DES MOINES, Iowa – An unprecedented outpouring of independents, youth and women propelled Illinois Sen. Barack Obama to a historic victory in Iowa’s Democratic caucuses Jan. 3 opening the 2008 presidential campaign with a shot surely heard throughout the halls of power in Washington and in America’s corporate boardrooms. The record turnout of first time voters and independents hoisted Obama into his new position as the Democratic Party’s national front runner.
Obama is the first African American to win the Iowa caucuses.
“They said this day would never come and that our sights were too high,” said Obama during his victory speech. “They said this country was too divided to ever come together in a common purpose. But you have done what the cynics said we couldn’t do.”
One time Iowa favorite John Edwards, benefiting from significant labor support, came in second, edging out Hillary Clinton, the party’s national front runner.
Obama won 38 percent of the vote with Edwards getting 30 percent, Clinton 29 percent, Bill Richardson 2 percent and Joe Biden 1 percent. Richardson said his campaign would go on to New Hampshire after his fourth place finish; Sens. Chris Dodd and Joe Biden said they would quit the race.
Obama added that Democrats, Republicans and independents helped forge his coalition in Iowa.
“Our time for change has come,” Obama said.
“We are choosing hope over fear, unity over division, with a powerful message that change is coming to America,” affirmed Obama.
Obama said he would be the president that finally makes health care affordable and available to all, who would free this nation from the tyranny of foreign oil and put an end to the Iraq war.
Obama went on making a powerful oratory about the major political challenges and victories that have impacted and changed American political history.
If it were not for the American people we would not have put an end to slavery, fought for women and their right to vote, or defeated fascism in World War II, said Obama.
It was the American people and especially youth who got on buses and traveled to Alabama and Montgomery to brave fire hoses, dogs and clubs and died all in the name of freedoms cause, remarked Obama.
“That is what hope is, and it lead me hear today, a son whose father is from Kenya and whose mother is from Kansas, a story that could only happen in America,” said Obama.
“Together ordinary people could do extraordinary things and when you believe that America could be better then it will be better,” he said.
John Edwards who came in second in the caucuses told his cheering supporters at the end of the night that, “The one thing that’s clear from tonight’s caucuses is that the status quo lost and change won.”
Labor unions including the steelworkers and the carpenters figured prominently in getting Edwards supporters out to the caucuses.
Hillary Clinton who came in third said, “Tonight is the first step in the process of getting a Democratic president elected in 2008.”
Earlier in the night on the city’s northwest side at Martin Luther King Elementary, Michelle Taylor-Frazier, 47 an African American, who is an after school program director, waited patiently inside with some of her students.
She said she comes from an activist family and pro-union background. She also resides on the Des Moines executive branch of the NAACP.
She said she was looking forward to caucusing later in her precinct and said she would proudly vote for Obama.
“I believe he will go after lobbyists and big business and stop them from sending our jobs overseas. I’m very much for universal health care because I believe that all Americans should have it,” she told the World.
“Even though I grew up as an army brat, I’m against the Iraq war and I believe it could have been preventable. I feel Obama will shut down the war in a responsible manner,” said Taylor-Frazier.
Thomas Simmons, also African American, is the principal at King elementary and said he was leaning toward voting for Bill Richardson because he is good on education.
“This election could dictate what our education is going to look like in the next four years and the No Child Left Behind was only a small snapshot for our children’s success,” he said.
“There needs to be a complete overhaul of NCLB,” said Simmons.
“The backbone of this country is due based on public education. Privatization of education only seeks to exclude rather than include our children’s success and their future,” added Simmons.
The rush of independents and first time voters hungry for change into the Iowa caucuses swelled the vote total to 350,000, a historic, record breaking figure. Analysis of turnout indicates that first time voters were the key factor here. Sixty percent of all Democratic caucus goers attended for the first time, with more than 70 percent of Obama’s support coming from them. Most of the independents and youth attended Democratic caucuses, swelling the total Democratic turnout to twice that of the Republican turnout.
There were so many Democratic caucus goers at Harding Middle School in Des Moines, where 800 people showed up, that organizers made people who supported John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Obama stay in the gym while supporters of everyone else were sent to classrooms. The site had never attracted more than 400 caucus goers before.
A heavy turnout also created problems at Brody Middle School on Des Moines south side. Karen Anderson, a Democratic Party worker at the Polk County Convention Center had to go there to participate and when she got back she said “we had to park eight blocks away.”
The wave of change seeking independent voters had its impact on Republicans who, in some cases, began making themselves sound more like Democrats as they distanced themselves from President Bush.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who portrayed himself as a champion for “change” while his operatives bussed right wing fundamentalist Christians to the caucuses, won the Republican contest with 34 percent of the vote. Mitt Romney got 25 percent, Fred Thompson 13 percent, John McCain got 13 percent and Ron Paul received 10 percent.
At the 64th precinct Republican caucus in downtown Des Moines a surrogate for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said, “I look around this room and I see middle class people here. Huckabee is for change. He’s for the little guy. He thinks that the gap between us and the big CEO’s is obscene.”
The surrogate for Mitt Romney at that same caucus said, “If ever there was a need for change in Washington it is now. If we end up with a majority Democrat (sic) Senate and Congress we need someone like Romney who knows how to work with Democrats. When he was governor of Massachusetts he achieved health care for everyone.”
The Ron Paul representative at the caucus spoke against the war in Iraq and called for a foreign policy that stresses diplomacy rather than war.
Huckabee, Romney and Ron Paul won 20, 19 and 16 votes respectively at that caucus. The anti-terrorist speech given by the Rudolph Giuliani surrogate won his candidate only 6 votes while the McCain surrogate, who defended the troop surge, won his candidate only 7 votes.
The extent of the Obama victory was a surprise to the pundits because they underestimated the determination and resolve of independent and first time voters. The night before the caucuses Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster working for Sen. Joe Biden’s campaign conceded that large numbers of independents would enter Democratic caucuses for the first time but she doubted that the figures would approach 40 percent.
“If that happened,” she said, “that would be a revolution.”
The figures turned out to be more like sixty percent.
plozano @pww.org, jwojcik @pww.org