Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders are nearly tied in the Iowa Democratic caucuses, with nearly all votes counted in a contest marred by technical issues and reporting delays.
Party officials were scrambling to verify the remaining results three days after Iowans gathered at caucus sites across the state to begin choosing which Democrat will take on President Donald Trump in November.
A new batch of results released just after midnight Thursday narrowed the margin between Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Sanders, the progressive senator from Vermont. Buttigieg has a lead of three state delegate equivalents out of 2,098 counted.
So far, 97% of the vote has been released. Results could change as more data is put out. NBC has not called a winner in the race.
Iowa officials initially attributed their delay to technical problems with an app that precinct chairs were supposed to use to record results, then to backlogs as those volunteers tried to call the party to submit their totals.
The Iowa Democratic Party released partial results on Tuesday for the Iowa caucus, showing Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders vying for first place. The results of Monday’s caucus were delayed after officials found “inconsistencies” in reporting.
Even as the total number of results ticked up Wednesday, obstacles remained. Some tally sheets were making their way to party headquarters in Des Moines through the mail, which contributed to the delay.
Much of the political world has already shifted its attention to next-up New Hampshire, which holds the first primary election in the Democrats' 2020 nomination fight on Tuesday.
The results that came out Tuesday and Wednesday followed a period of caucus chaos. Technical problems marred the complicated process, forcing state officials to apologize and raising questions about Iowa's traditional place atop the presidential primary calendar.
It was too early to call a winner, but Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar were trailing in the tally of State Delegate Equivalents, according to the data.
The two early leaders — Buttigieg and Sanders — were separated by 40 years in age, conflicting ideology and more.
The chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP), Troy Price, addressed the reporting issues from the Iowa Caucus on Tuesday. After admitting that the IDP hit a "stumbling block," Price said officials would release partial results Tuesday. "We know this data is accurate," Price said. "We also have a paper trail and documentation that we have been able to use to help verify the results."
Sanders, a 78-year-old self-described democratic socialist, has been a progressive powerhouse for decades. For the 38-year-old Buttigieg, his early standing cemented his transformation from a little-known city leader to a legitimate force in the 2020 contest. Buttigieg is also the first openly gay candidate to earn presidential primary delegates.
"We don’t know all of the numbers, but we know this much: A campaign that started a year ago with four staff members, no name recognition, no money, just a big idea — a campaign that some said should have no business even making this attempt — has taken its place at the front of this race," Buttigieg, said as he campaigned in next-up New Hampshire with his husband looking on.
Buttigieg's early rise was rivaled for possible importance by the struggle of another moderate, Biden.
One of his party's most accomplished figures, the former two-term vice president and longtime senator was mired in the second tier of Iowa candidates with almost two-thirds of precincts reporting. Biden's campaign sought to downplay the caucus results even before they were released, hardly a measure of strength for a high-profile contender who has led national polls for most of the last year.
The results of the Iowa caucus were delayed until Tuesday after the Democratic Party said Monday night it found “inconsistencies” in the tallies.
"We believe we will emerge with the delegates we need to continue on our path to nomination," said Symone Sanders, a senior adviser.
While all campaigns were eager to spin the Iowa results to their advantage, there was little immediate indication that the incomplete results erased the confusion and concern that loomed over the caucuses. It was unclear when the full results would be released.
During a private conference call with campaigns earlier in the day, the chairman of the state party, Troy Price, declined to answer questions about the timeline — even whether it would be days or weeks.
"We have been working day and night to make sure these results are accurate," Price said at a subsequent news conference.
The leading candidates pressed on in New Hampshire, which votes this coming Tuesday. Billionaire Michael Bloomberg, a former New York City mayor, sensed opportunity after Iowa, and said he would double his already massive advertising campaign and expand his sprawling staff focused on a series of delegate-rich states voting next month.
The caucus crisis was an embarrassing twist after months of promoting Iowa as a chance for Democrats to find some clarity in a jumbled field. Instead, after a buildup that featured seven rounds of debates, nearly $1 billion spent nationwide and a year of political jockeying, caucus day ended with no winner, no official results and many fresh questions about whether Iowa can retain its coveted "first" status.
Iowa marked the first contest in a primary season that will span all 50 states and several U.S. territories, ending at the party’s national convention in July.
Before he left Iowa late Monday, Sanders said, "Today marks the beginning of the end for Donald Trump."
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For the first time, the Iowa Democratic Party reported three sets of results this year: a tally of caucusgoers’ initial candidate preference; vote totals from the "final alignment" after supporters of lower-ranking candidates were able to make a second choice, and the total number of State Delegate Equivalents each candidate received.
The Associated Press will declare a winner based on the number of state delegates each candidate wins, which has been the traditional standard.
Klobuchar, who represents Iowa neighbor Minnesota, was also in the early running, while outsider candidates including entrepreneur Andrew Yang, billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard lagged behind.
The state party told campaigns Tuesday the problem was a result of a "coding issue in the reporting system" that it said had since been fixed. It said it had verified the accuracy of the collected data and said the problem was not a result of "a hack or an intrusion."
Beyond 2020, Monday's debacle invited fresh criticism about Iowa caucuses, a complicated set of political meetings staged in a state that is whiter and older than the Democratic Party in general. Many questioned anew whether it was a quaint political tradition whose time had passed.