COUNCIL BLUFFS, IOWA — Hillary Clinton was officially declared the winner in the Iowa caucuses Tuesday afternoon, but not before Sen. Bernard Sanders outperformed expectations and reset the Democratic presidential primary, putting a serious dent in Mrs. Clinton’s aura of inevitability.
Mrs. Clinton held a slim lead of 49.8 percent of delegates awarded to Mr. Sanders’ 49.6 percent, with 100 percent of Iowa precincts reporting.
“The results tonight are the closest in Iowa Democratic caucus history. Hillary Clinton has been awarded 699.57 state delegate equivalents, Bernie Sanders has been awarded 695.49 state delegate equivalents, [Former Maryland Gov.] Martin O’Malley has been awarded 7.68 state delegate equivalents and uncommitted has been awarded .46 state delegate equivalents,” Andy McGuire, Iowa Democratic Party chairman, said in a statement Tuesday.
O’Malley came in a distant third with less than 1 percent of delegates, and announced he was suspending his campaign on the heels of a dismal showing.
For Mrs. Clinton, the close result renewed some of the sting of 2008, when she lost the state to then-Sen. Barack Obama, and went on to lose the nomination to him in a race that lasted through June.
She followed her 2008 loss here with a come-from-behind victory in New Hampshire, but that will be tougher to duplicate this year, with Mr. Sanders, who has represented neighboring Vermont in Washington for decades, holding a commanding lead in polling there.
SEE ALSO: Hillary Clinton picks up handful of delegates in Iowa via coin toss
Iowa awards its delegates proportionally at the precinct level, and the state party does not actually report vote totals for each candidate.
Speaking at her campaign headquarters in Des Moines, Mrs. Clinton said she was “breathing a big sigh of relief,” a hint at the crushing defeat she suffered here eight years ago. She also said she’s now looking forward to a one-on-one debate with Mr. Sanders.
“It is rare that we have the opportunity that we do now to have a real contest of ideas, to really think hard about what the Democratic party stands for and what we want the future of our country to look like if we do our part to build it,” she said. “I am honored to stand in the long line of American reformers who make up our minds that the status quo is not good enough, that standing still is not an option, and that brings people together to find ways that will improve the lives of Americans.”
Hillary for America’s Iowa State Director Matt Paul said in a Tuesday morning statement: “Hillary Clinton has won the Iowa Caucus. After thorough reporting — and analysis — of results, there is no uncertainty and Secretary Clinton has clearly won the most national and state delegates. Statistically, there is no outstanding information that could change the results and no way that Senator Sanders can overcome Secretary Clinton’s advantage.”
Calling the race a “virtual tie,” Mr. Sanders said he succeeded by battling the juggernaut Clinton campaign to a razor-thin finish in Iowa and hit the anti-establishment notes that have made him the darling of liberals.
“Nine months ago, we came to this beautiful state. We had no political organization, we had no money, we had no name recognition, and we were taking on the most powerful organization in the United States of America,” he said in a speech at his campaign headquarters, delivered just after Mrs. Clinton left the stage.
SEE ALSO: Bernie Sanders says Iowa gives campaign a kick-start
“I think the people have sent a very profound message to the political establishment, and to the economic establishment, and by the way, to the media establishment,” he continued. “That is, given the enormous crises facing our country, it is just too late for establishment politics and establishment economics.”
Mrs. Clinton has clung to President Obama during this campaign on a host of issues from foreign policy to health care to gun control. Many Iowa Democrats approved of that strategy and said they weren’t ready for the lurch even further to the left that Mr. Sanders would represent.
Some seemed to buy into Mrs. Clinton’s claim that Mr. Sanders’ policy proposals — especially his $1.38 trillion-per-year universal health care plan — would result in tax increases on the middle class.
“I just like her, and I don’t like Bernie Sanders. He’s going to raise taxes — he’s said so, ‘I’m going to raise taxes’ — and who’s going to pay for it? We are,” said Mike Regan, caucusing in Council Bluffs, on the western side of the state. “Unless he can get Trump to pay for it.”
Entrance polls found Mrs. Clinton with a slight lead over Mr. Sanders among female voters, 53 percent to 43 percent, with Mr. Sanders winning among male voters by the exact same margin, according to entrance polls from The Wall Street Journal.
