- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Thursday’s Iowa caucus results were commanding victories for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama on the Democratic side and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for the Republicans and decidedly unpleasant outcomes for early frontrunners — New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, currently looking to rebound after being decisively beaten in their respective caucuses. The defeat is particularly bad news for Mrs. Clinton, who came in third in Iowa with 29 percent of the vote, well behind Mr. Obama, who won with 38 percent, and former Sen. John Edwards, who finished second with 30 percent. It was clear for months that Mrs. Clinton faced stiff challenges in Iowa from Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards. But the combination of a third-place finish, a nine-point loss, and the fact that she lost to Mr. Obama among female caucus voters in Iowa (getting just 30 percent of the vote, according to one poll) have combined to shatter the Clinton campaign’s efforts to create an aura of “inevitability” that their candidate would win the nomination.

On the Republican side, the situation is in chaos, and there is no clear favorite. In Iowa, Mr. Huckabee finished first with 34 percent of the vote, compared to 25 percent for Mr. Romney, 13 percent each for former Sen. Fred Thompson and Sen. John McCain, and 10 percent for Rep. Ron Paul. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (whose strategy from the beginning involved bypassing Iowa), won 4 percent. Mr. Huckabee’s victory represents a serious blow to Mr. Romney, who pored at least $17 million of his own money into Iowa, and had been heavily favored to win the caucus there until Mr. Huckabee’s meteoric rise. Roughly 10 weeks ago, Mr. Huckabee lagged more than 20 points behind Mr. Romney in Iowa.

As for Mr. Romney, whose strategy was to build momentum with a victory in Iowa, winning Tuesday in New Hampshire is essential. He had been running well ahead in the polls until last month, when Mr. McCain — whose candidacy had been all but written off by pundits six months ago — actually “surged” slightly ahead of Mr. Romney in some polls. Currently, Mr. Romney is running ahead of Mr. McCain in New Hampshire, but in the wake of the latest results from Iowa, it is anyone’s guess whether the Romney lead will hold. (Mr. Huckabee is running 16 points behind Mr. Romney in New Hampshire.)

Two major question marks are former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani — who usually places first in national GOP polls, and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, in fifth place. Mr. Giuliani’s strategy has been to permit his Republican opponents to beat each other up in early-voting states, while waiting for late January and early February balloting in delegate-rich states like New York, New Jersey, California and Florida where he is favored. As for Mr. Thompson, who had been hoping to place second in Iowa, he is placing his bets on doing well in South Carolina Jan. 19. The only sure thing is that sometime within the next six weeks, the Republican field will be winnowed down to two or three viable candidates.

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