Iowa Republicans braved the bitter cold to attend the state’s presidential caucuses Monday night, only for some news outlets to project a winner even though voting had barely gotten underway.
Former President Donald Trump was projected to be the caucus winner by The Associated Press at 8:36 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on social media, a little more than half an hour after the caucusing began.
The outcome was not a surprise. Trump had led in polling prior to the caucuses, with a final poll by the Des Moines Register, NBC News and Mediacom Iowa showing him getting a bit less than half of the caucus-goers’ support but well ahead of former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
The AP was not the only outlet to make a relatively quick call. The New York Times posted its call declaring Trump the winner at 8:48 p.m.; NBC News made its call at 8:39 p.m., only three minutes later than the AP.
The calls came even as the caucuses were still going on in many places. In contrast, in primary elections, the other means by which state voters select a party nominee, news outlets usually avoid making calls until after polls have closed to avoid the possibility of affecting the result.
The DeSantis campaign was quick to slam the media, accusing news organizations of trying to influence the outcome.
“Absolutely outrageous that the media would participate in election interference by calling the race before tens of thousands of Iowans even had a chance to vote. The media is in the tank for Trump and this is the most egregious example yet,” said DeSantis campaign spokesperson Andrew Romeo on X, formerly Twitter.
Carson Good, a real estate investor and chairman of the Orlando airport who traveled to Iowa to support DeSantis, said he didn’t know if the early race call would change things for DeSantis, “but it was really fast.”
“It’s like a bunch of children scrambling to get hits,” he said.
Even Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz (D) weighed in: “Oh come on you cannot call a race before the voting is over, let alone before it starts,” he wrote on X.
Given the rough weather conditions Iowans trudged through to get to the local gatherings, the calls raised the prospect that defeated caucus-goers could choose to go home before the proceedings were even over.
“The very very early results show Trump winning big, but the early network call is a little questionable. People are still at caucus sites, and they have phones – how many people see the call and bail?” Dave Weigel, political reporter for news site Semafor, said on X.
“Tonight AP/CNN/Etc. called the race after the caucus doors closed, but BEFORE all votes were cast. People could see on their phones that Trump won before voting,” Michael Scherer, a political reporter for The Washington Post, posted on X.
The calls were made even though the percentage of caucus vote results that had been released was still in the low single digits shortly after 9 p.m. As of 10:45 p.m., with more than 60% of votes in, Trump had about 50% of the votes, with DeSantis second at 21.5% and Haley third at a bit over 19%.
The AP said beforehand it would use a variety of sources in deciding whether to call the caucus results, with the bar for projecting a winner being when the AP decided there was no way a trailing candidate could catch up with the leader.
“The AP will declare a winner in the Republican caucuses based on its analysis of tabulated vote data, aided by an analysis of AP VoteCast, which will survey Iowa caucus-goers in the days leading up to and through caucus day, and other available vote and demographic data,” the news outlet said last week.
Trump, for his part, was happy to celebrate the election results.
“We just won in a landslide!” he declared in a fundraising email sent at about 9:30 p.m.
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