MANCHESTER, N.H. — Regardless of the outcome in Iowa, the chaos and confusion of that state’s botched Democratic caucuses blunted the impact of what is traditionally the first day of a weeklong sprint for presidential candidates in New Hampshire.
Iowa in years past has winnowed the field and given caucus winners a burst of momentum ahead of New Hampshire, but Monday’s election night meltdown — only partial results were available by late Tuesday — left Democrats deflated.
“Usually this week is like gangbusters here, but to me, it feels like more of the same,” said Nashua resident Bob Huntley, 70, who volunteers for a Democratic campaign in nearly every primary race but has not settled on a favorite this year.
The mess in Iowa also put more pressure on the New Hampshire Democratic Party to conduct a flawless primary Tuesday.
“The Republicans will say we can’t do anything right, how can we run the country,” Mr. Huntley said.
As the still-crowded field of candidates fanned out across the Granite State, they had to explain the caucus fiasco, keeping their focus on the rearview mirror rather than the road ahead.
“It’s a tight three-way race at the top,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts told a town-hall-style meeting in Keene. “What the exact numbers are, no one knows. But I think the overall patterns are pretty clear and consistent.”
She referred to a close race among herself, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.
Mr. Buttigieg began the day beating back criticism for claiming victory in Iowa on Monday night despite having no results from the caucuses.
He was branded “Mayor Cheat” on social media.
By nightfall, he claimed vindication when partial results showed him narrowly leading the pack ahead of Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren.
Mr. Buttigieg, 37, who is the first openly gay candidate to become a top-tier presidential contender, choked up when touting the achievement to a rally crowd in Laconia.
“It validates for a kid somewhere in a community wondering if he belongs or she belongs or they belong in their own family that if you believe in yourself and your country, there is a lot backing up the belief,” he said.
He called it an “astonishing victory for this campaign, this candidacy and this vision that you all have been a part of.”
Still, with just 62% of the caucus precincts reporting, the final results remained anybody’s guess. Mr. Buttigieg’s rivals were more than happy to affix an asterisk next to the Iowa results.
“Look, the integrity of the process is tinged,” said Symone Sanders, a top adviser to the campaign of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden. “We implore the Iowa Democratic Party to check, check again and check a third time on their data to make sure the numbers are accurate.”
Mr. Biden, a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, had lowered expectations for his performances in Iowa and New Hampshire. His campaign has been counting on his strongholds in Nevada and South Carolina to launch him into the bigger delegate hunts in March.
Still, fourth place in the incomplete Iowa caucus results stung.
Mr. Sanders remains a formidable presence in New Hampshire. In 2016, he missed winning Iowa by less than 1% and won New Hampshire in a landslide.
On Tuesday, he resisted attempts to cast doubt on the Iowa results.
“I think we should all be disappointed in the inability of the party to come up with timely results, but we are not casting aspersions on the votes that are being counted,” Mr. Sanders told reporters on his campaign plane. “There is no excuse for not having results last night, but that doesn’t mean to say the votes, that the totals that come in, will be inaccurate. I think that is an unfair thing to try to do.”
Seth McLaughlin in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.
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