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Obama, Huckabee win in Iowa

Their decisive victories set the stage for New Hampshire and beyond

January 04, 2008|Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writer

DES MOINES — Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee swept to victory Thursday night in the Iowa caucuses, dispatching their more established rivals and shredding any sense of inevitability in the 2008 presidential race.

The results were a serious setback for Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, who finished a close third behind John Edwards, and for Republican Mitt Romney, who finished second in his race.

For Obama, the win was especially resonant, as an overwhelmingly white state ratified the Illinois senator's bid to become the nation's first black president.

Both New York Sen. Clinton, a former first lady, and Romney, who poured millions of his personal fortune into the campaign, had hoped to quickly wrap up their nominations with a string of wins beginning in Iowa.

But the outcome -- after the costliest, most unpredictable contest in caucus history -- dispelled any notion that the presidential campaign would settle into certainty soon.

From Iowa, the contest heads to New Hampshire for a primary Tuesday, with Clinton no longer a front-runner, and Huckabee and Romney facing a stiff challenge from a revitalized Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

In Iowa's Democratic race, Obama finished with 38% to Edwards' 30% and Clinton's 29%.

On the Republican side, with 96% of Iowa precincts reporting, Huckabee led with 34%, compared with 25% for Romney. Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee and McCain were tied at 13% each, and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas had 10%.

"Tonight I love Iowa a whole lot," Huckabee told cheering supporters at a hotel on the Des Moines River. "Tonight I hope we will forever change how Americans look at their political system and how we elect presidents."

Nearby, in a cavernous convention hall, Obama took the stage flanked by his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters to address a sea of supporters who hoisted red "Stand for Change" placards.

Obama's showing was powered by an exceptionally high turnout -- especially young people, many of whom embraced his call for dramatic change of a capital paralyzed by backbiting and partisanship.

"You know, they said this day would not come," he began. "They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned, to ever come together. But on this January night, at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn't do."

Obama continued: "This is the moment when we tore down barriers that divided us too long . . . when we finally gave Americans who never participated in politics a reason to stand up and to do so. This was the moment when we finally beat back the politics of fear and doubt and cynicism."

A subdued Clinton, speaking a few blocks away, signaled her plans to battle on by pressing the case she has made against Obama for months.

"What is most important now is that as we go on with this contest, that we keep focused on the two big issues," Clinton told supporters. "That we answer -- correctly -- the questions that each of us has posed: 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?"

Former Sen. Edwards of North Carolina declared his second-place finish a victory in the face of Obama's and Clinton's huge spending advantages.

"What we've seen here in Iowa is two candidates who thought their money would make them inevitable," he told backers at a Des Moines rally. "It is not over."

The results claimed a pair of casualties on the Democratic side: Sens. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware abruptly dropped out of the race.

Others claimed victory, of a fashion.

"We made it to the Final Four," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said in a statement. "Now we are going to take the fight to New Hampshire."

Richardson and the other laggards face a daunting precedent: No candidate has ever won the White House without finishing in one of his party's top three spots for their party in the Iowa contest.

For months, energy and enthusiasm seemed to be running the Democrats' way, and the results on caucus night bore that out: 239,000 Iowans turned out to participate in the Democratic caucuses, nearly double the 120,000 who participated on the GOP side. Both were records.

For all the criticisms -- that the caucuses are too complicated, too quirky, too undemocratic -- the 1,781 neighborhood gatherings offered the first meaningful test of a campaign that has been well underway for more than a year.

And they were particularly significant for the money and momentum promised the winners, who will need both as the campaign launches into a more intensive phase.

The caucuses are followed by a rapid succession of contests that will be decided over the next 4 1/2 weeks, culminating in a 24-state extravaganza Feb. 5 that includes California.

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