Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders went into the Iowa caucuses locked in a statistical dead heat; the story of the night was whether or not Sanders’s supporters – mostly young and previously non-political – would actually show up for the socialist. Show up they did, but it turned out not to be enough. By the thinnest of margins, Clinton emerged the victor in the first primary state of the 2016 election.
Well, that’s one version of the story, anyway.
A closer look reveals that the Clinton victory took some odd turns throughout Monday night. In no less than six closely-contested precincts, unassigned delegates were awarded on the basis of…a coin toss. The final cherry on top of the bizarre sundae that is the Democratic caucus procedure, this is apparently a tried-and-true method of deciding close contests. Fine, fine, it’s their primary, they can do with it as they will. But it is very strange that in six of these coin tosses, Clinton won all six times.
Iowa is not a winner-take-all state, so the difference in delegate counts is negligible. Clinton and Sanders will share an almost equal number of delegates as they move on to New Hampshire. However, the momentum this victory afforded Clinton cannot be overstated. If she had lost Iowa before going on to what is expected to be a loss in New Hampshire, she would have faced odds that no presidential candidate has ever overcome. Sanders would have had the opportunity to spread his support base beyond college liberals, and Clinton’s road to the White House would have gotten a whole lot bumpier.
Instead, Clinton and Sanders will likely split the first two states before heading into the South, where Sanders is expected to flounder. Some of her supporters are breathing a sigh of relief this week, certain that they escaped the only serious challenge to their candidate’s dominance. Sanders is far from throwing in the towel, but his chances are much less promising today than they were last week.
And (at least to some extent), this was all decided by coin-tosses.
As frightening as the thought of a Sanders administration is, it’s not as frightening as the thought of a thwarted democracy. Hillary Clinton is not just bad for the country on the basis of her political beliefs; she is a menace to the prospect of a fair and honest government. And when her outcomes are being decided by mathematical longshots…well, she doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt.