A mock caucus among Iowa students was held this week and produced some rather surprising results. How much that matters is a matter of significant disagreement among the three Democratic campaigns.
Before going further, a few things should be noted: The event, organized by the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, involved middle school and high school students, the majority of whom won’t be old enough to participate in Iowa’s actual first-in-the-nation caucuses on Feb. 1.
Furthermore, only 984 students participated on the Democratic side. And those students represented only 22 of the state’s 99 counties.
That said, here are the results: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) prevailed, with nearly 53 percent support. In second place was former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, with 24 percent. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner in the real race, got about 15 percent.
Clinton’s campaign declined to comment on Friday. Sanders — who has been drawing sizable numbers of young people to his rallies — drew attention to the results on social media Thursday night soon after they became available.
Meanwhile, O’Malley’s campaign — which has been running a distant third in Iowa polling — could not stop talking about the outcome.
Bill Hyers, a senior strategist for O’Malley, issued a statement Thursday night, in which he mocked Clinton’s status as the “inevitable” nominee and said: “Tonight’s results prove one thing: Iowans are looking for new leadership, and many are finding it in Martin O’Malley.”
That was followed Friday by a widely circulated memo to to “interested parties” from Jake Oeth, O’Malley’s Iowa director, regarding “O’Malley’s Strong Showing In Iowa Youth Caucus.”
“We're confident in the organization we've built, and last night was proof that infrastructure combined with Governor O’Malley’s dedication to retail politics is paying off,” Oeth argued.
“Senator Sanders’ showing isn’t a surprise,” Oeth said. “But the results are a canary in the coal mine for Secretary Clinton.”
Robert Becker, Sanders's Iowa director, said in a later e-mail to The Washington Post that his team saw the youth event as an opportunity to sign up eligible caucus-goers to back Sanders on Feb. 1.
"There is no doubt that the tremendous enthusiasm young voters have for Bernie Sanders will play a key role in our success," Becker said.
On the Republican side, the field was led by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who received about 22 percent support. He was followed by real estate mogul Donald Trump, with more than 15 percent; Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), with nearly 15 percent; and and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), with 14 percent.
Staff writer Anne Gearan contributed to this report.