, only to declare two weeks later that Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was the real winner. No one really knows what would have happened. But like a bad movie, Santorum could have gone on to win New Hampshire, get the nomination, and beaten Obama for president—or at least anything but be the sad token Republican on CNN’s godawful political panels he is today. He could have been a contender.

Social media, of course, is on steroids (for some, this kind of chaos is preferred). Suggestions (non serious, serious) that Russians hacked the system (denied by election officials) began in earnest around 10 p.m. on Twitter. As did charges that the DNC was again denying Bernie Sanders a win. Meanwhile, as of this writing, Twitter partisans are already devolving into combat (‘Simmer down @petebuttigieg, if anything they chose Sen. Sanders’!) Everyone is hating on Iowa: “Iowa caucuses are usually where lots of campaigns go to die. Because of this mess, everyone gets a ticket to ride to New Hampshire.”

And that’s where the candidates are apparently right now. After using their paid-for stage time last night to slyly declare their own victories, the Democrats (some with a somewhat new “second chance” spring in their step) are on their way to New Hampshire, where the motto is “Live Free or Die,” and voters use regular polling machines, the ones where you mark your ballot with a pencil and it is run it through the electronic counter.

Meanwhile, Iowa election officials say they will begin releasing results later today. After 40 years of being “the first” this might be their last real moment in the election spotlight.

about the author

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, executive editor, has been writing for TAC for the last decade, focusing on national security, foreign policy, civil liberties and domestic politics. She served for 15 years as a Washington bureau reporter for FoxNews.com, and at WTOP News in Washington from 2013-2017 as a writer, digital editor and social media strategist. She has also worked as a beat reporter at Bridge News financial wire (now part of Reuters) and Homeland Security Today, and as a regular contributor at Antiwar.com. A native Nutmegger, she got her start in Connecticut newspapers, but now resides with her family in Arlington, Va.

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