Obama turns back Clinton in Iowa

Obama turns back Clinton in Iowa

Huckabee defeats Romney to win among Republicans

Image: Barack Obama

M. Spencer Green / AP
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama greets diners at a food court on caucus day Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.

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Caucus night
  Iowans turn out to select their candidates.

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Obama victory in Iowa
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews calls Barack Obama’s victory in Iowa, "history. This is Lexington and Concord."

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Mitt Romney discusses Iowa vote
Jan. 3: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney talks with NBC’s David Gregory about his chances in the Iowa caucuses.

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BREAKING NEWS
NBC, MSNBC and news services
updated 13 minutes ago

DES MOINES, Iowa – Sen. Barack Obama, campaigning to be the first black president in American history, won the Iowa caucuses Thursday night, barely turning back rivals Hillary Clinton and John Edwards in the beginning test of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

On the Republican side, Mi ke Huckabee, a Baptist preacher turned politician, rode a wave of support from evangelical Christians to victory over Mitt Romney.

Huckabee handily defeated the former Massachusetts governor despite being outspent by tens of millions of dollars, and deciding in the campaign’s final days to scrap television commercials that would have assailed Romney.

Romney sought to frame his defeat as something less than that, saying he had trailed Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, by more than 20 points a few weeks ago. "I’ve been pleased that I’ve been able to make up ground and I intend to keep making up ground, not just here but across the country," he said.

The words were brave, but already, his strategy of bankrolling a methodical campaign in hopes of winning the first two states was in tatters — and a rejuvenated Sen. John McCain of Arizona was tied in the polls in next-up New Hampshire. Second choices are key

Clinton, Obama and Edwards had all urged voters to consider them if their own candidate fell short. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio publicly urged his backers to line up with Obama on a second round, and two Democrats said aides to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson did likewise as the caucuses unfolded. Those two spoke on condition of anonymity, citing private discussions.

The Democratic race was as close as the Republican contest was not.

Obama and Clinton each sought to make history, he the most viable black presidential candidate in history, she a former first lady bidding to become the first female commander in chief. Edwards battled them to a standstill, fighting to improve on the second-place finish in the 2004 caucuses that was good enough to land him the vice presidential slot on the Democratic ticket.

Their rivals, Sens. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Joseph Biden of Delaware, Richardson and  Kucinich, got little to show for their effort, and it seemed possible the field would grow smaller before New Hampshire votes on Tuesday.

Iowans voted in evening caucuses at 1,781 precincts from Adel to Zingle, in schools, firehouses and community centers. Turnout was heavy at many caucus sites. At the Democratic caucus at Westridge Elementary School in West Des Moines, a crowd of 267 registered. In 2004, only 86 Iowans participated there.

Entrance polling
In interviews as they entered the caucuses, more than half of all the Republicans said they were either born-again or evangelical Christians, and they liked Huckabee more than any of his rivals. Romney led handily among the balance of the Iowa Republican voters, according to the survey.

About half the Democratic caucus-goers said a candidate’s ability to bring about needed change was the most important factor as they made up their minds, according to voters surveyed by The Associated Press and the television networks as they entered the caucuses. Change was Obama’s calling card in the arduous campaign for Iowa’s backing. Fewer voters cited experience, which Clinton said was her strong suit, or a candidate’s chance of capturing the White House or ability to care about people like the voters themselves.

Win or lose, there was little time for rest. New Hampshire’s first-in-the nation primary is set for  Tuesday, and the campaign quickly accelerates into a rush of contests culminating in more than two dozen on Feb. 5.

McCain campaigned in New Hampshire, eager for a jump in the state he won in 2000. He buttressed his personal appeal with two new television commercials, including one that cast him as a truth-telling rebel. "I don’t like the business-as-usual crowd in Washington," it said. "But I love America. I love her enough to make some people angry."

In Iowa, McCain, former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee and Texas Rep. Ron Paul lagged the leaders, Romney and Huckabee. So, too, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who largely abandoned the state in the campaign’s final days.

Romney not backing down
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, stressed his background as a businessman and organizer of the 2002 Olympics, and he worked to persuade conservatives to ignore his earlier positions on abortion and gay rights. He ran commercials hitting Huckabee for his positions on immigration and the pardons he issued while governor of Arkansas.

On Thursday, Romney didn’t back down when a financial firm employee asked if the country could expect more critical TV ads from him in the general election if he wins the GOP presidential nomination.

"Absolutely. You can bet that what we’re going to talk about is differences on issues," he told several hundred employees of the Principal Financial Group in Des Moines.

But he added, "I’m not going to attack the character of the other people I’m running against.”

Video

Primer on the Iowa caucuses
Jan. 3: What are the Iowa caucuses all about? TODAY’s Meredith Vieira explains.

Today show

Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, has pinned his hopes on evangelical conservatives who accounted for 40 percent of caucus-goers or more. He told reporters Monday that he had decided not to air commercials criticizing Romney in return. But Newsweek reported that the ad had run on at least three Iowa television stations that day.

The Huckabee campaign late Thursday issued a statement saying that the decision not to run the ad was made after it was sent to stations, and that the campaign had made its "best effort" to contact all of them to stop its distribution.

In an unusual expression of faith at a political party headquarters, Huckabee supporters stood Thursday evening in circles, holding hands and offering prayers in the middle of the ballroom.

The candidate was expected to fly in later in the evening after speaking at Waterloo, Iowa.

The crowded field of presidential hopefuls devoted weeks of campaigning, built muscular campaign organizations and spent millions of dollars on television advertising in the state.

For three decades, Iowa’s caucuses have drawn presidential hopefuls eager to make a strong first impression, and this year was no different.

Obama, Clinton and Edwards spent about $21 million on television advertising among them, and all three capped their campaigns with statewide broadcasts on Wednesday. Romney told supporters in a final daylong swing around the state he had been in 68 of 99 counties since he began his quest for the White House, had spent 55 days in Iowa and spoken before 248 separate audiences.

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This report includes information from NBC News and The Associated Press.

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