Democratic party officials in Iowa worked furiously to deliver the delayed results of their first-in-the-nation caucus, as frustrated presidential candidates claimed momentum and ploughed ahead in their quest for the White House.
In a statement early on Tuesday, the Iowa Democratic Party blamed the delay on a “coding issue in the reporting system” that it said has since been fixed.
The problem kept party officials from releasing results from Monday’s caucus, the much-hyped kickoff to the 2020 primary.
It was an embarrassing twist after months of promoting the contest as a chance for Democrats to find some clarity in a jumbled field with no clear front-runner.
Instead, caucus day ended with no winner, no official results and many fresh questions about whether Iowa can retain its coveted “first” status.
State party officials said final results would be released later Tuesday and offered assurances that the problem was not a result of a “hack or an intrusion”.
Officials were conducting quality checks and verifying results, prioritising the integrity of the results, the party said in a statement.
The statement came after tens of thousands of voters spent hours Monday night sorting through a field of nearly a dozen candidates who had spent much of the previous year fighting to win the opening contest of the 2020 campaign and, ultimately, the opportunity to take on President Donald Trump this autumn.
The candidates did not wait for the party to resolve its issues before claiming, if not victory, progress and moving on to next-up New Hampshire.
“It looks like it’s going to be a long night, but we’re feeling good,” former Vice President Joe Biden said, suggesting the final results would “be close”.
Senator Bernie Sanders said he had “a good feeling we’re going to be doing very, very well here in Iowa” once results were posted.
“Today marks the beginning of the end for Donald Trump,” he predicted.
“Listen, it’s too close to call,” Senator Elizabeth Warren said.
“The road won’t be easy. But we are built for the long haul.”
And Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was most certain.
“So we don’t know all the results, but we know by the time it’s all said and done, Iowa, you have shocked the nation,” he said.
Big WIN for us in Iowa tonight. Thank you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 4, 2020
“By all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.”
Democrats faced the possibility that whatever numbers they ultimately released would be questioned.
And beyond 2020, critics began wondering aloud whether the Iowa caucuses, a complicated set of political meetings staged in a state that is whiter and older than the Democratic Party, are a tradition whose time had past.
The party has tried to accommodate critics, this year by promising to report three different data points about voters’ preferences, presumably improving transparency.
But the new system created new headaches.
State party spokeswoman Mandy McClure said it had “found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results”, forcing officials to try to verify results with “underlying data” and the paper trail.
Some of the trouble stemmed from issues with a new mobile app developed to report results to the party.
Caucus organisers reported problems downloading the app and other glitches.
Des Moines County Democratic chair Tom Courtney said the new app created “a mess”.
As a result, Courtney said precinct leaders were phoning in results to the state party headquarters, which was too busy to answer their calls in some cases.
Organisers were still looking for missing results several hours after voting concluded.
Shortly before 2am, the state party was making plans to dispatch people to the homes of precinct captains who had not reported their numbers.
That was according to a state party official in the room who was not authorised to share internal discussions publicly.
Earlier in the night, Iowa Democrats across the state cast their votes, balancing a strong preference for fundamental change with an overwhelming desire to defeat Mr Trump.
The Democrat Caucus is an unmitigated disaster. Nothing works, just like they ran the Country. Remember the 5 Billion Dollar Obamacare Website, that should have cost 2% of that. The only person that can claim a very big victory in Iowa last night is âTrumpâ.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 4, 2020
At least four high-profile candidates vied for the lead in a contest that offered the opening test of who and what the party stands for in the turbulent age of Mr Trump.
It is just the first in a primary season that will span all 50 states and several US territories, ending at the party’s national convention in mid-July.
For Democrats, the moment was thick with promise for a party that has seized major gains in states since Mr Trump won the White House in 2016.
But instead of clear optimism, a growing cloud of uncertainty and intraparty resentment hung over the election as the prospect of an unclear result raised fears of a long and divisive primary fight in the months ahead.
One unsurprising development: Mr Trump won the Republican caucus, a largely symbolic victory given that he faced no significant opposition.
The president eagerly seized on the Democrats’ problems.
“The Democrat Caucus is an unmitigated disaster,” Mr Trump tweeted.
“Nothing works, just like they ran the Country.”
He added: “The only person that can claim a very big victory in Iowa last night is ‘Trump.’”
Pre-caucus polls suggested Mr Sanders entered the night with a narrow lead, but any of the top four candidates — Mr Sanders, Mr Biden, Ms Warren and Mr Buttigieg — was positioned to score a victory.
America needs a candidate who can beat Donald Trump.— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) February 3, 2020
In my last race, I flipped 42 counties blue that Trump won in 2016.
I'm ready to take him on and unite our country. pic.twitter.com/zPAYBNSrI3
Senator Amy Klobuchar, who represents neighbouring Minnesota, was also claiming momentum, while outsider candidates including entrepreneur Andrew Yang, billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard could be factors.
“We know one thing: We are punching above our weight,” Ms Klobuchar said late on Monday, promising to keep fighting in New Hampshire.
New voters played a significant role in shaping Iowa’s election.
Meanwhile, ultrabillionaire Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is running a parallel campaign that ignored Iowa as he prepares to pounce on any perceived weaknesses in the field come March.