Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee scored impressive victories in their respective parties' caucuses in Iowa tonight.
According to the Iowa Democratic party calculations, Obama was leading both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards with 38% percent of the likely convention delegates, with nearly all of the precincts reporting.
The two wins scramble the presidential contest in both parties. On the Democratic side, Obama now becomes the frontrunner going into New Hampshire. Clinton's loss raises the stakes for her in the Granite State, where she holds a slim lead in the polls. And the results throw a dark shadow over the campaign of Edwards, who has never had the strength in New England that he had on the prairie.
The Republican race, meanwhile, is again thrown into a cocked hat. Relying on a deep well of support among evangelical voters and Iowa home schoolers, Huckabee's win shakes up the GOP contest once more, setting up an unexpected three-way race in New Hampshire between Huckabee, Romney and former Arizona Senator John McCain, with libertarian Ron Paul and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani bringing up the rear.
But the Reagan coalition is in danger of splintering among economic, religious and national security conservatives and there is no sign yet that anyone can emerge quickly to patch the pieces together. Tonight, McCain campaign officials were exalting Huckabee's win, because it takes a piece out of Romney as they all head to New Hampshire. "What had to happen tonight happened," said one McCain hand.
Romney told Fox news just before 9 p.m. Eastern time, "Congratulations on the first round to Mike, and we will go on to New Hampshire."
In a very few weeks, Huckabee overcame steep odds with an unusual combination of down-home charm, a ready sense of humor and a fervent faith borne of his roots as a Baptist preacher. He surprised the Republican field with his ease on the stump and took several unorthodox positions on the Iraq war, on taxes and on immigration. In a field that wasn't high on personality, Huckabee was likeable. Noted McCain adviser Mark McKinnon: "Any time I hear two campaigns arguing on Election Day between passion and organization, passion always wins."
Outspent nearly 20 to one, Huckabee told his supporters at a celebration in Des Moines that the results proved that "people are more important than the purse...Tonight what we have seen is a new day in American politics. It starts here in Iowa but it doesn't end here. It goes all the way through the other states and ends at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue one year from now."
Though Clinton did well among women and senior citizens, Obama's win was wide and deep. He did unusually well in the college towns of Ames, Iowa City and Grinnell as well as the labor bastion of Blackhawk county. Meanwhile, in Des Moines, teenagers in cars "scooped the loop" along the downtown streets and yelled Obama's name "Whoohoo! Obama! Fired up!" in the icy night air.
David Axelrod, Obama's top campaign strategist, summed up the night this way: "Barack Obama brought so many new supporters to this cause, independents, some Republicans, young people...this is what this party has to do in November."
In some ways the story of Obama's victory was written in the turnout numbers. Democratic party officials said that turnout exceeded 218,000, a jump of nearly 100,000 or nearly 80% over 2004. A variety of precincts sites around Des Moines reported turnout two or three times the norm, with some would-be caucusers being turned away or precinct captains running out of registration forms. Obama's supporters swamped some sites.
In a driving and impassioned speech, in which he did not congratulate Obama, Edwards told his supporters that "when we speak up against corporate greed and for the 37 million Americans who have no health insurance....America is a better place, it says something about who we are. What began tonight in the heartland of America... is that we are better than this, we are going to bring the change that this country needs."
Clinton congratulated Obama and Edwards on their showing in Iowa and vowed to take her campaign to New Hampshire. Calling the evening a big win for all Democrats, Clinton said, "I am so ready for the rest of this campaign...We have a long way to go, but I am optimistic about this campaign and more importantly about the future of this country."
And in a remarkable tableau late Thursday night, an African American stood in front of hundreds of screaming white middle Americans and delivered a speech that lifted its leitmotifs from great speeches of the past. "On this January night," said Obama, "at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn't do. You have done what the state of New Hampshire can do in five days. You have done what America can do in this new year, 2008. In lines that stretched around schools and churches, in small towns and big cities, you came together...to say we are one nation and we are one people and our time for change has come."
With reporting by Ana Marie Cox, Joe Klein, Michael Scherer and Amy Sullivan/Des Moines