DES MOINES, Iowa – Iowa Democrats are recovering from a number of disappointments after Monday's Iowa caucuses, though one has received less attention than the others.
About 176,000 Iowans attended their precinct caucuses, a slight uptick from 2016 but fewer than expected.
The number is certain to rattle Democrats who are banking on high turnout in battlegrounds across the country to win in November. And it raises doubts about whether Iowa is winnable by Democrats, after a recent shift toward Republicans.
The number was perhaps most disappointing to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose strategy in the primary and the general election hinges on bringing out young and infrequent voters. Asked about the turnout at a debate Friday night, Sanders acknowledged it was off the mark.
“That's a disappointment and I think all of us probably could have done a better job of bringing out our supporters,” he said.
The parade of candidates, a Democratic base seething to unseat President Donald Trump and high participation in 2018 midterms had party insiders braced for a turnout could match or top the contest's high-water mark.
But Monday came nowhere near the 2008 caucuses, when roughly 238,000 Iowans participated in the kickoff clash among Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, onetime Iowa favorite John Edwards and a handful of others. The 2020 caucuses did draw 5,000 more than 2016, when Clinton very narrowly beat Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but went on to lose to Donald Trump.
“It was lower than I expected,” said former Iowa Democratic Party executive director Norm Sterzenbach, who has been advising Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar's campaign. “It was definitely lower than what the conventional wisdom was.”