DES MOINES, Iowa – Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee rearranged the landscape of the presidential race Thursday with stunning victories in the Iowa caucuses.
Today, the contest moves on to New Hampshire, where the two candidates running as outsiders will try to turn their victories into momentum for the rest of the early primaries.
“We are choosing hope over fear,” Obama told supporters after his victory, as a raucous crowd chanted, “Obama, Obama.”
“We are choosing unity over division and sending a powerful message that change is coming to America.”
Huckabee sounded a similar theme.
“Tonight what we have seen is a new day in American politics … tonight, it starts here in Iowa, but it doesn’t end here,” he said. “It goes all the way to the other states and ends at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue one year from now.”
The wins by Obama, who four years ago was a little-known Illinois state senator, and Huckabee, governor of a small Southern state, Arkansas, staggered front-runners from both parties.
New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was fighting former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards for second place, but Edwards appeared to be leading. Her loss to Obama suggests that she’s vulnerable, despite consistently leading in the national polls.
On the Republican side, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has vastly outspent Huckabee, limps into New Hampshire probably needing a win to keep his presidential hopes alive.
“Anytime you win and have a lead you are the top until the next state,” said Ray Hoffmann, chairman of the Iowa Republican Party. “But it’s not over. We have a long way to go.”
With neither party having an heir apparent for the nomination for president, the caucuses were as wide open as they’ve been in decades.
Because the Democratic candidates were similar on issues such as health care, the war in Iraq and the environment, Iowans had to consider intangible factors to pick a favorite.
Voters apparently responded to Obama’s call for change.
“We are one nation, one people, and our time for change has come,” Obama said. “In the face of impossible odds, people who love this country can change it.” His crowds were substantially larger than those of his rivals. And his star power was enhanced by campaign appearances from Oprah Winfrey.
On the GOP side, Huckabee is now a clear front-runner, though challenges are ahead.
He campaigned in Iowa on a shoestring budget but enjoyed support from the state’s Christian conservatives.
The Christian right dominates Republican politics and many religious activists had been looking for a candidate to back since the presidential contest started in earnest.
Huckabee, a blip on the political radar a year ago, won the Iowa straw poll this summer and never looked back.
At times it seemed the rigors of the campaign trail were having a toll.
He also stood up to relentless campaign ad attacks from Romney.
Huckabee’s strong showing in Iowa shows he can perform well in states with huge pockets of evangelicals.
It remains to be seen, however, if Huckabee has the resources and message to win in New Hampshire and other states.
“He has work to do,” said Tim Hagle, a political science professor at the University of Iowa. “But it’s clear that there are voters who like his approach.”
Thursday’s runner-ups were dealt serious setbacks.
Clinton now must win New Hampshire to keep pace with Obama and re-establish her campaign.
The former first lady urged Iowans that she had the experience needed to move the country forward in difficult times.
“I’m prepared to do the work necessary to make the changes we desperately need,” Clinton said in the last days of her Iowa campaign. “I’m prepared to work for this country from Day 1.”
About half of Democratic caucus-goers said a candidate’s ability to bring about needed change was the most important factor in making their decision, according to preliminary results from a survey of people entering Iowa’s caucuses.
Smaller numbers cited experience, caring about people like them and having the best chance to capture the White House.
Even the runner-ups took a page from Obama’s playbook, mentioning change in their remarks after the caucuses.
“The one thing that’s clear from the Iowa results. … Status quo lost and change won,” Edwards said. “Now we move on to New Hampshire.”
Clinton, the national front-runner in most polls, said: “It’s a great night for Democrats. We’ve seen an unprecedented turnout in Iowa. We are sending a message of change, and the change will be a Democratic president in the White House.”
But looking ahead to New Hampshire, she continued to stress her experience. “I am so ready for the rest of this campaign, and I am so ready to lead,” she said as the crowd chanted, “Hillary, Hillary, Hillary!”
Edwards was running the populist campaign he began in 2004, when he finished a surprising second behind Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.
He tweaked his message, however, evolving his stump appearances from a poor people’s campaign to a crusade to save the middle class.
More than any of the top candidates, Edwards needed a strong showing in Iowa to keep his campaign viable and persuade more donors to contribute to his cause.
Not everyone was going on to New Hampshire. Democratic Sens. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Joseph Biden of Delaware announced they would quit the race.
Romney led in Iowa for most of the year, beating back all challengers until Huckabee emerged.
The former Massachusetts governor has positioned himself as a conservative with the problem-solving skills necessary to lead a country in crisis.
He outspent Huckabee 20-1, and needed to win here, since early expectations had the state wrapped up for him well after Labor Day.
“Just because you win the silver in one event, doesn’t mean you won’t come back to win the gold in the next event,” he said.