Once every four years the Iowa caucuses direct an insane amount of political and media attention to the small Midwestern state; however, there remains some confusion about why Iowa and what even is a “caucus” anyways? With the 2020 primary season in full swing, keep reading to learn more about the now-infamous Iowa caucuses, the difference between a caucus and a regular primary vote, and so much more.
The Iowa caucuses
We all saw the multiple news stories last week about the tech malfunction in the Iowa caucuses that led first to a delay in results and eventually to calls for a total or partial recanvass. But before we go any further, let’s take a quick civics lesson to learn what a caucus is and why this event is such a big deal.
The Iowa caucuses not only mark the start of the primary election race, but also provide massive momentum to whichever candidate takes home the most delegates. The caucus operates differently than a regular primary and is a somewhat old-school system used by the Iowa Democratic party (IDP). Instead of sending voters into polling booths to fill out their ballots, registered Democratic voters meet at one of 1,678 precincts across the state and cast a vote by standing in the designated group for their chosen nominee. When the final vote counts are tallied, candidates are awarded a certain number of Iowa’s 41 state delegates ahead of the 2020 Democratic National Convention in July. Republicans, on the other hand, simply cast a ballot to indicate support for the candidate of their choosing. (Still wondering why Iowa goes first? Apparently it all started with a fight.)
Monday’s caucuses turned out a little differently than expected for some. While Pres. Donald Trump locked in the GOP nomination over his two lesser-known primary opponents, the Democratic party had a harder time calling a winner. Democratic precincts used an app developed by political tech firm Shadow to report voting results, but thanks to a coding issue the IDP had to “manually verify” all precinct results. The lack of clarity left presidential campaigns in limbo until Sunday when the IDP officially allocated delegates based on the results of last week’s caucuses. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg walked away with 14 delegates, and Sen. Bernie Sanders came in a close second with 12. The two candidates had previously been neck and neck as results trickled in. Sanders was originally projected to take the most delegates in early polls, and declared himself the winner late last week. Since then both Sanders’ and Buttigieg’s campaigns have requested a partial recanvass of various precinct results.
Who’s up next?
As the Iowa caucus confusion continues to play out more than a week later, voters in New Hampshire will take to the voting booths today to cast ballots in their respective primaries. Early polling indicates that Sanders has taken the lead over Buttigieg among New Hampshire voters after the two candidates remained in a near-tie since last week. Three polling locations kicked off voting at midnight and exits polls show Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg— who is not even on the ballot in the state– securing some early support.
Like the Iowa caucuses, today’s New Hampshire primary is significant in that it will provide momentum to the leading candidate, who will likely see a bounce in polling, media coverage and fundraising as a result. Polls across the state are expected to close at or after 7 p.m. and New Hampshire has assured the public that it will not experience the same chaos we saw in Iowa. After today’s primary the race heads to Nevada and South Carolina– the last two early states before Super Tuesday on March 3.
What about N.C.?
North Carolina is one of 15 states and U.S. territories that will send its primary voters to the polls on Super Tuesday. With 32.5 percent of delegates up for grabs, this major primary date is a big deal for presidential campaigns and a divergence from the early primary dates. Now less than a month away, Super Tuesday has already sparked aggressive ad buys on behalf of Mike Bloomberg’s campaign, which also plans to “have conversations with 10 million voters before Super Tuesday.” Other candidates have focused dollars more on early primary states, and those with low performances in Iowa have since been scrambling to strategically redirect resources.
North Carolina has 110 delegates up for grabs on the March 3 primary, which explains why it’s been a target state for some Democratic presidential candidates. With early voting set to begin Thursday both Mike Bloomberg’s and Sen. Sanders’ campaigns have announced visits to the state this week. Many other candidates for office have been canvassing the state as well. In addition to the Democratic presidential race, N.C. will see a number of other primary battles play out on Super Tuesday. There are large candidate pools in both the Democratic and Republican primary fields for Lieutenant Governor, and several Democratic candidates will face off in the primary for incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis’ seat. To learn more about statewide and local races that affect you, check out this comprehensive list candidates in all North Carolina primary races.
To wrap up…
Ultimately, Democratic presidential candidates need 1,991 delegates to secure their nomination on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention, which will take place July 13-16 in Milwaukee. Pres. Donald Trump will likely secure the GOP nomination at the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Aug. 24-27. The eventual presidential nominees from each party will face off in the general election on Nov. 3, as will nominees in many other important races across the state and country.