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February 3, 2016

Many Americans — and journalists — were puzzled to learn that Iowa Democrats sometimes award presidential candidates county-level delegates based on a coin toss. The popular narrative that emerged from Monday's caucuses is that luck was with Hillary Clinton, and that her team's winning coin-flip picks swayed the election results. Take, for example, this caucus-night report from MSNBC:

Coin tosses aren't reported in the official tallies, so it's not clear how many county delegates were awarded by heads versus tails. But Iowa Democratic Party spokesman Sam Lau tells The Des Moines Register that seven coin flips were reported statewide, and that Bernie Sanders won six of them. The Register, looking at social media and one first-person report, also identified seven coin tosses at Democratic caucuses, with Clinton winning six. The newspaper has requested an official tally of precinct coin tosses and their outcomes to clear up the confusion.

But regardless, it's unlikely that the coin tosses affected the outcome — the official results are 700.59 state delegate equivalents for Clinton (49.8 percent), 696.82 SDEs for Sanders (49.6 percent). That's because, unlike MSNBC's report, the coin tosses don't decide statewide delegates but county delegates, of which there are about 11,000 across Iowa, versus 1,400 state delegate equivalents. The county-level delegates are used in a formula to determine the SDEs, but each one has only a tiny impact on the SDE count.

"The data we have suggest the game of chance was a rare occurrence and of the data we have, Sanders won the majority of those delegates that were chosen through the game of chance," former Iowa Democratic Party executive director Norm Sterzenbach, a Clinton supporter, tells The Des Moines Register. Coin tosses may seem like an arcane way to resolve ties or delegate disputes, he said, but the party has used them for a long time, including in the 2008 caucuses that propelled Barack Obama to victory. You can read more about the coin tosses, and the chaos at Monday's caucuses, at The Des Moines Register. Peter Weber

11:10 a.m. ET
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Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence promised Sunday his running mate, Donald Trump, will "absolutely" tell the truth while debating Hillary Clinton on Monday because he "always speaks straight from his mind and straight from his heart."

Trump is "going to speak the truth to the American people," Pence said in an interview with CBS' Face the Nation. "That’s why you see the tremendous momentum in this campaign."

The veep candidate also weighed in on Trump's informal style of debate prep — which poses a sharp contrast to Clinton's more studied approach — arguing that Trump "has been preparing for this debate for his entire lifetime." After all, "he's built a great business and he's traveled the country," Pence said, "and particularly in this campaign he's given voice to the frustration and aspirations of the American people like no leader in my lifetime since Ronald Reagan." Bonnie Kristian

10:46 a.m. ET
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Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson said intergalactic travel is part of the long-term plan of dealing with climate change while speaking with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.

Stephanopoulos played a clip from several years ago in which Johnson argued, "the long-term view is that in billions of years the sun is going to actually grow and encompass the Earth, right? So global warming is in our future." Asked whether that means "we don't do anything about it now," Johnson said that line was a joke but then got serious, arguing his mention of the sun highlights "the fact that we do have to inhabit other planets. I mean, the future of the human race is space exploration."

Still, right now, "we should be prudent with the environment," he added as the interview ended. "We care about the environment. Look, clean air, clean water. I think the EPA exists to protect us against individuals, groups, corporations that would do us harm. Pollution is harm." Bonnie Kristian

10:29 a.m. ET
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Gennifer Flowers, the actress and Penthouse model who claims to have had a 12-year affair with former President Bill Clinton, on Saturday agreed to take a front-row seat at the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Monday night. On Sunday, the Trump campaign said she's not invited.

The cold shoulder came from both Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who said on CNN Flowers was never "formally" invited, and from vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, who told Fox News' Chris Wallace that Flowers will not attend.

The arrangement was originally suggested by Trump himself on Twitter Saturday in response to news that Clinton supporter Mark Cuban said he would sit in the front row. Whether Cuban or Flowers would even be permitted to take those seats is unclear; the candidates do have tickets to distribute as they please, but the Commission on Presidential Debates said it would "frown upon" prominent placement of either person. Bonnie Kristian

10:14 a.m. ET
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An onslaught considered to be the heaviest bombing campaign of the Syrian civil war continues in Aleppo after the aerial attack by government forces began buffeting rebel-held parts of the city with airstrikes on Friday.

More than 200 strikes have pounded Aleppo's eastern neighborhoods since then, killing more than 100 civilians, including children. Rescue workers are still attempting to free people from the rubble of their flattened homes. An estimated 2 million people in Aleppo have no running water after attacks damaged the water station serving rebel-held areas and another water station serving government-controlled parts of the city was turned off in retaliation.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday condemned the assault as the "most sustained and intense bombardment since the start of the Syrian conflict," calling it "appalling" in advance of a U.N. meeting on Syria cease-fire efforts. Bonnie Kristian

10:06 a.m. ET

The Miami Marlins' star pitcher José Fernández was killed Sunday morning in a boat crash in Miami Beach, Florida. He was 24 years old.

"The Miami Marlins organization is devastated by the tragic loss of José Fernández," the Major Leage Baseball team said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very difficult time. Today's game against the Atlanta Braves has been cancelled."

Fernández was born in Cuba but defected to the United States in 2007 with his mother. He was National League Rookie of the Year in 2013. Bonnie Kristian

8:30 a.m. ET
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Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are separated by less than the 4.5 percent margin of error in a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Sunday morning. Clinton has maintained a substantial lead over Trump for most of the campaign, but the gap has increasingly narrowed as Election Day approaches, and this survey sees that trend continue.

Among likely voters Clinton scores 46 percent support to Trump's 44 percent, while Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson takes 5 percent and the Green Party's Jill Stein has 1 percent national support. If Johnson and Stein are removed as options, Clinton leads Trump 49 to 47 percent. Among registered voters, Clinton and Trump are tied at 46 percent in a two-way race and 41 percent in a four-way race.

More than 100 million people are expected to watch Monday's first general election debate between the two candidates, the largest debate audience in U.S. history. Bonnie Kristian

7:43 a.m. ET
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A 20-year-old man named Arcan Cetin was arrested by police at 7 p.m. Pacific time Saturday evening on suspicion of the mass shooting at a Macy's in a Washington State mall that took five lives Friday night. Cetin was unarmed and was described as quiet, even "zombie-like," at the time of his arrest.

Though originally described by police as Hispanic based on a blurry surveillance image, Cetin is a permanent resident of the United States from Turkey. At present, the Seattle branch of the FBI says there is no evidence this was an act of terrorism or that there were any other shooters.

Cetin was prohibited from owning a firearm after charges of domestic violence and drunk driving, but he was in compliance with court-ordered mental health counseling. His former girlfriend once worked at the department store where he attacked, but she no longer works there or lives in the area. Bonnie Kristian

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