Illinois Senator Barack Obama and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses Thursday night, establishing themselves as the early frontrunners for the Democratic and Republican Presidential nominations and handing two earlier favorites crushing losses.
Mitt Romney, who outspent other Republicans 10-1, will finish a distant second while former Democratic frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton in third place, close behind former Senator John Edwards.
While Romney’s loss is more crushing in numbers, Clinton’s loss is a serious blow what at one time seemed to be an easy cruise to the Democratic nomination. With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, Obama had 38 percent of the vote with Edwards at 30 percent and Clinton at 29.
On the Republican side, it wasn’t even close with Huckabee jumping out to an early lead and never looked back. NBC called the race for Huckabee at 9 p.m. EST, an hour after the GOP straw votes began. The networks and the Associated Press called the Democratic race for Obama by 9:30 p.m. — two hours after the Democratic caucuses began. With 96 percent of the vote tallied, Huckabee led with 34 percent, followed by Romney with 25, Fred Thompson and John McCain with 13 (with Thompson holding a slight edge in vote numbers) and Ron Paul with 10 (all numbers are percentages).
The third place finish by Clinton was a public repudiation and a humiliating defeat for the Democratic candidate once considered the presumptive nominee. Her loss was even more stinging because exit polls showed she fared poorly with young women and African-American votes.
Clinton put on her game face and praised the strong Democratic turnout (more than 230,000) and promised to move on the New Hampshire where her once large lead in the polls has vanished.
Huckabee leaves Iowa as a candidate Republicans must take seriously. His victory is a resounding defeat for Mitt Romney, who invested millions along with considerable time and resources in Iowa.
Thursday’s results began to thin the herd in the crowded Presidential field. Within minutes of the final result, Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Chris Dodd dropped out of the race.
On the Republican side, Fred Thompson is mulling a withdrawal after eking out a third place finish over a resurgent John McCain. Thompson is out of money and his dismal finish will not help fundraising.
Writes Patrick Healy in The New York Times:
The Democratic and Republican establishments and their presidential candidates, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Gov. Mitt Romney, were brought low in Iowa on Thursday night, shaken seriously by two national newcomers who won decisively on messages of insurgency and change.
The victors in Iowa, Senator Barack Obama for the Democrats and former Gov. Mike Huckabee for the Republicans, are as far from the status quo as possible. One is the son of a Kenyan father and a white Kansan mother who entered the United States Senate just three years ago. The other is a former Baptist minister who was best known until recently for losing over 100 pounds and taking on the issue of childhood obesity.
The two winners burst the aura of strength and confidence that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Romney had tried to cultivate for months, and left both parties suddenly without a clear path to their nominating conventions, let alone November.
Mrs. Clinton’s loss was especially glaring. Her central strategy for much of 2007 was to appear as the inevitable nominee, but Iowans shredded that notion. She tried in recent weeks to convince voters that another Clinton administration could be an agent of change, but Iowans clearly did not buy it.
Without question, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Romney have the money, the campaign apparatus and the legions of supporters to stay in the hunt for the nomination and to right their campaigns. But Mrs. Clinton’s lackluster finish raises anew questions about her electability, and whether independent voters — twice as many of whom backed Mr. Obama over her — will ever come around to Mrs. Clinton.
And Mr. Romney, who outspent Mr. Huckabee 6 to 1 in television advertising in Iowa, now faces a far more crowded field of rivals in the New Hampshire primary who are eager to tear into his wounded candidacy
All the candidates now move to that primary on Tuesday, which Mrs. Clinton had tried to make a fire wall for her campaign, as it was for her husband’s presidential candidacy in 1992, when he finished strongly in second place.
“If Hillary doesn’t stop Obama in New Hampshire, Obama is going to be the Democratic nominee,” said Robert Shrum, a Democratic consultant who was John Kerry’s senior strategist in 2004.