Sanders suffers without Iowa recount

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Sanders suffers without Iowa recount

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Though more notable for its cornfields than its beaches, anyone who found themselves in the middle of Iowa last Monday might be forgiven for thinking it was Florida.

That’s because for many, the too-close-to-call contest between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton called to mind Florida’s infamous role in determining the winner of the 2000 presidential election.

To be fair, Florida in 2000 was a much more valuable prize, contested under much higher stakes. But don’t underestimate the value of the Hawkeye state. As the first electoral event of the primary season, Iowa is an important springboard for any candidate—especially an underdog like Bernie Sanders—trying to build momentum en route to the nomination.

The Iowa caucus is one of the stranger quirks of American politics, seemingly left over from a bygone era. But history has shown that Iowa is an important indicator of who will go on to nab the nomination. Since 1972, its caucuses have correctly predicted the nominee 42 percent of the time for Democrats and 50 percent of the time for Republicans.

This year’s contest could not have been closer. As the results poured in throughout the night, Clinton’s expected lead steadily diminished, eventually dropping to just 0.2 percent over Sanders. The race was so evenly divided that several precincts awarded their delegates based on a literal coin toss—a curious tiebreaker that remains part of caucus rules.

The problems associated with such a razor-thin election were compounded by the fact that many precincts were severely understaffed and unprepared for such a large turnout. Long registration lines and crowded facilities may have turned away some first-time caucus goers, unfamiliar with the process, the majority of which would have likely supported Sanders. In a race like this, every vote matters.

Furthermore, the methods used for recording votes in a caucus system—paper ballots and literal headcounts—are inaccurate and inappropriate for an election of this level.

Despite these concerns, caucus officials have refused to issue a recount. They declared Clinton the winner in Iowa, with 49.86 percent of the delegates. Sanders, who left with 49.57 percent, claimed a “moral victory” for his virtual tie with the Democratic frontrunner.

So far, the Sanders campaign has come short of officially contesting the results. Such a move is reportedly being considered, and Sanders has already asked that a statewide vote tally be released to the public. (Unlike Republicans, the Democratic Party uses a complicated mathematical formula, not the raw vote count, to award delegates).

The early primary states—Iowa and New Hampshire—are crucial to Sanders’ campaign. Though both states are generally favorable to him, his popularity wanes as the primaries move south to states with large minority populations, like South Carolina. A double win in these early states could have potentially opened up a path to the nomination.

But for the most part, Sanders is optimistic.

“We are in this for the long haul,” Sanders said. “We are going to win states all over the country. We have confronted one of the very difficult issues that we face. What has always bothered me is people who say, ‘I like you, Bernie. I want to vote for you, but I just don’t think you can win.’ Today we took a giant step to overcome that kind of doubt in many voters.”

Regardless of the results, Sanders’ performance in Iowa has made one thing clear. He is no “fringe” candidate. He’s in it to win.

It’s going to be a long election year.