Polling also gave Mrs. Clinton the edge among older voters. She won 68 percent of voters over 65, compared to 26 percent for Mr. Sanders. By contrast, Mr. Sanders dominated among younger voters, capturing 84 percent of voters ages 17 to 29, compared to just 13 percent for the former secretary of state.
Nearly three in five Democrats said they wanted to continue Mr. Obama’s policies, and Mrs. Clinton overwhelmingly won those voters. Those who wanted a more liberal direction, meanwhile, went to Mr. Sanders.
Fred Turnbaugh, wearing a Navy ball cap and a “Give ‘em Hell, Bernie” lapel pin on his jeans jacket while caucusing at Franklin Elementary School in Council Bluffs, said he appreciated the Vermont senator’s allegiance to blue-collar workers.
“I’ve always liked the way he’s pro-worker and takes care of the middle class,” Mr. Turnbaugh said.
His wife Diana Turnbaugh also swung for Mr. Sanders, but said she would also support Mrs. Clinton if she wins the nomination.
“If it’s a big landslide, I don’t have a problem with her either,” Ms. Turnbaugh said.
She said she’s looking for Mr. Sanders to improve Medicare. “I’m on Medicare, and the Obamacare insurance just ruined me.”
Other caucusgoers said they appreciated Mrs. Clinton’s position on social issues such as same-sex marriage.
Alisha Delsignore called the former secretary of state “very solid.”
“I have gay parents, so I like her position on those issues,” said Ms. Delsignore. “Plus she’s a woman.”
Her husband Nick Delsignore also backed Mrs. Clinton, in part because he worried about what he described as Mr. Sanders’ lack of experience.
“Some of his positions just aren’t as laid out,” said Mr. Delsignore, who wore a Sanders T-shirt.
While some voters have misgivings about Mr. Sanders, his performance thus far has been impressive, and he’s survived while other Democratic candidates have fallen by the wayside.
The Democratic field started with five candidates, but former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee dropped out soon after the first debate, in which they both turned in lackluster performances.
Despite low poll numbers throughout the race, Mr. O’Malley persevered through the Iowa caucuses. The former Maryland governor had tried to position himself as the progressive alternative to Mrs. Clinton, but liberal voters clearly favored Mr. Sanders.
Though he never gained traction, Mr. O’Malley said his performance in the primary process was beneficial both for himself and for the Democratic party.
“Together we all stood up for working people, for new Americans, for the future of the earth and the safety of our children. We put these issues at the front of our party’s agenda — these are the issues that serve the best interests of our nation,” he said in a statement. “The road has been long, but our course has been true. A great many people have put their time and talents into my campaign and I thank each of you from the bottom of my heart. Whoever our nominee is, we must all hold strong, together.”
Moving forward, Mr. Sanders appears poised for a major win next week in New Hampshire.
Mr. Sanders is crushing Mrs. Clinton in the polls in New Hampshire, with a University of Massachusetts Lowell/7 News poll released Monday giving him the support of 61 percent of Democratic voters, while Mrs. Clinton pulled in just 30 percent.
Like Mr. Obama in 2008, Mr. Sanders has energized young Democrats, especially those who identify as progressives. Polls show young voters overwhelmingly back the Vermont senator, while Mrs. Clinton holds a commanding lead among older voters.
But there also are deeper problems for Mrs. Clinton and her quest for the Democratic nomination. Surveys consistently have shown that Democrats consider Mr. Sanders much more honest and trustworthy than Mrs. Clinton.
The perception of dishonesty — which the Clinton campaign has been unable to shake — has grown amid revelations classified information passed through the private email account Mrs. Clinton used while secretary of state.
Mrs. Clinton has tried to curry favor among Democrats by positioning herself as the heir apparent to Mr. Obama. She’s praised the president’s actions on financial regulation, foreign policy and health care, all while trying to position Mr. Sanders as a candidate willing to tear apart pieces of Mr. Obama’s legacy.
Mrs. Clinton has said such an approach is a mistake and would undo all the progress made in the years since the Affordable Care Act — Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement — became law.
Mr. Sanders has shot back against those attacks and argues his plan would build on Obamacare, not destroy it.