Des Moines (Iowa): Iowa Democrats met at caucus sites around the state on Monday to kick-off what could be a bruising months-long national presidential nominating fight, but the results were delayed and still unreported more than three hours after the process began.
Voters poured into more than 1,600 schools, community centers and other public locations to begin to choose a November election challenger to Republican US President Donald Trump.
But the Iowa state party said it was doing "quality checks" on the results, and a state party source said a new mobile app designed to report the vote failed, forcing precinct chairs to call in the results and slowing the count.
Iowa voters were meeting to render judgment on a field of 11 Democratic contenders led by front-runners Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Vice President Joe Biden, who have battled for the top in recent Iowa opinion polls.
Long lines and heavy crowds were reported in some locations, but doors to the caucus sites closed and the process began at 7 p.m. (0100 GMT on Tuesday). "What we know right now is that around 25% of precincts have reported, and early data indicates turnout is on pace for 2016," Mandy McClure, the communications director of Iowa Democratic Party, said in a statement.
Mostly white, rural Iowa is the first test in the state-by-state battle to pick a Democratic nominee to face Trump in the November 3 election. After more than a year of campaigning and more than $800 million in spending, the results in Iowa will begin to provide answers for a party desperately trying to figure out how to beat the businessman-turned-president.
Voters are pondering whether to back someone with appeal to independents and disaffected Republicans, like moderates Biden, Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Senator Amy Klobuchar of neighboring Minnesota, or someone who energizes the party's liberal base and brings out new voters, like progressives Sanders and fellow Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
At the caucus sites, voters gathered in groups by candidate preference in a public display of support. If a candidate did not reach a threshold of support of 15% of voters, the total needed to be considered viable, that candidates' supporters were released to back another contender, leading to a further round of persuasion.
"We need a candidate who can bring our party together," Warren told a caucus at a high school in Des Moines. "We need all our Democrats united. Most of all, you need someone who’s going to inspire people: Democrats, independents and Republicans."
Even if one candidate wins by a commanding margin in Iowa, Democrats may still lack clear answers as the race moves on to the other three early voting states of New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina later in February.
Whoever remains in the race by Super Tuesday on March 3, when 15 states and territories vote, will also confront billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is skipping the early states in favor of focusing on states rich in delegates to the Democratic National Convention in July.
Warren and Buttigieg remain within striking distance, and many polls show a big bloc of undecided Iowa voters, creating the potential for upsets and late surges.
Iowa state party officials are expecting a record turnout, exceeding the nearly 240,000 voters who attended the caucuses in 2008 amid the excitement over Barack Obama's first presidential candidacy.
Beating Trump was the prime consideration for voters as they entered the caucus, according to a poll of 1,512 Iowa Democrats conducted by the National Election Pool, with 62% saying they want someone who can beat Trump and 36% wanting a nominee who agrees with them on major issues.
The entrance poll also found 57% backed a government-run healthcare plan similar to the Medicare for All proposals of Sanders and Warren, a potentially good sign for them. During final rallies across the state, all the contenders made their cases for why they would be the best choice to beat Trump.