Bernie Sanders needed big wins in Iowa and New Hampshire to have any shot at the Democratic nomination. He did not get one in Iowa last night. Hillary Clinton edged him out ever so slightly - a result Bernie's supporters are busy calling a "moral victory" and "virtual tie" - but only a tie in what they call "state delegate equivalents".
You see, the numbers reported in the Democratic caucuses are how many delegates to the state convention (which elects the delegates to the national convention) each candidate would get provided that their precinct delegates all vote the way they are supposed to. As of last count, the neck-and-neck race stood at Clinton 701, Sanders 697. The New York Times deduced from that that Clinton would get 23 DNC delegates, Sanders 21. The Democratic caucuses do not report the actual vote count.
Curiously, despite sending out an email last night claiming to have accomplished "the impossible", the Sanders campaign does not feel good about the Iowa results - because, as I said in the opening, they really needed a victory, not a draw and certainly not a small loss. The campaign has now gone after the Iowa Democratic party and may be seeking a recount.
Sanders may want to be careful what he wishes for. If we do get the raw vote totals, Sanders' narrow defeat may start to look slightly wider.
How can we say this? By looking at the entrance polls, which turned out to be deadly accurate in the Republican race. The Iowa GOP caucuses do report actual vote totals, and as of this writing, Ted Cruz stands at 26.7% to Donald Trump's 24.3% and Marco Rubio's 23.1%. That's a 2.4% margin over Trump and 3.6% margin over Rubio for Cruz.
Let's see how the entrance polls panned out. A quick calculation using the New York Times entrance poll would put Ted Cruz at 28%, Trump at 24.5%, and Rubio at 23%. Deadly close, and if anything, it underestimated the top candidate's vote totals by a point while nailing everyone else's.
What happens when you apply that to the Democratic caucuses? According to the Times entrance poll for Democrats, Clinton went in with 49.1% of the vote, and Sanders 45.4%. Adjust for a 1.3-point underestimate for the winner, and Bernie looks to have been beaten by 5 points. Even if we don't adjust for the underestimation in the winner's vote percentage, a near 4-point defeat is not going to sound as good as a "virtual tie." Certainly not as much bern to feel.
So why is the Sanders campaign already posturing about this? It's the only way he can make his loss look like some establishment conspiracy. Because let's face it, the numbers won't do it.
But Bernie needs it. Badly. As I reiterated, Bernie needed big wins in both Iowa and New Hampshire. That is his only avenue to even hope to build enough momentum for the steamroll his campaign has to hope for when the primaries move to states that are ... let's say... less prone to whitesplaining. He desperately needs to create the illusion of momentum before his devastating record on guns and immigration becomes an issue in states with more voters of color.
I'm afraid that's just not in the cards.