Obama, Huckabee win first US presidential test in Iowa

By Arun Kumar, IANS

Washington : Democrat black senator Barrack Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher, surged past better known party rivals to win the first of the 50 nominating contests in the 2008 US presidential race.

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While Obama pipped 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards leaving former first lady Hillary Clinton in third place in a close race, Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, finished way ahead of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the two major party’s caucuses in Iowa.

Conceding defeat as results poured in from 1,781 caucuses – meetings of party supporters – across the western state, Romney sought to frame his defeat as something of a comeback, saying he had trailed Huckabee 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. Romney described Iowa as the first inning of a “fifty-inning ballgame” and vowed to stay in it until the end.

On the Democratic side, with roughly two-thirds of precincts reporting, Obama had 34.9 percent of delegates allocated under the Democratic Party’s system, while Edwards had 31.2 percent and Clinton 31 percent, media reports said.

By all accounts, turnout in both the Democratic and Republican caucuses was poised to set records, driven in part by young, first-time caucus-goers motivated by Obama and heavy turnout by evangelicals energised by Huckabee.

Among the Democrats, the war in Iraq, the economy and health care emerged as the main issues. Republicans cited illegal immigration as the most important issue facing the country, followed by the economy and terrorism.

On the caucus eve, Clinton, hoping to make history as first woman president, released a two-minute taped message asking the caucus goers to ponder: “Who is ready to be president and ready to start solving the big challenges we face on day one?”

Speaking of the “need to turn the page and create a new chapter in American history”, Obama said he was the one who could bring the most dramatic change by creating a coalition of Democrats, independents and Republicans looking for a new direction in Washington. Edwards painted himself as the real agent of change.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Republican frontrunner, who did not focus on Iowa to concentrate on larger states voting later, fared poorly. So did Senator John McCain, a Vietnam War veteran.

A win in Iowa or New Hampshire, where the first primary is to be held five days later, does not ensure final victory, but it gives a candidate momentum in the primary season ending with the final one in South Dakota June 1.