Obama and Huckabee Winning from the Outside

The winners in Iowa are named Obama and Huckabee. One used chutzpah and charm to defeat the Clinton machine -- the other pitched his warmth and Baptist faith against big-money Republicanism. The race for the White House is on.

By in Des Moines, Iowa


All Barack Obama has to do now is stand there. He doesn't really need the giant sign with his campaign slogan "Change" that someone has draped behind him. He just has to stand in place to exude a sense of change. He doesn't need to say anything in the giant conference center in Des Moines. His thousands of supporters gathered here would cheer him anyway.

Huckabee and Obama took home the laurels in the Iowa Caucus.
AFP

Huckabee and Obama took home the laurels in the Iowa Caucus.

But then Obama speaks: about a magic moment in history, and the dream of uniting America. Black and white, red and blue.

In the middle of an overwhelmingly white farming state in the heartland of the United States, a young African-American smiles broadly onstage. Three-and-a-half years ago almost no one outside Chicago knew his name. And now Obama has cleared perhaps the most important hurdle in the way of his run for the White House.

Mike Huckabee, on the other hand, only has to speak. He looks like so many Republican candidates in this campaign -- middle-aged, poorly fitting suit -- but when he opens his mouth, phrases stream out that reminds listeners of Biblical parables. And people warm to him quickly. The one-time Baptist preacher speaks in a banquet hall in the capital of Iowa and says, "People really are more important than the purse." He pauses, smiles at the crowd. "Isn't that a nice feeling?"

Punishment for the Establishment

Barack Hussein Obama and Mike Huckabee are the big winners in the Iowa caucuses -- the needle's eye of any campaign for president of the United States. Obama emerged with 37.6 percent to Edwards' 29.7 percent and Clinton's disappointing third place finish with 29.5 percent. Huckabee was followed by Mitt Romney's 25.3 percent, Fred Thompson's 13.4 percent and John McCain's 13.2 percent.

And while a victory in Iowa -- this small agrarian state in the Midwest, with its roughly 4 million inhabitants -- may seem insignificant at first glance, it can have an outsized effect on the rest of the presidential campaign.

Obama, who represents Illinois in the US Senate, and Huckabee, formerly the governor of Arkansas, have one thing in common: their unusual names, which underscore the nearly revolutionary character of both campaigns. Samantha Power, one of Obama's closest advisors, told SPIEGEL ONLINE, "Tell me honestly: Who knew this African-American senator three years ago?" She means before a televised speech Obama gave at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 -- three and a half years ago now. "Barack Hussein Obama. Does it get any weirder?" She laughs.

And Huckabee? George W. Bush's one-time PR advisor Dan Bartlett said not long ago: "With a name like that you can't be president." On top of everything, he's a cash-poor candidate: Huckabee spent a twentieth of the amount his Republican rivals laid out for TV spots, ads and staff in Iowa. He doesn't have much money, but he's won the "hearts and souls" of the people, or so he claimed on Thursday evening.

The two candidates have not only outdistanced their established rivals; they've outclassed them. Hillary Clinton was the great favorite, but she landed in third place, two-tenths of a percentage point behind former Senator John Edwards. Huckabee had a full 10-point advantage over Mitt Romney, the ex-governor from Massachusetts, who lavished Iowa with an all-out push for votes.

The 'Values Voter' Shift

Their triumph is one of the more astounding results in American campaign history. Mike Huckabee was known last November mainly for growing up in Hope, Arkansas -- like a certain Bill Clinton. Or that he'd lost 100 pounds (45 kg). Or that he was a fairly good speaker. Or that he maintained good contacts, as an ex-preacher, to the influential religious right.

But in public-opinion polls, even in heavily evangelical Iowa, he was an also-ran. The change came at the start of November, when so-called "Values Voters" held a summit in Washington -- a group of religious fundamentalists. The media had focused on Mitt Romney, who had to explain his Mormon beliefs to the largely Protestant crowd, and on Rudy Giuliani, who virtually had to apologize for his three marriages and his liberal attitudes toward abortion. But Huckabee told the Values Voters that other candidates "will come to you; I come from you." The sentence brought them to their feet.

Since then, Huckabee's fortunes have gone straight up. He was funny, he spoke the language of ordinary Americans, he seemed sympathetic; yet he's a stalwart conservative. He reminded the audience of his Christian moral values but said, "I'm not angry at anyone." He condemned abortions, but he's also skeptical of the dogmatism on the Pro-Life right, saying Republicans can't afford an image of caring for children only "as long as they're in the mother's womb."

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