The Democratic Iowa caucus was locked in a virtual tie for most of Monday evening, with both sides trying to spin a victory in the first voting of the nominating process.
While the final outcome was still too close to call, Hillary Clinton delivered a speech to supporters at about 10:30 CT, congratulating her “esteemed friends and opponents” — including former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who dropped out earlier in the evening — while avoiding mentioning the neck-and-neck state of the caucus.
Sanders addressed his boisterous supporters shortly thereafter.
“We had no money, we had no name recognition and we were taking on the most powerful political organization in the United States of America,” Sanders said. “And tonight while the results are still not known, it looks like we are in a virtual tie.”
A strong Sanders showing in Iowa was almost unthinkable when he announced his candidacy last April, mounting a challenge to Clinton, who perhaps more than any non-incumbent in recent history, was widely regarded then as the inevitable Democratic nominee. The desire for an outsider candidate — a desire that has dominated the dynamics of both parties’ primaries — is tangible as non-traditional voters and particularly young people flocked to his candidacy.
The incredibly tight finish was a disappointment for Clinton in a state where her campaign spent months planting a ground game and learning from her disappointing third-place finish there in 2008. It suggests she failed to spark the enthusiasm that Sanders’ long-shot bid has garnered.
“The people of Iowa have sent a very profound message to the political establishment, the economic establishment and by the way the media establishment,” Sanders said. “And that is, given the enormous crises facing our country, it is just too late for establishment politics and establishment economics.”
The two head into New Hampshire where Sanders is polling with a double-digit lead over Clinton. The Clinton campaign is quick to pin his lead on a neighborly allegiance since Sanders represents Vermont. Clinton will be relying on her so-called “firewall” in Nevada and in the South, where she is hoping the coalition that turned up for Obama — and especially minorities voters — will support her over Sanders.
“In the last few weeks we finally began to have what I think is one of the most important substantive conversations, that the Democratic Party could have, and I am — I am thrilled at all of the people who are playing a part in that,” Clinton said, glossing over how unexpectedly close the race between her and Sander has become.
She also tried to distance herself from the narrative of 2008, when the upset victory of Barack Obama — then a first-term senator — lit the fire that carried him to the nomination and the White House.
“So as I stand here tonight breathing a big sigh of relief — thank you, Iowa!” Clinton said. I want you to know, I will keep doing what I have done my entire life. I will keep standing up for you. I will keep fighting for you. “