(AP Photo/Daily Inter lake, Robin Loznak)
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Sen. Barack Obama, bidding to become the
nation's first black president, captured the Iowa caucuses Thursday
night, opening test in the race for the 2008 Democratic nomination.
Mike Huckabee rode a wave of support from evangelical Christians to
victory in the Republican caucuses.
Obama, 46 and a first-term senator from Illinois, eased past a
high-powered field that included Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New
York, the former first lady, and former Sen. John Edwards of North
Carolina, the party's 2004 vice presidential nominee.
Among Republicans, Mike Huckabee, a preacher turned politician,
handily defeated Mitt Romney despite being outspent by tens of
millions of dollars, and deciding in the campaign's final days to
scrap television commercials that would have assailed the former
Obama, who campaigned as an apostle of change in Washington, was
gaining 36 percent support among Democrats., Edwards, who ran
promising to battle the special interests in the capital, and
Clinton, who stressed her experience, both were drawing about 30
Huckabee's triumph was more robust. He was winning 34 percent
support, compared to 25 percent for Romney. Former Sen. Fred
Thompson and Sen. John McCain battled for third place.
Romney sought to frame his defeat as something less than that,
saying he had trailed Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, by more
than 20 points a few weeks ago. "I've been pleased that I've been
able to make up ground and I intend to keep making up ground, not
just here but across the country," he said.
The words were brave, but already, his strategy of bankrolling a
methodical campaign in hopes of winning the first two states was in
tatters - and a rejuvenated McCain was tied with him in the polls
in next-up New Hampshire.
Iowans rendered their judgments in meetings at 1,781 precincts
from Adel to Zwingle, in schools, firehouses and community centers
where the candidates themselves could not follow.
In interviews as they entered the caucuses, more than half of
all the Republicans said they were either born-again or evangelical
Christians, and they liked Huckabee more than any of his rivals.
Romney led handily among the balance of the Iowa Republican voters,
according to the survey.
About half the Democratic caucus-goers said a candidate's
ability to bring about needed change was the most important factor
as they made up their minds, according to the entrance interviews
by The Associated Press and the television networks. Change was
Obama's calling card in the arduous campaign for Iowa's backing.
Fewer voters cited experience, which Clinton said was her strong
suit, or a candidate's chance of capturing the White House or
ability to care about people like the voters themselves.
While Republicans and Democrats both looked to Iowa to pass the
first judgment of the election year, there was a key difference in
the way they ran their caucuses. Republicans took a straw vote,
then tallied the results. Democrats had a more complicated process
in which one candidate's supporters might eventually wind up
backing another contender.
Clinton, Obama and Edwards had all urged voters to consider them
if their own candidate fell short. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio
publicly urged his backers to line up with Obama on a second round,
and two Democrats said aides to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson did
likewise as the caucuses unfolded. Those two spoke on condition of
anonymity, citing private discussions.
The Democratic race was as close as the Republican contest was
Obama and Clinton each sought to make history, he the most
viable black presidential candidate in history, she a former first
lady bidding to become the first female commander in chief. Edwards
battled them to a standstill, fighting to improve on the
second-place finish in the 2004 caucuses that was good enough to
land him the vice presidential slot on the Democratic ticket.
Their rivals, Sens. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Joseph Biden of
Delaware, Richardson and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, got little to
show for their effort, and it seemed possible the field would grow
smaller before New Hampshire votes on Tuesday.
With President Bush constitutionally barred from seeking
re-election, both parties had wide-open, costly campaigns.
Obama, a first-term senator, stressed a need for change. Clinton
boasted of her experience as she worked to follow her husband into
the White House. Edwards cast himself as the implacable enemy of
special interests as he aimed to improve on last time's
second-place showing in the state.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, stressed his background
as a businessman and organizer of the 2002 Olympics, and he worked
to persuade conservatives to ignore his earlier positions on
abortion and gay rights. He ran the only commercials of the
campaign critical of a rival, hitting Huckabee for his positions on
immigration and the pardons he issued while governor of Arkansas.
Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, pinned his hopes on
Arizona Sen. McCain, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and former Tennessee
Sen. Thompson were also on the ballot, although their aides made no
claim they were in the running for a first-place finish. So, too,
Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who largely abandoned the
state in the campaign's final days.
At stake Thursday night in Iowa were 45 delegates to the
Democratic National Convention next summer in Denver and 37 to the
GOP gathering in St. Paul, Minn. But that was hardly the reason the
crowded field of presidential hopefuls devoted weeks of
campaigning, built muscular campaign organizations and spent
millions of dollars on television advertising in the state.
For three decades, Iowa's caucuses have drawn presidential
hopefuls eager to make a strong first impression, and this year was
Obama, Clinton and Edwards spent at least $19 million on
television advertising among them, and all three capped their
campaigns with statewide broadcasts on Wednesday. Romney told
supporters in a final daylong swing around the state he had been in
68 of 99 counties since he began his quest for the White House, had
spent 55 days in Iowa and spoken before 248 separate audiences.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)