The freshman Illinois senator was CNN’s projected winner in the key early step toward the White House, with 38 percent of the vote and 99 percent of precincts reporting.
“On this January night, at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn’t do,” Obama told wildly cheering and chanting supporters Thursday night. “We are choosing hope over fear, we are choosing unity over division and sending a powerful message that change is coming to America.
CNN projected that Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York — the front-runner in the months leading up to this year’s campaign — will finish third and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards will be in second place.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Edwards was second with 30 percent and Clinton was third with 29 percent.
“Just over half of Democratic caucus-goers said change was the No. 1 factor they were looking for in a candidate, and 51 percent of those voters chose Barack Obama,” said CNN senior political analyst BillSchneider. “That compares to only 19 percent of ‘change’ caucus-goers who preferred Clinton.”
Twenty percent of Democrats said Clinton’s campaign mantra — experience — was the most important attribute of a presidential candidate.
At Obama’s caucus-night headquarters in Des Moines, the hall filled with people late Thursday in anticipation of the candidate’s speech.
The supporters, many of them young, screamed “We did it!”
When vote returns appeared on big television screens, the crowd burst into spontaneous rounds of Obama’s campaign chant: “Fired up — Ready to go!”
Obama campaigned in Iowa as the true agent for change in a field of Democrats hoping to cash in on voter dissatisfaction with President Bush.
He banked heavily on the support of first-time caucus participants and independents, whom pre-caucus polls suggested were responding well to a campaign that included promises to work across party lines if elected.
CNN’s entrance polls suggested that message resonated. Younger caucus-goers and those who said they want change gave significant support to Obama.
Fifty-seven percent of poll respondents age 17 to 29 said they supported Obama, compared with 11 percent for Clinton and 13 percent for Edwards, according to entrance polls. Surprising analysts, female voters also selected Obama over Clinton.
David Axelrod, senior adviser to Obama, said the campaign was thrilled at the support from young voters, independents and “some disillusioned Republicans and new voters.”
He said the campaign has aimed to bring in new voters and that the Democratic Party “has to start thinking about how to bring a coalition together behind a progressive agenda.”
Democratic caucus turnout was much higher than four years ago. “With 93.5 percent of the precincts reporting we are seeing record turnout with 218,000 caucus attendees,” said a statement from the state Democratic Party. In 2004, the turnout was about 125,000.
Edwards opened his remarks to supporters Thursday by talking about change.
“The one thing that’s clear from the results in Iowa tonight is the status quo lost and change won,” Edwards said.
Obama’s victory came despite Clinton’s support from EMILY’s List, a national group that works to elect female candidates who favor abortion rights. The group contacted 60,000 Iowa women with no history of caucusing and asked them to support Clinton.
The Clinton campaign itself also contacted tens of thousands of Iowans who had never caucused. Most of them were age 50 and above. The campaign set up a “buddy” system to encourage the newcomers to attend caucuses.
Appearing in front of cheering supporters Thursday with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, at her side, Clinton refused to back down.
“I am so ready for the rest of this campaign and I am so ready to lead,” she said, smiling.
“I have done this work for 35 years, it is the work of my lifetime,” Clinton said. “I have been involved in making it possible for young people to have a better education and for people of all ages to have health care and that transforming work is what we desperately need in our country again.”
“I think you could probably look at two things when it comes to Hillary Clinton: One is the sense that she could be very divisive in a general election campaign — people in Iowa don’t seem to want that,” said CNN political analyst Gloria Borger. “And secondly, her history question, the Clinton baggage, if you will. There are a lot of voters there who are saying, ‘We want to get beyond that.’ ”
Obama also did well among caucusers with varied issues at the top of their concerns. Thirty-four percent of voters who said their top issue was health care went for Obama, according to entrance polls; 35 percent among those who said the Iraq war was their top issue chose Obama; 36 percent among those who chose the economy chose him.
David Gergen, a former White House aide under Republican and the Clinton administrations, pointed out that Iowa was not a strong state for Clinton from the start. “The Clintons are nothing if not resilient,” he said. “They will fight back. For Barack Obama, this is a personal triumph. For an African-American to go into a state that’s 95 percent white and win against Mrs. Clinton is an absolutely remarkable victory.”
The caucuses spelled the end for two other senators with White House aspirations. Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware will abandon his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, three sources told CNN. Biden received 1 percent in the Iowa caucuses.
Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut also will drop out of the race, campaign sources told CNN Thursday. Dodd received less than 1 percent in the Iowa caucuses.
Source: CNN, Jan 04, 2007