“When 6,000 more people come out for you in an election than your nearest opponent, we here in northern New England call that a victory,” Sanders (I-Vt.) said at his state headquarters in New Hampshire, where he is campaigning ahead of Tuesday’s primary.
But the outcome of Monday’s caucuses remains fluid. Shortly before Sanders spoke, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez called on the Iowa Democratic Party to “recanvass” the results, decrying the ongoing confusion by saying, “Enough is enough.”
Sanders condemned the Iowa party for what he said was an overly complex caucus process but said it is clear from what is now known that he triumphed. “What I want to do today, three days late, is to thank the people of Iowa for the very strong victory they gave us at the Iowa caucuses on Monday night,” he said.
But it is unclear whether other campaigns will accept that conclusion. It was the first time Sanders had explicitly described the results as a victory, and the partial results show a tight race between him and former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg.
On Monday night, before any results had been released, Buttigieg gave a speech saying his campaign had been “victorious” in Iowa.
While Sanders cited the popular-vote totals in claiming a win, Buttigieg on Monday did not specify why he was declaring a victory, simply saying then, “Iowa, you have shocked the nation, because by all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.”
Preliminary results as of Thursday morning showed Buttigieg with a razor-thin lead in the number of delegates the caucuses are likely to yield to the state Democratic convention — a calculation that Sanders pointedly dismissed Thursday, although it has often been used to declare a winner in the past.
Sanders’s declaration was unlikely to put an end to the muddle that has surrounded the caucus outcome since late Monday, when the Iowa Democratic Party announced the results would be delayed. That forced the candidates to move on to New Hampshire with confusion continuing to surround the shape of the race and the position of the candidates unclear.
But as most of the results have been released in batches over the past three days, they have suggested strong performances by Sanders and Buttigieg, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former vice president Joe Biden in third and fourth.
With 97 percent of precincts reporting Thursday, Buttigieg had a slight edge over Sanders in the state delegate calculation, 26.2 percent to 26.1 percent. Warren was in third with 18.2 percent, followed by Biden at 15.8 percent and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) at 12.2 percent.
In the raw vote totals, however, Sanders led, in the initial round and after a “realignment” on caucus night when candidates with less support were dropped out of the process.
Sanders dismissed the “state delegate equivalent” figure Thursday, saying it was “meaningless” in part because he and Buttigieg would receive roughly the same number delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Iowa sends a total of 41 delegates to that convention.
The state delegate equivalents — which determine representation at the Iowa convention — have traditionally been the way the Iowa winner is determined, but Sanders argued that makes little sense, since it’s the national convention where the Democratic nominee is chosen.
“Those national delegates, not the state delegates, are the ones that really matter in the nominating process,” he said.
Sanders joined the growing list of prominent Democrats who have criticized the Iowa party’s handling of the caucuses, especially the unexpected delay in releasing the results.
“That screw-up has been extremely unfair to the people of Iowa,” Sanders said. “It has been unfair to the candidates — all of the candidates — and all of their supporters.”
Wootson reported from Manchester, N.H. Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.