The dust has finally settled on the Democratic caucus in Iowa and Hillary Clinton has eked out a victory by the slimmest of margins.
RealClearPolitics has Clinton with 49.9 percent of the vote, while her only remaining opponent Bernie Sanders got 49.6 percent of the vote.
Of course, this isn’t a raw tally of the popular vote like the Republicans numbers are. These are actually numbers of state delegate equivalents (SDEs) who are committed to Clinton and Sanders.
Clinton has 701 SDEs which counts as 22 delegates at the national convention next summer, while Sanders has 697 SDEs for 21 national delegates, with one additional national delegate unaccounted for. Martin O’Malley, who suspended his campaign last night, gathered eight SDEs who will be free to switch to another candidate and will decide who gets the final national delegate.
Several news organizations including The New York Times have declared the virtual tie a victory for the former Secretary of State.
However, this seems far from the coronation that seemed to await Clinton a year ago. Her early fundraising efforts and name recognition made her the prohibitive favorite after losing the nomination to Barack Obama in 2008.
It looked like 2016 was her turn.
In June of last year, Clinton was polling 50 points higher than the self-described socialist Vermont senator in Iowa. That lead shrunk to nil in early September as she battled through her email scandal, but she rebounded after impressing voters during an 11-hour marathon hearing in front of the House Select Committee on Benghazi and gaining supporters of Vice President Joe Biden after he announced he wouldn’t join the race.
On the other hand, Sanders has been steadily increasing in popularity as he outlined his self-described socialist agenda. In an election cycle where Republican candidate Donald Trump has taken up most of the media oxygen, Sanders has been Trump’s counterpoint. He has been raising record numbers of individual campaign contributions while speaking across the country to huge crowds.
The 74-year-old Sanders seems to have especially captured the attention of young voters, many of whom weren’t even born when he was first elected to Congress in 1990. His large crowds rivaled that of GOP frontrunner Trump, but didn’t garner the same media attention.
Trump and Sanders share a similar outrage candidacy, but Sanders has real government experience. While Sanders’ bravado allowed him to overperform in Iowa, Trump’s seems to have helped him fall to second place behind Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
Conventional wisdom even a month ago had Clinton winning Iowa handily, but losing to Sanders in his neighboring state New Hampshire, then winning big in South Carolina to quash any doubt of her presumptive nominee status.
Throughout the campaign, questions about the electability of a democratic socialist who isn’t even registered with the party he’s seeking the nomination from have persisted. While Iowa Democrats have a highly unconventional system of choosing their winner, their caucus seems to show that Sanders has a shot.
Recent polling has Sanders leading in New Hampshire by 18 percent and Clinton leading in South Carolina by nearly 30 percent. So, conventional wisdom may still win out.
However, that doesn’t mean that Sanders’ campaign was in vain. His candidacy has made Clinton take up a more progressive agenda than she may not have otherwise taken. By offering a significant challenge, he has arguably made her a sharper candidate ready to take on the Republican nominee this fall.