- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2008

DES MOINES, Iowa — Sen. Barack Obama decisively won Iowa’s Democratic presidential caucus last night, toppling one-time front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who placed a close third to former Sen. John Edwards.

Polls of Democratic Iowans were mixed leading up to the first-in-the-nation caucus, but Mr. Obama benefited from record turnout, including many new young voters.

“You have done what the cynics said we could not do,” Mr. Obama said as thousands crushed into the Hy-Vee Hall, where talk-show host Oprah Winfrey campaigned for him last month.

The first-term senator from Illinois, aiming to be the nation’s first black president, reprised his theme of uniting Republicans, Democrats and independents to solve the country’s problems and promised to “build a coalition for change.” It’s a message he used when first introduced to the country as a speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

“You have done what the state of New Hampshire can do in five days [and] … what America can do in this new year, 2008,” Mr. Obama said, to wild cheers.

In the complicated voting system, Mr. Obama won 38 percent of the delegates to state party convention, followed by Mr. Edwards, who won 30 percent, and Mrs. Clinton who won 29 percent.

Those three candidates flew immediately to New Hampshire, where polls have Mrs. Clinton with a slim lead over Mr. Obama, and Mr. Edwards a distant third. They will address Democrats in Manchester before a debate Saturday. The two other senators in the race, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, ended their presidential bids last night after dismal showings here.

Mrs. Clinton, who at one point held a nearly 30-point national advantage over Mr. Obama and has raised $100 million, will be boosted starting today on the New Hampshire campaign trail by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton said the election proves that the country will elect a Democratic president in November and said she is “ready” for that contest. She also thanked and congratulated all of the “exceptional” candidates.

“Together, we have presented the case for change and have made it absolutely clear that America needs a new beginning,” she said as a glum-faced Mr. Clinton appeared to blink back tears.

But more than 1,000 of her supporters, who snacked on corn chips and potato chips, remained upbeat.

“I’ve seen better days, but I’ll be alright,” a young campaign staffer said.

Mr. Edwards said the results sent a clear message — one that bolsters his chances of winning in other states. DEMS250%25.jpg

“The one thing that’s clear is the status quo lost and change won,” he said.

He also reprised his theme that money in politics breeds corruption and touted himself as the man who was able to compete against “two candidates who thought their money would make them inevitable.”

Edwards and Clinton staffers were packing their bags and heading to other states — many of them to New Hampshire, which holds the first-in-the-nation primary Tuesday. But several got in cars to drive to Nevada and South Carolina, which also will hold contests this month.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson earned a little more than 2 percent of the state’s delegates and will participate in an ABC News debate among the top four finishers on Saturday.

Mrs. Clinton made a point to say she has always intended to run a national campaign “all the way through the early contests.”

“I want the people of America, and particularly Democrats, and like-minded independents, and Republicans who have seen the light, to understand, No. 1, that the stakes are huge, that the job is enormous, but that I believe we’re going to make the right decision,” she said.

At caucuses across the state, voters praised Mrs. Clinton as experienced.

“She’s the kind of person who actually can put their foot down and get things done,” said Cory Davis, a 27-year-old pizza maker for Domino’s. “She’s the only one of them that has actually been in the White House.”

Organization was a major factor in the win, as Obama supporters helped generate unprecedented voter turnout larger than anything the caucus had seen previously.

Throughout the day his campaign sent supporters text messages reminding them to caucus. His wife, Michelle Obama, wrote an e-mail telling national supporters that the campaign was organizing baby sitters for people who wanted to caucus and offering rides and directions to caucusgoers.

“This process has been a real human experience — there’s a strong community and generosity of spirit that’s emerged here among Barack’s supporters. It’s a feeling that’s bigger than the excitement of a typical political campaign. It’s the feeling of a movement,” she said.

The energy on the Democratic side was apparent throughout the campaign, with many Iowans saying they were undecided because they were so impressed with the field.

Don Clark, a contractor from Des Moines, said he has read every pamphlet that the campaigns sent out but remained unsure of his preferred candidate as he entered his caucus.

“We have six excellent candidates. Any one of them would be excellent,” he said. “This is a hard decision, and it’s an important decision. Whoever we pick here is going to be the next president 99.9 percent because the Republicans have done such a bad job.”

The Iowa Democratic Party said more than 232,000 attended the caucus, compared with about 124,000 in 2004 when Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts won.

Mr. Richardson’s supporters helped Mr. Obama in many precinct caucuses, including one at the First Presbyterian Church in Des Moines. When their candidate failed to meet the 15 percent threshold, those supporters immediately joined Mr. Obama’s group.

At another Des Moines caucus at the Brubaker Elementary School, Richardson caucusgoers struck a deal with the Edwards group to give him a victory there.

“They all decided that they wanted their vote to count tonight,” said Richardson organizer Lori Martinez, tears welling in her eyes. “It’s all I can do at some point.”

S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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