DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa sent the country a message Thursday night: We want change!
New faces. New voices. A new approach to politics.
The voters' message was clear in both parties, but boldest in the Democratic Party. Young people, independents and first-time voters surged into precinct caucuses in record numbers to vote for Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, rejecting the establishment's choice, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.
Clinton claimed her gender also made her the face of change. But her message didn't resonate as well as Obama's, and Iowa's change-minded voters didn't buy it. Iowa Democrats wanted Obama's fresh-faced message of hope and bipartisan change and his promise of a new day for America. And Obama represents breath-taking change as an African-American who's now arguably the front-running Democrat for the U.S. presidency barely 43 years after the 1965 Voting Rights Act made African-Americans full participants in U.S. elections for the first time.
The hunger for change swelled Democratic turnout to 227,000, nearly double the record of 124,000 just four years ago.
Obama won by doing what no one thought he could do — drawing young people to the caucuses, as well as independents and people who'd never bothered with politics before. He won 57 percent of those under the age of 30, a plurality of both independents and first-time attendees at the caucuses, and, surprisingly, many of the women whom Clinton had considered part of her base.
Yet he faces a stiff challenge from Clinton in the campaign ahead.
She has the backing of twice as many party elites — governors and members of Congress, although her attempt to stand for both experience and change fell flat in Iowa. And he'll have to fight for the independent vote in New Hampshire next week against Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, each with his own appeal to swing voters.
Obama also will face closer scrutiny of his record than he has so far — and probably a much-magnified version of the smear campaign that so far has existed largely on the Internet.
He got a preview of that Thursday afternoon as he shook hands in a Des Moines food court, and one person asked about e-mails that call him a Muslim who would take the presidential oath with his hand on the Quran instead of a Bible — which isn't true.
"I'm a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ," Obama said. "Don't read e-mails."
He also has to find a way to win older people. He got only 17 percent of the vote of those 65 and older — an age gap that could hurt him heading forward.
Finally, he still faces Clinton, with the cash, organization and support to test him coast to coast. Now, however, she must stop Obama in New Hampshire, where Bill Clinton revived his 1992 presidential campaign.
"This race begins tonight and ends when Democrats throughout America have their say," said Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle. "Our campaign was built for a marathon, and we have the resources to run a national race in the weeks ahead."
The call for change was evident in the Republican Party as well. Voters chose the wisecracking former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and his promise to change Washington over the moneyed-machine of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Huckabee offered Iowans an unconventional approach that often defied political convention. For weeks after he first moved into first place in Iowa polls, he let attacks from Romney and others go essentially unanswered, a tactical passivity long considered suicidal by analysts.
When he finally did tape a TV ad counterattacking, he called a press conference to unveil it, then said he'd changed his mind and canceled it, then aired the ad to prove that he'd really made it — also ensuring that it got free media. Reporters snickered at his two-faced presentation, but Iowa voters didn't.
He's also signaled a willingness to take on party icons, leveling a detailed criticism of President Bush's foreign policy, for example.
Huckabee faces what could be a growing challenge from party elite conservatives, such as radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who think his record as governor was too liberal.
Values voters — those looking for someone who shares their moral values — made up the biggest slice of the Iowa vote Thursday, and 44 percent of them went for Huckabee, many of them evangelical Christians drawn to him as an ordained Baptist preacher.
But Huckabee heads now to New Hampshire, where McCain is leading in the polls, and a libertarian electorate is probably less receptive to him than the Christian conservatives in Iowa. The last evangelical leader to surprise the GOP in Iowa was Pat Robertson in 1988, when he finished second, but his campaign was snowbound in New Hampshire.