Obama and Huckabee take Iowa as Clinton falters

Posted in United States | 04-Jan-08 | Author: Adam Nagourney| Source: International Herald Tribune

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton with her husband, former President Bill Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, on Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.

DES MOINES: Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, a first-term Democratic senator trying to become the nation's first African-American president, rolled to victory in the Iowa caucuses on Thursday night, lifted by a record turnout of voters who embraced his promise of change.

The victory by Obama, 46, amounted to a startling setback for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, 60, of New York, who just months ago appeared to be the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. The result left uncertain the prospects for John Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina, who had staked his second bid for the White House on winning Iowa.

Clinton and Edwards, who appeared to edge her out for second place, both vowed to stay in the race.

"They said this day would never come," Obama said as he claimed his victory.

On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas who was barely a blip on the national scene just two months ago, defeated Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, delivering a serious setback to Romney's high-spending campaign and putting pressure on Romney to win in New Hampshire next Tuesday.

Huckabee, a Baptist minister, was carried in large part by evangelical voters, who helped him withstand extensive spending by Romney on television advertising and a get-out-the-vote effort.

"Tonight we proved that American politics is still in the hands of ordinary folks like you," said Huckabee, who ran on a platform that combined economic populism with an appeal to social conservatives.

Huckabee won with 34.4 percent of the delegate support, after 86 percent of precincts had reported. Romney had 25.4 percent, former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee had 13.4 percent and Senator John McCain of Arizona had 13.2 percent.

On the Democratic side, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, Obama had 37.5 percent of the delegate support, Edwards 29.8 percent and Clinton had 29.5 percent. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico was fourth, at 2.1 percent.

Two Democrats, Senator Joseph Biden Jr. of Delaware and Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, dropped out of the race after winning only tiny percentages of the vote.

A record number of Democrats turned out to caucus — more than 232,000, compared with fewer than 125,000 in 2004 — producing scenes of overcrowded firehouses and schools and long lines of people waiting to register their preferences.

The images stood as evidence of the success of Obama's effort to reach out to thousands of first-time caucusgoers, including many independent voters and younger voters. The huge turn-out — by contrast, 108,000 Republicans caucused on Thursday — was evidence of the extent to which opposition to President George W. Bush has energized Democrats, and served as another warning to Republicans about the problems they face this November in swing states like this.

Obama's victory in this overwhelmingly white state stood as a powerful answer to the question of whether America was prepared to vote for a black person for president. Surveys of voters entering the caucuses also indicated that he had won the support of many independents, a development that his aides used to rebut suggestions from rivals that he could not win a general election.

Obama took the stage, smiling broadly and clapping his hands in response to the roar of cheers that greeted him.

"They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned to ever come together around a common purpose," Obama said. "But on this January night, at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn't do."

The result sent tremors of apprehension through Clinton's camp, and she turned her attention to New Hampshire. Aides said that former President Bill Clinton would go there immediately and spend the next five days campaigning in a state where he has always been strong Clinton, in her concession speech, sought again to embrace the mantle of change, even as she was flanked on the stage by her husband and Madeline Albright, who was Bill Clinton's secretary of state.

"What is most important now is that, as we go on with this contest, that we keep focused on the two big issues, that we answer correctly the questions that each of us has posed," she said. "How will we win in November 2008 by nominating a candidate who will be able to go the distance and who will be the best president on Day One."

Huckabee declared victory at a boisterous rally in which he rejoiced in his ability to overcome his better-financed opponent, who had spent much of the past year building up for a victory and had hammered Huckabee with negative advertisements over the past month here.

"We've learned that people really are more important then the purse," he said.

Romney will now make a stand in New Hampshire, where he has also invested heavily.

"Congratulations on the first round to Mike," Romney said on FOX News.

Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, had campaigned intermittently here over the past month, at one point hoping to take advantage of the unsettled field here to come in third. Instead, he came in sixth place, garnering just 3 percent.

Obama and Huckabee face very different scenarios heading into New Hampshire and the states beyond. Polling suggested that a once overwhelming lead enjoyed by Mrs. Clinton in New Hampshire were vanishing even before the results of Thursday's vote. Clinton's advisers have long worried that a loss here would weaken her even more going into New Hampshire, stripping her both of claims to inevitability and to electability.

Clinton and Obama — as well as Edwards — face a rigorous and expensive run of nearly 25 contests between now and Feb. 5. Obama and Clinton appear far better-positioned, in terms of organization and money, to compete through that period, than Edwards.

Huckabee's situation is much more tenuous, and his victory on Thursday did little to clarify the state of the Republican field. In New Hampshire, polls have shown McCain on the rise and little support for Huckabee. Giuliani has invested much of his time and money in Florida. And, as Romney's advisers noted tonight, he has more a foundation of money and support in many of the upcoming states.

Iowa seemed particularly fertile ground for Huckabee. Polls of Republicans entering the caucus sites found that 60 percent described themselves as evangelical, and by overwhelming numbers they said they intended to vote for Huckabee.

The polls, conducted by Edison/Mitofsky for the National Election Pool of television networks and The Associated Press, also left little doubt about the reasons for Obama's convincing victory here. He did much better among young voters.

Voters here were far more interested in a candidate promising change — as Obama was — than one citing experience, the heart of Clinton's appeal. Half of Democrats said their top factor in choosing a candidate was someone who could bring about change; Obama won the support of about half that group. Just 20 percent said the right experience, Clinton's key argument, was the main factor; among that group, nearly half chose Clinton.

For all the talk about electability, barely one in 10 respondents said it was the main factor in their decision. Clinton and Edwards had an edge over Obama in this area.

There was also a sharp generational break in support of the two candidates. Obama was backed by 60 percent of voters under 25 while Clinton was supported by about 45 percent of voters over 65.

The survey of Democrats entering the caucus sites found that more than half said they were attending their first caucus — and they divided with about 40 percent for Obama and about 30 percent for Clinton.

The Democratic caucus results do not reflect the actual percentage of people who expressed a preference for a particular candidate. Rather, they are the percentage of delegates allocated to each of the candidates based on a complex formula; the Democratic Party does not release the actual number of Democrats who caucus for each candidate.

The Republican results reflect a direct count of the preferences expressed by those who participated in the Republican caucuses.

Mirroring the unusual rush of the nominating calendar — the primary in New Hampshire is a mere five days away — the major candidates planned to pick up as soon as the caucus results were known and flew to New Hampshire to be on the ground for early morning rallies, television appearances and campaign stops. Clinton's campaign plane was scheduled to leave Iowa at midnight.

The one exception was Giuliani, who largely skipped the Iowa caucuses; he started the day in New Hampshire and spent the rest of it in Florida.