How Obama, Huckabee Pulled Off Win in Iowa Barack Obama's campaign message resonates with women while Huckabee strikes a chord with conservatives. The presidential hopefuls head to New Hampshire for primaries on Jan. 8, leaving no time for the candidates to reshape their messages or raise more money.
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How Obama, Huckabee Pulled Off Win in Iowa

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How Obama, Huckabee Pulled Off Win in Iowa

How Obama, Huckabee Pulled Off Win in Iowa

How Obama, Huckabee Pulled Off Win in Iowa

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Barack Obama's campaign message resonates with women while Huckabee strikes a chord with conservatives. The presidential hopefuls head to New Hampshire for primaries on Jan. 8, leaving no time for the candidates to reshape their messages or raise more money.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

By now you know the basics. Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrat Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses, which means Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton, among others, did not. This morning we're going to find out what it means. And NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson will guide us through it.

And Mara, what happened?

MARA LIASSON: Steve, it was a good night for insurgents. Both Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee ran against establishment figures in their own parties. The outcome on the Democratic side was a blow to Hillary Clinton, who once had a commanding lead in the state. But her message of strength and experience and even the all-out support of her husband - former President Bill Clinton - was no match for Obama. He tapped into the strong desire of Democrats for change.

A member of the Illinois State Senate just three years ago, last night Obama up-ended the plans of a candidate who once looked like the inevitable Democratic nominee. Last night in Des Moines, Obama talked about how improbable his victory once seemed.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): But on this January night, at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn't do.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Sen. OBAMA: You have done what the state of New Hampshire can do in five days.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LIASSON: Entrance polls showed that Obama won the lion's share of first-time caucus goers and voters under 44 years old, while Clinton won voters over 65. Remarkably, Obama even won the female vote. But more than anything else, it was Obama's message that won.

Fifty-two percent of caucus-goers said the ability to affect change was the most important criterion; only 20 percent chose experience.

Sen. OBAMA: We are choosing hope over fear.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Sen. OBAMA: We're choosing unity over division and sending a powerful message that change is coming to America.

LIASSON: Clinton, who finished third, called Obama to congratulate him. But she wasn't conceding the nomination - not at all.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): I am so ready for the rest of this campaign, and I am so ready to lead.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LIASSON: The rest of the campaign starts today in New Hampshire, where Clinton's once-formidable lead has evaporated and where she badly needs a win.

Sen. CLINTON: 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. I am ready for that contest.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Group: Hillary, Hillary, Hillary, Hillary...

LIASSON: John Edwards, who finished second, but less than a percentage point ahead of Clinton, had been running in Iowa almost nonstop since he ended his campaign for vice president four years ago. His passionate anti-corporate populism struck a chord in this state - not strong enough to win - but it was a message he had no plans to abandon.

Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Former Democratic Senator, North Carolina; Presidential Candidate): Corporate greed has got a stranglehold on America. And unless and until we have a president in the proud tradition of Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, who has a little backbone, who has some strength, who has some fight, who's willing to stand up to these people, nothing will change. We will never have the America that all of us dream of.

LIASSON: None of the other Democratic candidates got over two percent and two of them - Joe Biden and Chris Dodd - dropped out of the race last night.

On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee defeated Mitt Romney by nine points. Romney had vastly outspent Huckabee. And he'd spent more than a year in Iowa setting up a sophisticated organization. But that was overwhelmed by the organic grassroots energy that Huckabee harnessed through Christian churches and home school networks.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Republican Governor, Arkansas; Presidential Candidate): You know, I wasn't sure that I would ever be able to love a state as much as I love my home state of Arkansas. But tonight I love Iowa a whole lot.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LIASSON: Two months ago, no one paid any attention to Mike Huckabee, but he vaulted himself into the top tier through his talent as a performer on the stump and in debates. His overt declarations of Christian faith, his sense of humor, and his own brand of anti-Wall Street populism also appealed to Iowa Republicans.

