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Some Iowa Caucuses Results Have Been Released — What They Mean So Far


After nearly a day-long delay, results are finally coming in from the Iowa caucuses. So far, Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders are in a tight race for first, with nearly two-thirds of precincts in the state reporting. The results didn't come in last night because of major reporting problems with the new smartphone app.

NPR's senior political correspondent Domenico Montanaro joins us from Iowa with more.

And, Domenico, let's just start with the results. What do we know at this point?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, at this point, with 62% of the results in, it's a close race at the top between Pete Buttigieg, the former South Bend, Ind., mayor, and Bernie Sanders, the Vermont progressive senator. Buttigieg has about 27% of the estimated delegates with Sanders second, right behind him at 25% and still a lot of the vote out in some of the more populated areas around Des Moines. Senator Elizabeth Warren is further behind in third with 18%. Former Vice President Joe Biden trails Warren in fourth at 16%. And on Biden's heels, interestingly - Amy Klobuchar, the senator from Minnesota, with 13% in fifth place. And she was somebody who was on the tips of tongues of a lot of people I talked to there. And you have to realize when you add all of those together, the sort of moderates in the race get about 56% of the vote while the two progressives get about 43%.

CORNISH: What is the significance of all this for someone like Joe Biden?

MONTANARO: You know, for Biden, this is not a good result. I mean, finishing fourth is not where he wanted to be. He's been somebody who's been at the top or near the top of the polls the entire time in Iowa. He would have liked to have, you know, a win or a strong second or even a very close third. To be fourth and to have someone on your heels who - a lot of people on the ground in Iowa, when I was talking to them, said they were open to Biden. They thought they might end up with Biden. But they said, you know, they're leaning toward close Klobuchar. If Klobuchar didn't make the 15% threshold in Iowa to get enough delegates, then maybe they'd go to Biden. And then they wound up seeing Pete Buttigieg. They'd go to his events, and they said, you know what? I like that guy. He makes a good message. I'm going to go with him. And they followed their heart, and they - you know, they really questioned Biden's energy and the kind of campaign he's running in the state.

CORNISH: I want to ask about Bernie Sanders. He's speaking this evening in New Hampshire. What could these early results mean for his candidacy?

MONTANARO: You know, this is huge for Bernie Sanders. I think if you are one person who you want to be right now, you'd want to be Bernie Sanders. I mean, sure, he's not in first place in this, but he's essentially right there - did very well overall. His base is very strong and behind him. And, you know, if we're looking at this as a contest of two different brackets of the party - the moderates versus the progressives - you know, Pete Buttigieg came out on top over Biden here. But Biden has this firewall of African Americans in South Carolina. That's going to raise the stakes a lot for him there. But Sanders here, one-on-one, head-to-head with Elizabeth Warren - clearly beat her out. And if he's able to do that again in New Hampshire, he's going to have that lane all to himself.

CORNISH: Finally, I want to ask you about the Iowa caucuses themselves because they've already been criticized for being too complicated, inaccessible, not representative...


CORNISH: ...Of the country. Does this at all lead to a potential rethink, actual action about the Iowa caucuses by the party?

MONTANARO: Absolutely. This has been a thing that's been bubbling for years. Not only is it not representative of the country, being more than 90% white, it's certainly not representative of the party. That's why you've seen states like Nevada and South Carolina moved up because South Carolina is majority African American in the Democratic primary, and Nevada has a significant chunk of Latinos. So they tried to diversify the first four, but it's really not good enough, at this point, for a lot of activists. And then to have a debacle like last night with a process that's having the light shined on it - and the sausage-making never looks good when you're looking under the hood for something that is so complicated. There is going to be a huge discussion within the Democratic Party. Before 2024, I think we're going to see some big changes.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro.

Thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're so welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.