Iowa Caucuses Shift Political Landscape

The political landscape has been remade ahead of the New Hampshire primaries next week. The win for Barack Obama redefines the Democratic contest, as he was backed by a variety of constituents. Mike Huckabee's boost comes from conservative voters and a strong turnout.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Some familiar figures are going to have to get used to some unfamiliar roles, thanks to the Iowa caucuses.

Hillary Clinton, the candidate who positioned herself as the inevitable nominee of the Democrats, now has to make a strong showing in New Hampshire four days from now. And Barack Obama, who defeated both Clinton and John Edwards in Iowa, must take on the role of full-fledged front-runner.

Joining us now to talk about the shifting sand in both parties is NPR's news analyst Juan Williams.

Good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And, Juan, last night Barack Obama told a victory rally they said this day would never come. He did - he pulled off a win. What does it mean for the Democrats?

WILLIAMS: Well, it redefines the whole contest, Renee. I think that, you know, the defining moment is - he kept saying that last night in his victory speech -really was the result of turnout. You saw a record turnout here in Iowa -220,000 Democrats. Previous record had been like 124. No one thought that it was possible to get that many people out on a cold night to caucus. You know, you have to show up early and stay there for several hours in order to get it done.

Obama won among young people, single people, urban people, upper-income people, and among liberal Democrats. And it really was his ability - the organization's ability to get people to the caucuses. The level of enthusiasm here for him was unprecedented. So he clearly was speaking to vision and getting people to identify with him in a way that was really uncanny.

MONTAGNE: Did the people around Hillary Clinton see this coming?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I saw President Clinton a couple times, and then of course the people who were running Senator Clinton's campaign, and you know, they had the sense that - they started talking about how President Clinton hadn't won before Georgia. He lost here, lost in New Hampshire, when he went on to win the presidency. And I think the whole body language and the attitude was this - we're in it for the long haul. We have the money. We have the organization. So they seem to be talking in a way that was preparing them for the idea that they were going to lose here.

MONTAGNE: And what does that the fact that Barack Obama won in a nearly all-white state - and much has been made of this - what does it say about the role race is playing in this campaign?

WILLIAMS: Well, race is an absolutely essential factor here because we've never had in the United States a leading nominee of the party be an African-American. If you go back over time, people like Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Jackson would have done the best among them, but he only won, you know, I think it was four or five states in terms of primaries.

Here you have right from the top Barack Obama putting in an impressive performance and forcing Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, his two primary rivals, to react to his race without doing so explicitly. And the voters in this 95 percent white state, as you point out, saying, you know what, we can embrace this African-American in a way that's never been done before. So it's going to be a key part of what comes from now - comes from now on.

MONTAGNE: And on the Republican side, Juan, Mike Huckabee won a decisive victory over Mitt Romney. He - Romney - invested loads of time and money in the state. What made the difference?

WILLIAMS: Again, it was turnout, a record turnout on the Republican side. Evangelicals in particular strongly favored Huckabee over Romney. And you know, if you look, just about in every category, Renee, what you see is that Huckabee was the victor, you know, people - with the exception of people who made over a hundred thousand dollars, who went for Romney.

MONTAGNE: Well, just very briefly, the race moves to New Hampshire with a different narrative.

WILLIAMS: It sure does. On the Republican side, it's going to be about John McCain, who was really a sort of second-level victory here because of Romney's loss; and on the Democratic side, I think Barack Obama's momentum, can he maintain it, and the scrutiny that he will be under from now on.

MONTAGNE: Juan, thanks very much.

NPR news analyst Juan Williams.

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Obama, Huckabee Triumph in Iowa

With his wife, Ann,  Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney waves to supporters.

With his wife, Ann, by his side, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney waves to supporters after speaking at his after-caucus party in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday. Romney placed second in the caucuses, finishing behind Mike Huckabee. LM Otero/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption LM Otero/Getty Images

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has won the GOP Iowa caucuses, while Illinois Sen. Barack Obama won on the Democratic side. Both victories represent the triumph of insurgent candidates over their more established rivals.

Huckabee, an ordained Baptist preacher, rode a wave of support from evangelical Christians to victory Thursday night, while Obama's message of change resonated with many Democrats.

It's a remarkable win for Huckabee, who was little more than an asterisk in the race for the Republican nomination just a few months ago. The question is whether he can prevail outside friendly Iowa territory, and go the distance to the nomination.

