WASHINGTON (BP)–Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama rode late surges to victories Jan. 3 in the Iowa caucuses, as the Republican and Democratic parties took their first steps toward nominating candidates for November’s presidential election.
The long-time governor of Arkansas and a former Southern Baptist pastor, Huckabee outdistanced the Republican field, maintaining a lead he gained in recent weeks over Mitt Romney despite being heavily outspent by the former Massachusetts governor. Huckabee achieved 34 percent of the GOP vote to Romney’s 25 percent, with 96 percent of the state’s 1,781 precincts reporting, according to The Des Moines (Iowa) Register.
Democratic caucus participants not only gave Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, a win with 38 percent of the vote, but they pushed Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York to third place. The former first lady and early favorite for the Democratic nomination received 29 percent of the vote but trailed former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who garnered 30 percent with all of the precincts reporting, according to The Register.
Two Democratic candidates -– Sens. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Joseph Biden of Delaware –- announced their withdrawals from the race after each failed to gain one percent of the vote.
On the GOP side, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson and current Arizona Sen. John McCain both had 13 percent, with Thompson leading McCain by less than 300 votes, The Register reported. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas received 10 percent of the vote, while former New York City Major Rudy Giuliani, who skipped Iowa, had four percent, according to the newspaper.
The next major test for both parties’ candidates is Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary. Republicans in Wyoming will hold their caucuses prior to that, on Saturday, although political observers say the results could carry little weight.
Iowans’ participation in this year’s caucuses was record-breaking. Democrats had 239,000 caucus-goers, nearly double the 124,000 attending in 2004, The Register reported. The GOP had more than 112,000 participants, with 93 percent of precincts reporting, compared to about 88,000 in 2000, the last time an incumbent Republican was not running for the White House, according to the newspaper.
The historic turnout “signals that Americans are more interested than usual this year in the election process,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “That is good news for all Americans, because the more Americans participate in their political processes the more representative of the people our government will truly be.
“All Americans should draw encouragement from the fact, demonstrated in the Iowa caucuses, that this is still a government ‘of the people, by the people, for the people,’ and that we do still have the right and the opportunity to choose those who will lead and represent us,” Land said.
The results themselves signaled some important realities, Land said.
“[T]he fact that Senator Obama won and Senator Clinton finished third reveals a tremendous desire for change over the status quo on the Democratic side of the aisle,” he said. “In the Republican caucuses, Governor Huckabee’s victory, at the very least, illustrates that the reports of an ‘evangelical crack-up’ and the demise of ‘values voters’ in The New York Times and in other liberal print and electronic media were grossly misleading and inaccurate.”
Huckabee did not shy away from his evangelical Christian beliefs or his pro-life, pro-family positions on social issues in his Iowa campaign. Evangelicals and home schoolers made up a sizable contingent of his grassroots supporters even as he came under criticism from some conservative Republicans for his policies on issues such as taxes, immigration and prisoner commutations during his 10½ years as Arkansas’ governor.
The majority of GOP caucus-goers were evangelicals, according to CNN’s entrance poll, and Huckabee gained 46 percent of the support from that voting bloc. Romney, meanwhile, received only 19 percent of the vote from evangelicals, according to CNN’s survey.
With 56 percent, Huckabee handily won the vote among Republican participants who told CNN a candidate’s religious beliefs matter “a great deal” to them. He also led among voters who described themselves as “very conservative,” with 35 percent.
In addition, Huckabee won among female GOP caucus-goers with about 40 percent, compared to Romney’s 24 percent, according to CNN.
“I’m amazed, but I’m encouraged, because tonight what we have seen is a new day in American politics,” Huckabee said in his victory speech. “A new day is needed in American politics just like a new day is needed in American government.”
One lesson learned in the GOP vote is “people really are more important than the purse,” he said
“Most of the pundits believe that when you are outspent at least 15 to 1 it’s simply impossible to overcome that mountain of money and somehow garner the level of support that’s necessary to win an election,” Huckabee said. “Well, tonight, we proved that American politics still is in the hands of ordinary folks like you and across this country who believe that it wasn’t about who raised the most money but who raised the greatest hopes, dreams and aspirations for our children and their future.”
In his victory speech, Obama, whose father is black and his mother white, told his supporters, “You know, they said this day would never come. They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned to ever come together around a common purpose.
“But on this January night –- at this defining moment in history –- you have done what the cynics said we couldn’t do.
“We are choosing hope over fear,” Obama said. “We’re choosing unity over division and sending a powerful message that change is coming to America.
Obama, who like all the other Democratic candidates supports abortion rights, is serving his first term in the Senate, winning election in 2004.
Huckabee was serving as lieutenant governor of Arkansas in 1996 when the governor resigned. As a result, he took over as governor and won election to that post in 1998 and re-election in 2002.
The graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., served as pastor of Southern Baptist churches in the Arkansas towns of Pine Bluff and Texarkana before entering politics. He served as president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention from 1989 to ’91.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.