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Hillary Clinton Wins Iowa Caucus By Slim Margin Over Bernie Sanders


In the Republican presidential contest, Ted Cruz won a clear victory last night in the Iowa caucuses. On the Democratic side, it was the tightest race in history. It was about 4 a.m. when the state Democratic Party said Clinton - Hillary Clinton would prevail by at least two delegates. But the haggling continued through much of the day. NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro is with us to explain what happened. And Domenico, why is this so hard? I mean, what's the problem with the tally here?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, hi, Kelly. First of all, you know, there - we're never going to see any raw vote when it comes to the Democratic side. We know that they have - 171,000 people came out to vote overall, but they don't break that out to - like the way the Republicans do to say how many people actually went and voted.


MONTANARO: What they do do, is they have these - what are called state delegate equivalents. There's a phrase for you, and it's something that we have to talk about.

MCEVERS: You're right, yeah. Tell us what that means. Like, give us, like, the Cliff Note version.

MONTANARO: Well, last night, Iowa Democrats elected 11,000 delegates to local conventions. That's what these 1,683 precinct caucuses were all about. They'll elect from that 1,400 state delegates later that spring. So all of those numbers that you see last night where people say, oh, Hillary Clinton won by four delegates - it was actually an estimate (laughter) of the 1,400 state delegates and not that broader universe of 11,000.

MCEVERS: OK. So there are also reports that this election was decided, basically, by a coin toss, that Hillary got six out of six coin tosses. It this true or false?

MONTANARO: Partially true and completely misleading (laughter).


MONTANARO: She did win six of six of these coin tosses that are used to break ties in places where there's an odd number of delegates. So let's say, you know, we walk in, and there's 30 people for Hillary Clinton and 30 people for Bernie Sanders and they award five delegates. Well, they get two delegates apiece, and they have to figure out what to do with that one left over. They don't split it in half. They flip a coin.

Now, she won six of six that we'd heard of through various reports - reporters who were at various caucus sites. I spoke to the Iowa state Democratic Party earlier today, and they told me that actually, there were more than a dozen of these coin tosses. That's how close the - this election was. And Bernie Sanders won a handful of those. So it's not true that Hillary Clinton somehow won six of six and then won the whole thing. And in fact, those six or 12 coin tosses that happened were of the broader universe of 11,000...


MONTANARO: ...Not of the 1,400.

MCEVERS: There weren't these totally decisive moments.

MONTANARO: That's right. So there wound up being, like, 10 times the effectiveness, if you think about that, where you'd have to win, like, eight or nine of those coin tosses in a row just to get one delegate. And she won by four...


MONTANARO: ...Still a tiny whisker of a margin, though.

MCEVERS: Right. Very quickly - are we done with coin tosses at this point, or could this happen again this campaign season?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, coin tosses are not unique to Iowa, actually. They happen in a half dozen to a dozen other places, and you know, we could see them in some other places of its this tight and comes down the wire again.

MCEVERS: That's Domenico Montanaro, NPR's political editor. Thanks so much for explaining it all to us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.