Regardless of the final vote tally in the Iowa caucus, Bernie Sanders won on Monday night. Nine months ago, when the septuagenarian Senator announced his candidacy, he was polling right around four percent nationally. It appeared as if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would merely ascend the throne to the Democratic nomination, and that there was no one with any hope of stopping her. As of Monday night, that is no longer the case.
Over the summer, momentum began to build for Sanders. He drew a crowd of over 10,000 in Madison, Wisconsin. Soon after that, he drew somewhere between 20,000 and 27,000 to a rally in Portland, Oregon, and just around the same number at a rally in Los Angeles, California. The large crowds were dismissed, and Sanders was belittled as a fringe candidate, one doomed to popularity on college campuses and among retirees, but without any mainappeal.
However, he never stopped campaigning. His populist message never wavered, and were it not for the media circus which is the candidacy of Donald Trump, Sanders would be the story of the 2016 Presidential Election cycle. The self-proclaimed democratic socialist has drawn in campaign donations from three and a half million people, and continued to see his poll numbers rise.
He overtook Secretary Clinton in New Hampshire. He pulled ever closer in national polling, and chipped away at the Secretary’s lead in the Hawkeye State. Then, several weeks ago, a New York Times/CBS News poll found that the longtime Congressional Independent had pulled within seven points nationally of the presumptive nominee. Suddenly, the Sanders campaign had that one essential part of a successful campaign: momentum which cannot be ignored.
A stellar debate performance quickly followed, and so did an Iowa poll which found the universal health care proponent leading the woman he’d once trailed there by 40 points. However, he still found himself belittled at every turn. "He doesn’t have a prayer of winning, young people never show up to caucus." "Sure, polls are great and all, but they don’t always pan out on caucus day." All of those people then found themselves proven wrong on Caucus Day.
All day long, the candidates found themselves making last ditch efforts to make sure those die-hard Democratic supporters would be making their voice known for the candidate they wanted. Sanders worked hard to get out the caucus, as did Clinton and unfortunate afterthought Martin O’Malley. Finally, voters showed up at the caucus sites. Entrance polls were hurriedly conducted, and it appeared that the Secretary had a slim lead. Still, caucus sites reported high turnouts, which could only favor the democratic socialist. It would all come down to how many delegates each candidate would wind up with.
Early polling showed that Clinton had a narrow advantage, but as more and more caucus sites, specifically those in college towns, began to report, Sanders chipped away at the lead. Political pundits scratched their heads, attempting to figure out who, if anyone, had actually won. At first it seemed that the Secretary would eek it out. Then, it seemed as though the Senator might just pull level. Finally, they all seemed to decide that only thing they could agree on was that the end result was too close to call.
NBC reported that Clinton would claim victory, before quickly reporting that Sanders would as well. The Secretary took the stage, and claimed neither victory or defeat. Sanders soon took the stage, and proclaimed the end caucus result as a near tie. People went to bed literally not knowing who won, but secure in the knowledge that the two candidates would split the eventual delegates.
At the end of the day, who won the state of Iowa will not play a massive role in determining the ultimate winner of the Democratic nomination. Yes, the Hawkeye state has a terrific record when it comes to picking the ultimate nominee on this side of the aisle, but in the end the winner of the nation’s first caucus isn’t the end all be all. However, Monday night established that Sanders is viable, and is around to stay.
It showed that he is more than a mere fringe candidate, and will not allow a Clinton coronation. With New Hampshire and South Carolina just around the corner, this is a race which is far from over and will continue to dominate the headlines for the weeks to come. It seems hard to pick a loser from Monday’s caucus given the result, but it seems clear that Sanders is the winner. The first in the nation moniker which Iowa carries allows the state to bestow momentum on whichever candidate they so choose. Regardless of the fact that Clinton wound up winning Iowa’s final count, Sanders has picked up more of that magic “m-word.”
More and more young people will be energized by his populist message, and the democratic socialist, who out fundraised all Republican candidates in the last quarter, will be perfectly positioned to continue to receive donations. He should find himself in a better position to bring in volunteers, and look to continue to build a nationwide infrastructure and campaign machine.
Yet, this is in no way meant to say that Clinton is not still the favorite, because she is. It will still take an awful, awful lot for the former First Lady to lose out to the Senator. She holds a giant lead amongst minority voters, and will likely win South Carolina by a considerable margin. Sanders will need to pick up a result in Nevada, and have a strong showing on Super Tuesday.
The idea that Sanders could defeat Clinton still feels farfetched, but it now feels entirely possible. This will be a far longer race than anyone predicted back at the beginning, and the result Monday night confirms that. America must strap itself in for a long, wild ride-this is no coronation. Regardless of who voters support, this race is going to be quite something to watch. Let’s enjoy it.