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Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (L) assists rival candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (C) with something at her podium as a network staff member (R) looks on during a break at the NBC News - YouTube Democratic presidential candidates debate in Charleston, South Carolina January 17, 2016.
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Clinton just barely edges out Sanders in Iowa—and that means a lot more work ahead for Bernie

By Tim Fernholz

Updated 6:30 am ET

In 2008, senator Barack Obama’s victory in the Iowa caucuses shoved his foot in the door, establishing himself as a credible candidate for the Democratic nomination who would ultimately upset Hillary Clinton’s seemingly inevitable candidacy. In 2016, it may mark the moment Clinton just managed to squeeze the door shut in senator Bernie Sanders’ face.

Clinton and Sanders ended up in a virtual tie in Iowa; the state’s Democratic party said Hillary received 699.57 state delegate equivalents, to Bernie’s 695.49. The fact that Iowa has picked the last five Democratic nominees, yet declined to decisively anoint one here, will no doubt give a morale boost to Sanders’ campaign.

But the math is still not in his favor, and this finish has left him with more work to do. The electoral analyst David Wasserman has mapped out both candidates’ potential paths to the nomination, and found that just to break even with Clinton over the course of the race, Sanders would need a capitalize on his advantage in the early states—winning “70 percent of Iowa’s delegates [to the Democratic national convention] and 63 percent of New Hampshire’s delegates.”

With the two candidates essentially splitting Iowa’s delegates tonight, Sanders will need to boost his current standing in next week’s New Hampshire primary—Polls there show him with a 55-38 lead over Clinton—and in subsequent states to arrive at the Democratic National Convention with enough delegates to win the nomination.

After Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton is expected to run ahead of Sanders in the more ethnically and ideologically diverse states after New Hampshire, though Sanders’ team is betting that a close loss in Iowa will prompt a second look from these voters.

That may prove difficult: In Iowa, where early reports suggest an unusually high number of voters participated in caucuses, Sanders still was not able to sway enough to his side to win decisively. The logic of Vermont senator’s political revolution requires these new voters to break his way at the polls.

The Vermont senator has only been gaining steam, thanks in part to his attacks on Clinton’s judgement. New Hampshire, practically home territory for Sanders, is still his contest to lose. The question is whether the electoral snapshot that was just captured in Iowa shows Sanders’ insurgent campaign on the rise—or at its pinnacle.