Obama, meanwhile, broke out of a neck-and-neck contest with his main Democratic rivals, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Yet Obama, who campaigned as an apostle of change in Washington, was gaining 38 percent support among Democrats. Edwards, who ran promising to battle the special interests in the capital, drew about 30 percent, while Clinton, who stressed her experience, came in at about 29 percent.

Obama, speaking to his supporters, called his victory in Iowa a "defining moment in history."

"Our time for change has come," he said to thunderous applause. "We are choosing hope over fear; we are choosing unity over division and sending a powerful message that change is coming to America."

Both Obama and Huckabee can expect a windfall in terms of media attention and campaign donations, thanks to their victories in Iowa.

The Faith Factor

For many Republican caucus participants, faith was a determining factor. More than eight in 10 Huckabee supporters said they are born-again or evangelical Christians, compared with less than half of those who supported his rival Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. Nearly two-thirds of Huckabee backers also said it was very important that their candidate share their religious beliefs, compared with about one in five of Romney's.

"I never thought I could love a state more than my home state of Arkansas, but tonight I love Iowa a whole lot," Huckabee told a crowd of cheering supporters.

If the mood was one of elation at Huckabee's headquarters, things were certainly more somber at the headquarters for Romney, who spent a great deal of time and a huge amount of money in Iowa — including about $17 million of his own money.

Romney, who finished second in Iowa, now turns his attention to New Hampshire, which holds its primary on Jan. 8. There, his campaign will be appealing to much more fiscally conservative voters, rather than the social conservatives who dominated the GOP Iowa caucuses. Evangelical conservatives are thought to account for at least one-third — and perhaps as much as 40 percent — of all Republican caucus-goers in Iowa.

Strong Turnout Among Democrats

Preliminary results from an Associated Press survey of Iowa voters shed some light on the Obama victory. About half of Democrats said their candidate's ability to bring about needed change was the most important factor in making their decision, and change was Obama's calling card during the campaign. About one-fifth of Democrats said experience — Clinton's mantra — was most important.

On the Democratic side, a record 236,000 people participated in the caucuses, with many first-time caucus-goers and independents showing up. In 2004, 124,000 Democrats attended the caucuses. Attendance was lower among Republicans, with roughly 116,000 caucus participants.

Edwards came in second, earning 30 percent to Obama's 38 percent, similar to his performance in the 2004 Iowa caucuses. Then, he won 32 percent of the vote, second to Sen. John Kerry's 38 percent. Edwards has been campaigning in Iowa heavily since his vice presidential campaign ended four years ago.

Speaking after the polls closed, Edwards continued to hammer out his populist message, "The one thing that is clear is that the status quo lost, and change won," he said before repeating a familiar refrain — deriding corporate greed in America.

Speaking to her supporters, Clinton put on a brave face on what was clearly a disappointing finish. "I am so ready for the rest of this campaign," Clinton said to thunderous chants of "Hillary, Hillary, Hillary." She repeated a vow that, if elected, she would end the war in Iraq.

Biden, Dodd Drop Out

The Iowa caucuses typically involve a small number of caucus-goers — in 2000, the last time both parties held caucuses, about 145,000 people turned out. This year, more than 220,000 Democrats and 116,000 Republicans participated.

The Iowa contests are considered a crucial step on the road to the White House and are all about momentum.

The results in Iowa, along with those in the New Hampshire primary five days later, will help winnow down the number of candidates. Already, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden are abandoning their campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination after poor showings in the Iowa caucuses.

Defeat in Iowa or New Hampshire, though, does not necessarily spell the end of a candidacy. In 1988, for example, Democrat Michael Dukakis lost in Iowa, and in 2000, George W. Bush failed to win New Hampshire's Republican primary.

Looking Beyond Iowa

"Don't count Clinton and Edwards out yet," said Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin. "I still think you're looking at a three-way race."

Both Clinton and Romney have the financial resources to weather the many primaries that lie ahead. Obama, too, has deep pockets, thanks to tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions. Edwards, however, has much shallower pockets, and he is relying on matching public funds to finance his campaign.

Not all contenders were focused on Iowa.

Republican Rudolph Giuliani, who did not contest in Iowa but who has been leading nationally, was in Florida on Thursday, making a bid for that state's nomination when it holds its primary Jan. 29. The former New York City mayor is still considered a contender in future primaries.

Meanwhile, Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain has focused much of his efforts on New Hampshire, which he won in 2000, defeating then-Gov. George W. Bush by 16 points. In a sense, Huckabee's Iowa triumph is a boon for McCain because it weakens Romney, McCain's main rival in the Granite State.

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