Senator Barack Obama and Governor Mike Huckabee were the big winners in Iowa last night. This is the first official vote of the 2008 campaigns, and its effect really shouldn’t be underestimated. Yes, Iowa is one state and as we pointed out last week, the caucuses have a completely different breakdown of voters than the general election, but the effects of momentum after Iowa helped make John Kerry the nominee, and the supporters of Obama and Huckabee will be looking to surf that same wave.
So here’s a little more information on the caucus results and what they mean (or could mean) for the rest of us as we head into next week’s New Hampshire primary.
For the Democrats, it’s been perceived as a three-way race between Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards for a while. While Kaffeine Buzz doesn’t put too much stock in poll numbers, that is indeed how it turned out last night, with Bill Richardson, the next-closest competitor, getting only about 2% of the vote. Obama’s 37.6% gave him a commanding lead over John Edwards, at 29.8%, and Hillary Clinton’s 29.5%. Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd each had 1% of the vote. Last week’s column about the Iowa caucuses explained the “viability” requirement which means that for the Democrats at least, these numbers don’t really show how many supporters each of these candidates had. NPR reported that Dennis Kucinich and Bill Richardson both encouraged their supporters to vote for Obama if they did not make the viability cut.
Chris Dodd and Joe Biden have now dropped out of the race. Bill Richardson, happy with his fourth-place finish, is looking ahead to New Hampshire, but knows he needs a better finish there to remain in the race. No word yet on Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel.
Turnout was the story of the night for the Democrats. More than twice as many Democrats as Republicans came out to the caucuses, and 57% of them were first-time caucusgoers. 239,000 was a record turnout for the Democrats, and those aged 17-29 made up the second-largest age group (tied with 65 and older) and voted overwhelmingly for Obama (57%, compared to 11% for Clinton and 14% for Edwards).
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So what does this really mean? Obama is now the clear front-runner going into New Hampshire, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the inevitable nominee. But his large-margin win in a 95% white state that went to Bush in 2004 bodes well for his viability as a candidate across America. No African-American candidate has ever won a primary by such a lead. Jesse Jackson won Virginia, South Carolina, and Louisiana in 1984.
More importantly, it means that new voters and young voters can really have an impact when they bother to turn out. And perhaps it’s a sign that they are finally getting motivated to do so, at least on the Democratic side.
With about 115,000 people turning out, the Republican caucuses were less decisive and less uplifting for the party as a whole. Mike Huckabee was the winner with 34% of the vote, beating Mitt Romney, who got 25.3%. Next in line were Fred Thompson and John McCain with 13.4% and 13.1% respectively. Ron Paul got 10%, beating the once-perceived front runner Rudy Giuliani, who only had 3.5%.
Huckabee’s victory was due in large part to evangelical Christians. 60% of the Republicans described themselves as such, and 46% of them voted for Huckabee. This translates into a less certain front-runner position for the Baptist minister, who heads into New Hampshire where the party has far fewer evangelicals. Still, it gives him credibility and status among the leaders. He also appeared on Jay Leno’s show the night before the caucuses, although some have noted that he crossed a picket line of striking writers to do so.
Rudy Giuliani hadn’t campaigned much personally in Iowa, but he had spent money and is probably disappointed with his finish behind long shot (but good fundraiser) Ron Paul. Mitt Romney, by far the biggest spender, is most likely also disappointed, but is still popular in New Hampshire. John McCain also barely campaigned in Iowa but got endorsements from several newspapers and had a good showing.
Of course, a candidate could lose Iowa by a mile and still win the nomination. They could lose New Hampshire, too. Bill Clinton did. But the significance of these early states can’t be denied. Already two candidates have dropped out of the Democratic race, and Republicans had been dropping out even before the vote. Tom Tancredo and Sam Brownback have already quit, and Fred Thompson may be next. The only thing that’s really been decided is Iowa’s delegates, but that’s a better indicator than poll numbers.