The early numbers, representing nearly two-thirds of precincts, suggested a possible split verdict that could have one candidate winning the popular vote and another securing the most delegates, the measure state and national party officials have said should determine the victor.A close finish between Mr. Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and Mr. Sanders, of Vermont, also would underscore the larger Democratic primary battle between progressives and more moderate candidates in a field still totaling close to a dozen.
More broadly, the muddled results and fallout from the chaotic count stoked tensions among the candidates and concerns among party officials that the process is doing little to find a strong nominee who can unite the party.
Former Vice President
Joe Biden,
a longtime front-runner who has built his campaign on the idea that he is that candidate, appeared headed for a worse-than-expected finish. He is competing with Mr. Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota among the more moderate candidates, and the Iowa results suggest he was beaten by someone in Mr. Buttigieg who was barely known a year ago and who has never governed anything larger than a city of about 100,000 people.
The moderate contenders also face a growing challenge from billionaire
Michael Bloomberg,
who wasnt on the ballot but who has risen in polls after spending several hundred million dollars on advertising. He said on Tuesday that he would further step up spending and hiring.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, representing the more liberal wing of the party, was below Mr. Buttigieg in the early results but above Mr. Biden.
Ms. Klobuchar, who frequently says on the campaign trail that she has never lost an election since fourth grade, appeared headed for a fifth-place finish in Iowa.
Though the states population is small and not very diverse, Iowas caucuses have had a reasonably good record in recent history of picking the eventual winner of the Democratic nomination:
Al Gore
in 2000,
John Kerry
in 2004,
Barack Obama
in 2008 and
Hillary Clinton
in 2016. The caucuses have been less predictive among Republicans in recent election cycles.
There are indications the Democratic Party is unlikely to resolve its debate over candidates and vision anytime soon. All four of the top candidates heading into the caucuses had campaign war chests large enough to sustain them through February, including the New Hampshire primary next week.
A self-described democratic socialist, Mr. Sanders has recently shown strength in national polls. That has triggered concerns among centrist Democrats who worry President Trump, a Republican, would use Mr. Sanderss political identity to damage the partys prospects in November.
The release of the results followed a brief news conference Tuesday afternoon with Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price, who said the nearly one-day delay for even partial results was unacceptable and happened because of multiple reporting challenges as about 1,700 precincts began to feed results into state party headquarters.
Mr. Price declined to say when all of the states results would be made public. Were going to take the time we need, he said.
The state party is collecting paper records completed during the precinct meetings. It has attributed the holdup to a software glitch that triggered inconsistencies in data obtained from a mobile app used to report vote tallies.
We know this data is accurate, Mr. Price said. We also have a paper trail.
With 62% of precincts reporting, Mr. Buttigieg had the largest share of delegates to the state party convention, while Mr. Sanders had the second most. But Mr. Sanders led in the raw vote so far, followed by Mr. Buttigieg.
Ms. Warren and Mr. Biden were third and fourth respectively in both counts.
Mr. Buttigieg, a 38-year-old openly gay man who is the youngest in the race, could see a bump following what appears to be the best showing of any moderate in the race. He has positioned himself as a voice for generational changemost of his top opponents are septuagenarianswho is willing to work across the political aisle.
In New Hampshire, Mr. Buttigieg has also recorded strong support in polls, but he faces a stiffer challenge in the more ethnically diverse states of Nevada and South Carolina this month, as he has so far received virtually no support in polls from black and Latino voters.
The muddled reporting gave all the top candidates room to frame the result as a win. Speaking to reporters Tuesday evening in New Hampshire after the release of some Iowa results, Mr. Buttigieg was asked what it would mean to his candidacy if he ends up finishing in second or third place. It still amounts to an astonishing victory for our vision, he said.
In a statement, a senior adviser to Mr. Sanders called the early numbers gratifying. In the partial data released so far, its clear that in the first and second round more people voted for Bernie than any other candidate in the field, Jeff Weaver said.
Ms. Warren said at her first New Hampshire event on Tuesday, We know that three of us will be dividing up most of the delegates coming out of Iowa. Im feeling good.
Mr. Biden during an appearance in Nashua, N.H., expressed optimism after arriving from Iowa. Its like my mother said, Hope springs eternal, Mr. Biden said. Were not giving up.
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State party officials in Nevada, where the second caucus of the nominating season will be held, on Feb. 22, pledged that they wouldnt experience the same failures as Iowa.
We will not be employing the same app or vendor used in the Iowa caucus, Nevada State Democratic Party Chair William McCurdy said in a statement. We had already developed a series of backups and redundant reporting systems, and are currently evaluating the best path forward.
Democratic National Committee Chairman
Tom Perez
said the app that misfired in Iowa wouldnt be used in any other state, either.
What happened last night should never happen again, Mr. Perez said. We have staff working around the clock to assist the Iowa Democratic Party to ensure that all votes are counted.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump pounced on the uncertainty, calling the Democratic caucuses an unmitigated disaster in a Tuesday morning tweet, ahead of his State of the Union address scheduled for that evening.
Democratic presidential candidates addressed their supporters while voters waited for the results of the Iowa caucuses. The state Democratic party attributed the delay to inconsistencies in the reporting. Photo: Christopher Lee for The Wall Street Journal
The reporting was complicated in this years caucuses by additional data. In response to calls for greater transparency following the close 2016 contest between Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton, the state party was to release for the first time the raw total for votes from both rounds of voting, along with the traditional share of delegates won.
Mr. Sanders has been ahead of his rivals in recent state polls in New Hampshire but Ms. Warren, Mr. Biden and Mr. Buttigieg have been within striking distance.
A new mobile app was designed to help Democratic officials quickly gather information from Iowa caucus sites, but unexpected coding issues delayed the results.
Source: DNC, staff reports
New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman
Raymond Buckley
said it is highly unusual to have at this point so many competitive campaigns. Usually we are down to three at the most.
—Eliza Collins, Joshua Jamerson, Ken Thomas, Sabrina Siddiqui and Tarini Parti contributed to this article.
More on the Iowa Caucuses
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