After all the chaos it appears results from the Democratic caucuses in Iowa showed Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, with a narrow lead over Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.
By many measures, Mr Buttigieg (38) and Mr Sanders (78) are a study in contrast. They are the youngest and oldest candidates in the Democratic primary. Mr Buttigieg has campaigned as a moderate, calling for more incremental improvements to the nation's health care and higher education systems, while Sanders - a self-described democratic socialist - is urging sweeping overhauls of domestic policies.
Yet both are pitching themselves as an antidote to establishment forces in Washington many voters, in both parties, feel have left them behind.
Their early success in this primary season suggests Democrats are just as interested in a fresh approach as Republicans were four years ago when they stunned their party's establishment by nominating Donald Trump, a novice politician and reality television star.
"There's still a desire for change," said Karen Finney, who advised Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. "And elections are always about the future."
The Iowa Democratic Party released 71pc of results after delays prompted by technical issues paralysed the system.
Both Mr Buttigieg and Mr Sanders face questions about their electability. Democratic rivals have knocked Mr Buttigieg's inexperience, given his highest elected office has been as mayor of a city of 100,000, while party moderates fear Mr Sanders will turn off independents and centrist Republicans who may be seeking an alternative to Mr Trump.
Yet the early results offered a glimpse of how the pair gained ground on their rivals. They hold a sizeable lead in particular over former vice-president Joe Biden, whose centrist campaign has focused in part on a call for a reset in Washington after the Trump era.
Among Mr Sanders's supporters, 88pc said it was more important to vote for a candidate who will fundamentally change the political system than a candidate who will restore the system to what it was before Mr Trump was elected in 2016. Just over 70pc of Mr Buttigieg's supporters felt the same.
"The fact that a young gay mayor from a small Midwestern town and a nearly 80-year-old self-proclaimed socialist appear to be leading the pack out of the first primary contest should make Democrats question their long-held prognostications about what the party is looking for in a nominee," said Jennifer Psaki, a former campaign and White House aide to Barack Obama.
Mr Buttigieg leaned into that call for change in New Hampshire, the next state on the primary calendar. Democrats, he argued, win when they nominate presidential candidates who can "turn the page" on the past and usher in the voices of a new generation.
"In order to govern, in order to lead, in order to move this country forward, we need a president focused on the future and ready to leave the politics of the past in the past," he said during a high-energy event in New Hampshire.
Mr Buttigieg would be the youngest person ever elected president, and also the nation's first openly gay commander in chief. Mr Sanders would be the oldest person ever to serve as president.
Mr Sanders has also spent three decades in Washington, first in the House and then in the Senate. But he has largely served as an independent, floating on the fringes of the Democratic Party before breaking out in the 2016 presidential primary and emerging as a fierce challenger to establishment favourite Hillary Clinton.