There’s no polite way to say it: the Iowa caucuses were a disaster.
The results were delayed, confusing, and uncertain, and now the Democratic National Committee is issuing calls for a re-canvass.
But that doesn’t lessen the impact Iowa might have on race to be the Democratic presidential nominee.
The viability of former vice president Joe Biden as frontrunner has been called into question, after his poor performance in the first-in-the-nation state.
A former small-city mayor, Pete Buttigieg, is suddenly the new face of the race, after he appears to have eked out a slight win over a well-performing Bernie Sanders.
And Elizabeth Warren mounted a strong third-place showing.
Heading into the New Hampshire primary, it’s not just a question of who can sustain the momentum. Democrats who are nervous about the prospect of Sanders becoming their nominee may have found a moderate electable voice in Buttigieg, thanks to his strong performance in middle America.
“Mayor Pete,” as they call him, has seen his support in New Hampshire surge by 11 points since the Iowa debacle to 23 per cent, landing him just one point behind Sanders, who sits 24 per cent.
A second poll from Emerson College also shows Buttigieg with an 11-point surge, but crucially for voters over the age of 50, he is well ahead of Sanders and Biden. Remember, those are the people who are most likely to turn out and vote.
These are early days, but what all of this means is that there is at the least the perception that Buttigieg has momentum, and he may be a stronger candidate than Biden, among voters looking for a middle-of-the-road voice.
Right now, Democrats face a single nagging question: which candidate is most likely to beat Donald Trump?
Sanders’ strong performance in Iowa, as well as in national polls, suggests he has an ability to motivate voter turnout. He has massive support amongst the grassroots and approaches the party as an anti-establishment outsider.
But he’s also an incredibly divisive candidate who many Democrats feel is too extreme to win in the general election. They fear the entire party will all too easily be branded as “socialists” if Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, becomes their candidate.
If Buttigieg can repeat his Iowa performance in New Hampshire, or at least come in a strong second, he could position himself as the best alternative to Sanders.
Such a scenario could further deflate both Biden’s and Warren’s chances if moderates rush to find an “anybody but Bernie” candidate and pick Buttigieg based on another strong performance.
There is another scenario that could emerge, too. If Sanders, Buttigieg, Biden and Warren all perform well in New Hampshire, it could signal the party is a long way from coalescing behind a nominee.
If that’s the case, it opens the door to a lengthy battle for the nomination, and perhaps gives room for a dark horse candidate like former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg to step in and be the unifier.
Either way, the movement in the polls show something is happening in New Hampshire, and that makes the state worth watching.
Results in the “Live Free or Die” state could bring a little bit of certainty to race that has been completely unpredictable so far.
Jackson Proskow is Washington Bureau Chief for Global National.