WASHINGTON - Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders are nearly tied in the Iowa Democratic caucuses, with nearly all results counted in a contest marred by technical issues and reporting delays.
The race remained too early to call with 97% of precincts reporting. Party officials were scrambling to verify the remaining results three days after Iowans gathered at caucus sites across the state to begin choosing which Democrat will take on President Donald Trump in November.
A new batch of results released early Thursday narrowed the margin between Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Sanders, the progressive senator from Vermont. Buttigieg has a lead of three state delegate equivalents out of 2,098 counted.
The deadlocked contest gave both Buttigieg and Sanders a burst of momentum as they seek to pull away from the crowded field. The nearly complete results show them leading Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, with former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar trailing behind.
But the results in Iowa were muddied by the stunning breakdown of the caucus reporting process in a state that traditionally kicks off presidential nominating contests. Iowa officials initially attributed a delay in reporting results to technical problems with an app that precinct chairs were supposed to use to record votes, then to backlogs as those volunteers tried to call the party to submit their totals.
Even as the total number of results ticked up Wednesday, obstacles remained. Some tally sheets were making their way to party headquarters in Des Moines through the mail, which contributed to the delay.
Much of the political world has already shifted its attention to next-up New Hampshire, which holds the first primary election in the Democrats' 2020 nomination fight on Tuesday.
The two early leaders — Buttigieg and Sanders — are separated by 40 years in age and conflicting ideology.
Sanders, a 78-year-old self-described democratic socialist, has been a progressive powerhouse for decades. Buttigieg, a 38-year-old former municipal official, represents the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party. Buttigieg is also the first openly gay candidate to earn presidential primary delegates.