WASHINGTON — Iowans voted for decisive change Thursday night, shaking up the race for the presidency for both Republicans and Democrats.
Republicans chose former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who took 34 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney got 25 percent, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson 13 percent and Arizona Sen. John McCain 13 percent.
It was a big setback for Romney, who spent millions, assembled a massive organization and led Iowa polls for months. He outspent Huckabee by an estimated 20-1. Huckabee spent little and had minimal organization. But he won because self-described evangelical or born-again Christians were six in 10 of GOP caucus-goers, and they stuck with Huckabee, an ordained Baptist preacher, 2-1. His essential message was an upbeat mix of compassionate conservatism and change.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama scored a victory with 38 percent of the Democratic vote. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards took 30 percent, and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton 29 percent.
Obama's win was powered by a massive turnout, and his margin came from young voters and first-time caucus-goers moved by his appeals for hope, change, bipartisanship and a new day in Washington. For an African-American to become the front-runner of a major party for the U.S. presidency is a historic milestone. It also was a major setback for Clinton, who'd led national polls all year as the presumed Democratic nominee. She vowed to keep fighting, as did Edwards.
TWO DEMOCRATS DROP OUT
Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware and Chris Dodd of Connecticut promptly abandoned their campaigns once the Iowa results became known. Biden polled only 1 percent, and Dodd less, despite having moved his family to Iowa last fall for an all-or-nothing crusade. Watch this space for more names to follow soon.
TELL IT LIKE IT IS
Biden, a 34-year-Senate veteran, spoke bluntly to reporters about his top Democratic rivals' legislative records in the final days of Iowa campaigning: "John (Edwards) doesn't have a record in the Senate. John's only passed four bills. They're all about post offices. I mean, literally. Most freshman senators don't get much done. Don't get much passed. Barack Obama hasn't passed any. There's not a major bill I know of with Hillary's name on it." Actually, Edwards passed only two bills, not four, both to rename post offices in North Carolina, the Biden camp helpfully noted when asked to check.
TO ATTACK OR NOT TO ATTACK
Huckabee called a press conference Monday to announce that he'd decided at the last minute to not run an ad attacking Romney, even though his campaign had produced one. Too nasty. Then Huckabee showed the ad to the assembled reporters, some of whom snickered at the two-faced presentation. Was he having a Jimmy Stewart-like attack of conscience, despite his advisers' insistence that he needed to hit back at Romney, as he suggested? Or was he slyly posing as that, even as he put the attack ad into the media's hands, guaranteeing free exposure? Iowa voters rewarded him.
LET THE GAMES GO ON
New Year's Day is all about college football bowl games, even in Iowa two days before the 2008 presidential voting kicked off. Even presidential candidates had to accept that, but it didn't stop them from campaigning. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, for example, simply showed up at Woody's Sports Bar while the Outback Bowl was on. "Who's playing? And who should I be here for?" Richardson asked the 20 or so patrons. Someone hollered, "Wisconsin!" Richardson said, "OK, I'm for Wisconsin." Wonder how many votes that won him. He got 2 percent to finish a distant fourth.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Democratic and Republican presidential candidates hold separate debates Saturday night on ABC TV in Manchester, N.H., then Republicans do it again Sunday night on Fox TV. On Tuesday, New Hampshire votes in the nation's first primary. On Thursday night, the Republicans debate yet again, this time in Myrtle Beach, S.C.