A Time for the Newcomers Obama, Huckabee Triumph in Iowa

Two outsiders ended up on top after the votes were counted in Iowa. Barack Obama, with just three years experience in the US Senate, defeated Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, while Mike Huckabee came out of nowhere for the Republicans.


It is no secret that American voters, particularly Democrats, are more eager for change this year than they have been in a long time. On Thursday night in Iowa, Barack Obama, after weeks of portraying himself as the candidate best positioned to bring about that change, proved that even a young, inexperienced and African-American Senator from Illinois has a shot this year at the White House.

Following a record turnout among Democratic caucus-goers, Obama scored a convincing, and somewhat startling, victory over his rivals John Edwards and Hillary Clinton. Obama ended up with 37.6 percent of the vote with Edwards raking in 29.7 percent and Clinton coming in a disappointing third, at 29.5 percent.

"They said this day would never come," Obama said at an overflowing rally in Des Moines. "They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned to ever come together around a common purpose. But on this January night, at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn't do."

But even as the results of the Iowa Caucus throw the Democratic race for the nomination wide open, things on the Republican side are hardly clearer. Mike Huckabee, whose name recognition two months ago hovered around non-existent, managed to beat his big-spending rival Mitt Romney by a wide margin, ending up with 34.3 percent of the vote to Romney's 25.3 percent. Fred Thompson limped in with 13.4 percent.

Despite the victory, however, it is hard to imagine Huckabee walking away with the Republican nomination. In Iowa, he was boosted by the fact that many of those going to the polls for the Republicans were evangelicals -- according to one survey, fully 60 percent. As a former Baptist minister and televangelist, it is not difficult for Huckabee to snap the evangelical vote away from Romney, a Mormon.

Now, though, the campaign is heading for New Hampshire, a state with far fewer evangelicals -- and a state where most of the other candidates in the Republican field are far better organized than Huckabee. Indeed, the Huckabee campaign on Thursday night was still looking for a way to transport his three dogs -- which have been accompanying him on the stump -- to New Hampshire. Moreover, he only has $2 million in his coffers, compared to Romney's $70 million.

"We've learned that people really are more important than the purse," Huckabee said in his victory speech on Thursday night.

Huckabee will likewise now have to contend with candidates John McCain, whose national poll results are much higher than the 13.2 percent he garnered in Iowa, and Rudy Giuliani, who made only sporadic appearances in Iowa while concentrating on primaries down the road.

For Romney, however, second place in Iowa is a clear disappointment. He had been hoping to use Iowa as a springboard to further successes down the primary road, but his poor showing may be a difficult blow for his campaign to recover from. Such unexpected flops in the past have caused wealthy donors to become nervous and party faithful to re-evaluate their positions.

That, in fact, is the dire situation currently facing the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Having campaigned thus far on a platform of inevitability, seemingly trying to play the stateswoman above the political fray, her third place finish could heavily damage her drive for the Democratic nomination.

Furthermore, the main issue for Democrats -- eager to see the end of President George W. Bush and his Republican White House -- is electability. Clinton has constantly tried to portray herself as having more experience and has never missed a chance to mention Obama's limited experience in Washington, but the Iowa voters clearly didn't buy her message. More worrying, many women supported Obama instead of Clinton, who's trying to become the first woman elected president of the US.

The Clinton campaign remained upbeat despite the Iowa result, and pointed to her large lead in nationwide polls, but how well those numbers hold up in light of the Iowa result remains to be seen.

"If Hillary doesn't stop Obama in New Hampshire, Obama is going to be the Democratic nominee," Robert Shrum, John Kerry's senior strategist during his 2004 run for the White House, told the New York Times.

Indeed, many are looking ahead to next week's primary in New Hampshire to trim the field of those running. But already, there are fewer Democrats in the race. Following poor showings on Thursday night, both Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware dropped their candidacies.

cgh/ap/reuters

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