Democratic White House candidate Pete Buttigieg held a wafer-thin lead over leftist rival Bernie Sanders early Thursday as more delayed results arrived, after the US election season kicked off with caucuses in Iowa.
With 97 percent of precincts now reporting after Monday's selection process in the Midwestern state, the moderate 38-year-old Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was leading with 26.2 percent.
Senator Sanders, who is more than twice the age of Buttigieg and is making his second charge for the nomination in four years, was snapping at his heels on 26.1 percent.
Fellow progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren stood at 18.2 percent, while former vice president Joe Biden, the national frontrunner, was fourth with 15.8 percent.
Iowa's quirky, byzantine caucus process was marred by technical glitches that forced an embarrassing delay in reporting of results in the closely-watched contest.
The 77-year-old Biden, like Buttigieg already campaigning in the next state to vote, New Hampshire, acknowledged that his poor showing in Iowa was a "gut punch," but insisted he would stick it out.
The key figures released by the Iowa Democratic Party are percentages of the all-important delegates that the state sends to the national convention to vote for in the nomination process.
Buttigieg, a virtual unknown nationally one year ago, startled political observers by seizing the top spot over Sanders who had been leading in Iowa polls ahead of the caucuses.
Iowa's pick has a recent historical track record of going on to become the national Democratic nominee.