By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) – Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders were in a near-dead heat Tuesday after delayed and incomplete Iowa caucus results showed them holding an early lead with 62% of precincts reporting.
The partial data, released nearly 24 hours after voting began, shows Buttigieg and Sanders separated by less than two percentage points followed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden, both of whom trail considerably behind the front-runners.
Most surprising is Biden's performance. He had led the Democratic pack in national polling and was neck-and-neck with Sanders in Iowa going into Monday night's caucus before falling well behind the other top-tier candidates.
But with over one-third of precincts yet to be counted, the contest could easily shift in any candidate's favor.
Party Chairman Troy Price did not say when the remaining results would be announced, despite being asked multiple times during a news conference, leaving the door open to a potentially drawn-out process.
The Iowa Democratic Party will not publish the final national convention delegate totals each candidate will win until the final results have been determined. It is that metric that is used to determine the caucus winner ahead of July's Democratic National Convention.
Official results have been repeatedly delayed after what Iowa Democratic Party officials say was a coding error that led to erroneous tabulations prompting a manual count of the caucus tallies.
The party has denied the technical glitches were the result of a "hack or an intrusion."
Iowa has 41 delegates at stake, a small portion of the 1,991 delegates Democratic candidates need to secure the party's nomination in a series of state races ahead of the nominating convention. But Iowa's significance does not lie in its comparative handful of delegates.
For candidates, Iowa is about setting the narrative heading into the primary season and using that to build momentum in successive races.
That is critical as seven of the last nine candidates to win Iowa have gone on to secure the Democratic nomination, including the last four going back to former Vice President Al Gore, who won in 2000 but lost nationally to President George W. Bush.
Sanders lost Iowa to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by a little more than 0.2% in 2016.