Mr. HUCKABEE: Tonight what we have seen is a new day in American politics. A new day is needed in American politics, just like a new day is needed in American government. And tonight 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.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LIASSON: A whopping 60 percent of Republican caucus-goers identified themselves as evangelicals. And Huckabee won them over Romney by more than 2-1. The loss was a blow to Romney, who had designed a strategy based on building momentum by winning the early states.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts; Presidential Candidate): Well, we won the silver.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. ROMNEY: And congratulations to Governor Huckabee for winning the gold. Nice job. But you know, just as Dan Jansen pointed out, you win the silver in one event, it doesn't mean you're not going to come back and win the gold in the final event. And that we're going to do.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: The Republican race now moves to New Hampshire, where Huckabee has next to no organization, but where Romney faces a strong challenge from John McCain, who tied for third place in Iowa with Fred Thompson. Ron Paul finished fifth and Rudy Giuliani sixth.

McCain, speaking in New Hampshire, clearly relished Romney's setback.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): I consider it to be Governor Huckabee's victory. I think he earned it. I think he worked hard and I think it's his victory, and I congratulate him, especially the fact that he ran largely a positive campaign. And I guess that that should be, I think, a lesson to all of us.

LIASSON: There was no question about who McCain was talking about. Both he and Huckabee had been the targets of negative ads from Romney.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson reporting from Iowa. And Mara, we've been talking with a couple of Iowa caucus-goers overnight who said their rooms were quite crowded last night.

LIASSON: There's no doubt about it, turnout was the big story here; 239,000 Democrats came out last night. That's up from 124,000 in 2004, almost double the turnout. Republicans - also turnout was up, 112,000 turned last night. That's up from 87,000 caucus-goers in 2000, which is the last time there was a contested Republican race here.

Democrats, though, clearly had the energy, much bigger crowds. Every one of the leading Democratic candidates had a great organization and they got out every single last available voter.

INSKEEP: Well, they certainly got out more people than normal, although I do have to mention it's still a relatively small percentage of the possible voters in a relatively small state.

LIASSON: That's true. But the reason why turnout is so important is because it means that Democrats are energized. They're excited. This is not a good sign for Republicans for November.

INSKEEP: Well, now, what are the signs here for New Hampshire then? What is the spillover effect, if any, to the next state up?

LIASSON: Well, traditionally New Hampshire sometimes validates the Iowa results. Sometimes it ignores them. But remember, last time, 2004, John Kerry started caucus night in Iowa about seven or eight points down in New Hampshire. He won. Immediately he was seven or eight points up. There are only four days between now and the New Hampshire primary. There's not a whole lot of time to turn things around between now and January 8th.

On the Republican side, the New Hampshire primary is going to be a very different story than the Iowa caucuses - very different kind of Republican electorate, much fewer evangelical voters, immigration not as important an issue. So I think Huckabee will find the political terrain there quite different.

INSKEEP: Does Huckabee have a problem, though, because he's finally broken through, he's finally won here, but he's only got a few days to try to capitalize on that and build more support elsewhere in the country?

LIASSON: That's part of the problem. One of the other problems is it's not a lot of time for him to raise money. He's got New Hampshire in four days, then he'll probably turn his attention to South Carolina, and then at least the calendar slows down a little bit. And if he keeps on winning, he'd have a chance to build on the momentum.

INSKEEP: Did anything surprise you in the results from last night, Mara?

LIASSON: A lot of things surprised me. The fact that Obama did better than Clinton among women, the fact that Huckabee did well among almost all groups of Republicans. He didn't just win with the support of evangelicals. He got the support of mainstream Republicans too. The fact that Clinton only won with those very older voters, over 65. You know, I thought it was just a stunning result all around.

INSKEEP: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Steve.

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Obama, Huckabee Triumph in Iowa

NPR Special Report on the Iowa Caucuses (Hour 1)

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NPR Special Report on the Iowa Caucuses (Hour 2)

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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

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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.